Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues

I’ve often failed with new year’s resolutions, this isn’t exactly a resolution, it’s just something I’ll be attempting starting 2016.
I recently came across Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues. Simply said, he came up with a system to practice one thing (I would call it a value) for 1 week, then moved on to the next, for 13 weeks. He repeated those 13 virtues 4 times a year, which makes it 52 weeks, exactly how long a year is.
What I loved about that is that:

  • The virtues were general enough to be applied to many aspects of one’s everyday life.
  • One can effortlessly sustain probably anything for 1 week (unlike a month, which is sometimes too long for some of us).
  • You can choose your own personal virtues which are even more relevant to you.
  • This is a great way to practice improving things over and over again, until they become natural.

Here’s a quick brief of Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues:

  1. Temperance: “Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.” Easily applied to eating habits. This doesn’t necessarily have to apply to alcohol.
  2. Silence: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.”
    Cut out complaining, gossip, and anything that you’re just saying to seek attention, give yourself that love.
  3. Order: “Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.”
    Simply said, work hard, play hard! We often take either/or for granted. Could also be applied to physical objects around your house.
  4. Resolution: “Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.”
    Get shit done!
  5. Frugality: “Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.”
    Become more aware of your spending habits and any resources you might be taking advantage of (electricity, water, food …)
  6. Industry: “Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.”
    We spend way too much time on Facebook and other platforms.
  7. Sincerity: “Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
    Don’t be an asshole, practice compassion and empathy.
  8. Justice: “Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
    Think of the consequences of your actions, you might be free to choose for yourself, but don’t hurt others on the way.
  9. Moderation: “Avoid extremes. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
    Stop the drama.
  10. Cleanliness: “Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.”
    I would easily apply this to the useless clutter I usually have on my desk, and in my room.
  11. Chastity: “Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; Never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
    Even though the word directly relates to sexual intercourse, in our society we can apply it to how we treat our partners and appreciate them.
  12. Tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
    Stop fussing over the small things. Find a way to connect with yourself everyday, whether that is getting in touch with nature, meditation, writing, or prayer.
  13. Humility: “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”
    Find your own inspiration, stay modest, be open to others’ differences.

How Franklin Documented:

Benjamin Franklin kept a daily journal, he didn’t write about his experience, he just made 1 dot for every time he fell short on one of the virtues for that day.

This is a great way to keep things hassle free, simple, and easy to compare when you’re repeating the process. The most important part here is awareness and honesty.

I encourage anyone who’s interested to share their journey with me as well.

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8 Mind-Changing Books I’ve Read in 2014

Just before I start, I must admit that I’ve listened to most of these books, rather than read them. I’ve just used the word “read” in the title because I couldn’t find a better word, and “finished” was too long and inexpressive. To me, it doesn’t matter what the method was, as long as I’ve gained the knowledge, but Audible has been a great addition to my life in the past 2 years.

I’ve always loved books. I love browsing through libraries and bookstores, I have a notable affinity towards places full of books from ground to ceiling (literally), I was just never self-disciplined enough to read when I was younger. I love knowledge, and I always have, but as a kid, I just always felt overwhelmed by long books, and I usually didn’t commit to reading the books I bought.

In the past few years, this has been gradually changing, and a few days ago I realized I’ve finished 27 books in 2014. If you’re a reader, I’m pretty sure you’ve finished more than that 2 and a quarter books per month. However, as I’ve stated earlier, I’m a person who’s always loved books, I just always kept them stored, so this is the year’s proudest accomplishment.

Unfortunately, with my current obsession, I’ve realized that my life won’t be long enough to read all the books I’m interested in as well as still have a life outside them, so I’m becoming more picky and experienced in choosing my books, and this year I’m aiming on selecting books with a deeper meaning, and which help me go through an even deeper level of exploration.

I’m writing this blogpost to share my top 8 books of 2014, promising that they will not be a waste of time for you, or at least I hope they wont. So here they are in random order:

Quiet – Susan Cain

I’ve written a whole post dedicated to this book and how it made me start questioning many things in my past, present, and future. What I’ve learned most through time is that being an extrovert is not ideal for everyone, and that I should feel comfortable in my own skin, not always strive to fit in that ideal. What I’ve learned from the book is that most people think the same, but that introverts have so many natural benefits that we can learn from, and that when communicating with others, we should be empathic enough to understand where they’re coming from.

This book is worth a read, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert or something in between.

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

If I would choose one of these books as my favorite, it would be this one. This book was the most influential for me this year, to the extent that I recommended it to many friends, and even bought it as a gift to a dear friend of mine, with complete conviction that she will love it.

In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield discusses his ideas regarding procrastinating on our biggest dreams, and how our fear (like fear of failure, or even fear of success) creates resistance which gets us stuck. He criticises the artist in us who’s often a dreamer, a perfectionist, and not a doer, at least not consistently. This book is perfect for you if you’re always dreaming about what you want to accomplish, but you’re not doing anything about it. It’s going to intrude deeply and within your soul and show you how to connect to your inner being. This book isn’t about being more productive, it’s a guide to connect to your creative self and really break the barriers of resistance.

Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder

Know nothing about philosophy but want to at least have an idea? Sophie’s World is gonna give you more than that. Jostein Gaarder tells a story of a little girl who one day gets a letter asking her, “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?”.

Ignore what I said about learning philosophy, yes the book does help with that, however, this book will feed your mind with questions, and confuse you. It’ll ask you the same questions it’s asking Sophie. You will realize that everything you thought you knew is actually an infinitesimal amount of knowledge you can know, which is way less than what you will never figure out. You will find your story in Sophie’s.

What Are You Hungry For? – Deepak Chopra

If being healthy, fit and light is a priority for you and something you’re willing to focus on, this book’s definitely for you. Deepak Chopra helps you realize that hunger doesn’t have to be hunger for food, and that the reason you’re unhappy with your body is most probably not even related to the fact that you overeat. This book taught me a lot about how my view of myself, self-limiting beliefs and insecurities are the real reasons I fill myself up with food, which is only a short term satisfaction. Dr. Chopra has guided me into digging deeper and getting to know myself more rather than just my body, and that our bodies follow our innermost courage or fear. This book fed my soul.

