Single-Tasking

This weekend I’ll ride the Deutsche Bahn to the Baltic Sea, a beautiful and tranquil place where I will be disconnected from my good friend Internet and the noise and crowds of the city for one week.

I don’t know about you, but I am a compulsive multi-tasker. If something can be done at the same time as something else, damn if I am not doing both. Or all three. Sometimes it’s great, like when I listen to This American Life while cooking. But many argue that there is actually no such thing as multi-tasking, that we are incapable of performing multiple tasks at the exact same time while giving full attention to them all–that what we are doing when we think we’re multi-tasking is just making our attention flit back and forth really quickly from one thing to the next, which muddles our focus and consequently detracts from efficiency. Take, for example, this combination that I have attempted before: watching TV while eating while working while checking email while checking Facebook while chatting with the person on the couch with me. Am I giving any of these things my full attention? I’d love to be able to say yes, but come on.

So next week’s Baltic Sea adventure, without the distraction of Internet to tempt me, will present the perfect opportunity to practice something called single-tasking. I’ve always gotten the best results when giving my complete attention to one project or experience. I’d like to better learn the habit of pouring all my focus into one activity at a time. Of savoring. Of meditating. Of doing less. Of being mindful and present. Like this lady:

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When I eat, I want to really taste and feel the food, relish the flavors, and concentrate on chewing, an essential part of effective digestion. When I drink tea, I’ll savor the tea and create a space for it in my heart.

When I’m with people, I want to give them my undivided attention. I will listen well. I will be conscious of the connection between us. I will enjoy and appreciate who they are.

When I read, I will project myself into the story, I will feel what the characters feel, I will live in that created world without playing music or indulging in frequent distractions like getting a snack or checking the computer or playing some music or examining the freckles on my arm or the ends of my hair.

When I take a walk, I will not bring my iPod along. I’ll listen to my footsteps and the birds and the whispers of the sea and wind. I’ll observe carefully the beauty around me.

When I play an album, I will close my eyes and listen to the whole thing through. I will let myself feel the layers of instruments and try to understand what the musicians are saying through each song.

Single-tasking seems like a good way to experience ultimate enjoyment of activities, whatever they may be. When you pour yourself into a task, give it all your focus and attention, create space for it, breathe, and use it as a form of meditation, even something like washing the dishes or flossing your teeth can be enjoyable. This is my only goal for next week. I have a feeling it will be more difficult than it seems. I may need to take a marker and write a note-to-self on my hand, something like “Savor.”  We’ll see how it goes!

I encourage you to do this, too. Are you a compulsive multi-tasker (or multi-tasker wannabe) like me? Choose one of your daily activities, maybe something that you normally rush through or that seems dull, and savor it. Or maybe you already practice the art of single-tasking. What are some of your strategies for savoring and being present in each activity?

Recipe: Spiced Lemon Ginger Tea

The other day I woke up with a massive headache, which I suspect mostly likely occurred as the result of a long train ride and sugar overdose the day before. The latter involved a certain moist, lemony German secret-family-recipe cake with special powers over me, what could I do? And did I mention chocolate? There was chocolate. Verdammt.

I decided a powerful antidote was in order to frighten this bad boy away. It was certainly no time for messing around. So I came up with this wholesome, zingy, energizing tea to deliver the punch. It contains four ingredients– ginger root, lemon, anise seed, and cinnamon–each possessing an array of excellent health benefits. I can’t say definitively whether due to the tea or not, but the headache vanished within an hour.

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Ginger

Traditional medicine and modern scientific research have revealed that ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties including antioxidant effects, direct anti-inflammatory effects, and the ability to sooth menstrual pain, nausea, and pain from arthritis (WHFoods and WebMD).

Lemon

Several research studies on the healing properties of citrus fruits such as lemons and limes have shown that they contain cancer-fighting antioxidants and antibiotic properties. In addition, lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C, which neutralizes free radicals and reduces inflammation in the body. Vitamin C has also been shown to prevent rheumatoid arthritis (WHFoods).

Anise seed

Anise seed has been used for centuries by the Greeks (see ouzo, possibly my favorite alcoholic beverage ever) for both flavoring and medicinal purposes. Besides its lovely, warming, black licorice-esque flavor, modern research shows anise seed to have aphrodisiac properties, relieve gas and muscular cramping, stimulate the pancreas, act as an expectorant, and relax the body (Herbco.com). Fun.

