Choosing sufficiency even when the money is flowing out

My spouse was venting to me today about fighting losing battles over thousands of dollars with various adversaries – a rental car company that refuses to let us out a reservation we didn’t know we made, an incompetent insurance agent that locked us into a premium plan we didn’t want, and a landlord that won’t refund us any money for our shower being out of order for a month.

Well, I said to her, if it makes you feel any better, that money is peanuts compared to what we’ve lost in our investment portfolio over the past few weeks.

Only a few months ago, we had reached a major milestone – our second FI target, a figure that would have been able to sustain our family of four at a comfortable standard of  living provided we did some modest belt-tightening.

We were still reaching even higher for our third FI target, a figure that would have enabled us to continue living the way we are now with plenty of travel and occasional spending splurges. But in the past few weeks, the number at the top of my Personal Capital page has tumbled down to well below that second milestone. And God only knows where it will end…

Of course this is terribly painful to watch. But it hasn’t devastated me as much as it would have in an earlier life.

Partly, this is because I’ve known that the market was going to blow up at some point. History says that even a diversified stock/bond portfolio can experience a -40% drawdown in any given year. We’re nowhere near that yet, but it could very well happen.

Partly, this is because I’d like to think I’ve gotten older and wiser and I recognize that my Personal Capital number is of no value when compared to the real treasures of my life: my kids, my spouse, our health, our family and friends. I’m also aware of the fact that by sheer luck, I’ve been born into the right circumstances to put me in the top 0.14% (according to the Global Rich List) wealthiest people in the world. Even if I lost half of my wealth, I’d still be the top 0.26%. So I hardly deserve to even think “woe is me.”

And partly, this is because I’ve been actively trying to choose an attitude of sufficiency. Sufficiency is indeed a choice. Lynn Twist writes in her book “The Soul of Money”:

By sufficiency, I don’t mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.

Sufficiency resides inside of each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness, an attention, an intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances.

Sufficiency is not a message about simplicity or about cutting back and lowering expectations. Sufficiency doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive or aspire. Sufficiency is an act of generating, distinguishing, making known to ourselves the power and presence of our existing resources, and our inner resources. Sufficiency is a context we bring forth from within that reminds us that if we look around us and within ourselves, we will find what we need. There is always enough.

I suggest there is enough in nature, in human nature, and in the relationships we share with one another to have a prosperous, fulfilling life, no matter who you are or where you are in the spectrum of resources. I suggest that if you are willing to let go, let go of the chase to acquire or accumulate always more and let go of that way of perceiving the world, then you can take all that energy and attention and invest it in what you have. When you do that you will find unimagined treasures, and wealth of surprising and even stunning depth and diversity.

What a concept! And what a relief! Watching hundreds of thousands of dollars drain out of our nest egg is still painful, but I’m beginning to understand what Twist is talking about when she compares money to water. Money is meant to flow in and out of our lives. Even if we tried our damnedest, we can’t hold it in should the market forces go against us.  We also shouldn’t let it stagnate by trying so hard to protect it that we don’t spend any away. Our responsibility is to steward this force as best we can and use it to support our deepest values.

I’m also realizing that financial wealth is only one measure of success. Of course, I’ve always known that in my mind. Yet living in a society where money is the ultimate scorecard, it’s hard to know that in my heart. Watching my mom struggle to figure out her livelihood in her sixties has been an eyeopener. Financially, she’s set. But her livelihood, defined as a means to support a life of purpose, has never been more in question as she faces a potential divorce. Financial security is only a means, never an end.

On my bathroom mirror, I’ve taped a postcard that says “I have enough, I do enough, I am enough.” I know I won’t always feel that way, but I will declare sufficiency.

Why my last year of work before FI is turning out to be the hardest…and how I’m surviving it.

After a decade of working the career ladder, spending conscientiously, running the numbers, and daydreaming about the day I get to call it quits, I’m now one year away from reaching my financial independence goals.

It feels really good. But, it also makes for a serious case of Senioritis. I’ve spent the last six months in a state of extreme negativity towards my job. My job was always a means towards an end, but in the past I found satisfaction and even enjoyment in parts of it. Now, the work week is a source of dread. And instead of my stress-levels dissipating as I near the end, they’ve skyrocketed. Every incoming email or additional responsibility becomes yet another thing I have to get through before I get to move onto my “real” life.

