Living more comfortable by going through discomfort

Lately I made in interesting Observation on myself. And that is, I would take an action that felt uncomfortable to create a situation for me, that is actually more pleasent. Not sure if that makes sense, but I will go through my experiences.

Today I took a trip by train to visit my siblings. It was going to be quite a long journey, so I was about to stop at a supermarket to get some food that I could have for dinner which i would have on the train.

So there was a normal german Supermarket, that would have carried everything that I would usually buy for a small meal on the train. And that would probably be a sandwich and a softdrink.

That was the comfortable option, it was a big brand name supermarket, I shopped there already plenty of times, I would know what I was about to buy, and I would be on Auto-Pilot going through the motions, and buy at a big name brand.

However, around the corner, just a two minute walk away, I knew that there is also a Turkish supermarket, locally run probably, that I would usually hesitate to frequent, as the products sold there would be totally different than anything that I would expect from a supermarket. So, I would not know what to buy, and where to find it. It would be a more uncomfortable choice.

Never the less, I believe it took me a minute or two to ponder that question, I went for the uncomfortable option, and entered the Turkish supermarket.

In the end I bought some healthy salad from the salad selection, and some sweets from a to me unknown brand.

I am not sure if in this case I got something better tasting than I would have gotten at the other supermarket, but for sure what I saw was more interesting, as this supermarket had quite a large selection of salads, and even a real butchers shop inside the market, while the big brand name supermarket these days, only carries prepackaged meat.

What I did however, is that I primed myself to make the more interesting if uncomfortable choice, when faced with two options. And it took me some effort, there was a slight tingling in me to go for the easier option, that I had to overcome.

But the story did not stop there. I did buy the salad, but walking into the train station, I noticed that I did not bring any eating tool to consume said salad. I needed to get a fork or spoon, or anything. So simple walked into one of the bakeries that are at the train station, and took a plastic fork, that was provided there. And usually I would feel quite uncomfortable to get a fork from a place without buying there, but given that I was already primed to do uncomfortable things I took the fork. Would have been even more uncomfortable having to eat the salad without a fork. Basically a small transgression of my existing social code.

On I went to the train, and looking at my ticket, I noticed that I had a reserved seat on the train. I did not remember that, because I booked the ticket some time in advance. So I went to my seat, and in this type of train, there are different types of seat arrangements, it is either two seats next to each other behind another row of seats, similar like sitting in an airplane. Alternatively there are two seats that face another row of two seats and in between there is a small table. These tables are usually more spacious and comfortable, as in the seat rows, you usually only get a flimsy fold down table, like in an airplane. So I noticed I had reserved the wrong seat. But as luck comes, just the next row as a “good” row. So even though the train appeared to fill up quickly, and these “good” seats were marked “reserved”, I took my chances to sit there. Sometimes People do not show up, even though a seat is marked reserved.

To spare you the suspense, in the end, the seat I choose stayed free, and now I am sitting in the comfortable space, rather than in the cramped position I had reserved. And here is where it seems to get uncomfortable for many people. Everybody who has a reserved seat usually is quite happy to get there, especially if the train seems to become full. For me, I had all the options, a reserved seat, should I need one, but the chance for a better one, should it stay free. What I had to endure though was the possibility of two uncomfortable conversations. The first one would have been when the person on whose seat I sat would have shown up. And the second one when I would have to ask the person sitting on my reserved seat to get up. Luckily, that scenario never happened, so in the end I got the better deal, without any real risk at all.

But it does not stop there, quite often you can get a better deal, just by suggesting an alternative to the established procedure.

Recently I had to go on a company business trip, which I usually try to avoid as business trips are often quite a hassle, and feel not very comfortable to me.

However, this time I decided to make some small changes to the usual business trip arrangements, all without any consequences, but with immense increase in comfort for me.

The default magic rule for company travel seems to be the following, that is what you get when you ask the responsible person in the company to arrange for the travel. A trip by plane, a taxi from to airport to a regular business hotel in the vicinity of the customer location. Taxi trips to and from the customer and the hotel if necessary and that is it.

