the Modern Monkey Mind

One man's exploration of simple living and yoga

Instead of Happiness

Happiness seems to be a popular thing these days, but I’m not sure its really what people are looking for. Psychologically speaking, happiness is a passing state. Something that comes on either as a result of experience or sometimes spontaneously for no necessarily discernible reason, and goes away after a while. Instead of happiness, I think most people are shooting for Contentment, a psychological stage thats created internally and can be maintained regardless of what goes on outside. The question is, how to create and maintain this state? One way I’ve found is through the practice of gratitude, and the question: “What is missing?”

Gratitude: If you’re reading this, it’s a pretty safe guess to say you’ve got clothes to wear, plenty of food, a safe place to sleep, and people that care about you. Oh, and free time to read something posted by a random dude on the internet. i.e. MORE than enough. Beyond just reminding yourself of this, try keeping a gratitude journal. Every couple of days, write down three to five things you’re grateful for. Could be anything, doesn’t matter. No one’s going to see it except you. There’ve even be scientific studies shown to prove that this actually works.

What is Missing?: Look around you right now and ask yourself this question. Go ahead and do it now, I’ll wait.

Back? Cool. If you’re anything like me, a whole list of stuff popped into your head:
-books you want to read
-consumer electronics you want (I’ve seriously been considering getting an iPad. Have I mentioned I’m a Mac fanboy?)
-vacations you dream about
But really, do you NEED any of that crap? I think deep down we all know that list is bullshit. Not to say its not okay to want stuff, but to think it’ll make us happy finally and forever. Instead of pursuing happiness, go for contentment and happiness might just tag along for the ride. Contentment, simply put, is wanting what you have. It’s something entirely in our control, an internal, not external trait. Nor does it mean we can sit around doing nothing (I don’t know about you, but I’d be bored out of my skull)it just means we haven’t tied our sense of wellbeing to something that might or might not happen and may well not bring the results we want if it does.

my December goals

November has been relatively low key all things considered. No major catastrophes or much special. Let go of a couple more books and going to finally get rid of two bags stuffed with old clothes later this week. My paternal aunt and uncle are out of town for Thanksgiving so we’re having Thanksgiving by our lonesome (my parents, brother, and myself). I’ve pretty much made the switch to veganism, but still dip into vegetarianism once in a while, and for the sake of making things easier on everybody involved, I’ll be doing Thanksgiving vegetarian style this year. Before going on to my December goals, let’s revisit my November goals:

November goals

1 Limit screen time This one was rough. I freely admit to being a screen addict so the beginning and middle of the month didn’t see much screen limitation. Except for a few slips this has improved, but could still use some work.

2 Floss Flossing was an on-again-off-again habit this month. I definitely flossed more than I have in a LONG time (couple times a week every week) but never managed to do my whole mouth. This also hurts A LOT if you haven’t been doing it regularly, which hasn’t exactly helped.

3 Yoga This one saw a lot of improvement. I got to 3-5 classes a week and I’ve started practicing on my own a couple times a week as well. Meditation has been something I’ve loved since high school but has gone by the wayside for a long time. Getting back to it felt amazing (I’ll post about this at some point, but if you want to give it a shot, try five minutes, but push longer asap. The real magic doesn’t happen til your ego starts resisting). Pranayama has been a great in-bed-before-sleep activity (if you have problems sleeping, give this a shot: count the number of seconds your in breath and out breath each take, and slowly lengthen both, or the exhale). I’ve also been revisiting a book I love called “the Yamas & Niyamas” which I HIGHLY recommend. If you already have a āsana practice and have tried meditation, this is a great place to go next. I was intentionally skipping a āsana class Monday mornings taught by a teacher I don’t like, but I’m seriously considering starting to go again. We can learn a lot from teachers we like, but sometimes we can learn just as much or more from teachers we don’t quite click with.

