Category Archives: Feature

Reclaim Your Dreams – A Review

Reclaim Your Dreams CoverReclaim Your Dreams is an ebook by Jonathan Mead who is a liberation artist I’ve seen taking this field by storm lately.  He runs his own website Illuminated Mind as well as writing for Zen Habits and Lateral Action, two prominent blogs in the field of simplicity, creativity and productivity.  All of this while still working a normal job, having a wife and occasionally (I bet) a life offline.

Jonathan put out a call for reviews of his ebook and I took the opportunity after reading about it on Mind the Beginner and a few other sites.

One thing you’ll notice in almost all of Jonathan’s writing is he doesn’t stick to the normal productivity, life hack ideas that get pushed around all the time.  He doesn’t let the standards of even the unconventional community dictate his words.  He stays true to his values.

On to the book.

The opening pages kick right off with five hitting statements.  My favorite two lines are “this is …. a call to live deliberately” and “this is a permission slip to be ridiculous”.  Deliberate ridiculousness is the name of the game in lifestyle design.  We have to choose to look like fools in the eyes of our friends and family because often they won’t understand the radical choices we choose to undertake to become the dreamers who create life on their own terms.

One of the root notions that Jonathan uses throughout the eBook is a contrast between heart and mind.  Whether it is seeing with the mind vs. the heart or thinking with the mind vs. the heart, it is a constant dichotomy that he uses.  The mind is often associated with the conventional, the conditioned, the practical and secure while the heart is associated with the free, the unconventional, the passionate, and the frivolous.

However, when I read a book for review the trained philosopher in me comes out and I start breaking things down.  Why use such a typical dichotomy, perhaps it’s for the ease of understanding or that’s how Mead truly feels where the difference is and in the land of life it’s hard to argue with a persons feelings.  In any case it’s a superfluous detail for most people but one that I noted.

Mead aims to help readers forge a bond between mind and heart.  He begins with a simple question: Why do you live?

Why do we live?  It’s easy enough to misplace our life by setting into autopilot.  We graduate from school, get a job, get a partner, get married, buy a house, have a couple kids, a car garage… blah blah blah.  It goes on into conventional style so overdone that it makes my brain hurt.  It has gotten to the point where saying 2.5 kids in a judging tone has gone from being a critique of convention to becoming the convention.

Mead answers it in a broad stroke.  If you don’t wake up happy what’s the point.  Because you’ve missed it.

He redefines the notion of success as: the person that’s most alive.

Part 1: Unbrainwashing.

Here is where Mead starts to dive into the meat of reclaiming your dreams.  First though you have to clear out all of that dredge holding you back.  This is the unbrainwashing.  The breaking down of the conventions that we have been domesticated with.  There are three chapters in Part 1 each with a different intention.

The first calls for you to reclaim ownership of your mind.  To get out of your own way and let yourself believe that you can do it.  Often times our harshest critics are ourselves and we often ask permission and then deny ourselves rather than apologizing to ourselves when things don’t work out.  Mead wants you to get around that.

The next calling is to stop caring.  To stop preparing for what is coming up.  To forget about the titles and statuses that define us in society as successful and go with living our life.  “Sometimes the smartest way to solve a problem [e.g. caring too much] is to stop participating in the problem.”  If you just let that care slip it liberates you to do with life as you will instead of getting the next level of life.

The last call for action in Part 1 is to undomesticate yourself.  This chapter focuses on removing the limits we place on ourselves.  If we want to do something in life we most likely can.  I may not be a world famous musician if I’m 25 and have never picked up an instrument before but I can definitely learn to play a few songs on a guitar if I take the time to do it.  To be interested in life rather than seeking out interesting things.  This is a lot like my notion of engagement.  You can’t live if you aren’t in your life.

Part 2: Manifestation

Now that Mead has helped you clear out the debris holding you back Part 2 is there to help you create your dreams.