The Secrets of the Power of Intention – Dr. Wayne D. Dyer

The Secrets of the Power of Intention is actually a lecture presented by Dr. Dyer. It might seem a bit too religious or spiritual for some, but I personally loved the concept of the field of intention. Dr. Dyer discusses the difference between “doing” and “being”. We all know that doing is very difficult, we barely start new projects, and when we do, we barely finish them unless we absolutely have to. In this lecture, Wayne Dyer turns doing into being, being part of a field of intention, an energy field and the choice to feel good that give us the effortless momentum we often lack when we’re just focused on action. Loved listening to it, and I would do it over and over again.

One More Thing – B.J. Novak

Some might argue that this book doesn’t teach you a lot because it’s a couple of comedy, short stories. I completely disagree, because I’ve enjoyed this book beyond any other form of entertainment. The stories were so unique and interesting, and I fell in love with B.J. Novak, that I’m now convinced I should watch all of his creations.

If I have to say what I learned from this book, it would be the fact that you can always take something further, creatively. A lot of the stories here are based on other, older stories, but the way they changed throughout really astonished me. This book is bold, the ideas in the stories are things you probably never ever thought of.

David and Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is one of my most respected authors. He’s the perfect example of how you can provide scientific research and results in the most fluid manner. It was difficult for me to recommend David & Goliath, because I love all of Gladwell’s books including Blink, the Tipping Point, and Outliers, and I think they’re all worth reading. However, this one’s the most meaningful to me.

Gladwell discusses the advantages of disadvantages and the disadvantages of advantages, it helped me comprehend that I can find positive things in my hardships, and that I have to use my privileges right so they don’t go to waste. It also makes me believe in everyone, no matter how unfortunate or fortunate they are. With plenty of stories presented as examples, Gladwell will also ask you reflective questions which might help you set new values and find unfamiliar ways to approach some major life decisions.

Creative Confidence – Tom Kelley & David Kelley

And last but not least, Creative Confidence. Before you skip to the end, this book doesn’t target creatives only. On the contrary, this books tells everyone that whatever they’re doing, they can be creative and they can change the world with that. Design thinking is a huge part of this book. The book is also rich with examples and stories from all over the world of how people created impactful products, services and startups in a very short time, and how they’ve pivoted along the way, away from their initial solutions.

This is a great read for creatives and non-creatives, but especially for people in or approaching the startup life.

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Mindset, Clarity, and Loving Life

More often than not, I come across friends and strangers who are completely unaware about how they’re choosing to see life. Many of those people then go through a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts, getting them to end up feeling ungrateful, worthless, depressed, and even suicidal. Even though almost everyone in this life will go through a life-changing challenge or a few, I’ve seen that the people who have a mindful and aware mindset come out of these challenges strong and powerful rather than beaten.

Some people I know have gone through very difficult things like death of a parent/child, or being abused as a child, and seem to still be able to appreciate the small things and feel grateful about the life they’re living. While others, could go through something like a heartbreak or being rejected by someone they love, which in retrospect, is trivial, and end up feeling worthless and disappointed in God or life, not wanting to live another day.

I am not belittling pain, and I hope that I am right about the fact that I will always have an option about how I choose to see things and feel about them. The thing is, it’s not what you’ve been through that breaks you, it’s your mindset of feeling powerless and giving up, instead of doing something about it, or working on how you will accept it. If you want to be ungrateful, you will always find something to make you feel that way, no matter how good life is, and the opposite is also true.

Another thing is, it is never too late to alter the way you think. Never. Our brains are fascinating, they make it easy for us to change anything, even if this has been a thought we’ve been thinking everyday since we were born, all we have to do it know that we are capable of physically reshaping how we think. Our brains have synapses and neural pathways which work in a certain way. The thoughts and things we do (physical and mental) over and over again carve specific pathways, when we replace that thought or habit, our brain follows new pathways, and forgets about old ones.

Think of it this way, the first time you ever drove to a new job, you might have been a little bit confused. However, the fact that you drove to the same job everyday for a while got you used to it, that it started to feel like your car just knows which turns to take. It became very automatic. You just had to practice it a few times first, and then the road was engraved.

Neuroplasticity is exactly that! It’s proof that our brains are not static organs, you can reshape your brain over and over again however many times you want, all you have to do is show it which stream to follow, and it will keep doing that, using the older streams less and less. All it takes is a decision.

If you’re going through a negative phase right now, here are some things I like to do that help me get out of being overwhelmed with negativity. Remember that what you want to do is change your brain to feel this less often, that means that you can’t jump from total sadness to extreme joy, it’s just not realistic. You won’t believe it, you’d just be numbing it out, which is not the point. Again, if you can’t change the situation or what got you here in the first place, the next action step should be to accept and forgive.

1. Focus Wheel (Extracted from Abraham Hicks’ many teachings):

One of the things that help me feel better almost instantly is usually diminishing my troubles and gaining perspective. Your problem, it’s not that big, there are people who are in way worse circumstances. The first step is to identify how you’re feeling, and the fact that you want to take an active role in changing it. You need a pen and paper for this exercise, feel free to do the steps as you read this. Do not right down the negative emotion, just know it in your head. What you want to draw is a circle, with the outcome you want in the end, inside it. So if you’re feeling demotivated to get a job done, you want to write something on the lines of, “I am feeling enthusiastic and motivated to finish this task with ease.” Don’t worry, you don’t have to believe it yet, you just want to expect this outcome with optimism, and write it as if you’re really feeling it now, don’t worry about how.

Draw another big circle around the one you started with, and divide the space between the 2 circles into 8 to 12 equal steps. Number these sections from 1-8/12. Starting with 1, write down your current (negative) emotion or problem. It would probably be something like, “I am feeling lazy and shitty.”