December Goals

1 Buy nothing new With my efforts to pay off some consumer debt, this seems like a good idea. not to mention my NEW book habit. The one exception I’m making is the one or two Christmas presents I still need to buy (yes, I Christmas shop before December, shoot me), and a copy of Sri BKS Iyengar’s commentary on the Yoga Sutras. (I’m exempting necessities (obviously) as well as a weekly Americano I have when visiting with an old friend of mine.)

2 At least 10k steps a day I usually walk a lot (think 10k steps a day easy) but this has been sliding lately (hmm, could my screen addiction be playing into this?). In December, I’ll be pushing myself to not just hit 10k, but go past it every day.

3 (Social) Media detox Last month started out with taking a shot at the [Media Detox]( from the [Blissful Mind]( and failed horribly. This month I’ll be taking another shot and continuing throughout the month. With the insanity particular to December/Christmas time in the US, this seems like a particularly apt time to do this sort of thing.

Looking for goals/habits to try this next month? Take a peek at [this]( post for ideas. In future, I’ll be shooting for 1 each in terms of mind/body/soul goals. What are your goals for this next month? Do you do media fasts in December?

How I’m paying off my credit card

I’ve written about money before, but its been a while. Yet money is an ever-present aspect of life in one way or another. That being said, my monetary situation has changed slightly to the tune of a rather large (couple hundred dollar) amount of credit card debt. Don’t ask me how it happened, but there you are. So now I’m revisiting some basic money management stuff (Mr Money Mustache & Blond on a Budget have been quite helpful, though most of this has been cribbed from Leo Babauta over on Zen Habits) and returning to my no plastic at brick and mortar policy (except maybe Amazon Books, though I’m hoping they start taking cash soon). There are six aspects to this approach:

Cash: any transaction that takes place in a real world location is done in physical cash money. Two withdrawals are made, one upon being paid, and the second at the middle of the next month. This limits the dripping faucet that can be caused by using cards without tracking spending.

Save change: All my change gets poured into a counting machine and deposited (along with any singles) into a savings account linked to my primary at the end of the month. Since the counting machine I use has a $5 minimum, this adds up relatively quickly.

Build a buffer in a non-primary account: The second part of that is key. Every time I’ve had a buffer in a primary account its disappeared. Needing to transfer to the primary prevents eating into it without realizing. I’d recommend shooting for $100 as soon as possible, with a long-term goal of getting to $500 and keeping a minimum of that much in the account. All change and singles should be deposited directly into this buffer account.

Emergency fund: This is a third account with a decent interest rate AT A DIFFERENT BANK linked to your primary. Having this account at a different bank is important as it prevents you from mindlessly dipping into it. Instead of credit cards, or the buffer account, this should be used to pay emergency expenses above and beyond bills.

Auto transaction: Lets face it, we’re all absent-minded to some degree. This i why automation is so important. I’ve got my accounts set up so transfers are made automatically. $25 is transferred to my buffer account on the first of every month, and my credit card payment (in my case 2xminimum payment, but the amount isn’t that important as long as its more than the minimum) is made on the 11th. This ensures that things are paid off and savings are built up without me having to remember anything. I’d recommend checking in on things using a program that collates all your banking info a couple times a month. I like, but there are plenty of excellent programs out there for this purpose.

Extra goes to paying bills: Most everything up until now has been pretty much a retread of things I’ve already talked about, but here comes the new bit that I’m hoping is going to help get that bill paid off in less than a year. The first week of next month I’m keeping an eye on a friend’s place while he’s gone. He’s paying me a significant amount in total, and instead of putting the money into my spending account, I’ll be putting it toward paying off that credit card debt I mentioned. Savings are important, and its a good idea to build them up even while you’re paying off debt, but getting the debt paid down and taken care of asap should be the goal.

So there you have my current money management system. Notice there are only three accounts, and each has an explicit purpose. This is to keep things simple and straightforward. We’ve got enough headaches and stress around most everything including money without making finances intentionally more convoluted. Any and all feedback, as well as tips and tricks you’ve found useful in money management, are welcome in the comments.

