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Weekend Reads – September 18, 2015

September 18, 2015 — by Matt

My own ideas of personal development and the genesis of this blog itself really sprang from the ideas and writing of others. In Weekend Reads I include a few articles that have spoken to me recently. I hope these provide you valuable insight and motivation.

1. FALL’S FRESH START

(via Valet)

Not that we really need an excuse to continue learning or put together a plan for personal growth, but fall seems like a great time to get to work, doesn’t it? This article is a short-but-sweet embodiment of the back-to-school season of learning and growth.

I for one will be using the fall as a way to dive back into reading for pleasure on a regular basis. What will you use fall to kick-start?

2. THE FIRST DRAFT IS ALWAYS PERFECT

(via Casey R. Fowler)

A reminder that the best first step is to just get started. This article deals specifically with the writing process, and the analysis paralysis that often accompanies writing a first draft. As Casey explains, “the first draft is always perfect, because all it needs to do is exist”.

This doesn’t just apply to writing. Our lives are a series of drafts that we continually edit. If we look at every move we make as a final draft, we’ll be too scared to do anything about it. Want to start dating? Go on a date. Want to learn photography? Take a picture. Want to learn a foreign language? Start speaking it. You can edit and refine each draft as you go along.

3. THE PURPOSE OF LIVING SIMPLY

(via No Sidebar)

I often call myself an “aspiring minimalist” – the concepts of minimalism are extremely attractive to me but I’m not great yet at applying them. This article is a reminder about why making the choice to live simply is a step toward prioritizing what matters. It also identifies some of the forces that can easily pull us away from from a simpler life.

I’m not perfect. I get pulled into materialism and scrambled priorities. This article reminded me to approach things a little more simply for the benefit of my work, my piece of mind, and the people around me.

Any articles, books, blog posts, or podcasts that you think would benefit others? Share them in the comments below!

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Weekend Reads – August 14, 2015

August 14, 2015 — by Matt

My own ideas of personal development and the genesis of this blog itself really sprang from the ideas and writing of others. In Weekend Reads I include a few articles that have spoken to me recently. I hope these provide you valuable insight and motivation.

1. 5 WAYS TO STOP BEING A PEOPLE PLEASER

(via Tiny Buddha)

Like the author of this article, I am a recovering people-pleaser, often taking on O.P.P. (or “Other People’s Projects” – NOT Naughty By Nature’s original intent but you get the idea).

Of course, it is important to help others. But sometimes we go too far, taking on other peoples’ problems as our own or completely filling our schedule cleaning up the messes of others, that we leave no “me” time. It’s possible to strike a more healthy balance, and I think this article does a good job outlining some methods to do that.

2. FINDING CREATIVE FLOW WITH MINIMALISM

(via Break The Twitch)

As an aspiring minimalist and a struggling creative, this article really hit home and connected many concepts I had been contemplating independently.

This article focuses on minimizing your inputs and distractions to help with creativity, which I find to be extremely helpful. In fact, me next two articles will deal with the abundance of distractions we face today and some of the systems and tools I use to try to quiet my environment and get some work done.

This article also does a great job of explaining the “flow” state, another of my favorite topics, and something I often struggle to find in my own creative process.

3. THE NOT-TO-DO LIST: 9 HABITS TO STOP NOW

(via Tim Ferriss)

The reason I love this (admittedly old) article is not the particular items included Tim Ferriss included in his list (although I do agree with many of them) – it’s the concept of a “not-to-do list” in general.

Our lives are overcrowded with stuff, and sometimes it feels like to-do lists just add pressure to our already stressful lives. Making a not-to-do list not only helps our stress levels by subtracting from our stressful inputs, but it also helps make clearer the goals and activities that are important by getting rid of the surrounding clutter.

Any articles, books, blog posts, or podcasts that you think would benefit others? Share them in the comments below!

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My Personal Pillars; or My Ideal Unboring Self

August 7, 2015 — by Matt

This is part 3 in a 3-part introduction to this blog. After this article, content will (maybe?) be more subject-specific – but who’s to say, really.

In my first post I told my story, how I made a decision to banish complacency and inaction in my life and focus my energy on growth and my passions. In my second post I outlined the importance of defining the type of person you want to be by building your own personal pillars. These pillars are great guides not only for moving you toward your goals, but also for moving you away from distractions and focusing your energy.

So I guess it’s time to eat my own dog food. Here are my own personal pillars.

Why am I doing this again?

In case you don’t want to go back and read the first two articles, here’s the cliffs notes version:

  • I’ve followed a pretty traditional “safe route” path into adulthood.
  • I’ve recognized how easy it is let routine and complacency destroy people’s creativity, passion, and growth – and I don’t want it to happen to me (or any of you!)
  • So I started a blog to write about my own journey and hopefully start conversations with others finding their own path.
  • My journey starts with defining what is most important to the person I’d like to be – my own Personal Pillars.