My favorite part of Part 2 is right at the beginning.  Mead gives you three exercises to do.  Realize your dreams.  Find your purpose.  Understand your values.  These become the tools and guidelines for liberating yourself from the conventional life that has held you from your dreams.  I would recommend this book for this section alone, but even more so for the exercise that follows.

With the dreams, purpose and values in place Mead challenges you to write a personal manifesto and this is something I have taken to heart and started crafting.  This personal manifesto becomes like your mission statement, what you can look to help guide you through your decisions and actions.  I’ve read about personal statements or manifestos before and I think they are an excellent idea for anyone hoping to create change in their life.

One portion of the manifestation exercises I had not heard of before is the creation of a dream sanctuary.  This is where you can keep your dreams safe and where you can go to immerse yourself in them.  This is where you can find inspiration in times of drought or to go to when you feel your dreams are challenged by the world of circumstance.  You can do this in a variety of ways which he details and I recommend it highly.

The last three chapters in Part 2 revolve around 3 Keys to Success in Reclaiming Your Dreams, but rather than extolling on each one I will offer a brief list.

Key Number 1: Give Up (or overcoming uncertainty).

Key Number 2: Quit (or reclaiming ownership of your time)

Key Number 3: Skills (or creating love money)

In conclusion Mead’s Reclaim Your Dreams dives into the basics of creating the vision for action.  It is a way to blueprint your dreams into reality.  While it leans towards belonging in the self help section of a Borders it provides some interesting tools to start you on your way into living your life on your terms.

Buy Reclaim Your Dreams and Subscribe to Illuminated Mind.

Maintaining Momentum: It's Our Time and Our Focus

Time management and focus are two key factors to maintaining momentum in any creative process.

Every day I have to battle the urge to put something off; whether it’s writing, exercise, choreographing, or some other endeavor. I am a slacker and it is my internal battle to overcome; to count down and do it.

These are a few things I do to try to keep myself on track and going.

3 Steps to Better Time Management

1) Learn to Batch Process

Batching ProcessesBatching is a phrase used in production which has been adopted by the productivity community.

Typically batching involves setting aside a specific amount of time for a single process.  This is often for repetitive processes such as e-mail, bills, photo processing, reading Twitter messages, and so on.

If I step out of my writing process for five minutes to check my Twitter account it will often take me ten or fifteen minutes to get back in the writing groove.  Add in a couple times checking e-mail, Facebook, etc. and I’ve slowed down my writing process by an hour or more.

Batching out a block of time to check e-mail, read or respond to Twitter messages, etc. keeps me from interrupting my regular work flow by going back and forth between different activities.

2) List 3 Important Tasks

I find this one particularly helpful and one that I’m most often to lapse on.

It takes only a few minutes to write out these tasks the night before in my notebook but when I wake up the next day I have a manageable and effective list of activities to perform in my day.

These tasks should be ones that are going to (a) make you feel fulfilled having accomplished them; (b) produce major results; and (c) be reasonable in a days time frame.

With this list written down I’m much more likely to commit segments of my day to following through on these actions.  Without a list my commitments are amorphous and it is hard to block my time.

3) Plan for Downtime

Lastly make sure you are reasonable with your time.  Plan in some down time, whether it’s with family, friends or by yourself.

Free time and leisure time is essential to the creative process.  Our brains work in the background when we take time to relax so don’t micro-manage your time.  Give yourself some leeway in your schedule so you can take fifteen minutes to sip your cup of tea and decompress.

I am a huge fan of downtime, perhaps because I’m a slacker or perhaps because I just like enjoying my cup of tea, but it is essential to my day to have it.  The challenge is just to make sure that my entire day doesn’t become downtime.

3 Steps to Better Focus

1) Minimize Distractions

Zen Pond - Not All Zen MastersWe are not all zen masters capable of performing in perfect focus while being surrounding by all the distractions of the world.

Especially with the number of devices and services vying for your attention at any given moment (phone, e-mail, twitter, facebook, youtube, etc.) when it is time to focus let them go.  They’ll be there when you are done.