The aim from step 1 until the end is to choose a slightly better feeling thought every step of the way, so your brain can actually believe it. In 2, you could accept the fact that you’re feeling lazy. After that, 3, you can express that you know you’ve had way more difficult/boring tasks before. Then you want to, 4, take it to the next level telling yourself that it’s an unworthy burden, so you might as well get it done. Then, 5, write about how it actually won’t take as much time as you think. Keep going and going until you’ve filled up all the steps, choosing something better every time, with the purpose of feeling enthusiastic/joyful in the end.

Take your time with each step, and really raise your emotional level to that thought, don’t just write it, the point is to become more aware about how small and insignificant in your life this can be once its over.

2. Count your blessings/Write a list:

Being consumed in the big unfortunate thing happening in your life at the moment will keep you stuck there, when it’s probably not something that is worth it. You know what they say about gratitude, “count your blessings.” So do that, don’t just count them, write them in a list. If you’re feeling worthless, write the things you love about yourself, and if you can’t write a lot, ask your friends and family what they love about you most. Negativity makes us blind to all the good things around us, but if you just take 10 minutes to be thankful for the bed you get to sleep on and the roof over your head, it will make you realize that no matter how bad you’ve got it, there are people out there who are in way more gruelling predicaments.

3. Meditate:

Meditation is all about being fully aware of the present moment, and watching your thoughts pass by but without them rushing into your mind and staying there, also without judgement. It’s all about clarity. Meditation isn’t only done while you’re sitting in a certain position and being guided by a recorded voice of a Buddhist monk. Meditation could be anything that calms your mind and settles it. Find your own meditation, whether it be writing, painting, taking photographs, or anything that keeps undeserving thoughts from ruining your clarity.

If you do prefer to meditate in the more traditional way, there are phone apps like “Stop, Breathe and Think”, “Digipill” as well as loads of Youtube videos to help you become more soothed. So take a short break that will get your mind off the problem, and you will realize that it no longer has to occupy space in your head.

4. Sleep it off, but decide to wake up feeling better:

“Whether you think you can, or you can’t, you’re right.” Because of our, once again, fascinating brains, we should all agree with this quote by Henry Ford. If you’ve got the confident optimism that you are powerful, your brain will believe that and help you accomplish whatever it is you’re wishing for. Maybe all you need is some sleep, so call it a day, and promise yourself that once you just get some rest, you will be waking up feeling fresh and crisp, just believe that without thinking about how, and it’ll come as long as you don’t doubt it. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually have to do everything yourself, your brain can help, even while you’re sleeping. You can do it!

5. Cleanse your anxiety away:

With dust everywhere around us in Cairo, it’s easy to say we’re all pretty contaminated after a long day outside. What you can do is actually use this to your advantage, and imagine that the dust and mud represent your worries and anxiety. Go for a shower and really savor it, enjoy the heat or the chill of the water, whichever you prefer, and imagine that you’re not only cleansing your body, you’re also cleansing your soul. Turn the everyday experience into a non-physical one as well.

6. Give:

Did you know that it’s scientifically proven that if you give away a small percentage of your money to others, you become happier about how you spent it? Now I’m not saying you have to buy someone a gift (unless you want to), all I’m saying is, if giving money makes you happier, wouldn’t giving positive emotions give you joy as well? Don’t you feel happy when other people around you are happy? Doesn’t joy multiply infinitely when it’s shared, rather than become depleted? Next time you’re feeling low, try to give someone a hug rather than asking for one, you’ll be surprised at how good supplying love makes you feel. Be like the Queen of Fire:

“The Queen of Fire is so rich, so much a queen, that she can afford to give. It doesn’t even occur to her to take inventories or to put something aside for later. She dispenses her treasures without limits, welcoming all and sundry to partake of the abundance, fertility and light that surrounds her.”

Extracted from the “Sharing” card from Osho Zen Tarot.

7. Walk/Dance/Skate it off:

When you’re feeling stuck with a problem, you want to, in a way, distract yourself, and not think too consciously about it. Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Just cut off thinking about the problem, and do something that your body knows how to do, which would keep your attention on something general like your body. You will feel better, maybe because your blood flow will increase, or perhaps because good ideas will rush towards you making you feel better than A-OK.

8. Trust the process and the outcome:

Lastly, more frequently than not, we feel confused, lost and unhappy due to things not happening like we want them to, or taking too long to flourish. This is when you need to remember to trust the process. Stop working so hard on how you’re going to make everything happen, everything is happening as long as you’re positive about the outcome and you trust it. Just relax, and let things be, knowing that everything will fall into place. You’re here for joy.

I feel substantially good just to be writing this. Thank you for reading.

Many of the ideas in this blogpost were inspired by:

Abraham Hicks

Creative Confidence by Tom & David Kelley

Osho Zen Tarot – Cards

Ideal You, Ideal Me

We often get consumed in the idea that our expectations are the same as everybody else’s. Growing up, we have a hard time figuring out ourselves and what we’re comfortable to be deep down. It’s difficult enough to come to the realization that, “the more we know, the more we know we don’t know,” nevertheless accept that thought, and act proactively rather than passively. Right after we start getting the hang of it, we apply our experiences to others, and only our experiences, or the past experiences of those closest to us, the ones that have moved us the most. We also apply others’ experiences to ourselves if it’s new to us. We miss out on, not one, not two, but hundreds of other sides and stories.

I lived most of my life thinking I’m an extrovert. I enjoyed myself being a crazy, out-going, silly, loud person, and I thought I got most of my energy from the people around me, be it my friends or family. I only set aside 10% of my time for reflection about my life and experiences, and I always needed those 10% because that’s when my noisy life finally became quiet. But sometimes I forgot to set aside that alone time, and I ended up crashing and burning, sick for a few days in bed, or completely confused about my life and feeling gloomy.

Living an extroverted life gets you to meet more extroverts, get along really well, and it makes your extrovert circle bigger and bigger, making you think it’s the norm. You feel great because people look up to you, they want to be like you. However, extroversion is not the norm, neither is anything else. And that’s the problem. Being the way you are through the experiences saved up in your conscious and subconscious memories makes you forget that others don’t have to be wrong when they’re different, they can just be different. It also doesn’t mean you’re strange or not living life to the fullest if you’re the opposite. Yes, I know you know that, but I think you really don’t unless you’ve been through it.

