Living Intentionally

I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of achievement. There’s an undeniable satisfaction that comes from knowing you’ve put in the work to accomplish something, no matter how small it is. Hell, even as I write this, I feel damn good for get getting these words on paper.

I suppose the simplest way of experiencing the satisfaction of achievement is through goals. They are straight forward. Black and white. You always know when and how you accomplished them.

Yet despite how much I enjoy achievement, I’ve always been terrible at following through with goals. For as long as I can remember I’ve been setting goals and subsequently failing to achieve them. Everything from getting a six-pack to writing every day. Nothing ever seems to stick.

This isn’t a new story of course. Goals are something most people struggle with. I read a statistic that out of the 45% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, only 8% successfully achieve them. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but it doesn’t sound too far from the truth. I don’t think this is an American phenomenon either.

For a long time I attributed my inability to follow through on goals to my own laziness or lack of will power. This translated into me telling myself things like, “I can’t achieve my goals because I’m a lazy person” and “I don’t have enough will power to accomplish anything significant.” With this kind of negative self-talk, setting and working towards goals became less and less about the goals themselves and more about vindicating myself from those negative labels (which, ironically, I had self-applied). As you can imagine, this didn’t make sticking to my goals any easier. All it did was make the pain of failing so much greater. My failures to achieve my goals became indicators of my own inadequacies.

About a month ago, after years of dealing with this internal conflict, I decided to take a step back from goals all together. I didn’t really have a plan or even a time frame (it took a lot of effort to not make not setting goals a goal). I just knew that my current method of setting goals and working meticulously to achieve them wasn’t bringing me many positive results.

Upon making this decision, it felt as if a weight had been lifted off of me. What I had essentially done was give myself permission to not accomplish anything. No goals. No mission statements. No super-important tasks to get to outside of going to work. It was liberating.

The Conflict

Unfortunately, along with this feeling of liberation came a huge feeling of guilt, at least in the beginning. For the past three years all I had done was focus on improving myself, usually by way of setting goals and working towards them. While letting go of those goals felt good, I also felt as though I was letting myself down in some way. If I wasn’t working towards something, then how could I possibly be happy?

This internal conflict was, at its core, a symptom of my underlying belief structure, mainly in regards to how life is supposed to be lived. For simplicity’s sake I would characterize my normal way of thinking as “achievement-oriented.” I’ve always based my self-worth on what I could achieve, or at the very least what I was working towards. Going even deeper than that, I’ve always assumed that true happiness required struggling to overcome challenges, that I didn’t deserve to be happy unless I was working towards a bigger purpose in life and challenging myself every day.

Still, it was obvious that setting goals is not an effective strategy for me, regardless of the reason why. Yet my own happiness is still in many ways tied to achievement and the idea of working towards a purpose. It’s a paradox that I don’t see changing any time soon. So I came up with sort of a mental compromise.

Living Intentionally

What’s interesting is that in the month since I abandoned goal setting, I haven’t been any less productive. In fact, I’ve made more progress towards the life I want than I had in the several months prior to this change. I began meditating consistently. My diet improved notably. I’ve read more. I started this blog. Overall, I’m feeling a lot happier, which is most likely the result of constantly feeling as though I’m achieving something.

So how have I been able to be productive without any clear goals to work towards?

Simply put, instead of setting goals I just started focusing on what I wanted out of life. Not what I thought I should want, or what I thought I should accomplish. What I really WANTED. I started getting in touch with my core desires.

Waking up in the morning I didn’t think of my normal checklist for that day. I just paused and considered what I wanted my life to look like. To give you an example, some of the things I thought of included being more present to the moment, being more positive, filling my days with things I love doing, and creating an amazing blog.

I found that, by simply having what I wanted at the forefront of my mind throughout the day, I naturally started taking the actions that would bring me closer to those things. I began to live intentionally instead of in reaction to my environment.

Up and Down Cycle

For most of my life I repeated the same cycle of rapid progress and equally rapid burnout. I would be super consistent when it came to my goals, using every ounce of willpower I had in order to reach them…for a couple of weeks. Then, one day when the willpower just seemed to escape me, I would end up on the couch, binge-watching Netflix and hating myself. A few weeks later I would start the process over again, vowing that this time would be different, this time I would stick to my goals. On and on the cycle went.