Cinnamon

I grew amazed when reading about cinnamon’s manifold health benefits–who is this guy? Studies have shown that cinnamon helps prevent unwanted clumping of blood platelets, controls blood sugar, boosts brain function, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, demonstrates antimicrobial properties, and lowers cholesterol and blood pressure (WHFoods and McCormick Science Institute). That’ll do.

Spiced Lemon Ginger Tea

Ingredients:

1.5 tablespoons grated fresh ginger or 3-4 thin slices (I keep a piece of the root in a plastic bag in the freezer so I can always have fresh, easy-to-grate ginger on hand)

1/2 teaspoon ground anise seed or grated star anise

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 cups water (more or less depending on how strong you like it)

Directions: Put water in a pot or kettle to boil. Meanwhile, measure the ginger, anise, and cinnamon into a large measuring cup or teapot. Pour boiled water over the tea mixture, stir, and let steep for about 10 minutes. Add lemon juice and stir. Then, pour the tea through a fine mesh strainer into a mug.  I enjoyed this unsweetened, but feel free to sweeten the tea with honey, agave, or sugar to taste. Makes two servings.

I’ve added this warming, rejuvenating, cleansing tea to my waking up ritual–perfect for chilly winter mornings. Zing, zing, zing!

How to be Good

Brought three books with me to Germany. Finished them within a few weeks. Watched way too many TV shows. Found city library, located English section. Came away with four novels to read over the next month. Scrumptious. Oddly enough, the first one I chose, How to be Good by the clever and hilarious Nick Hornby, actually ties in well with this whole simplicity thing.

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Synopsis from back of book:

Katie Carr, doctor (and self-declared ‘good person’), has just had an affair. It’s not really her fault–she is, after all, married to David: angry, cynical, negative (though undeniably funny) and a real pain to live with. But then David meets DJ GoodNews, astonishingly effective faith healer and do-gooder of the unbearably smug kind. And now David is good. Too good, actually–‘a liberal’s worst nightmare’, he starts to put theory into practice, giving away all their kids’ toys, reaching out to the hopeless and homeless in a very personal and, for Katie, disturbing way. It seems to her that if charity begins at home, it may be time to move…

I’m about halfway through, and one of the story’s many poignant observations is the fact that so many of us live with way more than we really need–extra computers and TVs, multiple cars, spare rooms, etc.–when there are people who have very little or none of those things a few blocks or miles away. Why not put these ‘extras’ to better use and give them to someone who really needs them? In the book, David starts a campaign on his own street where he invites all his neighbors to have a homeless person live in their spare bedrooms for one year. It’s extreme, but it’s actually pretty logical. You don’t need it, someone else does, give it to them.

So my questions today: How can we help people in need during this process of simplifying our lives? Do we really need that extra car, TV, coat, microwave, computer, bed, set of sheets, bike…… bedroom? Do you know or have you heard about someone who could benefit from something you own? Ask around. Search Craigslist ‘wanted’ ads. Contact local shelters and charities. Start small today and give away some things you don’t use much anyway. Then raise the stakes and give away something you love but could live without. You never know what it may mean to someone else. Instead of thinking in terms of losing your belongings, if that makes you nervous, it might help to think in terms of how many ways you can improves the lives of others.

A few quotes from the book:

“It seems to me now that the plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don’t need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone.”

“We don’t care enough. We look after ourselves and ignore the weak and the poor. We despise our politicians for doing nothing, and think that this is somehow enough to show we care, and meanwhile we live in centrally heated houses that are too big for us… We have a spare bedroom, and a study, and meanwhile people are sleeping outside on pavements. We scrape perfectly edible food into our compost maker, and meanwhile people at the end of our road are begging for the price of a cup of tea and a bag of chips.”

“Sometimes we have to be judged by our one-offs.”

“Love, it turns out, is as undemocratic as money, so it accumulates around people who have plenty of it already.”

A Minimalist Approach to Diet

P1050346This week, I discuss seven ideas that I feel are essential in helping me to keep a healthy minimalist diet. A few of these are principles I’ve been following for a while now, and a couple are ideas I’d like to implement more fully starting now (denoted by asterisk). Let’s get right to it:

1. Practice the art of eating in. Cook my own meals 99% of the time, and make one brand new dish per week. This way, I know exactly what’s in my food and can tailor it to my specific tastes.  Also, making delicious food for myself and others is much more gratifying than paying someone else to do it.