It’d be natural to accept that this last year is just something I have to grind through. But I’ve decided that’s not good enough for me. First, a year is still a long time. I spend too many hours at my job to accept that there’s no option but to suffer through it. Second, I firmly believe happiness is a choice. It’s not my job itself that makes me suffer; it’s my attitude towards it. And whose to say that even after I remove my job from the equation, I won’t face other things in life that I wish I weren’t there?

Happiness comes from embracing reality as it is in this moment. So how I am embracing my current reality, which includes showing up at an office every day to a demanding job?

What I’m doing to not only survive, but thrive, in my last year of work:

  • Find “one thing” you want to accomplish in your career before you leave, and let everything else go. My one thing is to be a kick-ass manager, which means helping my team grow professionally and personally. At this point, delivering project X or achieving business goal Y really has no meaning to me. But people always matter, and I still have an opportunity to make a meaningful impact in my remaining year as their boss. The hard part is letting the rest go, because it WILL get uncomfortable if you’re used to always being on top of everything. But embrace the chaos. It’s the way to peace.
  • Change up your work situation so you can find new challenges to be excited about. I really couldn’t bear the thought of dragging myself through the same 1hr+ commute, to the same campus, and in the same business unit as I have been working for the last decade. So I took an international transfer to Zurich, Switzerland. On top of giving my family a whole new adventure and an opportunity to live in Europe, I also got a 30% bump in salary for cost of living adjustment. Awesome!
  • If you can, reduce your hours. It’s probably better financially to stay at your job and work part-time than quit prematurely because you just can’t take it anymore. Last month, I moved to 90% time which means I work from home Friday mornings and take off Friday afternoons. While it’s only a 10% reduction in time and pay, it’s made at least a 25% increase in my everyday happiness.
  • Start living your post-FI life now. After writing my “Ten Year Plan for a Remarkable Life,” I realised that my ideal life is actually quite simple and achievable today. So instead of daydreaming about everything I’m going to do with all my post-FI free time, I try to live that life now as much as possible. These include: Daily time for exercise and meditation. Luxurious breakfasts with the family. Reading and writing (including this blog) for pleasure. World travel (yes for Switzerland!).

Life is too short and unpredictable to defer your happiness to post-FI. What are you doing to find joy in your situation today?

My 2016 goals and why early retirement isn’t the point

“You don’t need more free time.” This was the thought-provoking conclusion of a NYT article on a study of the daily emotions of 500K+ people.

The study’s first finding was unoriginal: People have the lowest levels of well-being from Monday through Thursday which rise on Friday and peak on the weekend. The obvious conclusion is that the workweek brings stress, and the key to greater happiness is to get rid of having to work. This belief is the basis for most people’s dreams of early retirement, including my own.

But, the poll also uncovered a second much more surprising result: The weekly cycle of well-being levels held true for all people, whether they were employed or not!

The researcher’s conclusion is that free time is most valuable when your friends and family are also free and you can spend time with them. If you don’t have a job, you end up spending your workweek doing errands and tasks by yourself. Like employed people, your “fun” time ends up becoming limited to weekends when other people are also off.

Of course, this study doesn’t distinguish between people who are unemployed because they can’t find a job versus people who are unemployed by choice. My assumption is that results could be quite different if we looked specifically at early retirees.

However, it was enough to give me pause and reiterate a truth that I know in my heart of hearts but still need to be reminded of: The most important work of my life is not to achieve financial independence. Rather, it is to figure out what to do with my life when it is fully my own. 

Every new years, my wife and I set aside a few days to reflect on the past year and set goals for the upcoming one. This year, in between decluttering our house Konmari-style to make room for a nursery and our impending new lives as parents, we took some time out to get our mental and emotional ‘house’ in order as well.

My simple guide for a spiritual retreat:

1. Reflect on the past: 

  • Grade yourself: Looking at goals set from previous year, what went well? What didn’t go well?
  • Examine your beliefs: What beliefs/attitudes did you hold that enabled you to succeed? What beliefs/attitudes did you hold that were not helpful?

