On Power

I’ve just finished reading The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. It’s an unapologetic volume on what power is, why those who have it do, and more importantly, why those who don’t have it don’t.

Some might think books like these are evil, but one could argue that they just describe real life. Maybe it’s a shame, but it’s the natural order of the universe—those who are the most powerless tend to be the most unhappy, and those who are bold are the most able to get their own way, whether that means hindering or helping others.

Power doesn’t necessarily mean domination. It doesn’t always mean getting your way at the expense of others. Just like money, the more of it you have, the more good, or evil, you can do in the world. It’s a tool, and it’s up to you how you use it.

Unlike money, most people don’t think about power much at all. We’re unaware of the role it plays in our lives. Starting with our parents and teachers, our beliefs, values, and mindsets we develop as children are dictated by people more powerful than us. These authority figures have the power to praise or to punish, so we follow their instructions and do what’s expected of us.

Eventually teachers are replaced by bosses, and parents are replaced by society’s expectations. Yet, as we become adults, even though the people who have power over us changes, the dynamics of power never do.

If we have little power, we allow other people to form our view of the world. We end up doing things we’re unhappy with, or not living to our potential because we don’t pause to question our assumptions that were forced upon us as children. Every move we make is influenced by what other people think or have told us.

But what if we took more control of our lives? What if we empowered ourselves with the ability to choose? What would we do if we weren’t afraid of what other people think? 

Choosing to have power over your own life isn’t as easy as letting other people tell you what to do. You have to make decisions and deal with the consequences for where those decisions lead, for better or for worse. As a great person once said, “With great power comes great responsibility,” but a good life lead on your own terms makes it all worth it in the end.

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On Guidance

How do we guide people towards a life of minimalism?

As with most things in life, preaching about something only makes people more resistant to the idea.

Yet some people just can’t help themselves. They like to humblebrag about how well they’re doing, just to show off how much better their lives are than other people’s.

Unsurprisingly, this approach almost never works. If you genuinely care about improving other people’s lives, it’s much better to live a better life without bragging about it, and if you really are happier people will see it and want to emulate you themselves.

Minimalism is particularly difficult because people are very attached to their stuff, and simply telling people to get rid of their precious things, or criticising them for having too much is exactly the wrong way to go about it.

Instead, let minimalism improve your life, then go live it well. Have fun not working as many hours, not being in debt, and not being a slave to your stuff. When people see how much more time and energy you have, they’ll ask you what your secret is.

Then you can tell them, the answer is simple—it’s simplicity itself.

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On Distractions

What do the following have in common:

  • getting rid of, or not buying stuff
  • simplifying your schedule
  • downsizing your needs
  • reducing commitments

Answer: they are all ways of getting rid of distractions.

The point of minimalism isn’t to have a tidy house. The point is to find freedom and focus to do things that matter. 

What matters to you? Here are some clues — they are the kinds of things that you used to dream about, that make you laugh, that you would jump out of bed for, that you’ll think about in five years time with a smile on your face, and that people will be proud to know you for doing.

These are the things that matter, and when it comes to them distraction is the enemy. Too many things in life take our time, energy and resources away from doing things that are worthwhile.

Think about it, what percentage of your time each day are you spending on meaningless tasks? 20%? 50%? 80%? Most people go through their lives without stopping to think about what they’re doing (or not doing) and then making changes so that they’re not wasting their precious days doing pointless things.

Minimalism is the practice of taking away distractions, so you’re left with room to breathe, to focus, to do.

Remember, most things worth doing are hard, and hard things need your whole heart in it to do right. You can’t do things properly if you’re always worrying about work, or if you’re checking your phone every hour.

Nobody said it would be easy, but it’s all worth it in the end because when you do things that matter, with everything you have, well, that’s what happiness is made of. 

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On Expectations

A lot of suffering in life comes from things failing to meet our expectations.

These days, most people expect to have things like six figure salaries, big weddings, and expensive homes. If they don’t get what they want, they think they’re not good enough, or they’re a failure compared to everyone else’s Instagram-worthy lives.

So what if you drive a nice car, the real question is are you a good person? Who cares what you wear, do you feel like a whole person without all of your possessions? Even though you can’t control people’s feelings and actions, are you happy with yourself?

Here’s the hard truth. In our modern world, our expectations are too high, too materialistic, and are almost always things we cannot control. It’s a recipe for constant disappointment.