To me that sounds usually like a complete horror-trip. Usually customer companies are in the very far outskirts of the city center, where land is cheap, and entertainment, as well as public transport is sparse.

That means that when the work of the day is done, you get into your taxi to the hotel and that is it. If you want to do any activities after that, you either have to pay for a taxi on your own dime, or take the bus, which in that area usually means a 30 minutes walk from the hotel to next bus station. And the same way back, after a few drinks. Good luck, finding yourself in a sleepy small town, with your phone battery empty trying to navigate to your hotel, when the last bus from town dropped you off at different bus stop.

And usually these types of hotels for business travelers are the most boring places ever, all other customers come in to sleep, or watch TV, exhausted from their day at work. Everything is usually nice, clean and orderly, but the audience is usually not anything close to what you’d call a party crowd.

Having found myself in this rather unpleasant situation several times again and again, I decided to take matters into my own hands and adjust the situation in a slight manner.

I gave precise instructions to the travel agent making the arrangements, and I was curious how it would play out. Again, no risk at all on my side, the worst that could have happened is that the company denied my wishes, citing some “travel policy”.

So I choose a specific Hostel right in the city center, that accordingly to the internet reviews, photos and location looked, like an interesting place to stay. And for the most part the diametral opposite of what I would expect from a standard business hotel. I even asked them to book a single bed in the dorm. But here the company took it on them to actually book me a single room in my preferred hostel. I did not complain.

Of course the hostel was quite a trip away from the customer, so I would not have taken a taxi for the trip. Again, taking taxis is not my preferred way of taking a car, I like to drive myself, so I asked the agent to book a rental car instead. My wish was fulfilled, again, I did not expect it, but it would not hurt to ask, and see, it payed off.

I do not even own a car myself, living in the city with every imaginable type of public transport is in walkable distance. However, I am signed up to every available “car-sharing” company that is available, (basically a rental car that can be booked by the minute with a mobile app, spread around the city) And that is usually what I use instead of a taxi. As I said, I prefer to drive myself, and I do it quite often.

Conveniently enough, the hostel even offered an option to book a parking space in the city center, an option which I requested and got approved. Not getting a parking space near my hostel could have spoiled the deal, but even that I could get covered.

The next inconvenience that I usually endured was air travel. I am not a big fan of air travel, especially if it is short distances. In this case it was something like a one hour flight. That sounds quite easy, but this is only the time, the plane is in the air. Add to that one hour of getting to the airport, one hour of waiting at the airport, while enduring the hassle of security checks, one hour of flight, another hour fiddling around at the destination airport waiting for luggage, searching the taxi strip, and then another hour plus minus for the trip from the airport to whatever the final destination is. All together that is about five hours, the same time, it takes for the train.

Except that it is quick for me to get to the main station, I get in my seat, the train has power outlets and WiFi, and I can get a solid 5 hours of work done, without interruptions. Finally. No waiting, no back and forth, no security checks, no getting on the plane, off the plane, waiting for luggage, etc. etc.

So I asked to get a ticket for a specific train at a specific time, that was the most comfortable to me, and got it approved, and booked. Great success.

In the end the business trip went as well as I expected, I could even visit a friend, on my trip from the customer to my hostel, I had a nice drink with a colleague in the local pub after work, and could easily walk over to my hostel after a few drinks.

And I got all that just by making the very slight uncomfortable choice of not going with the accepted standard of plane+taxi+hotel, and instead suggested my own most preferred options. And all of those choices were not in any way more expensive, than the default. They were just adjusted to my personal preferences.

Non existing risk for me, but great win.

A new way of thinking and risk assessment

If you haven’t started reading the ribbonfarm blog I strongly urge you to consider reading it, because I find it to be on of the most pleasurable blogs right now. Venkats writing is very precise, and he manages to explain even very difficult concepts clearly and easily understandable.