While it’s only been about a month, I haven’t experienced any of those drastic motivational ups and downs. I might spend an hour or two watching Game of Thrones or catching up on some NBA highlights, but I don’t find myself binging on entertainment the way I used to. After a couple of hours of doing anything that doesn’t bring me closer to the life I want, I just get antsy and want to start taking action again.

I think what this really comes down to is allowing myself room to be imperfect. What I’ve found with goals is that they box me in to a specific result and a specific course of action. Maybe it’s just the rebellious kid in me, but being told I have to do something, even by myself, makes me really not want to do it. I think meditation is the most relevant example in this case. If you were to come up to me right now and ask me how I feel about meditation, you would only hear good things come out of my mouth. I freaking love meditation! Yet whenever I’ve set a goal for myself to do it every day, meditation and I stop being such close friends.

However, when I simply start my day by thinking about how much I want presence and positivity in my life, it seems only natural that I would meditate at some point. I go from begrudging it to looking forward to it. Now, after about 30 days of doing it, mediation just feels like a normal part of my life.

A lot of people would probably argue that the point of goals isn’t to have a rigid structure, but to give you a direction to head. That may be true but for whatever reason I have a hard time viewing goals in a healthy way. That’s just me though.

If I really analyze the past month, all I’ve done is simply make my goals a little less strict, a little less absolute. Either way I’m glad it’s working.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beauty of Gratitude

Gratitude Desktop

 

I’ll be turning 24 at the end of this month. While I definitely don’t feel old, it’s startling to think about how fast time has gone by. It feels like only yesterday I was moving from California to North Carolina to begin my college career. Everything was so uncertain back then. I couldn’t even imagine a future beyond the huge transition in front of me. Now here I am six years later, living in a foreign country, still uncertain about the future but much more content with that uncertainty.

Looking back on the past 23 years, it’s not the struggles and the painful moments that stand out to me. Sure, they’re there for me to see, for me to reflect on. But they don’t hold my attention like they once did. Instead I’m enamored by the countless blessings in my life.

I was, and still am, spoiled like crazy by a loving family. I had a carefree college experience and partied to my hearts content. I felt deep and passionate love. I formed friendships that will probably last a lifetime. I traveled to foreign lands and I’m currently living it up in Spain, working a mere 12 hours per week while living comfortably.

The list goes on and on.

I don’t say all of this to brag or to make my life seem like it’s better than anyone else’s. I just feel like I have a lot of making up to do in the gratitude department. Despite the fact that my life has been nothing short of amazing, I was blind to it for the longest time.

I bitched. I moaned. I walked around with a “whoa is me” attitude, angry at the world because of everything I didn’t have. To be honest, I still act like that sometimes. Those aren’t my best moments and I’m determined to eradicate that kind of behavior from my life.

Since starting this blog, I’m beginning to see that so much of the beauty I’m searching for in life comes from gratitude. Regardless of what mood I’m in, when I pause and consciously choose to be grateful for everything around me, even for the mere fact that I’m alive and healthy, the world seems to radiate a whole new beauty.

It’s almost crazy how much my perspective can change in a matter of seconds. Seemingly boring moments become precious seconds. Packed, uncomfortable train rides turn into a enjoyable part of my journey abroad. Lonely nights become the foundation for a rock-solid inner peace. Like alchemy, gratitude has the power to turn every little thing, whether good or bad, into gold.

It’s not just about beauty though. For a long time I associated gratitude with softness. I saw it as one of those feel-good messages that couldn’t really help you achieve anything in life. But that’s not accurate at all.

I recently watch an episode of Gary Vaynerchuk’s ‘#AskGaryVee’ show where somebody asked him how he finds the motivation to work so hard every day (if you haven’t heard of him, Gary Vaynerchuk is a successful entrepreneur and a damn good motivational speaker). He basically said that gratitude is what fuels him; gratitude for everything he has and the fact that he is able go out and do what he loves every single day.

After hearing that I thought back to all the times in my life when I gave into laziness and apathy. The times I made excuse after excuse for why I wasn’t going after my dreams. It’s frustrating to admit, but those moments were really a failure on my part to be grateful for the fact that I was alive and healthy, that I already had everything I needed to go out and create the life I desired. I took each day, each blessing, each opportunity for granted. That’s a mistake I’m determined to never make again. I want to view every day for what it really is: a gift, wrapped up with a big beautiful bow on top.

So there it is. I’m making a commitment to gratitude. Not just to thinking about it, or even talking about it. I’m making a commitment to act on it. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I look forward to sharing my progress with you.