ADDENDUM: After running across this article the other day, my perspective has shifted rather significantly. If you’re in debt, definitely read it.

PS: As a guy that has every intention of starting a family and having at least one mini-me running around in the next decade or two, allowance has been on my mind off and on. I can honestly say Mr Money Mustache has my favorite approach to allowance I’ve seen, and I’ll be stealing his system. Check out his post here.

Why simplicity?

Marie Kondo’s “the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up” is topping sales charts, Decluttering and minimalism are increasingly popular subjects in the social network and blogs. Its clear that, at least for a certain percentage of people, consumerism is losing its luster. When you get right down to it, though, decluttering is all well and good, there’s plenty it can do to increase our quality of life, but if there’s no reason behind it, it is entirely possible, maybe even likely to backslide and start building up a stockpile of stuff again.

So the question becomes, why are you doing it, beyond its current trendiness? Knowing the why will change the entire process because the why will tell you what to focus on, what to emphasize, and maybe even how to know when you’re there. For example:

Books: As a yoga teacher and practitioner, books are incredibly important to me. I’ve got a Kindle, but many of the books I study aren’t Kindle friendly for one reason or another, and I’m not sure I want them to be. This means that, for me, even though I don’t plan to accrue a house consuming physical library, its perfectly fine to own plenty of physical books. For someone who reads mostly novels or wants to travel a lot and is more interested in minimalism as a way to spend time with family, buying a Kindle, Nook, or similar device and selling off their physical library could be entirely appropriate and freeing.

Time/Schedule: Knowing your why also helps simplify and clarify how to spend time and what to keep on your schedule. Want to spend more time with friends/family? Make sure there’s time in your schedule every day/week for it and give that time priority over other commitments. If something comes up that would conflict, say thanks but no thanks. In a culture so focused on work and physical/monetary accumulation, this can mean some pretty major countercultural activity as it could potentially mean choosing family over work.

Clothes: While I highly recommend everyone interested in minimalism take on the Project 333 Challenge, or put together a capsule wardrobe, that collection of clothing will look very different for someone who works in construction, a CEO, and a yoga teacher, and it should. Someone working a physically demanding outdoor job has very different expectations and requirements of their clothing than someone working a retail or office gig. The latter might need dress clothes in abundance while the former could probably get along just fine with a pair of dark wash jeans, khakis, sportcoat, a couple dress shirts and a gray suit.

Just something to ponder. So, what’s your why, and how does it shape how you go about decluttering/simplifying/minimalizing?

my November goals

This past month has been, well, disorganized, as have been most months for way too long now. In an effort to get things a bit more focused and in order, I’m taking a page out of Catherine from the Blissful Mind’s playbook and setting three goals/habits to cultivate each month.


1. Put yoga front & center: This might seem odd to a lot of people, especially anyone who associates yoga with āsana, the physical exercises, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Classical or Ashtanga yoga has eight limbs or practices, and I’ve been neglecting most of them. As a yoga teacher, this should be the center of my life, but it really hasn’t been. This month I’m going to be changing that. Expect a post about the limbs of yoga later this month.

2. floss: I’ve never been very good at flossing, and my gums have definitely suffered for it. This month I’m making flossing more of a priority. I’ll be using Leo Babauta’s methodology, in this case, floss one tooth on the first day of the month, two on the second, three on the third, etc, and I’ll be doing it either in the shower or after when I brush my teeth.

3. Limit screen time: I spend WAY too much time in front of screens (don’t we all). I’m fortunate in that teaching yoga doesn’t really require much tech time, yet I still find ways to rot my brain. That’ll change this month as I’ll be limiting my tech time to a couple half hour chunks a day (totaling two hours or so). This will also mean I’ll hopefully be more focused and productive in terms of writing for this blog.