But he is not the only lonely writer to be working on these ideas. There seems to be quite a trend of going into systems thinking and finding ways to incorporate risk and probability into every day decision making.

"The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb started that discussion in popular literature, followed by "Antifragile", by the same author.

But also "The World Until Yesterday" by Jared Diamond devotes a chapter to discuss the topic of risk assesment. And then most recently, Scott Adams published his book: "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big", which goes on to discuss the idea of systems thinking on a more practical level.

And to be frank, I feel that I can apply this kind of thinking at a lot of situations. It is as if everywhere I look systems thinking could improve something or indeed does improve things for me already.

Have fun,

Only that which can be copied is truly unique

Paradox it seems, does it?

Lots has been written about the cultivation of an abundance mindset, in contrast to the more widely adopted scarcity mindset.

One mindset, the one that is often cultivated by shady advertising material, and publications aimed at the uneducated, adopts and promotes a standpoint that is based on fear. Based on the notion that there is not enough for everyone. That there are people that have ‘more’, that there is not enough to eat, not enough money, not enough love, not enough material possessions, not enough time to enjoy etc. It instills a worldview into each and everyone that allows him/herself to be infected that there is race going on, and that you will lose it unless you do whatever is in the interest of the entity controlling this information stream. Unfortunately, there is no winner in this worldview. Because, even if you were in the position of authority, you are afraid too, because why would you make such claims, unless you are afraid that those listening to you, below you are out there to get you and take your position away?

But there is a different mindset, one that is only cultivated by knowing circles, although this knowledge sifts into the mainstream consciousness occasionally, yet slowly. And that is the abundance mindset. It is the idea that the world is rich, and can provide for everyone, the idea that everyone can live comfortable, without being afraid. Its an idea that can, and is being, cultivated among a minority. Yet this minority is growing as I already mentioned. It is an idea that is scary and uncomfortable for those that are still deeply enrooted in the scarcity culture. It is an idea that appears dangerous to the scarcity culture. It is an idea that is being violently fought, ridiculed and laughed at, by those that live in the illusion that they are in control. By those that think of themselves as having power. An illusion though.

So much for an introduction, but how to we get to the conclusion that “Only that which can be copied is truly unique”? Well lets start with an example.

I’ve been to a movie this week, which kind of inspired me to this article. But lets start with something different. I’ve been to a party last week, at a club, and I arrived early with my friends, so we got in easily, Later in the evening though, the place was already getting crowded, and outside the venue a long row of people started to line up.
Would I have arrived this late, I would have probably skipped this party, because I cannot be bothered to wait in a long row. From my mind something that I have to wait for, a resource that is only so scarcely available that I have to wait for it cannot be worth much. Most likely, it is a scam. A common advertising slogan: “Come on, get it now, it is unique, it is only available this time, it is only available for a limited time” already puts me into the perception that the good being advertised is probably boring, and not worth bothering. For example a pair of trousers or any other piece of clothing is never truly scarce. I can buy it today, if I want to or I can get something equivalent next week, next month, next year, and most likely also in ten years. So when someone creates an aura of exclusivity, I am already bored to tears.

And actually, this applies to almost any kind of physical good. Food, clothing, houses, cars, computers, smart-phones, etc…

But in fact there is something that I assign a much greater value. Something that is much more interesting to me, and that I can get excited about much more. And those are immaterial goods. Information, so to speak. And judging from the increasing amount of huge data-centers popping up around the world at centers of wealth, this appears to be a trend. Those are more or less physical factories bound to process, store and interact with immaterial data.

Why is this? What is information? How is it created? Distributed? Valued?

Lets take literature for an example. I’ll take James Joyce’s “Ulysses”, even though I haven’t read it. A work of fiction that is probably widely distributed, and a copy can be most likely acquired for a price that is affordable by a wide range of this planet’s individuals. There might have been a time where reading and the access to literature and libraries has been restricted to an exclusive minority, but in many parts of the world those times are over.

So the material wealth to acquire such an information piece is neglectable. However, few would probably argue against that the text in question is a valuable piece of art.