I can’t stress enough how important this second step is of looking at your beliefs. I went through Tony Robbins’ Personal Power program last year, and one of my biggest takeaways was this: My beliefs are what lead to my success or failure. If I think that willpower alone is going to get me to my goals, I’m a fool. When I shifted my belief from “If I have a lot of nice stuff, I will be happy” to “If I have a lot of free time and energy to spend with the people I love doing the things I love , I will be happy,” I naturally wanted to stop shopping. This made sticking to my budget goal so much easier. An area that I am still struggling through is how to get in control of my mornings, which always seem to get away from me and cause me unnecessary anxiety and self-loathing. I realized that this is because I carry a lifelong negative belief that “I am not a morning person.” To combat this, I’m working on instilling a new morning routine and changing my belief to “I have the power to change my attitude in the morning, and therefore the outcome of my day, in spite of how I may feel.”

2. Envision your best life: This year, we decided to create vision boards after watching this inspiring (albeit cheesy) video on the power of visioning your dreams. Another great tool that I’ve used in the past is the Passion Test, which provides a super simple method for helping you identify your core passions.

*Minimalist Tip: We don’t have magazines or poster boards lying around the house, so we made virtual vision boards instead. This free vision board app was super easy to use, and you can save your board as a screensaver or print it out.
3. Turn your vision into actionable goals: Take your top ~5 visions/passions and identify actionable goals for each of them in the next year. For me, this looked like (in priority):

1. I am self aware and mindful of the present.

  • Take time every day to journal and reflect on affirmations and vision board
  • Set time 2x year for a quiet spiritual retreat
2. I am a joyful, kind, and loving spouse and mom.
  • Weekly date nights: explore new events, ideas, activities
  • Go on a family trip during maternity leave
3. I live in close community with family and friends.
  • Intentionally reach out and invest the time and work in my relationships
  • Set up a Personal CRM system to trigger myself to maintain relationships (more on this another time)
4. I have enough wealth to have freedom
  • Keep to the $60k budget and check in on progress monthly
  • Build on my investment skills (e.g. books, webinars)
  • Explore lifestyle business ideas
5. I am learning and engaging in hobbies that bring me joy.
  • Learn to cook a few dishes very well that I would be proud to serve, and get proficient enough to feed my family otherwise
  • Learn to play a dozen songs that I would feel comfortable performing
  • Blog regularly (1x/week) about ideas that I am interested in
6. I am fit, strong and beautiful.
  • Go outside daily and use my body in some way (e.g. walk, hike)
  • Reduce sugar intake and be conscious of how my body feels
  • Take care of my dress so that I feel good about how I present myself

4. Schedule those actions into your daily planner: Make it real! For me, I’m a believer in the GTD system as I wrote about here. So each goal becomes a Project, and each bulleted action goes into my Tasks and gets scheduled on my calendar.

I feel really good about my 2016 goals. Firstly, my topline goals have hardly changed from previous years, which means I’ve really honed into what matters most to me. Secondly, while financial independence is one of my goals, its fourth down in priority after growing self-awareness and building strong relationships.

I recently read an incredibly insightful post about How NOT to pursue Financial Independence from a FI blogger that I follow and respect, the Mad Fientist.  He talks about how his single-minded pursuit of FI lead him down a path of isolation and depression, and when he finally achieved his FI number he didn’t even feel happy!

The truth is that FI is only an enabler – it offers you the opportunity to use your time and energy to pursue what really matters to you in life. But it is useless as a goal by itself.

In the middle of my vision board, I have a beautiful quote from Pablo Picasso:

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. 

The purpose of life is to give it away.”

That’s my true 2016 goal and the end goal for my entire life.

5-min journal and my morning routine for the New Year

“Win the morning, Win the day.”

I’ll start by stating that I am not a morning person. It takes me a good half hour to warm up to the day, until which I am barely coherent, mostly mute, and altogether miserable. Small children who have made the mistake of jumping into my bed to wake me have been scared off for life.

Nor am I inclined towards daily routines. Force me to follow the same exercise routine or eat the same breakfast every day, and I’ll quit within a week out of sheer boredom.

So why do I nonetheless believe in developing a morning routine? Because I have experienced the consequence of too many crappy mornings leading to crappy afternoons and evenings.

Good habits are the cornerstone of a good life, and their powers are magnified if you can do them in the morning. Why? 1) You are more likely to keep habits if you do them first thing before anything/anyone can get in the way. 2)  You have the most willpower in the morning. 3) You start off the day feeling successful and good about yourself (this one is most compelling to me).