So don’t have fifteen browser windows open with e-mail, facebook, and twitter all in clicking distance.  Close those browser windows, turn off widgets which pop-up notifications, and turn off Outlook reminders.

The one that gets me all the time is my phone.  I text a great deal with my friends.  Yet when I need to focus and a text comes in I’m lost for fifteen minutes fiddling with my fancy iPhone.  Turn it off, put it out of sight.

Lastly, be in control of your creative environment.  Wear headphones.  Close doors.  Get in your zone and don’t leave it.

2) Be Prepared

At least the boy scouts had something right.  Be prepared for when you need to focus.

If you need a piping hot cup of coffee at hand (like me) make sure you have a carafe sitting next to you so you can top up that mug as you drain it between paragraphs.

Take the time to setup your creative environment with the materials you need.  It’ll pay off to have a few extra things on hand that you might need instead of interrupting your flow and leaving your workspace.

For some people this means having a particular mug, a special pen, their favorite kind of notepad, or other ritual devices.  Make sure you have them with you.

3) The 5 Minute Rule

If you find yourself losing focus, use the 5 Minute Rule.

Say to yourself, “another five minutes,” and keep at it for another five minutes.

Often I’ll find that by the time five minutes has passed I’ve worked through that momentary disconnect and have gotten back on track.

Sometimes you’ll work another five minutes and still be losing focus.  Then, maybe it’s time for a little break and some downtime to recoup.  But usually pushing through that wall will open you up to a whole new field to run in.

You’re Not Alonehammock 300x225 Maintaining Momentum: It's Our Time and Our Focus

Time management is my greatest struggle.

I don’t like having a set schedule most of the time, I’ve lived on my own terms time wise for a long time and it has been enjoyable yet detrimental to my effectiveness in various ventures.  Using a few guidelines to keep me in check help me focus energies.

What are some of your time management and focus hacks or tricks to keep you on track?

Nonconformists – We Merry Followers

If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity.

~Bill Vaughn

I’m a fan of getting out of the traditional lifestyle.

Quit the 9 to 5

Escape payday

Work from anywhere

Liberate yourself

Finance your freedom

But when does all this freedom and liberation become it’s own band of merry followers?

Are you a follower?

In our nonconformist bubble it’s easy to fall into a Guru follower mentality where we find our savior in nonconformity and fall in line behind them.  Whether it’s Timothy Ferriss, Leo Babauta, Chris Guillebeau, Clay Collins or others (there are many possible gurus to pick and choose from).

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

~Buddha

Three artists of nonconformity who stand out from the crowd for me are Clay Collins, Jonathan Mead and Chris Guillebeau.  They cut to the chase and don’t let you run blindly behind them.

Chris runs The Art of Nonconformity and is a world traveler who has always been self-employed.  He has become a full time writer in less than a year and the products he sells are accessibly priced and genuinely designed to help. He offers two exceptional e-books free, the latest documenting his transition to becoming a full time writer in 279 Days to Overnight Success.

Jonathan Mead is a name that I see coming up over and over again recently.  His own blog, Illuminated Mind, runs counter to a lot of lifestyle and unconventional life blogs.  My favorite post of his lately is Non-Conformity, My Ass; or Why We’re All A Bunch of Posers.  Read Jonathan.  He’s bursting the bubble for us.

Clay Collins is one person that has been great to interact with and learn from.  One thing that sets Clay apart from other liberation artists and internet marketers is the directness of his advice.  It is occasionally harsh but it is advice from the right place.  Latest kick in the ass: It IS Your Fault.  Clay works hard and expects you to do the same.

Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!

~Monty Python

Make sure you aren’t just collecting swords.

When you undertake a lifestyle choice make sure you take the time to examine it in the context of your own life.  What may work for Tim Ferriss in automation might not work with your particular ethic in life.

The most successful liberation artists spend a time analyzing their lives and systems, deconstructing methodologies and finding the roots from which to grow their own process.

A follower accepts systems blindly and without question.

A liberation artist deconstructs systems and uses what works for them.