And even though, many many books are being written as you are reading this. And even though there are many topics and genres where authors repeat the same patterns and thoughts again and again, nothing that is exactly equivalent to James Joyce’s “Ulysses” can ever be produced again. So the idea, the piece of information is that which is unique, even though, its representation can be copied indefinitely.

And therefore we arrive at the conclusion:
“Only that which can be copied is truly unique”

Spiritual Enlightenment for non-believers – Expanding your intellectual toolbox

If you are coming from an atheist, highly intellectual culture, like I do, where science and facts are given the uttermost emphasis, you might find it hard or ridiculous to even consider thinking about or discussing something that could be labeled as “Spiritual Enlightenment”.

So did I, because through family values, my upbringing, education and things I learned at university I was never seriously confronted with such a concept.

Today however, after many experiences, traveling, reading, interacting with the world around me, I’ve come to find a technique and understanding of what I might call “enlightenment”. There might be other words to describe that experience, but lets stick with this term for now.

The idea of enlightenment, as I understand it has nothing to do with magic or god or religion or any other kind of abracadabra that might sound ridiculous to you. I simply view enlightenment as just another tool in the human intellectual toolbox. Very much like logical reasoning, reading or writing. Albeit it is a powerful and eventually even dangerous tool.

But then again, think about how the skill of reading and writing was once a jealously guarded secret by those who considered themselves to be higher up and in control. And even today, the written word is feared and restricted by certain authorities.

Enlightenment can give you a level of freedom, that you might not be aware exists, but don’t think it might make your life any easier or less complicated, rather the opposite. And I am sure there are people that might fear the prospect of widespread adoption of this knowledge, because it questions and undermines their positions of power. They might ridicule and even fight it.

However, like you were able to learn how to read and write, you can learn to enlighten yourself. And it is not much of a secret either, there are plenty of people who learned to do this, and there are many books and lots of information readily available.

Learning about enlightenment will mainly be helpful to you when you are somehow stuck in your life, when you have desires and wishes that you find unable to fulfill, be it financially, socially, romantically or intellectually. But it is not a shortcut and it does not mean that things will magically fall into place. It is just another tool that can show you the light at the end of the tunnel, and how to get there.

And it is also not a skill that can be learned in a day, or that I can fully explain in this short blog posting. Like learning how to read and write, it might take you a year or two to gain an understanding, and a lifetime to master it. But you will likely experience a number of “aha” effects and significant progress throughout the process.

While you go through this process, you can expect to experience the following sensations. You will become much more aware of your feelings and instincts and you will start to rely upon them to guide you. So for example a lot of the current industry is geared around selling you some stuff that promises to fulfill some desire. However, quite often you’ll fail to get the level of satisfaction and happiness that you desired so much. You will learn to let go of physical things and learn to go for the feeling you want directly.

You will gain an increased sense of your own power over yourself, your surroundings and others, and you will gain an insight into why it is unnecessary and even counter-productive to abuse that power over others to do harm.

You will also find that some goals you expected to be hard, almost impossible to reach, to be suddenly in sight and attainable. You will develop a much deeper understanding of human nature, how people interact, and why things are the way they are, how to change them, and why this is often not even necessary.

Lots of these things are happening with body language, the words we choose to express ourselves with, and also about cultural habits, fears, expectations, etc. In short everything that is characteristic of  human nature can be used as a starting point. And conveniently enough, many of these things can be observed, explained and understood scientifically too, if desired. But the goal for enlightenment is not to understand things in a intellectual/scientific way, but rather to develop an additional intuitive understanding that results from “real” and practical interaction with actual people.

So as a first step for learning about enlightenment, you can read about something, and then go out and interact with human beings, observe what you feel, and why, learn what makes you happy, angry, what frightens you, and how the people around you might feel about a situation. Ask them if necessary. 😉

You see, there is nothing magic or mysterious about enlightenment. You just have to continue looking, and learning. See enlightenment as a way of understanding theoretical knowledge in practical human interaction.

Have fun,