My Personal Pillars

The following list are the items I’ve identified as my own personal pillars. This, like most things in life, should be viewed as a “first cut” – I’m sure as I learn, grow, and progress these will adjust accordingly. Some may drop off the list, some may be combined – but it’s important to start with something – because with something, you have enough to get started moving in a direction, even if it’s not where you ultimately end up.

The key word here is “personal” – not everyone’s pillars will be the same, nor will everyone’s definition of “unboring” (more on this in a future article). But without further ado, here are the pillars I’m using to define my ideal, “unboring” self.

Creativity

“Creativity is very important to me. I am the type of person that is always creating something or making some kind of art.”

Creative pursuits have been a passion of mine since I was a wee lad. I truly believe that we are all creative in our youth – some of us choose to focus on other things, some of us focusing on it inadvertently, and some (like me) fight to hold onto our creativity. This is listed first for a reason; for me, this is one of the main passions in my life that I want to drive my actions and shape my path.

Related Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/in-kindergarten-everyone-identified-as-an-artist/373659/

Freedom

“I am a person who is always driving toward freedom; the freedom to make my own decisions and shape my own path.”

One of the biggest pressures I (and probably others) feel pushing us back toward the safe path of inaction is our reliance on outside things – reliance on a paycheck, reliance on the employment of someone else, or our possessions being an anchor. Freedom is important as it opens up possibilities and eliminates barriers to taking action.

Freedom could mean financial freedom through the elimination of debt, physical freedom through the ability to travel or being location-independent, or freedom from the crippling desire for “more stuff”. I firmly believe that striving for “more freedom” is greatly superior to “more money” or “more stuff” and ultimately leads to “more happiness”.

Related Link: http://zenhabits.net/fear-to-free/

Exploration

“I am constantly exploring new things in order to learn about the world around me and about myself.”

When we’re children, curiosity drives our entire energy. There’s so much out there we haven’t explored, there’s so much about ourselves we haven’t developed – we spend most of our time trying, failing, learning, exploring, and asking “why”. The world is full of wonder, and we want to see it all.

When we become adults, a lot of us lose some of our curiosity. Why? Do we now know all there is to know? Have we amassed the worlds knowledge, tasted every experience? Of course not.

When we stop exploring, learning, and exercising our curiosity, we stop growing – and we might as well throw in the towel. It’s my goal to keep being curious and exploring that with which I am not knowledgeable – which, let’s face it, is mostly everything.

(Note: I could also call this pillar “curiosity” or “learning” or “wonder” – and I very well might change it later. For now, I’m sticking with “exploration”.)

Related Link: http://austinkleon.com/2015/06/14/to-be-a-teacher-and-remain-a-student/

Adventure

“Adventure is very important to me. Experiencing new places and cultures is a focus of my life.”

I was going to call this “travel” but then I realized it’s more than just visiting new places, it’s visiting new experiences. Also, this pillar may end up rolled into my “exploration” pillar, but for now it’s on its own.

As I wrote above, exploring new things and testing your boundaries is one of the surest ways to spark growth and avoid becoming boring. Testing those boundaries physically through travel or adventure is not only one of the best ways to test your comfort zone, but can help expand your worldview, cultivate empathy for others, and expose you to some of the most beautiful sights, sounds, and people the world has to offer.

Related Link: http://chrisguillebeau.com/category/travel/

Simplicity

“I focus on simplicity both in my life and in my problem-solving in order to focus on what is important.”

A few years back I stumbled upon the concept of minimalism – reducing the influences, activities, and possessions in your life to help focus only on what matters. I love the concept, but I’ve only been somewhat successful at implementing it. Also, the term “minimalism” often gets a bad wrap or it associated solely with design.

I want to focus my attempts at change on finding the simplest solution – and I want to simplify my life and my influences so that I can really concentrate on what is important – basically, the contents of this list. I anticipate a lot of the posts on this blog focusing on my attempts to simplify.

Read more about minimalism here: http://www.theminimalists.com/minimalism/

Risk

“I am not afraid to take risks. I know that through trial and error I learn and grow much faster than through taking the safe route.”

I grew up pretty risk averse. The safe route was encouraged, and the concept of “getting into trouble” or “learning by making mistakes” was not one that permeated my development. Since then I’ve come to realize that without risk, there is rarely change or growth. And often trying and failing a lot (and then iterating and trying again) is the best way progress or. Just like everyone else, I’m afraid of failure – so this will be one of the most difficult pillars by which to live.