It’s easy to follow someone you respect.

It’s hard to say no to someone you respect.

Make sure you know what you’re getting into when you start down a deliberate life.  Make sure that each step is deliberate and chosen by you.

Go Out and Own It

Ownership.

I hear that word and I don’t think of a car dealership or a mortgage.

I think of how I represent in my actions.

In lindy hop there is a difference between a dancer who can own it and one who can’t. When you own your movement your intention is clear and present.

If you don’t own it you can have the flashiest trick but you won’t win the crowd the way a dancer who merely walks but owns every step.

I struggled for a very long time understanding ownership in my own life. As someone quite capable in most of my pursuits I didn’t need to take responsibility and represent in my actions. Moderate success (which was passable) came to me. Yet I never truly excelled or connected with what I did.

I believed I didn’t need to invest the effort to do it right.

I lacked ownership

At some point I had to take accountability, responsibility and ultimately ownership of my actions or accept a life of mediocrity.

Claim the events of your life! When you posses all you have been and done, you are fierce with reality.

Florida Scott-Maxwell

Recently this has been most evident in my financial life. I talked about saving or watching where my money went but until I finally held myself accountable and took ownership of my finances I struggled with overdrafts, bounced checks, and overspending.

The minute I took ownership of my financial life by creating a balance sheet for all of my accounts in which I recorded every cent I spent whether cash, credit or debit and every one I earned, my financial life turned upside down (or right side up really).

I almost immediately stopped overdrafting.

I put money into an ING Direct savings account (which I don’t touch).

I paid down my credit card debt (it is my goal by the end of 2009 to be consumer debt free).

Most importantly:

I felt empowered.

Taking ownership of my finances had given me power and confidence over a section of my life that always made me feel uncomfortable.

Become fierce with reality.

Power is in representing in your actions. When you put yourself forward, put your whole self forward. Leave nothing in question when you take an action.

Go out and own it!

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The 3-2-1 Method

The 3-2-1 Method of getting things done is perhaps quicker and more effective than any other system I’ve come across.

It’s not for complex tasks but the simple ones that confront you in your daily life which you put off over and over even if they’d only take a minute.

My friend Gina familiarized this method with me back in January and all credit goes to her.

It goes like this:

When confronted with an issue which will only take a moment to resolve yet which you are reluctant to do get in your head for a few seconds.

Count down.

3

2

1

Then do it. Say it. Write it down. Type it. Send it.

At the beginning you might have to count down a few times or maybe count down from ten but I’ve found when I’m stuck on something 3-2-1 gets it done.

What methods do you have to get things done that aren’t to do listing or high setup productivity systems?

How To Lose A Scarf (or all of it)

My advice to you today is:

Cut out the crap that holds you back.

I was in Montreal a few weeks ago and I lost one of the most important things I owned. It wasn’t much in terms of money but to replace it emotionally is nearly impossible.

It was a scarf. More precisely a pashmina that I folded over and over into a scarf which faded from light pink to mauve. It was given to me by an ex-girlfriend as a reminder of her when I got kicked out of Canada. I wore it nearly everyday (minus the scorchers in NYC) and it became a sort of signature for me amongst my friends.

Carl and his mauve scarf.

While I was in Montreal someone (mistakenly I hope) took it.

I scoured the dance studio, the bar I had been at, the restaurant I had been at before that, and I couldn’t find it. I became incredibly upset. I would use the word fuming.

In honest opinion I felt naked without it. It had become as much a part of me as my tattoo.

I have recently written on overcoming adversity and sometimes it’s hard to follow your own advice on these things. The easiest thing to follow was to allow myself to actually feel that disconnect from a part of me. It hurt and made me angry.

The next day, a friend handed me a different scarf, orange and sans emotional attachment, and I felt warm again.  It is still winter in Montreal till May sometimes.

In addition to the comfort of having a scarf wrapped around my neck, the loss of this emotionally laden object finally cut me free from a year of guilt. I had held on to the scarf as I had held on to the relationship.  With the scarf gone the residual pain and resentment I held over myself dissipated.

