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To Stay Creative, Remember to Breathe

“I sometimes disappear for weeks or even months at a time. When I do this, I’m not abandoning my work or being lazy. I’m just trying to breathe.”

So writes Matthew Inman, creator of the web comic The Oatmeal, in a post titled Creativity is like breathing. To explain the analogy, Inman writes: “When you make stuff, you’re exhaling. But you can’t exhale forever. Eventually, you have to breathe in. Or you’ll be dead.”

That’s why Inman spends lots of time reading books, being outdoors, and jumping from project to project, he says. They’re all forms of breathing, and they don’t just make him better at his job, they’re also reasons why he loves his job. It’s the beauty of being a creative: Everything you do is fuel for your work.

When your job is to make things, your whole life is your canvas. You can have a brilliant idea over a bowl of cereal, write about what happened on vacation, even the bad stuff, like going through a breakup, you can work into your creative output. In fact, you’ll both have to and want to.

Whatever happens in your life impacts your emotions, your thoughts, and, as a result, what the outcome looks like when you put those thoughts and emotions on paper — or any other medium. Why do you think I just used “a bowl of cereal” as an example? It’s because, for the past two days, I’ve been staring at a comic called The Oatmeal. That’s how the human mind works.

While there’s nothing you can do about your intelligence running under the influence of many biases, you likely won’t mind once you realize there’s an active benefit on top of this more passive dynamic when creating: You consciously get to work through the events in your life. Writing about a positive experience makes it better. Sharing your business failure on a podcast mellows the pain.

Soon, you’ll process your whole life in real-time through the lens of creativity — and it’s one of the most powerful forms of self-healing there is. You’ll constantly learn, evolve, and challenge yourself to accept your past by creating something others can use in the future. As wonderful as it is to find this kind of outlet, there’s a downside: Your work can become addicting.

When everything is input, it’s natural to consistently want to form output. You’ll feel like you should shape and release all your experiences and ideas, which, of course, is impossible. What’s more, not all input is created equal. Some stories will have more value to your audience than others. This is another, less appealing part of the artist’s job: You have to curate your work and select what’s most worth sharing. This is where it helps “to breathe.”

As Zat Rana put it in The Philosophical Argument for Working Less, part of respecting your work is accepting that it’s “just one part of life, not the whole thing:”

Even if you love your work more than you love anything else, you are likely to find it more complete and fulfilling if you step away from it, time to time.

Eventually, you have to breathe in — or you’ll be dead. If you’ve ever hit creator’s block after a long stretch of releasing a lot of work, you may have realized: It’s not that you can’t publish daily, it’s that your posts start to feel stale. You’re panting. Short, choppy breaths, out, out, out. You need time to breathe in — literally, and then figuratively. Beyond our own desire to insta-journal about our lives, there’s also a component of societal pressure, Zat says:

There seems to be a certain guilt in our current culture associated with just taking time to do nothing, to relax, to leisure, to waste time, and to simply have no plans. But the truth is that, without these things, you are not going to get the most out of your work anyway.

When you feel tired, sleep. When you lack good analogies, watch a movie. Don’t feel bad about taking a vacation from time to time. Leisure creates its own form of productivity. If you allow your experiences to ripen, more of them will mix. Your subconscious will add its own kind of seasoning, and, soon, it’ll send a powerful insight back to the surface.

Once that great idea strikes like lightning, you won’t be able to not act on it. A breath of truly fresh air is so empowering, you’ll have to direct it somewhere. Well-rested and fired up, you’ll rush back to your chair, ready to put out the next comic. Who knows what brilliant metaphor you’ll write about. Maybe something like, “Creativity is like breathing.”

How To Be A Successful Student: The 80/20 Of Student Productivity

It’s the second week of classes of the Spring term here at Technical University of Munich. The weather’s picking up, materials are slow to emerge and exams are a long way away.

However, judging by the first week alone, I can tell there will be a lot of faces filled with regret at the end of this semester. Exams will be postponed, grades will be worse than expected and credits will be missing.

I realize not everyone wants to make an all-encompassing commitment to work like me. But even if you just want to be a normal, full-time student, get decent grades and secure a solid job, there are certain things you can do. So this week, I decided to go super practical and ask myself:

If I could recommend only three good habits to students, what would they be?

Here are the three rules I’ve come up with.

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You Still Have Time To Make 2017 The Best Year Of Your Life

13 Ways to Get Your Grip On Life Back

With each passing year, I find more and more truth in this:

“The days are long, but the years are short.” — Gretchen Rubin


It’s that time of the year again. Tax day’s got you throwing your hands up in frustration, your New Year’s resolutions have long vaporized into thin air and you feel like your hold on 2017 is getting weaker and weaker.