Aversion to risk is one of the biggest characteristics of the “boring grownup” – and it’s one I’m working on banishing from my life. Articles in this category might include examples of my trial and failure, and what lessons and growth resulted.

Related Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/13/seven-reasons-why-risk-taking-leads-to-success_n_3749425.html

Onward!

So there you have it – my personal pillars. Not only will these help guide me on my journey to unboring, but they’ll also shape the content of this site – I’ll be using each of the above pillars as a category for future posts.

These are not the only things I believe are important. Kindness, Empathy, Mindfulness etc. are not on the list and are probably more important in life. But they don’t really fit what I’m writing about – at least right now.The items on the list now will likely change and adapt over time as I learn more, just as our goals and focuses might. But here’s the launch point.

Remember that everyone’s personal pillars may be different – you may (and should!) have a completely different ideal, unboring self that you’re building. So with that said – what are your personal pillars? What is most important to you?

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Identity-based Personal Pillars: Define your Ideal Self

July 20, 2015 — by Matt

So… now what?

In my first article, I outlined the factors and thought process behind my decision to take control of my life’s direction. That decision was my first step toward becoming unboring.

“The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.” – Mark Caine

 

The Thursday morning after I posted that article, my eyes snapped open and I sprung out of bed, ready to start my new life. I didn’t feel any different. “But I must be different now” I thought. I had made the decision to change my life – surely that was the hardest part! I once again attempted to jump up and click my heels together (getting a little closer this time but still ending up on my bedroom floor, holding my newly injured knee) and went about my day.

After a day that felt eerily similar to the last few weeks of commute + work + dinner + netflix, I sat on my couch, energy drained, and realized that the decision to change was indeed only step one. Now the real work would begin.

It was time for step two.

Taking Action

Once I had made the decision to make a change, the next step was to take action – to start directing my energy toward the things that I find important and therefore that I want to be central to my life.

But action without purpose is not productive. You know the concept of “busy work” – tasks or assignments in work or school that take up time and energy, but don’t actually contribute toward an overall goal or project? Taking action without a plan or guiding principles is like doing “busy work” on yourself.

Rather than putting together a specific set of goals and a plan to reach them right off the bat, I think it’s important to first define yourself and what is important to you as guiding principles for the decisions you’ll make moving forward.

Defining Personal Pillars

I decided to start by defining the personal pillars that make me the best version of myself and therefore will be driving factors for the direction I take. Consider this a “personal framework” around which specific goals and actions will take shape. This is an important first step for a few reasons:

You can take action before having to get specific.

Like many others, I often don’t really know where I’m going or what I really want out of life. But I don’t think I need to in order to get started. By defining my personal pillars, the things that are most important to me and that drive my ideal self, I can start making decisions and changes that match them. I don’t need to have a specific goal for what music I want to make to have “I am a creative person that enjoys making art” drive how I spend my time and energy.

Very specific goals and roadmaps are sometimes paralyzing. I often put tons of pressure on myself to meet self-imposed deadlines or quantity of creative output, and it has a negative affect on my work and on my peace of mind – sometimes resulting in me doing nothing. Using the more general personal pillar as a guidepost helps me more easily spend my energy on what makes me happy in a stress-free way.

They are personal, and thus inherent to your identity.

James Clear wrote a great article about changing the language of habits from “I want to work out more” to “I’m the type of person that never misses a workout”. I think this concept is also fantastic for general goals or life changes. By using identity-based language, you make these tenants a part of you rather than just “something you want to do”. It’s much easier to disregard a specific habit or activity, and it’s also very easy to beat yourself up about missing a specific goal. But by defining the core of who you are, you grant yourself control over your destiny. Because these pillars are traits of your character they are much harder to abandon than individual habits, goals, “hobbies”, or “wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if”s.

They help focus on what is (and isn’t) important.

One of my favorite goals of minimalism (a concept I’ll cover quite a bit on this blog) is to eliminate anything unnecessary that steals energy or focus from what is important. In minimalist design, this means stripping away any elements that compete with the main content or message. In life design it means stripping away any forces, activities, or influences that do not serve your goals. These personal pillars provide focus to what is and isn’t important. If a new activity, opportunity, or commitment is in line with your personal pillars and your ideal self would do it, go for it! If it doesn’t align with what your ideal self would do, maybe it doesn’t serve you and you can leave it behind.

How to start defining personal pillars

I recently went through an exercise to define my own personal pillars. As with anything, I expect that as I learn and grow my thoughts on this process and the role of the pillars will evolve and become more refined, but here is what I kept in mind in my first attempt:

Think about what makes you really happy

Chances are, the things that make you very happy, excited, or motivated are good places to start when defining what is important to you. Another great focusing question is “if money was not an issue, what would you spend your time doing?”