So my advice to you again:

Let go of the objects which hold you back from fully living today. Whether it was a mauve scarf like mine or something else, let it go, feel the pain and become free.

How To – Living out of a Suitcase 101

Living out of a suitcase 101

“How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Live with just that?”

What we were talking about is my suitcase.

How do I live out of one suitcase?

Here I’ll explain a little about my process of downsizing and the effort to simplify my existence by removing the burden of possessing.  In essence Living out of a Suitcase 101.

Downsizing – My Process of Liberation

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.

Epictetus, Stoic Philosopher

In a little more than a year I have gone from having an apartment full of the accoutrement of daily life (bed, desktop computer, kitchen wares, bookshelves filled with books, etc.) to living out of one carry-on sized suitcase and a messenger bag.  My initial downsizing was forced when I was denied reentry to Canada for a year.  My following downsizing has been by choice.

I moved to New York City in January 2008 with a rolling garment bag, a smaller suitcase, and my Chrome messenger bag.  I lived with friends for two months while I searched for a room of my own.  That room came in the form of a converted office adjoining a bedroom in a triplex in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.  It was six feet wide and at most ten feet in length.  I had a large window to a balcony, a scavenged end table and bookshelf (as dresser), and slept on an air mattress.

November 2008 I was laid off.  Relationship came to an end.  I had no reason to stay in the City or the Northeast for that matter.  Within two weeks I had decided to leave New York and try my hand at vagabonding.  My process of liberation was at hand.

Simplicity – Breaking the Chains of Attachment

Chains How To   Living out of a Suitcase 101

Our crude civilization engenders a multitude of wants. . . . Our forefathers forged chains of duty and habit, which bind us notwitstanding our boasted freedom, and we ourselves in desperation, add link to link, groaning and making medicinal laws for relief.

John Muir, Kindred and Related Spirits

On the road it is is justifiably more difficult to live with an excess of things.  There is the sheer physical weight of carrying your stuff from one place to another but ever more burdening is the attachment to possessing.

Attachment to possessing burdens me whether I am vagabonding or working in an office 9 to 5. It is easy to fall prey to, and I have no exception to this weakness.  It is already an old adage that we are bombarded by advertisements, that we live in a society of consumption, and that we measure ourselves by the things we have.

Breaking out of this perspective is our first step.

To do this I took a cue from Aristotle. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”  To live more simply I had to act by breaking the chains of attachment.

The initial action is often the hardest.

Confronting the prospect of going through my possessions and classifying them as donation, junk, store, or take was daunting.  I was amazed at the accumulation of things that were mine, and it is still not all whittled away.  Where did I start?

Just go and don’t ask questions.

Rather than debate each item, I attacked the problem as aggressively as I could throwing things into piles based on my initial reaction.

Going with your gut, or, the Ready, Fire, Aim method is the quickest way to get started.  You can always backtrack a bit and move things around later but your biggest obstacle is starting.

I had long ago realized I wore only a small percentage of my clothing regularly.  I would not miss the rest.  They were merely the outliers of my outfit regimen, benefiting me only a fraction of what they cost me in keeping.  Those few items I believed would be required later in the future were pressed into storage, the rest bagged and donated.

As for the rest of my possessions, very few of the things that I had would benefit me on the road.  With my Macbook Pro and iPhone I had all the necessary means for communication and working covered.  I had a copy of Vagabonding, a notebook, a safety razor and a few odds-and-ends.  Anything else I have needed I have picked up on the way or borrowed.

Now What – Living out of a Suitcase

Once you’ve cut out all of those non-essentials looking at your suitcase or backpack as the only burden on the road will make the road ahead appear closer, more accessible and lighthearted.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing.

-Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

This simplicity gives us liberation.  Taking responsibility of the things we possess and reducing that to an understandable level gives us freedom to live.

We become eccentric.  Unconventional.  Foolish.  Free.