But what if I told you there’s a switch you can flip to change it all. What if instead of expecting so much from life, we learn to appreciate it more? 

Have you ever lived a day without electricity or running water? If you had to, when it came back would you be bemoaning that it went off, or would you be happy that it was back?

What about things like good health, democratic rights, the internet, a loving family, a roof over your head, and enough food to eat so you never go hungry?

A lot of the time it takes losing something to appreciate it. Ironically, by the time it’s gone, you can’t really be grateful for having it.

Minimalism isn’t just about decluttering, it’s about learning to lower your materialistic expectations in life and being more grateful for the things you do have. That’s a recipe for happiness.

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On Equanimity

One of the things I miss the most about living in Japan (apart from the food) are the mountains. I’ve always found their constant presence reassuring—they were a continual reminder of calmness and stability.

Whether cold or hot, wet or dry, throughout the changing seasons mountains exude a sense of equanimity from within.

Indeed, if you look up equanimity in the dictionary, you’ll find:

equanimity
ˌɛkwəˈnɪmɪti,ˌiːkwəˈnɪmɪti
noun
calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation.
“she accepted both the good and the bad with equanimity”
synonyms: composure, calmness, calm, level-headedness, self-possession, self-control, even-temperedness, coolness, cool-headedness, presence of mind

These are qualities which are invaluable to practice in daily life.

If only we could find strength and stability within ourselves, instead of relying on our belongings, other people, or things we can’t control, perhaps we’d be much happier people.

You don’t have to be on or near a mountain to find stillness. It can be cultivated within you. Think of a mountain in situations where mindfulness is key. Can you absorb a little of its qualities?

Instead of trying to find peace on a mountain, be like one – enduring yet changing, flexible yet strong.

Imagine, having a sense of rootedness and resolve to persevere in the weather of our own lives, and to be able to face any situation or turmoil with composure and presence of mind.

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On Greed

The other day, I was having a conversation with my friend about which of the seven sins we felt we would be if we had to choose one.

I knew my answer straight away—I would be greed.

It may seem surprising, a self-proclaimed minimalist being guilty of greed out of all the sins, but that is exactly why I was attracted to a minimalist lifestyle in the first place—to keep my greed in check.

I don’t mean just material things. After a few years, it’s relatively easy for me to not desire new gadgets or designer clothing, but it’s less easy for me to not want to keep doing more.

It has happened to me many times in the past. Once I reach a goal, I don’t really stop to appreciate what I’ve done.  Instead, I’m already looking for the next challenge, and I push and push until I get there. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed. Either way, it’s not long before I want to push something else to the next level, or take on a new project. I’m usually not content to just sit there and do nothing. It’s endless.

This mindset of wanting to do more and more isn’t greedy in the traditional sense, but it is a kind of greed. I’m glad that I’m mindful of the fact that I should be more grateful for what I’ve done, but it’s not always a bad thing to want to accomplish more in life.

Where do you draw the line? Maybe this is why I write so much about success because I’m trying to define it in a way that I can be both satisfied with what I’ve done, but still strive to do better.

There is no clear answer, and even if there were, it would be different for everyone. We all need to find our own definitions for success, discover our own self worth, and learn how to balance all the forces that pull us in different directions. This is what it means to know thyself.

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On Tragedy

I was 300 metres away when it happened.

On 22nd May 2017, about 10:30pm as I was lying in bed, I heard a sudden, thunderous crashing sound.

For a moment, I thought it was actually thunder, but when I looked out of my window, it wasn’t raining.

I went out onto my balcony. Neighbours had come out too. “Did you hear that?” I shouted over, “Yeah, what was it?” they replied. “I don’t know” I said, as we all looked toward the train station at the end of our road.

We would soon find out. The station alarm came on. It told people to evacuate the area. Sirens started sounding in the distance. A stream of police and ambulances arrived. Thousands of people started filing out from the concert hall, Manchester Arena. Traffic was blocked up. Confused, curious, and concerned, my partner and I checked social media all night as details began to emerge.

At first we thought something might have collapsed, maybe a part of a building or a crane, it had happened before. But we couldn’t see any smoke. Maybe it was a train? We tried to stay rational, and not jump to any conclusions. But news started trickling through. Bad news. Something had happened at the Arena. A concert had just finished. Could it be something to do with a speaker, or some sort of stage effect? Looking back, it was way too loud to be something like that. We just didn’t want to think it was the one thing we were most afraid of…

A suicide bomber. A young male, who had lived and grown up in Manchester. It had happened, the terrible things you see on TV, it had happened to our home.