I’m here to tell you: You still have time. Read More

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Liquid Sleep: How To Get More Out Of Life By Staying Up Longer

Last June I bought a Garmin Vivosmart HR activity tracker, primarily for two reasons:

  1. My daily step count is visually present to me at all times, which makes me more likely to get those 10,000 steps.
  2. If I sit for longer than an hour, it vibrates and nags me to get up and move. Since sitting is the new smoking, I think moving regularly might be more important than moving a lot.

While I happily would’ve shelled out 125 € for just those two features alone, there are a few other perks to wearing one of these around the clock. One of them is sleep tracking.

What I’m about to say as a result of it is not going to be popular and it’s definitely not politically correct. At the very least though, it’s food for thought.

For the past five months, I’ve been sleeping less and I think it’s the right choice. Let’s put that into context.

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7 Toxic Habits to Let Go Before 9 AM

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” — Buddha

When you wake up, does your brain go straight into overdrive? Do you feel tempted to snooze? Do you think about all the things you have to do today and start worrying about what could go wrong?

Not long ago, I didn’t want to leave my bed either. I’d browse the web on my phone, read some emails, and procrastinate. Often, this meant I’d already be late by the time I finally did get up. I would rush into the shower, get angry about stubbing my toe somewhere, and end up with no time to eat.

When I arrived at work for my internship, I was already feeling behind, so the best I could do was spend the rest of my day trying to “catch up.” That’s not the frame of mind you want to operate in.

Now, however, I know exactly what the first hour of my day looks like. I don’t even have to think about it because it’s a set routine, and that’s wonderful. My internship is over, and so are my chaotic morning — because I made a deliberate change.

My morning routine makes starting the day easy, and it sets me up for success. There’s no perfect day, but if you’re prepared to have a good day — every day — that’s a great place to start. How you spend the first hour of your day determines how you spend the rest of it.

Before you can add new, good habits, however, you must let go of the bad ones. Here are seven toxic habits you can drop. Don’t bother with these, especially not before 9 AM. Doing so will make you feel calm and happy as you start your day.


1. Let Go of Hitting the Snooze Button

Hitting the snooze button in the morning feels great at first. You know you still have time and drift back to sleep.

But when your alarm rings again 7, 9 or 15 minutes later you were actually just about to enter a deep sleep phase. That means the snooze button interrupts your sleep at the worst time, making you feel more groggy and tired as you were before.

What’s more, every time you hit the snooze button you tell yourself subconsciously: “I don’t really want to get up. I want to stay in bed. I don’t want to start this day and face what lies ahead.” That’s not a very good mantra.

Even when you have to get up with an alarm, as soon as you wake up, rise and shine! Be excited for the day, get up, have a glass of water, start moving around.

Brush your teeth, read, do something that makes you excited about getting up.

Don’t drag yourself from snooze to snooze, as it will make you drag yourself through the rest of the day as well.

You snooze, you lose!


2. Let Go of Overthinking

This is what I call “monkey mind”. I still fall for this from time to time.

Right upon waking up I start thinking. And I think a lot. My brain starts racing down a never-ending train of thoughts.

“Okay, let me check what time it is. 6:07. That’s good. I can start work right at 7:00. What will I start with? Oh yeah, that guest post I want to write for Marc and Angel. I’ll spend 30 minutes on that. Then I’ll do some client work. But what do I eat for breakfast? This cereal I bought yesterday? Or the one I have leftover. Damn, I don’t have any milk!”

That’s what the first 30 seconds of my day can look like. Terrible, right?

So be sure to practice a form of conscious silence in the morning. Lie in bed, close your eyes once more before you get up and just feel everything. The blanket on your skin. Your head resting on the pillow.

You can also do a short meditation by just sitting upright and cross-legged on the floor and focusing on your breath for one minute.

Notice the rhythm of your breathing as you inhale and exhale.

What also helps me is standing under the shower, just letting the water run over my head and only listen to the sounds of the water.

Don’t go from zero to overdrive right upon waking up. Practice a little bit of silence for your mind and you’ll feel much calmer for the entire day.


3. Let Go of Consuming Bad Things

We all draw a line when it comes to consuming toxic food, drinks and drugs. For some the line is marijuana, for others it’s alcohol, others draw it at coffee, or even soda and fast food.

Wherever you’ve drawn your line before, chances are you need to draw it again. Because what is true for food is also true for thoughts.

You can spend your mornings watching the news and Youtube videos, reading gossip, chatting in WhatsApp groups and reading the obituary section of the newspaper.

Or you can read a book that will help you create a better life, let yourself be inspired by classic poetry or a good novel.

You can eat pancakes with bacon for breakfast. Or you can have oatmeal with an apple and cinnamon.

You can drink lemonade from the store or brew your own coffee fresh from home ground beans.

What comes out of your mouth and brain in terms of speech and thought can only be as good as what you put into it in terms of food and knowledge.

Take a stand. Draw a line and make a choice to only consume what’s good for you in the morning.