2. Avoid all animal products (meat, dairy, eggs). After doing tons research on the animal farming industry, I concluded that in order to feel peaceful about what I ate, I needed to withdraw my support of the cruel exploitation and killing of animals. Although I’ve chosen this primarily for ethical reasons, others may adopt a vegan diet for health or environmental reasons, both of which are equally valid. I’ve been following this plan since May of last year and have never had to sacrifice taste or pleasure in eating. I think people can adapt to pretty much anything as long as they have conviction and a good plan.

*3. Every day, aim to eat: five different vegetables/fruits (always include dark leafy greens); lots of protein (legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains), especially around training; and healthy fats (nuts, seeds, nut butter, coconut, oils).

4. Give everything a chance, but dump foods that don’t make me happy. For some reason, I spent way too many years trying to like certain foods that everyone else seemed to like, but I just couldn’t get into. I realized that was insane. It’s only in the last few months that I’ve given myself permission to cut that out. As a result, I’ve now abolished beer, most wines, soda, raw onions of any type, and candy (not chocolate!) from my life. Anyone else, or is this just my weird thing?

 *5. Limit or avoid unnecessary crap: processed/refined foods, sugar, caffeine, artificial ingredients, simple carbohydrates.

 6. Indulge regularly in a little treat (usually dark chocolate or hard liquor). Don’t mind if I do.

*7. Eat only when actually hungry. Seriously.

I encourage you to create a simple, healthy diet plan of your own this week! Write it down. Naturally I think you should try the ideas above, but what works for me may not work for everyone. Develop a plan that feels right to you and suits your individual needs. As always, I am open to other ideas and opinions I may never have considered. Guten Appetit!

Minimalist Exercise

This week I developed a workout plan based around simplicity and efficiency. My goal is not necessarily to lose weight, but to become leaner and stronger in a healthy way that won’t take up all of my time. After lots of research, I came to the conclusion that a high-weight, low-volume approach will help me move towards this goal most efficiently. Along with many other corroborating sources, I’ve found several of Martin Berkhan’s articles on leangains.com very thorough in explaining the science and research behind the effectiveness of this approach. I won’t get into all that now, since I am certainly no authority on the topic and I don’t think it’s necessary for me to rehash here what is more thoroughly explained elsewhere. I enjoyed Berkhan’s great description minimalist training and his explanation of Fuckarounditis, a no-B.S, confrontational, yet hilarious diagnostic tool by which I concluded that I am no stranger to the affliction and needed to do something about it right now. Go ahead, I challenge you to take the test.

To help me achieve and sustain the general goal of becoming leaner and stronger, I made these two smaller goals:

1. Some type of physical activity every day for at least 30 minutes (going for a walk, stair climbing, cycling, dancing, yoga, home workout, weight training, hiking, etc. etc.)

2. Weightlifting session 2-3x per week: bench press, weighted squats, chin ups, deadlift, triceps extension. (Heavy weight, low reps)

I also decided on these ultimate strength goals, which are looking pretty lofty after my first session at McFit (Friday) on this new weightlifting plan:

1. DL: 220 lbs (Currently I’m at whatever weight the bar is. That’s right, just the bar… no weights… ha ha)

2. Chin ups: body weight x 3 reps (Currently I’m at body weight – 110 lbs x 6 reps)

3. BP: 110 lbs (Currently, 11 lbs)

4. Squat: 180 lbs (Currently, 11 lbs)

5. Triceps: 120 lbs (Currently, 55 lbs on the pulley machine)

As you can see, I’ve got QUITE a ways to go and have no grand delusions about my current strength status. But everyone has to start somewhere. The most important thing is that you do start. My glutes and chest especially are pretty sore right now, and I like it.

What I love about this minimalist approach to exercise is that it’s freeing. I don’t need to spend 6 days a week at the gym to see results. I can use this time to do other things I love, and 4-5 days a week I can choose whatever activity floats my boat to get some exercise, and I only have to commit to 30 minutes at a time. Yesterday I took a long walk in the snow for about an hour, and today I did the one-room cardio workout from backonpointe.tumblr.com that got my heart racing. Both were very enjoyable.

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One thing I’ll miss about Deutschland: the wide designated pedestrian/biking paths everywhere. Most American “sidewalks” are nothing compared to these.