A bit over two years ago, I met someone amazing. This personality was totally new to me. I admired his focus, passion and ambition. We got along so well from the very start, and it felt great, because I thought that this person was just like me. I didn’t know though, that this person would turn out to be my exact opposite (or at least what I thought was my exact opposite back then), a complete introvert. I also didn’t know that I would see that as a strength, and learn so much from it. Finally, I didn’t know that someone’s comfort in their own skin could inspire a person who viewed extroversion as the ideal, to come to terms and actually want to be more introverted, even if not fully.

The Extrovert Ideal:

I recently read the book Quiet by Susan Cain. I’ve seen and heard great things about the book before I started, but a part of me always used to get offended by the phrase on the outside, “The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.” What’s that supposed to mean? Is the author implying that extroverts can’t be as intelligent as introverts? Is she implying that I can’t succeed if I wanted to? When I decided to start reading the book and not be cynical about what the cover said, I realized I had already learned countless lessons about both personalities and the things in between, and that was why I gave it a chance, two years after dating an introvert.

After two years of not reading the book, and after I’ve experienced being with an introvert, he and Quiet made me question my whole life, everything I am or was a part of. They made me think about how I deal with people at work, how I initiate learning experiences throughout my team. It helped me recognize why some people could respond to loving things I do differently than others. I’ve reflected on my time in school, university, student activities and workshops I’ve been to. All of those things had one main thing in common: everything is better when it’s more interactive. But now I know that this is what people think is the norm, even though half of them don’t feel good about that. I can’t conclude that my environment imposed the extrovert ideal on me, just like I can’t conclude that it didn’t. All I know is, what I allowed to influence me was very aligned to it, and I lived in fear of becoming anything different, whether it felt good or not.

I used to be terrified of being alone in public, not because of any dangers I might be exposed to, but because I didn’t want people to look at me and judge that I’m a lonely loser (even when I knew I wasn’t). My friends and many acquaintances were my shield, but I didn’t know it back then, I just felt more comfortable about having more friends, rather than closer ones. I did have a balance between both though, and I genuinely enjoyed my company with most of the people I hung out with.

Now, the extroverts reading this might think I am now rooting for introversion just like I thought the author of the book was doing. However, I am only encouraging self love and acceptance. You don’t have to be an introvert, just like you don’t have to be an extrovert. Also, you don’t have to put a label or a percentage at all, you could be a beautiful mixture of zestful solitude as well as the most popular person in that club. Just don’t miss out on your nature thinking that being the party animal is always better than the romantic book reader.

What I Missed by Aligning to the Extrovert Ideal:

  • Feeling good about myself when I thought others judged me

I used to claim I didn’t care what others thought of me, but years after growing out of the need to prove that, I learned that I did. I knew I was genuinely nice and lovable, and I knew I had smart interests that could impress others. I just never trusted that part of me, and made myself feel bad if I didn’t know enough people, and didn’t go to all those outings/weddings I got invited to. I always convinced myself that I should go up and confidently introduce myself, even when I knew nothing about the other person. This was my view of working on myself and confidence. When I look back, I feel fortunate to have met great people in the process, but I shouldn’t have beaten myself up if I just didn’t feel like getting to know someone new. I thought I always had to want that.

  • Focusing on my passions which are mostly done in solitude

Some people are so extroverted, they’re so good at focusing on people and jobs that require constant communication with everyone around them. This is their type of focus, this is where they excel, and this is what makes them successful. However, success doesn’t have to be set forth through popularity. Success could be translated by commitment, someone who shows up everyday, alone, writing that story or making that drawing. Someone who doesn’t need to be motivated by others to finish their work. It could also be a balance between both to someone who’s in the middle.

  • Learning from my past projects by doing them more mindfully

I’ve always filled up my schedule with things I want to do with others, but never with/by myself. I never set aside the time to write, draw, paint, do calligraphy, or anything else I could do on my own, because that to me was a waste of time. I wish I hadn’t overlooked everything I was truly passionate about though, also only because I was fearful of others’ prejudices.

  • Lots of places I could have gone to if I hadn’t forced myself into becoming sick

Over-worked and over-stimulated by the loud world around me, I always ended up depleting my energy completely and never sitting down to reflect on where I am or what I’m currently doing. I’ve missed a lot of nice places I could have gone to with others, and a lot of intimacy. I’m happy I’m learning to take breaks and remember I don’t have to show up to that birthday I don’t feel like going to.

Here I am again, reminding you as well as myself to be mindful and live passionately. You don’t have to be the expectation of others, but you don’t have to resist it either. Just let who you are fall into place, you will know you’re there when you feel comfortable. Do things you truly enjoy, whether you’re alone or with others, whether you’re part of a team, or prefer doing that thing alone. Don’t judge the person who wants to sleep at 10pm because they want to wake up at a time when they won’t get distracted by others. Live your life fully, whether that means you’re partying or working. Don’t be afraid of people, they’re just people who have the same thoughts and insecurities you might be feeling at the moment.

Oh, and, I noticed I’ve been trying to become an introvert, when I shouldn’t be trying, so my conclusion is, I’m something in between, and I admire everyone else who’s part of the spectrum.

A lot of the reflections here were inspired by Susan Cain’s Quiet, definitely a book worth reading.

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The Positives of the Negatives

Chaos that is constant in places including, but not limited to, Cairo really affects me negatively, every single day. People, whether I work with them or deal with them in public places are also a source of that negativity, partly. I think this is the story of everyone’s life, but we don’t realize that the unclear haze is within us. Condemning the outside world never changes anything, and here’s my take on how bad things make you believe and stay positive by choice.