Minimalism 101

Starting the minimalist path can be rather daunting. Most people understandably go about it by getting rid of physical stuff, but the question becomes how, especially when there’s tons of it. Different people have given different suggested methods, and today I thought I’d offer a rundown of possibilities to those looking for advice:

  1. Burn it With Fire: Okay, so this is my bad humor geeky name for it, but this method involves junking/selling/donating EVERYTHING or as nearly as possible. This can be especially useful for people who have so much stuff they have one or more storage units and don’t even know what all they have. This is the method Colin Wright used before heading out to travel the world, and he literally rented an industrial size garbage bin and tossed everything in. While thats the shortest, simplest way of explaining this approach, you can read about a more in-depth, nuanced interpretation called the KonMari method in a best selling book called “the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by an awesome Japanese lady by the name of Mary Kondo.
  2. Packing Party: This is the method made famous by the Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nickodemus. Simply put, pack everything up like you’re going to move, including covering furniture, and only uncover/unpack items as you need them. At the end of the week sell/donate/throw away anything thats still packed away. While someone with a lot of stuff could use this method, it certainly isn’t feasible for a packrat and is probably best for someone with a normal amount of clutter that doesn’t pour over into a storage unit.
  3. Slow & Steady: While Leo Babauta has half jokingly enodrsed the “Kill it With Fire” method of minimalism, he normally goes for a much slower more methodical approach:
    1. Choose a spot in your house, prefferably a junk drawer in the kitchen or your desk. Take everything out, seperate the contents into two or three piles: keep, sell/donate, trash.
    2. Throw out the items in the third pile, put the second in a bag or box to be taken care of later, and replace the items in the first pile neatly.
    3. Once the drawer is arranged, declutter moving out from that point using a similar method.
      This method is likely best suited to someone with a small to medium amount of clutter to begin with.

When I got into minimalism I used the third method, mostly because my very first exposure to minimalism was Leo, though if it had been on my radar, I probably would have thrown a packing party.

5 Recommened Apps

Whether you have an iPhone or an Android in your pocket, there are way more apps available than anyone could possibly test out in a single human lifetime. With that in mind I thought I’d share some of the apps I’ve found useful and use regularly. I use a number of apps most people probably use, like social media clients, etc, so I’ve left those out, and limited myself to more unusual fare instead.

1: Headspace/Buddhify: Headspace is a great app to learn to meditate and get in the habit of doing it daily. Its a series of guided mindfulness meditation sessions that get progressively longer and more intricate as they go on. The app also has a mindfulness buzzer, which will pop up a notification anywhere from one to five times a day at random. There are great dedicated apps for this, the best and the one I’ve used off and on is simply called “Mindfulness Bell.” The advantage to the Headspace feature is the fact that it plays your alert sound, not a bell like the dedicated app, so its significantly less obtrusive. Headspace is free for the first ten days, then a subscription on a sliding scale afterwards.

Buddhify is a less structured app, being a collection of guided meditations focused on teaching mindfulness during everyday activities (ie the vast majority are intended to be used while your’e actually doing something else). This is a solid compliment to Headspace, though it could certainly be used on its own. It also has a dedicated meditation timer without audio, though its restricted to specific increments topping out at 60 minutes. If you’re looking for something more flexible I highly recommend Insight Timer, which I used for ages and continue to use on occasion. Buddhify is available for both iPhone and Android, and has a one time price-tag of less than $5.

2: Lastpass: This is quite possibly the greatest password management system ever conceived. It stores all your passwords behind a master password and lets you generate secure passwords that are just about as long as you want (some of my passwords are between twenty and fifty characters). It also monitors your accounts to let you know if any have the same password. While this is most useful when you first start using the app, it also warns you if an account is using your master password, which can be a major security risk.

3: Lookout: Do you have a smart phone? If you do, you need this app. Lookout is everything from a virus detection/deletion app to internet security, to theft protection. It’ll keep an eye on things when you’re online to let you know if something hinky is going on, and if you have a premium account and your phone gets stolen, you can have it do all sorts of fun things, like take a picture with the front facing camera if someone tries to unlock the phone too many times, show its location on a map on the software’s website, and even wipe the phone. Sure, there’s built in software that can do some of these things, but not all of them. Lookout is a subscription service, but for peace of mind its pretty darn cheap.