To make my morning routine sustainable, I had to allow myself room for variety. More importantly, it had to be a routine that I would actually enjoy (or I might never get out of bed)! And it couldn’t take more than 30 minutes, since anything more than that would be self-delusion on my part.

So here’s my morning routine:

  1. Clean up: Make the bed, wash up, and change into clothes for the day. This sounds like a given, but when you work from home I can’t tell you how easy it is to stay in your pjs all day and not bother brushing your teeth until you realize your spouse is about to return home from work in an hour. As for making the bed – I would generally do this at some point in the day, but there’s something about doing it as the Very First Thing that is critical to start the day right. A four-star Admiral and Hindu priest agree.
  2. Hydrate: Drink a glass of water, preferably cold. It wakes me up, and I immediately get to knock off one glass from my daily goal of 8.
  3. Energize: Do something that will stimulate my body. If I’m short on time, I do a few sun salutations. If I have the leisure, I go out for a walk or undertake a more ambitious workout routine.
  4. Breakfast well: Eat a hearty, fat/protein heavy breakfast. It makes me feel full and keeps me from eating junk food later. Bacon and eggs are a common choice, as is my green protein smoothie. Anything with a load of peanut butter on top also makes me happy.
  5. 5-minute Journal: Express gratitude and set your intentions for the day. I suck at journaling. In a recent purge of my house, I found boxes of old journals that have been started and never finished. While there are all kinds of proven benefits to journaling (including strengthening immune cells), I have never managed to keep it up as a habit. Enter new approach: The 5-minute Journal. In the morning, I fill out what “I am grateful for…”, “What would  make today great?”, and a daily affirmation. Before bed, I write “3 amazing things that happened today” and “how could I have made today better”? It takes so little time to do, and I honestly believe this has made a real difference in my everyday happiness.

*A frugal tip: The official journal costs $28.95, but save yourself the money and just follow the same outline in any old notebook.

5min journal

Source: 5-minute Journal

6. Get Things Done: Review my goals, set tasks for the day, and tackle the most important task first. I have been a faithful adherent to the GTD method of time management since it first changed my life a few years ago. Seriously – please check out these 5 simple steps that will apply order to your chaos. For the longest time, my efforts to convince my wife to GTD her own life were rebuffed. But then after months of complaining of overwhelm, she let me set up a simple GTD system using her existing Google calendar and the $5.99 app GTasks Pro, and she’s now a convert as well.

So every morning, I review my Project List (e.g. actionable goals from my 90-Day focus plan), set my tasks for the day, and tackle the task that will make the most meaningful impact on my life first.

Easy, right?! No actually, I’m sure it won’t be when I wake up tired and cranky, which is certain to happen shortly (especially with new baby due in just 9 weeks, eek!). Hence, the most important thing that has to happen to make this morning routine work is to change my attitude about who I am in the morning.

The old me thinks: “I am not a morning person. I cannot overcome my  feeling of fatigue and physical discomfort in the morning.”

The new me says: “I have the power to change my attitude in the morning, and therefore the outcome of my day, in spite of how I may feel.”

Learning to fight for my joy

Let me be real. I’ve been doing terribly in my attempt to rest. In large part, I can blame this on too many good things happening to me at once. In the past 30 days, I got a big promotion at my day job, the wife and I successfully went through phase one of our IVF fertility treatment, we signed our first distribution deal on our film (more on this passion project another time), and…drum roll…we just got invited to speak at a TED event next month. 

As I’m writing this all out, it’s no surprise that I’m thrilled and totally overwhelmed at the same time. I’ve been working towards this promotion for the past year and half, but now that I finally have it, I’m worried about whether or not I can actually live up to my new position as a Director. The success of the first phase of our fertility procedure is a HUGE relief, but I still can’t allow myself to hope for more. And the TED invitation is the biggest thing to have happened to this passion project, yet of course I’m panicking at the thought of the speech itself. What’s clear to me is that if you don’t intentionally take time to celebrate your successes, it’s all too easy to allow the pressure of achievement overshadow your joy. 