Comment below and let me know how gratitude has played a role in your life!

 

5 Books That Helped Change My Life

Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and chartwhich other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life.” –Jesse Lee Bennett

Ahhh….the joy of reading. There are few things more pleasurable to me than sitting down with a cup of coffee and getting lost in a good book.

A latte and a "libro". Oh, did I forget to mention the chocolate filled napolitana? That's a necessary part of the equation.
A “libro” and a latte. Oh, did I forget to mention the chocolate filled napolitana? Those go quite well with books too.

Many people are often surprised when they see me reading a book during my lunch breaks or in my free time. “You like to read???” they always ask.

I’m never completely sure if the emphasis is on ‘read’ or on ‘you’, but I get the impression that a lot of people view reading as a chore. Maybe school is to blame for that. God knows nothing takes the fun out of something like being forced to do it. Yet, outside of the occasional required reading for class, sitting down and putting my nose in a book has never been something I’ve had to force myself to do.

Reading always came easy to me, even in my early childhood, but I think my true passion for it started with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Ironically enough, my mom actually had to force me to read past the first few pages (thanks Mom!), but after a chapter or two I was addicted.

Since then, reading has been one the most important parts of my life. I try to spend at least 30 minutes doing it every day. Up until the end of high school my reading preferences consisted purely of fiction. I read everything from fantasy novels about dragons to some pretty disturbing stories by Stephen King. You could say that reading fiction was my greatest escape.

In the past few years my interest in fiction has waned quite a bit. Maybe it’s just a result of getting older, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to fully engage with those kinds of books, the only exception being more classical literature (Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway are two of my favorites).

However, that doesn’t mean my love for reading has dampened in the slightest. Lately I’ve found myself most captivated by books on spirituality, mindfulness, philosophy, and self-improvement. Anything I feel can help me live a more fulfilling life. It’s those types of books that will be topic of this post.

So without further ado, here is a list of the 5 books that have had the biggest impact on my life so far. These aren’t necessarily my favorite books from a literary standpoint (I’ll save that for another post), but they have contributed the most to who I am today and what I want out of life.

1. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

I can honestly say this book is the most important thing I’ve ever read. Prior to finding it in 2013, I felt completely at the whim of my very erratic thoughts and emotions. The information I found in this book helped me achieve whole new levels of self-awareness and inner peace that have continued to grow in the years since.

What is The Power of Now about? In essence, it’s about learning how to be completely present to the moment. Eckhart Tolle, who I guess many would describe as a spiritual guru of sorts, lays out very clearly an idea that Eastern religions have talked about for centuries: the distinction between the “self” and the “ego.” To put it in less esoteric terms, he basically challenges you to start observing your thoughts as opposed to letting them control you.

I understand that this can sound a little too New-Agey  for a lot of people. I’d be lying if I said I bought into everything that Eckhart Tolle talks about.  However, what I did resonate with added a ton of value to my life and I always encourage people to at least give the book a shot.

2. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This amazing allegorical novel is a super easy read that packs a powerful message. If you’re having doubts about your purpose in life or just need some extra motivation to follow your passion, definitely check this book out. It always seems to give me inspiration when I need it the most.

The Alchemist
On a side note, this is only book I’ve ever read in both English and Spanish. I love it that much.

3. Walden by Henry David Thoreau

I think of this book as my introduction to minimalism. While it was published way back in 1854, Thoreau’s account of his two years living alone in a forest still feels relevant today. What I loved most about this book was how Thoreau was able to perfectly capture a sentiment that many of us still feel today: the feeling that our possessions control our lives. Walden has helped me gain a lot insight into what is truly essential in my life.

4. The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Hindu scripture. No, I’m not a follower of Hinduism. I’m not even religious. But I do think there is enormous wisdom to be found in this book, and many of the other ancient religious texts. This wisdom often comes in the form of “universal principles.” These are basic principles that pretty much govern our lives; things like “treat others how you want to be treated” and “you reap what you sow.”

The Gita emphasizes a ton of these principles. One of the biggest insight I’ve gained from it has been the principle of detachment from outcome, something it talks about quite a bit.  If you’re able to look past the surface layer of religious names and concepts, you might find something in it that resonates with you as well.

Bhagavad Gita
This specific translation by Eknath Easwaran is great. Each chapter comes with an in-depth, but easy to understand summary.