4: Circa: I went through a faze where I just ignored the news altogether. I still don’t bother with TV news, newspapers, or internet news sites for the most part, but Circa is an integral part of my morning routine. Basically the app gives you a daily briefing of the most important stories, and its actual news, as in the facts of the events without anything else. An actual no spin zone. A lot of the articles are crazy long, but the morning brief, called the Wire gives you about a paragraph summary of each story with the option to read more. One of my favorite features of this app is the ability to follow stories. Basically if you read a story you want to keep up with, you push a button that says “follow” and pops up a notification whenever there’s new developements in the story.

5: I told myself I wasn’t going to highlight any games, but had to give a shout out to INGRESS. The game is essentially about a battle between an evil organisation and a group trying to defeat them, but it uses GPS to interact with the real world, meaning that if you want to play the game, you have to be willing to be active and possibly look a bit goofy in public. Defintiely one of the more inventive games I’ve seen.

5 Tips to Make Life Easier

With all the health and well-being advice floating around, sometimes it can be hard to know what to do, and who to trust. If we took a minute to stop and think, however, there are a couple things I think we all know on some level we need to do to live better, healthier lives.

5 Simple Things to Make Life Easier:

  1. Get more sleep: Granted, getting too much sleep can actually be bad for you too, but let’s get real, how many people actually get more than eight hours?

  2. Turn off the news: The news really doesn’t have anything to do with keeping us informed anymore. Everyone from CNN to Fox airs the stories they do because thats what draws viewers. The doom and gloom has the unfortunate side-effect of twisting your world view in some pretty horrific ways. You’ll do yourself a huge favor by not exposing yourself to it. If you absolutely have to watch something, tune into your local nightly news broadcast, which tends to be not so negative and might actually be useful.

  3. Drink more water: Like sleep, most of us are actually walking around partially dehydrated. The human body is something like 70% water. Just about any process that takes place in the human body requires water. Most foods we eat are part water but not near enough to replenish the water lost through digestion, sweat, etc. Shoot for 4–6 32oz bottles of water a day (protip: invest in a good metal, glass, or BPA-free water bottle and memorise the locations of bathrooms in areas you frequent.) This is a lot of water, yes, but if you’re used to feeling sluggish, once you start keeping yourself hydrated, you’ll notice a definite difference.

  4. Get regular exercise: Having trouble getting to bed before midnight? Most of us are WAY too sedentary for our own good, myself included at times. This doesn’t have to be at the gym or necessarily “exercise” either. If you’re on a call, get up and walk a bit, start a body weight exercise routine in the morning get active in whatever way you can. The key here is to get outside. The body’s circadian, or sleep/awake rhythms are regulated by exposure to sunlight. Getting outside a couple times a day however you can will help regulate these rhythms.

  5. Clean up your diet: Seems there’s more and more evidence, both scientific and otherwise, that the Standard American Diet of fast food, tons of meat, soda and sweets is deadly. Going vegan isn’t necessary, but prioritise food in your budget, up the amount of leafy greens and fruits and veggies you eat, eat less meat, and feel the difference.

None of these tips rely on trusting scientific evidence. Anyone that does any one of these things will start to feel the difference for themselves. We overcomplicate everything so much these days that sometimes we forget there are plenty of simple, straightforward ways to improve our lives.

Clothes and the Man

“Know what the difference is between you and me? I make this look good.” – Agent J (Will Smith), Men in Black

As I’ve mentioned before, Steve Jobs was well known for (among other things) wearing a black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers every day. Clothing can be a form of self expression, but having a basic outfit (or two) that you wear on a daily basis (your uniform) can be incredibly useful in terms of making getting dressed easier and knowing you look good regardless.