Next week I’ll write about my minimalist approach to diet.

Simplicity Project: Week 2

Two areas I’ve honed in on this week were health & nutrition and online activity, since these are parts of the project I can easily make progress on while abroad.

FITNESS:

Weight training is one aspect of physical fitness that has often bored me in the past, but lately I’ve learned too much about its importance to neglect it without feeling like a dummy. Therefore, a two-month membership to the 24/7 gym franchise here, amusingly called McFit, was a very welcome gift for Christmas from my German family. I’ve visited thrice already, and this week I focused on challenging my muscles and really upping the weight. I also began doing the clean and press with free weights, an exercise that supposedly makes all your dreams come true.

I’ve continued my semi-daily routine of running up and down the eight flights of stairs in the apartment building and have progressed to four trips in a row. My aim is to make my heart beat so fast I think I’ll pass out. Also buns of steel would be great.

NUTRITION:

Since overeating is a common temptation while staying indoors most of the day during this cold and snowy month in the land of Fleisch, Kuchen, Kartoffeln, and Käse, I’ve begun an experiment that includes eating a small breakfast of fruit and müsli or toast within an hour of waking, a king-sized lunch around 1-2pm (preferably after a workout), a small dinner of mostly protein and vegetables, then hot tea and a chocolate treat later on. It’s working extremely well so far. I think the big lunch is key.

ONLINE ACTIVITY:

Let’s just say I’ve got some habits to break. Due to the internet being pretty much the sole way I’m able to connect with friends and family back home, it’s difficult not to check social media more than once a day, you know, just to make sure no one’s having too much fun without me. But 99% of the time, I close the website feeling no happier nor more enlightened than before. On the contrary, it usually leaves me quite bored and like I just wasted 5 minutes of my life. Since I believe there’s more value in sending personal emails, I’d like to make that more of a focus. This week it’s been difficult to break the Facebook compulsion, but I’m hoping to make online activity more purposeful and worthwhile in the weeks to come. Anyone have suggestions for strategies to implement this?

-I finished a book this week that has been remarkably influential in my thinking about minimalism, consumerism, and financial independence this year, and I would highly recommend it to all those looking to have their minds blown about these topics. It’s Early Retirement Extreme: A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Financial Independence. You can get it here for less than 10 bucks. Or ask me and I might let you borrow it. This guy is extreme, as the title suggests, and I love him for it. His book and blog have inspired many of the changes I discuss here.

-As for entertainment, I’d rather not discuss.

I hope you all have seen success with the project this week! What are some areas you’ve decided to focus on? Tell me about your progress so far.

Simplicity Project: Week 1

This is week one of the simplicity project series. If you missed last week’s introduction to the series, you can read it here.

Real quick, below are two lists I made while thinking about areas of life I’d to expand and spend more time on, and areas I’d like to simplify.

THINGS TO EXPAND:

health & nutrition: increase hiking, cycling, weight training; train for 10k; eat mostly local and in-season foods; cook one brand-new vegan recipe per week

writing

reading

friendships: more quality time with people who make me happy, more communication, do productive activities together

personal development & education: self-sufficiency, philosophy, politics, economics/investing, career skills, piano

causes: animals, liberty

 

TOP THINGS TO SIMPLIFY:

online activity: check social media once a day; blogs, read only what is most helpful; delete all unnecessary accounts; decrease browsing/videos/music/misc/time wasters.

possessions: sell/give away most of what I own and haven’t used in the last year

purchases: buy only what is necessary or would add the most value, spend money on experiences rather than material goods

transportation: begin to phase out driving; learn more about bike care

entertainment: watch no more than one show a day (this is progress for a person who can, without batting an eye, gobble up four episodes in a row of X-Files, Big Bang Theory, New Girl, Californication, Downton AbbeyGilmore Girls, Mad About You, whatever the current mood calls for)

food: only buy fresh produce, no non-perishables for a while; make own hummus, pesto/tomato sauce, almond/peanut butter, nut milk, jam; start home canning

media: delete all unnecessary/lame media files

Next week’s post will discuss ideas, successes, and failures so far in my attempts at tackling one or more of the above items.

How are you all doing with the project so far? Have you thought about or made your lists–top things to expand or spend more time on, and top things to simplify or decrease? Have you begun yet to put some plans into action?