Being a person who often falls in the above trap, I’m trying to exercise having more compassionate and patient habits. I started taking mental notes of the positives and negatives in my daily life. It feels great to wake up in the morning feeling enthusiastic about the day and looking forward to it, but with the inescapable negative stimulation I encounter, I feel drained and therefore end up feeling sorry for myself (doesn’t feel good), or blaming other people and the outside circumstances (only feels good for a short while). In the long run, this doesn’t do me any good or give me the inner peace I’d rather thrive with. Reacting mindlessly and with anger, or even not realizing that I have an option gets me behind, it never takes me forward, and this is why I’ve decided to get myself more aware about it.

Reacting and responding are too very similar yet very different processes. They’re usually outcomes of a situation, and they can both be good or bad. Reacting is easy, it’s quick and it’s usually a bad habit, but it could also be a plus if you’re avoiding an accident. While responding is a more well-thought, possibly kinder, practiced acknowledgment of a certain thing. It’s usually the right thing to do unless speed is needed. Mindfulness is the trick. It’s the catch. Mindfulness isn’t the easiest of practices, but once you’re aware, the path to mastering it only gets smoother.

Last week, I’ve talked about passion and how our choices can affect us from accomplishing what we’re most passionate about. Believe it or not, mindfulness has got a lot to do with passion. I’ve mentioned how things like gossiping, not having alone time, and doing things without savoring them can be huge barriers, and they’re obviously negative things that keep you in that same state, not on the bright side of life. I believe that instead of dreading our lives, we should get a thrill out of them and they should mostly be joyful!

This is what I’m reminding myself of from now on:

There’re a positive in every negative, and by focusing on it and relying on your power to be disciplined with your thoughts rather than letting go to anger and frustrations, you will start experiencing control over your life and emotions, instead of feeling powerless and being controlled by your environment.

The best part about having the choice is that you can always find a way out. A few days ago, I was sitting with a dear friend, and she went on and on about how her boss is unfair and judgemental. I don’t mind listening to my friends when they need someone to lend an ear, but at some point, the venting makes things worse, not more relieving. This conversation made me realize that I really am convinced that energy plays a big role in our life, and whichever type we feed, grows.

When my friend continued, I decided to stop her at some point, and reminded her that her boss is probably at home having fun with her family, while she is sitting and discussing a person who consumes 8 hours of her day already, still wasting her own time.

Since the attitude exchanged between people can really affect their moods, I’ve learned that the way to keep both sides feeling good was to engage in some energy Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu, a martial art, combat sport and self defense system, asserts that a smaller/weaker person can practice the technique and defeat a person who’s larger and believed to be stronger. The catch is, Jiu Jitsu, in its core, is basically the tactic to expertly seize the strength and power of the opponent and use it for your advantage.

Relating to the conversation I wrote about before that, the concept of Jiu Jitsu can easily be applied to negative and positive energy and how it doesn’t have to affect us. Consider the negative energy to be the larger opponent, if not taken a responsive action against, it will stay scary and big. If, however, the technique is done right, what seemed to be fragile can win. I’m assuming focusing can be shattered by distractions when you’re new at it.

So in the event of being surrounded by someone who’s in a negative frame of mind, take that person’s energy and remind them that they’re only affecting themselves by staying in that place. Be persistent and assertive, you will nourish your own belief, you’ve just benefited from someone’s complaints. We all have the tendency to take the easy way out and join in the whining about how the world is unfair. But that attitude will never change the world, just like worrying about a sick person will never make them healthier.

Another way to bring out the good is by being grateful. Gratitude and appreciation are both beautiful experiences, and they’re so easy to experience, even when you’re sad. Use your sad moments to appreciate your conditions, the fact that you have a roof over your head, the luxuries you have in your life. And appreciate knowing that whatever’s making you feel sorrowful probably wouldn’t matter in a week. Somedays are going to be brilliant, while others just won’t. Being aware of the difference is a gift.

Even if you’ve reacted, and even if you’re on your negatively programmed autopilot system, be thankful that you’re learning. Take your emotions as warning signs, things that you can change, things that aren’t worth feeling. Being reactive will teach you to be responsive, it will push you in the right direction. Acknowledge your bad reactions, forgive yourself and move on.

The heartbreaks and hardships make you who you are, they give you your edges and perks. They help you define your values, they help you get to know yourself, let them happen, let them help you. Learn to be the hero, not the victim. Your excuses won’t get you anywhere, and the more robustly you evolve out of a situation, the better you will be at life. Instead of being the person people want to avoid, be the person who carries the sunshine around, your long face will repel the rest of the sunshine, not attract it.

Long story short, nothing’s worth a troubled mind or moment, so admit it and move on. There’s virtue everywhere around us, when we choose to see it. Blaming the world won’t fix you, only you will.

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You’re Probably Living Without Passion

Most people are mediocre. Most people, just exist without questioning. They fall prey to trends and then go with the flow of whatever’s buzzing, never contemplating what’s within themselves. Most people, aren’t even aware that their lives are void.

I believe that everyone in this universe has something remarkable to offer, but they may never get to express that one-of-a-kind gift if they don’t unlock the door that’s guarding it. So here I am, writing this, because maybe I have something valuable to offer, and maybe by setting someone who’s unaware in motion, I will give them the momentum that will help them carry on.

If you’re living without passion, you’re probably just waiting for everyday to end, expecting the next day to be the same, not trying to identity what is it that fires you up. You probably don’t believe that you can accomplish something impactful one day. So whoever you are, this is a wake up call for you to step into a slightly deeper, maybe more confusing territory, and enjoy the ride!

Here are 9 signs you’re likely to be living without passion:

1. You spend time gossiping about others rather than assessing how you can make your own life better

You’re not honest. You think you are, and you tell yourself you are, but you really aren’t if you spend most of your time on other people’s business instead of yours. Yes, gossiping is that much easier. It distracts you from connecting with your inner self and makes you feel like you’re better off than other people. That might be true, but if you keep that on, you’re going to lose the race.

When you catch yourself talking about others, just make a note of it, and remind yourself that you’re not perfect either, if you were, you would have been busy building up your expertise, rather than throwing around shallow comments.