A uniform does three things: One it helps maintain a certain discipline about life. Most men’s wear, after all, evolved from military uniforms. The suit was based off the military dress uniform, the breast pockets on men’s shirts started as a place for Napoleonic era infantry to store ammunition. In one of the weirder developments in men’s wear, t-shirts are actually undershirts that became socially acceptable to wear on the outside. The second reason is, as I mentioned before, a matter of simplicity and style: knowing that you look good with a small wardrobe. Finally, third, it frees up mental energy to use for other things besides which shirt to wear.

So, what do I actually wear? My standard uniform is jeans with a leather belt, button-down collared shirt or long sleeve thermal t-shirt, brown leather boots. I also keep two or three solid color t-shirts and a pair of junker jeans that I mostly wear on weekends or when I’m doing yard or housework. Though it doesn’t happen often, there are still occasions when I need to dress up, so I have a couple pairs of light, medium, and dark khakis, a couple dress button down shirts and a french cuff shirt, as well as a pair of dark wash jeans, dress shoes and a dress belt. The only thing I feel I’m missing at this point for winter wear is a decent jacket that doesn’t look like I’m about to crest Everest, along with a sport coat, and a grey suit for formal wear. If you work in an office, you might want to weight things a bit more towards the dressy end of the spectrum. If you look at most mens’ magazines, you’ll probably come away thinking you need a ton of clothes, but the fact is its actually easier in some ways to look better without hundreds of clothing items. I wouldn’t be too worried about getting called out on wearing the same stuff constantly either. I’ve been dressing this way for about a month and no one has said anything.

I definitely recommend checking out this youtube video on maintaining a minimal wardrobe.

So, what should every guy have in their closet?

How to Stay on Track

As life goes on, we gain more and more responsibilities, and have more and more that needs to get done, and less ental energy to devote to it. Some method of mangement becomes necessary. Of course, there’s always paper and pencil, but there are some great digital options as well. Today I thought I’d share some of the apps and techniques I use to keep track of my life. You can go here to check out a post I wrote a while back about analog tools I use.

1 Todoist: This may well be my favorite task manager. Clean design, minimalist, gamification of productivity through karma points, and there are native clients for every tech device under the sun (including Galaxy Gear). This the to do list for the digital age. (I also recommend checking out Nozbe.)
2 Sunrise/Fantastical: Sunrise is without a doubt the best Google calendar client out there. It boasts a nice, clean minimalist interface, along with the fact that it integrates with EVERYTHING, most importantly Evernote and Todoist.
3 IFTTT: Recently renamed IF, this is a task automation program that I use for so much its not really funny anymore. If I miss a call it adds a task to Todoist to return the call, including caller ID information if available, it adds anything marked “watch later” on YouTube to Pocket, adds top TIME stories to pocket as well as a random post from Wikipedia, thats only scratching the surface, and I know I’m not using it to its full potential.
4 Buffer: A tool I use to autopost to various social media. I do manually post to Instagram and twitter, as well as Tumblr on occasion, but this service gives me the piece of mind of knowing I’ve got a steady stream of posts to social media going, instead of flooding my followers every morning with posts and tweets.
5 Electronic Pomodoro Timers: I use Tomighty on my computer, and Simple Pomodoro on my phone. These timers motivate me to get work done instead of goofing around, and I find that I get more higher quality work done when I have one of them ticking down.

action steps:
1 Take a look at your options: I’ve used a couple, and there are a number of different ones out there. Trello and Kanbanflow are good if you’re looking for something different than a tradiitonal todo list, simulating a board with columns that tasks are moved between. Workflowy is a sort of trippy combination of to-do list and outline that I still use for various things, but not my actual todo list at the moment.
2 Choose a taskmanager and calendar app and give them a shot forone to two weeks: This should be about the right amount of time to know if they’ll work for you or not.
3 Make it a habit: It’ll take a while, but train yourself to dump everything in there. Trust the system. No system in the world, as simple or intricate as it might be will help if you don’t use it.

A lot of this post appeared in rough form in my weekly newsletter. Want to check it out? Follow this link and see what you think.


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