4. Let Go of Negative Self-talk

Remember that hitting the snooze button is like subconsciously telling yourself you don’t want to wake up? I’m willing to bet you also do this on a much more conscious level.

You worry about what the day will bring. You tell yourself you might not have what it takes to deal with the day’s challenges.

“Will Joe approve my presentation?”

“Can I get all my housekeeping done?”

“I’m not sure I can make that call today.”

Instead of already talking yourself into failure, why not boost your confidence? Create a small set of affirmation that you can tell yourself. It can be as short as one sentence:

“I will do great today.”

“I will give my best to make this day successful.”

“I believe in myself.”

Before you brush your teeth, stand in the mirror, look yourself in the eye and tell yourself something encouraging.

Be your own Dad, your own Mum, your own partner, your own friend and do what all these would do: motivate you by telling you that you can do it.

A tiny adjustment that can change the entire trajectory of your day.


5. Let Go of Getting Angry at Little Mistakes

Yes, not all mornings will go smoothly. Sometimes you will have to rush, get stuck in traffic, or hit your elbow on the door.

But don’t start yelling. Every day the world throws many opportunities at you to get angry — and many of them deserve your anger.

The little hiccups in the morning are not one of them. Don’t focus on what goes wrong, focus on what you do great.

The 5 pushups you did. The glass of water you drank. That smoothie you made for yourself. The way you motivated yourself by saying something positive. A chapter in a book you read that made you feel inspired.

Remember that silence in the morning is important to make you feel emotionally calm. So when you hit a bump in your early morning road, take a deep breath, remember all the good things about your morning and move on.


6. Let Go of Rushing

There is a Japanese proverb that goes like this:

“When you are in a hurry go slowly.”

It means that it is especially important to take enough time to do things right when they are urgent.

A classic game played at kids’ birthdays is balancing an egg on a tablespoon while walking from one end of the room to the other.

Who wins that game?

The kid who tries to walk very fast, but eventually drops the egg and has to go back to the start multiple times (or breaks the egg altogether), or the kid who just walks very slowly, but reaches the finish line in one go?

The more you rush the more mistakes will happen. Slow down, do everything once, but do it right.

The best idea is to give yourself plenty of time in the morning. I usually give myself an hour to an hour and a half before I get started on work.

Yes, that means waking up earlier, but the time is spent so well it is absolutely worth it.

You’ll have time to visualize the tasks of your day. For example, just picturing yourself typing when you want to write a novel has been scientifically proven to make it more likely you’ll actually start writing (and enjoy the process!).

A journal is also a great way to spend the extra time and get some structure. I usually write into my one-sentence-journal before I start work.

I just answer one question: “How do you feel right now?”

It helps me make sure I’m ready to go and don’t start when I don’t feel good.

So even when you don’t have much time in the morning. Don’t. Rush.

As famous basketball coach John Wooden said:

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”


7. Let Go of Your Comfort Zone

Imagine a typical morning of the average person:

Waking up in a bed with a comfortable mattress and a warm blanket, artificial light on the nightstand, waiting till the last minute, then jumping into a warm, hot shower.

Afterward a quick pre-processed meal for breakfast while watching a video on a smartphone, before they’re off to the next comfortable, modern amenity: their car. With air conditioning, radio and a seat warmer.

All of these modern conveniences are great, but they have detached us from what’s natural.

Our ancestors woke up outside, on the ground, with the rise of the sun. The first thing they saw in the morning was sunlight. The first thing they heard was the sound of the birds.

There was no rush. They got up, started moving around, stretching.

If it was cold, they would move more, if it was warm a little less. They ate what they had gathered the day before or had to go look for food.

If your day often feels challenging, that might lie in you not challenging yourself at all. We’re not used to being challenged.

We’re not responsible for creating our own food, furniture, gadgets, and hot water. We don’t even have to move if we don’t want to!

Which is why exercise is a great start.

Give up a little of the comfort you indulge yourself in every morning.

When you get up, do some exercise. Do a set of pushups. Try some squats. Do pull-ups on your door. Go outside and run around the block, or at least walk. Get up, get moving, get some blood flowing.

Prepare yourself a meal that takes effort, but is healthy. Just sit and eat in silence, without technology to distract you.

Open a window, let in the fresh air, listen to the birds and the hum of the city as it starts to wake.

Walk to work. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Have a cold shower.

Let go of huddling up inside your comfort zone. Challenge yourself. Just a little bit. Every morning.

It will leave you prepared for what the world throws at you during the rest of the day.


Final Words

The morning is the greatest time of the day. There are so many opportunities to set yourself up for success.

But a beautiful morning doesn’t happen by accident. You have to work for it. You have to create it.

Try to let go of one of these toxic habits today. Then another one. And another one.

Soon, you’ll have plenty of space to create a magical morning routine.