2. Your life revolves around a job you aren’t enthusiastic about

“I’ll quit when I save up enough money, or when I can say I’ve worked there for a long time.” Stop basing your life on money, and stop making life decisions considering how the next employer is going to see you. You might be good at that job, really good, but you’d be way better as an expert after practicing your unique talent. Or you might as well climb that ladder of fame, fortune, and unhappiness. People can’t thrive if they’re no longer healthy, and even though it might take you a while to become the best at what you love, the time’s going by anyway, so you might as well spend it wisely.

3. You fill your time with short-term, shallow activities instead of giving yourself time to rest in silence

Here you are again, distracting yourself from the things that really matter. You go out with the same people every time, and you prioritise your time with them over your time with yourself, getting replenished and realising that you enjoy your own company just as much.

4. You spend too much time dwelling on how someone might have hurt you and plotting your revenge

Don’t be a victim, please. That person probably didn’t mean to offend you, and they don’t even remember what happened. Becoming vengeful depletes your own energy, the energy you could be using doing things like: spending time with your family and loved ones, painting, writing, playing a musical instrument, or maybe even finding a cure for cancer!

5. You dream about what you love doing the most but think it will never be your reality

You get lost in thought before bed every night, thinking about how dreams are merely dreams, they don’t come true except if you’re lucky. And then you wake up the next morning doing the same things again. Get this, your mind and brain are versatile, you can actually change what your brain looks like by practicing new habits. As cliche as it sounds, practice does make perfect. You choose your reality, and you start where you are. You come up with a process, and you make it happen by taking baby steps. Don’t just sit there dreaming.

6. You avoid trying anything new

You’ve lost touch with your inner child, and you’ve grown up with a solid frame of mind of what you like and what you don’t. But that thing you think you don’t like, whether it is food, a game, a music genre, or an activity, have you even tried it to judge? Don’t stop yourself from doing things just because you’ve somehow managed to like or dislike them without coming into contact with them. Some experiences are bad, and some are good, but there’s always a lesson anyway. Trying new things will help you break the barriers of self judgement and judgement by others.

7. You care about how other people see you rather than how you see yourself

We all love being approved of, believe me, I’ve lived most of my life being a people pleaser. What have I learned when I’ve gotten that out of my system? I’ve become confident in my own skin, I’ve learned to trust myself and my decisions, and I’ve realised that even the oldest, most experienced people will limit you through their insecurities. You’re old enough to know whether what you’re doing is right.

8. You surround yourself with “cool” people who don’t truly love you, and neither do you love them

Yep, they’re just “cool” because they’re popular. Not because they create mind-blowing art, and not because they read books in 5 languages regularly. Instead of surrounding yourself with people who don’t even know what you love other than your favorite kind of food, be a part of a community than engages in deep knowledge regarding many interests. Hang out with the girl who takes dance classes behind her parents’ back because she’s most alive in those moments. Or the guy who reads about chemistry in his free time and wants to change the world. You will love them even if you have nothing in common but this zest for life.

9. You are inspired by people who do what they love, but you still criticise them because it probably means they’re “selfish, irresponsible, and/or lucky”

Again, don’t be a victim, please. Life hasn’t chosen to be nice to them and evil to you. You make your life. If you’re jealous, it’s a bit better than criticism, if that might fuel your fire. Now do something about it! Don’t be selfish, but be compassionate towards yourself without forgetting about others.

Are you living with or without passion?

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The Heaven and Hell They Didn’t Teach Us At School

The following definitions were copied from the Oxford Dictionary of English.

heaven |ˈhɛv(ə)n| noun, a place regarded in various religions as the abode of God (or the gods) and the angels, and of the good after death, often traditionally depicted as being above the sky.

hell |hɛl| noun, a place regarded in various religions as a spiritual realm of evil and suffering, often traditionally depicted as a place of perpetual fire beneath the earth where the wicked are punished after death.

I grew up as a mediocre Egyptian kid. In school, I was taught that we’re only here for a little while, and what we do in our short journey is going to either send us to heaven or hell. Back then, this is how I thought about heaven. Everyone wants to go there, and of course, all the adults I know are going there, except the ones who have done bad things like drinking and other taboos. As most people, and most adults, I was afraid to question. I was fearful of hell, that horrible place where you’re in constant, excruciating pain you cannot escape. Will I fall in the fire pit, or flash across it? I wanted to go to heaven, because it was extraordinarily unimaginable. I dreamed of how I will make my life perfect in every way, yet still not be driven by extreme dogma. I thought about what it would look like, and always stopped myself when I couldn’t envision this magical place.

I hated religion classes, especially when my teachers talked about the signs of the end of the world, or even worse, how we’re all going to be naked on judgement day, but how no one would care about looking at you. On those days, I always left school with a sinking feeling in my stomach, too scared to even consider discussing my agitation with my parents, thinking they thought the same. Instead of educating myself and forming an opinion, I just told myself I’d get concerned when I’m older, and I numbed out my thoughts.

Today, I’m older, and I have a contrasting mental picture. If you’re reading this post right now and you’re getting fired up to judge, or argue without being open to read something different in the first place, then don’t waste your time reading on, and save your breath. You’re free to believe in whatever you wish, I am also free to be confused, even if that’s foolish to you.

However, if you have a wide imagination, and are willing to question something you might have been ignoring until today, or looking for someone who, perhaps, shares your opinion, then I hope you enjoy this.

I don’t have all the answers, and my knowledge of this universe is infinitesimal compared to how much I will know in 30 years. Values, ideas, and thoughts we’ve grown up with are difficult to change. Our brain’s power in storing knowledge and forming habits is immense, and I’m sure we are all aware about how old habits die hard. But I’m challenging my brain, and I’m in the phases of reassessing how I see this world and how inconsistent my views are now versus my childhood. I am using my brain’s competence as a strength, not a weakness. I am naïve, I am confused, and I admit I have a lot of doubts writing this, choosing my words vigilantly.