It was surreal. Unbelievable, except the blue lights kept flashing and sirens sounded all night. The police closed the roads and cordoned off the area. Injuries and fatalities were reported. Within a few days, all of the 22 people who had died had been named.

When it hit the news, it wouldn’t have been as real if we hadn’t heard the blast with our own ears, and saw the police and ambulances with our own eyes. They’re still there, right now, as I look out of my window. Police tape closes off the roads I have walked past a hundred times.

Now I have had nearly a week to reflect on it. I’m thankful that I’m fine, and so are my friends and loved ones, but that’s little consolation for the victims and families. The more I read about them (and I can’t help myself), the more sad I am for them. I feel a mixture of fear, guilt, and helplessness.

The tribute that was held for them was attended by thousands of people. Hundreds of flowers, cards, and candles have been laid out in the city centre. I went to pay my respects. It was good to see so many people there. Manchester has pulled together.

I love this city. It’s my home. I’m proud with how people have reacted, giving condolences, donating money, and helping where they can. I’ve noticed people being more kind to one another. Most people here aren’t ignorant enough to lay the blame on an entire religion. We’ve been saying, “We stand together”. That’s the kind of place this is.

Too often it takes a tragedy to remind us about what’s important in life. Those concert goers had no idea what was going to happen, but at least they were enjoying life to the full. We never know what life will bring, but the best we can do is to be thankful for each day and make the most of it.

Stay safe, and stay strong.

On Opportunity

Minimalism isn’t just about having less stuff. That’s only the beginning.

The reason why we get rid of things is to make room for opportunities that come our way.

Just think, if you were less burdened by stuff, you would realise that every day is an opportunity, a gift, and you would be able to make the most of it.

If you spent less you would work less. You would have more time, energy, and space to think clearly, to be creative, to be your best, to flourish, and to be happier.

You would grow into the mindset that every place is an opportunity to discover something new, to open your mind, and expand your horizons.

You would learn that every person you meet is an opportunity for friendship, intimacy, and love.

You would be grateful for every moment as an opportunity to live.

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On Wealth

Money and possessions aren’t the only measure of wealth.

Having or not having the latest smartphone, a wardrobe of designer clothes, or a shiny sports car doesn’t say much about your happiness, health, relationships, wisdom, or freedom.

How much you earn doesn’t reflect how much you enjoy life, or how much people genuinely care about you, or how much you’ve done for others.

The pursuit of wealth itself isn’t necessarily bad. It can be a noble path if it is earned by creating value, enriching others, or if wealth is used to benefit the greater good.

But look at any millionaire or billionaire and you’ll see that having a lot of money doesn’t automatically mean your life will be more fulfilled. If money comes at the cost of living the life you want (instead of the life others want you to want), then it is a high price to pay.

Your net worth is not your self worth. Your bank balance has little do with what your true value is, or how rich you really are.

There is so much abundance in the world, the ones who are really wealthy are the ones who make the most of it.

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On Money

There are two ways to be rich—to get everything you want, or to want everything you have.

It doesn’t matter how much money or how many possessions you’re talking about, the same rule applies to everyone.

Believe it or not, there are people who earn $100k salaries but live pay check to pay check (I have met them). These are people who are deeply unhappy even though they can afford to buy anything they want. What they don’t realise is that it’s not about how much you have, it’s about how much you appreciate what you already have.

The key here is gratitude. This part of minimalism is often forgotten about. You’re not getting rid of stuff because it looks neater, or because it’s fashionable. You do it because:

  1. With fewer things, you appreciate each thing more.
  2. You don’t spend as much time and energy working to buy more things, instead you use your resources on things that matter.

There is nothing wrong with working or having money. Money is a tool for freedom, and for people to do great things. It is not the root of all evil, rather it’s a magnifier that makes you more of who you are. If you’re already unhappy and selfish, you’ll be more unhappy and selfish with lots of money. If you’re content and kind, you’ll be more content and kind with lots of money.

So, you want to be rich? Good news, there is such thing as a ‘get rich quick scheme’. The secret is to be grateful for everything you already have. You’ll be richer than any millionaire.

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