Don’t get too specific

Unlike in goal creation, I found that avoiding specifics when defining my pillars helped me phrase them as character traits rather than activities. “Travel is important to me” is a personal pillar while “I will travel to 30 different countries in my life” is not.

Use identity-defining language

The language itself should define the person you are or want to become rather than outline specific tasks or behaviors. Your phrasing may differ from mine, but the two formats that spoke to me in my exercise (using “creativity” as an example) were:

  • “Creativity is very important to me, and is a driving factor in my life.”
    or
  • “Creativity is very important to me. I am the type of person that is always creating something or making some kind of art.”

Borrow from others

Although these tenants are all personal, you’re allowed to get inspiration from others to spark your thinking. Ask those around you what their driving forces are, or find someone else’s list online from which you can get ideas (just realize that not everything these lists defined as “important for everyone” may actually be important to you – choose only what you care about!).

Keep it short

10 or less pillars is a good place to start. Trying to focus on everything at once typically results in nothing earning true focus, and paring your list down to what is truly important will help focus your energy. And this list is a tool for you – you can update it at any time!

Creating the pillars

In the next article I’ll outline what I came up with in my first attempt to define my own personal pillars. These will be different for everyone, but on the quest to become unboring you might find some overlap with your own driving forces. That’s awesome! I’d like this blog to start conversations about those shared principles so we can all help each other along the way.

What do you think? Does this concept jive with your own journey? Have you done something similar (or different) as a focusing effort for your own life design, and if so, how did it work? Any thoughts are welcome in the comments below!

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Hi. I’m Matt (The beginning of my journey)

July 15, 2015 — by Matt

I've been told a journey starts with a single step. This post is mine.

YoungMatt

If I were to meet my 7-year-old self today and ask him to describe himself and what he liked, he might say something like “I’m Matt. I like to make things. I like music and food. When I grow up I want to make music and art and go to far away places.” Or, he might try to say those things through a mouthful of grilled cheese sandwich.

If you asked me the same question today, I might tell you the same thing. Although my love of grilled cheese has waned since then, a lot of the things that are important to me have remained the same.

Starting to realize what really drives me and makes me tick is the beginning of my journey.

BECOMING A GROWNUP

“Remember, too, that all who succeed in life get off to a bad start, and pass through many heartbreaking struggles before they “arrive”. The turning point in the lives of those who succeed usually comes at some moment of crisis, through which they are introduced to their “other selves”.” – Napoleon Hill

 

In 2009 I secured my first full-time job out of college. This was the glorious finish line of the path I was “supposed to” walk since my youth; work hard, earn good grades, get into a good university, graduate with honors, land a good job with benefits. I had made it! My new post-education life had begun, and I hit the ground running.

mattgrad
Ready to hit the ground running…

And it started out OK. But soon I started to notice people around me grow up and then stop growing. I saw a culture that praised stability to the detriment of disruption. Worse yet, I realized I had started to slip into a state of complacency myself. It was only a matter of time before I stopped setting new goals, making new memories, and realizing my potential now that I had “come of age.”

And I decided I needed to make a change before losing myself to the abyss.

“If you’re losing your soul and you know it, then you’ve still got a soul left to lose.” – Charles Bukowski

 

The epiphany wasn’t a lightning strike of inspiration. I didn’t wake up one day, jump out of bed, try to click my heels together, fall, get up, shout “Eureka” and put together a plan to change my life. (I did do some of those things). The “epiphany” was a change in thinking that slowly became more real over time as I learned more about myself and what was important – a transformation that I still feel I’m at the very beginning of today. There are days, even weeks sometimes where the clouds of the daily grind, stress, and distraction obscure my epiphany and my resolve finds itself off-track. But the seeds have been planted, and progress must be made.

SO WHY START A BLOG?

Early in my journey I discovered the power of starting a conversation about your goals and struggles. As a generally private person, honestly sharing what I was working on improving in my life and where I was having trouble not only took me out of my comfort zone, but helped me start a dialog with those around me who were going through similar changes. I believe we all have the capacity for change at any age, and having “grown up” is not an excuse to not make changes.

But I don’t have all the answers; I might not have any of them. As motivated as I am by the writing of others who have built an inspiring and creative life for themselves, I often find myself unsure of how to take the first step. So this blog is me trying, failing, documenting, and learning.

I WOULD LIKE THIS BLOG TO:

  • Be a journal of my path to transforming my life, including my steps taken, my roadblocks, and my lessons learned.
  • Start a conversation with others on a similar wave and help each other.
  • Inspire others to take steps in the direction of changing their life.

First step: taken. Join me for more.

In the next article I’ll discuss how to set the important principles that will help focus your energy, and why defining your ideal self first is often more important than defining your specific goals.

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