After reading many articles and books about religion, spirituality, psychology, productivity and philosophy, I’m starting to experience heaven and hell as metaphors, not as inevitably existing places. One of my most recent inspirations is The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. I was skeptical as I began reading this book. I thought that anything that becomes this popular just cannot be deep enough, it cannot be talking to the outliers, it must be talking to the ordinary. However, to my surprise, I’ve found inspiration in this book, and even though I still can’t identify why it was a page turner, I accepted the fact that it just was.

This is an excerpt that caught my attention because of how simply it was written, and how it sent out the meaning of what I believed in with tremendous skill.

“Did you know that Shams says the world is a huge cauldron and something big is cooking in it? We don’t know what yet. Everything we do, feel, or think is an ingredient in that mixture. We need to ask ourselves what we are adding to the cauldron. Are we adding resentments, animosities, anger, and violence? Or are we adding love and harmony?

We all know we’re going to die. Some people believe there’s a non-physical afterlife, and some don’t. I think, that whether there is or isn’t an afterlife, heaven and hell are symbols, and the huge cauldron can be turned into heaven or hell, where ever you are, whatever you’re doing at this moment. Heaven and hell are like the self and the ego, calm and anger, love and hate, and happiness and sorrow.

The ego forgets about the cauldron, it forgets that you can’t possibly hurt someone else without hurting yourself, it doesn’t even have to be karma, it can be here and now. How can you possibly hurt someone by anger, yet not suffer from this anger? Anger poisons you, more than who you’re angry at. Do you remember the last time you chose to be in hell? Wasn’t it hard to escape after you’ve chosen to let it in?

The self is at peace, the self is heaven. The self remembers the cauldron and its impact. It remembers that good things bring about more good things. It remembers to give love, because love fills us up when we share it, it never makes us feel empty. Have you never felt this invincible? Have you never felt, that you’re so grateful to that source of light inside you? Didn’t it feel like a reward for a seemingly insignificant decision?

Yes, our deeds take us to heaven or hell, but heaven and hell can be all around us. Heaven is not necessarily/only above the sky, and hell is not in the Earth’s core. Heaven and hell are mindsets. Or maybe, the heaven and hell you’re living now are a tiny example of where you’ll end up, when you’ve fed heaven and the positive has become the norm, your cheerful everyday. Or when you’ve fed hell, until you’re unaware about being on your fatal autopilot.

Be aware, be alert, be compassionate. Everyday is a new opportunity that can make you happier by being mindful. Everyday, you can nourish your body and mind with pieces of heaven. Remember, that it’s never too late to exit hell and enter heaven, all it takes is one thought that is slightly better than your current, until you’re overwhelmed with virtue. It’s not going to happen overnight, but you’ve got your whole life ahead of you to have a happy journey.

“How about you, dear Ella? What ingredients do you think you are putting in the collective stew of humanity?”

References:

Definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary.

Both quotes/excerpts mentioned in this blog are derived from The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

Other Relevant Inspiring Resources:

The Secrets of the Power of Intention, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg

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Visionary Becoming

I’ve always admired that girl you see on her way home from the gym or some sort of physical activity. She’s confident and fit. She’s dressed in a regular t-shirt, and regular training pants, she really isn’t waiting for your approval. She’s definitely not skinny, but slender and strong. She’s so beautiful in her own nature and comfortable in her own skin. She’s independent.

She is not pampered by everyone, and she won’t pretend to be dumb to try to get your attention. She’s just her, she’s innocent yet not naïve. Her life is clean, because that’s how she eats, but she doesn’t do it because it’s the hip thing to do, she really does enjoy real things. She sure does have an appetite, but she doesn’t feel guilty about the burger she has every once in a while, and she doesn’t pretend to be a light eater in front of you.

Our girl is definitely not a pro at what she plays, but she’s a pro at balancing it along with the many other stimulating things she turns her life into. She’s not working out for gold medals, she’s doing it because it cleanses her body, mind and soul.

She’s not a showoff, but she appreciates it when you notice her untaught charm. She’s the middle of all extremes, she’s the combination you don’t easily find. She’s bonafide. 

James Clear wrote some great stuff about identity-based goals and habits. He mostly writes about habits, and how to change them. When I first read his blog, the idea of identity-based goals and habits was completely new to me, I prefer to call it visionary becoming though. Because to find out what you want or who you want to be, you have to creatively and intuitively let your imagination run wild, without limits. You can read more about the idea here, but in a nutshell, it’s about choosing goals that are identity based rather than any other type of goal. For example, if you want to be more physically active, tell yourself “I’m the type of person who always takes the stairs,” or “I enjoy taking a walk everyday,” instead of, “I want to lose 10 kilograms.”

Doesn’t that feel better? Isn’t it more likely that you would accomplish it?

Like a lot of people, I used to beat myself up a lot about not losing weight, mainly because I never stayed consistent with my eating habits or workouts. This is changing. This is the girl I want to be. I want to be admired by people like me, to help them realise they should believe in themselves. I want my few good values to affect how productive my life is in all its other aspects. I want to be strong, even if I don’t look perfect to you. I want to love the self I have crafted with compassion. Why did I just write this? Because I’ve lived most of my life thinking that that skinny girl is better.

What I forgot to tell myself along the way was that, it isn’t about anyone else, it’s about me. She isn’t better, and I’m not better either. She might be better off though. Might

Still, I’m the hero of my own life. I am not going to be the victim, I’m going to own it. At least I have a reminder early on in my life to be healthy, I wasn’t just born skinny. I’m on my journey to fitness.

PS: Remember to really savour your good genes, your fast metabolism, and your health and wellness. They don’t last long if you’re not aware. I would know.

So next time you’re setting a goal, think about who you want to be, rather than what you want to be. 

 

Looking Within

We spend so much of our time consumed by everything and everyone around us. Our senses are always gathering information from all around, turning situations into memories that are perceived by us in ways we aren’t even conscious about. We grow up into the precious human beings we are. Most often than not, living safely, limited by our pasts, even though they’re subliminal. Some people spend their lives on the surface, where it’s safe, waiting for the next thing someone suggests for them to do. Others question, and those are the ones who change the world.