5. The Alabaster Girl by Zan Perrion

A book about beauty, romance, adventure, and seduction. While entirely about one man’s perspective on life, love, and women, this book is the spark that ignited an appetite for beauty in my life. Everything  from the way it’s written to the message it contains inspires me each time I read it (I think I’m at four times now).

Let me know what you think of these books! Also, I’d love to hear about any books that have impacted your own lives.

Quote of the Week #1

(Background picture taken in San Sebastian, Spain)
(Background picture taken in San Sebastian, Spain)

As cliché as it may be, I absolutely love this quote. Life is short so why spend it doing things you hate, or even feel lukewarm towards?

Of course, sometimes the trickiest part is figuring out what your bliss really is…

Stillness

To the mind that is still,the whole universe surrenders.

I’ve always loved the analogy of the mind being like an ocean. The surface – our everyday stream of consciousness – is often rocky and unpredictable. Our thoughts, emotions, and desires are continuously buffeted along by strong winds. These winds are the external forces in our lives – things like our jobs, our family situations, social conditioning.

But what lies beneath the surface? Is there a deeper level to our minds, an equivalent to the dark and mysterious depths of the ocean? This is a question I’ve spent a lot of time trying to answer when it comes to my own mind. And what I’ve found, in those rare moments when I’ve been able to calm the mental storm in my head, is that there is an incredible stillness to be found beneath the surface.

At first that stillness was detectable only in my most peaceful moments. I recall my almost nightly drives to Seal Beach during the summer of 2013, my first conscious attempts to escape all of the noise in my head. I would walk out to the edge of the pier and just stare at the ocean for an hour or so, letting the sounds of the waves and the surrounding darkness calm me.

After a while I would feel a shift inside. It was like all of my worries and superficial desires would just float away. My mind was finally just…still. It was in those moments that my desire for a life filled with adventure and beauty started to come to the surface.

For the first time in my life I could see that I wanted so much more for my life than the textbook version of success I had been chasing. It was clear that  typical things like finding a nice job, chasing after money, and searching for comfort and security just weren’t for me. It was as if the call of my heart was finally louder than the chatter in my brain.

To this day the contents of my brain are just as scattered as they were three years ago. When I wake up in the morning, seeking out the beauty in my life is the last thing on my mind. When someone is rude to me or I make a stupid mistake at work, I don’t think about adventure and romance, I just get pissed off. I wrestle with a myriad of fears, anxieties, and petty emotions every single day.

Yet the knowledge of what I’ve felt in those moments of stillness has stayed with me. I know that the tumultuousness of my thoughts and emotions only represents the very surface of who I am and what I want. I know that deep inside me, at the very core of my soul, exists a vision for my life that is so much greater than my everyday concerns and superficial desires.

Knowing all of this, when I feel myself getting caught up in life’s frenzied current, all I can do is pause and get in touch with that stillness. It’s in that state that I’m able to see clearly what I want out of life. It’s in the stillness that I derive my energy. And it’s in the stillness that I’m fully consumed by an appetite for beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

A Choice

30437_1527713434525_7763201_n

 

In the past three years I’ve “experimented” with quite a few different ways of looking at the world. I’ve been angry at everything, caught up in romance, completely focused on inner peace, and most recently, obsessed with self-improvement. While I would never advise anyone else to be so inconsistent with their state of mind, my own inconsistency has helped me get to the core of what I really desire: a life filled with beauty, romance, passion, and adventure. I want to be inspired, and nothing inspires quite like beauty.

What is beauty? Who defines it? Is it purely aesthetic, or something deeper? Is it an objective quality or is it, like the old expression tells us, merely found in the eye of the beholder? Can you actively pursue it, or can you only open yourself up to experience it?

I don’t have an answer to these questions and that’s okay with me. In a way, the mystery itself is beautiful. All I know is that I’ve seen glimpses of this mystical quality – most of them stumbled upon by accident – in the people, places, and things I’ve encountered in my life. Those glimpses have shown me that there is something more to life than the mundane, everyday concerns that normally fill my mind. There are things in this world that make my heart sing and my imagination run wild. And those things are what I want to spend my life seeking out.

How does one do this? To be honest I’m still figuring that out. Sometimes I look at the world around me and beauty is the last thing I see. But as Confucius once said, “everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Maybe trying to find the beauty in everything is overly romantic, a futile attempt to view the world with rose-colored glasses. But of course, life is really just a game of perception. We can choose to see the good or the bad in anything.

So I ask myself, why settle for the good when I can choose to see the beautiful?