It’s fascinating how memories are formed and then stored mostly in our unconscious, especially that the ones that give you your core values, insecurities and fears are mostly formed when you’re a child. The downside of that is, when we’re children, we don’t know what’s wrong and what’s right. I’m not talking about the obvious things like touching a mug that’s too warm or playing with electricity sockets. I’m talking about not being able to recognize healthy/unhealthy patterns of communication between the people and things that are in proximity to us. We are naturally more innocent, we are compassionate and we do things out of love. This also means that seeing people around you fighting constantly might have you justify this as normal in your head, because you love feeling positive, rather than feeling down.

Think of all the different small and big, subliminal and obvious, things that we’re surrounded by everyday. Give it a minute or two to really absorb that information. No wonder a lot of us are screwed.

This last statement sounds like it’s coming from a complete pessimist, while on the contrary, I would definitely call myself an optimist. I try to focus on the better side of the world, and I have hope about change, I have hope about humanity. Here’s the catch, knowing that we’re screwed is what makes us better. In fact, the more honest about it with ourselves, the more true to ourselves, and thus the closer we are to reaching our potential.

I always hear that we’re all here for a reason, we’re all here to impact in a way or another. And even though I believe in that fully, I would say it’s more out of optimism, rather than evidence. Because why do some people live without trying to find their purpose? Am I super intelligent for going on that journey, or is it pure luck? Was I just born this way, or have I done something that made me earn this? It’s a matter of nature vs. nurture for me.

These questions keep floating in my head, and I don’t have a guarantee that I’ve found the cure. But this one goes to honesty, letting go, and compassion.

Why do some people live without trying to find their purpose?

– Because it’s not easy to be honest, not at all. The biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves. They range from, “Life doesn’t have to have purpose because in the end we will all die and get a reward from God if we just suffer in silence,” to, “Who am I to impact others? I am not good enough.” It’s so sad how we respect and await other people’s approval so much, when we don’t even approve of ourselves. I admit it, it’s easier, it’s way easier to be on auto-pilot, blaming everything on our circumstances, when we aren’t anything but who we are. We aren’t the people who have influenced us, we are what we’ve chosen to be, and chosen to not be. My point is, we really are here for a reason, and this reason doesn’t have to be a goal or result, it could be the journey we take to find our purpose, this is where the magic happens.

Am I super intelligent or is it pure luck?

– Both. I am lucky, but I’m as lucky as anyone. We’ve all been blessed with something special, even those of us who are disabled are blessed. There have been loads of cases where people have been deprived of some senses, but they’ve proven to be equally gifted in another way, becoming prodigies.

And it’s not about intelligence, it’s about giving yourself the freedom to question, letting go of the should’s and shouldn’t’s that people expect from you. And finally …

Was I just born this way, or have I done something that made me earn this?

– You and I were born with compassion. Whether it’s been affected by our past is our choice, and it’s never too late to reconnect and align to it. You might not show compassion to the people around you, but that’s not what matters. What matters is, being compassionate to yourself, because if you really are, then you can’t be the opposite with people. Remember to give yourself the benefit of questioning, it might take a while of ups and downs, but in the end, you’ll be giving yourself the love you deserve, you will go to a place of joy, and this joy is what will change the world.

 

 

 

Savoring the Small Stuff

I wrote this article last week, and it took me a while of contemplating whether I should publish it or not. I guess a part of me feels a bit “too” positive, if there’s such a thing, but I thought I’d take the chance anyway even if it’s not my best article. Would appreciate positive or constructive feedback.

I just went on a 5 minute walk, and I never thought it would be that pleasurable. I wasn’t walking to burn fat, I wasn’t walking because I was bored, I wasn’t looking for something, or anything. I was mainly walking because I had been sitting for too long, and my body was starting to ache. My day at work has been productive, and it’s a chilled one. I’ve been focusing on enjoying the tasks I used to feel apprehensive about, and I just decided that I will experience them with life. I was walking because 10 years from now, I don’t want to have health issues arising because I sit for too long, I don’t want to feel like I’m stuck in a white box all day long. I wanted to somehow get out of the system.

This walk has been inspiring though, because when I savored the small stuff, I’ve discovered that the tiny street I once viewed as poor, old, and value-less surprisingly is special after all. The street is narrow and short, there isn’t much scenery, there are just a bunch of grey buildings, no effort put in their design, but they do what they’re designed to do. I came across some lovely wood work though when, instead of driving by the buildings unconsciously, I walked slowly and looked at the cramped up garages. Each building had a different door on display. Shamefully, most of the old trees are harshly cut, they are leafless. But in spite of the fact that they’re the farthest from green, these trees are so old, their stems so sturdy and thick, and their branches and limbs intricately hugging one another exquisitely. It’s something you might see everyday, but you don’t notice or appreciate. I’ve discovered that the embassy of Cuba is on the corner of the street, I had never seen it before. I loved the fact that there was minimal security, it felt safer. There was just one security guard taking a smoke across the street. Instead of an uptight, formal vibe, he gave a casual one. I also stumbled upon a retirement home called Beit Al Habayeb, (Home of the Loved Ones), and I could have sworn I saw the 40’s in there. The residents were spending some time outdoors since the weather isn’t too cold today, and the sun is shining. It seemed like an old fashioned tea party as they settled on the worn out wooden chairs. You could see they’ve given up on life, yet not in a bad way. They were still alive, but they’ve gotten over the fear of death which a lot of us possess, and that makes life better, I think.

Despite the many existing “newer” road and building signs, authentic calligraphy was chiseled in other metal signs. They were rusty and genuine, overpowering the bogus blue ones. I wish there were more of them around.

Life is all about savoring the small stuff. Instead of rushing through it, we should take it one step at a time. We often look back and feel like a part of it has passed us by, and that’s mainly because we forgot that we could turn even the simplest things into something that is better than neutral. My walk is just a metaphor, and maybe mostly developed in my imagination, because I had decided to see those things around me in that way. We take our senses for granted, and we forget about gratitude. Our lives are precious, and the things existing around us aren’t just there to exist, they’re there for a reason, if only we’d see it.