As a way to put some rigor and discipline around resting (yes I know it’s ironic, but that’s who I am), I adopted a few goals based on the 90-day action plan espoused by performance coach Todd Herman:

  •  Process goals: My goals here were to meditate 1x/day, go on a meditation retreat, and do something restful everyday. Meditation fell off the table for much of March and April, but I’ve been bringing it back here and there in the form walking meditation (typically post-dinner walks with the dog). I was hoping to go on an official meditation retreat, but the best I managed to schedule is a weekend getaway with some Buddhist friends which will include some scheduled meditation time. As for doing something restful everyday, I’ve been more mindful about this than ever, though execution is still haphazard. My most restful day was one that I had no choice over – after my fertility procedure, I was pretty drugged out and couldn’t do much other than play video games and eat ice cream for the rest of the day. And all guilt free – oh the bliss!
  • Performance goals: My goal here was to feel less guilty about taking a break. Emotional hang-ups don’t get cured overnight, and neither will my unhealthy preoccupation with staying productive. But, I have been reminding myself of all the reasons why rest is necessary for creativity and well-being. I’m doing a decent job of putting time limits around work so that I make sure to step away from my desk and do something rejuvenating every few hours.
  • Outcome goals: My goal here was to get restored and give myself space for insight and self-reflection. Hmmm…no, I can’t say I’m anywhere near feeling restored. In fact, it feels like my life is this roller coaster ride that looks like a lot of fun to everyone else, but really it’s all I can do to just hang on for dear life. For now, my main relief comes from cuddle time with my wife, quiet walks with the dog, and Trader Joe’s mini mint ice cream sandwiches.

Sometimes I also find relief by staring at the net worth number posted on my Personal Capital account to remind myself that the promised land of Financial Independence and infinite free time is only a few years away. But as much as the idea of the future brings me anticipatory joy, I also know that life is lived in these moments right now, no matter how harried and crazy they may feel. After all no one knows what the future may hold, and these may be my only moments.

So this weekend, I promised myself to take time out from the errands and obligatory social events to do something that I truly enjoy. I looked up a new hiking route just 20 minutes from my house, and I was delighted to discover a beautiful 8-mile mountain trail with postcard views of the rugged California coastline. So often, just making the small intention to enjoy the present moment can yield such surprising rewards.

90-day Focus Plan for the overly ambitious

I love having a lot of balls in the air. The idea of focusing on just one thing at a time sounds terribly boring. I get such a high out of starting new ideas, and I thrive on the challenge of juggling projects across a vast arena of interests.

At any given time, I might be training for an olympic triathlon, taking an online course on marketing, starting a new business idea with a friend, interviewing contractors for a home improvement project, going through a Tony Robbins personal growth seminar, researching real estate investment options, doing pro bono consulting work, working on my film documentary project, and taking piano lessons. All while holding a relatively-demanding day job at a Fortune 500 company.

My wife looks at this and thinks I’m crazy. She is of the disposition that you should “do one thing, and do it well.” While I love my way of doing things, I have to admit that lately I’ve been feeling a bit scattered and dissatisfied.

I want to do all these things, but I’m not sure that I’m doing any one of them very well. And all the time, I’m feeling guilty for the loose ends I’ve left.

This has led me to my current exploration of Focus. Reading Margaret Lobenstein’s The Renaissance Soul (highly recommended for you multi-passioned people out there), I’ve concluded a few things. First, there is nothing wrong (and in fact many things right) with thriving on many interests. Second, it’s possible to focus while still maintaining variety. Third, you need to focus if you actually want to get anything done without losing your mind.

Why focus will make you happier and more effective, even if you’re the type of person who loves variety:

  • Focus generates momentum. When you focus on getting something done to completion, you don’t waste time/energy switching between projects, you feel more in control of the situation, and you feel satisfaction at seeing achievement. All this helps make progress happen faster. Podcaster Pat Flynn calls the ability to take one thing to completion at a time the most powerful (and toughest) productivity tip to implement. Furthermore, if your project requires support from other people, your own focus will spur them on and generate even more momentum.
  • Focus offers relief. Once you choose your focus areas, you can let everything else go for the time being. That’s a tremendous relief. If triathlon racing is not my focus, I can stop feeling guilty about not getting enough miles of training in each week. I might still exercise for my daily well-being, but I can let go of the need for achievement in this area and put away my time sheets and training plans. If any guilt comes creeping in, I remind myself that it’s not that I’ve given up on these interests – I’m just focused on other priorities for now and I’ll come back to them at another time.

Okay so how do you focus, when you’re curious about anything and want to try everything?

1. Look at your past and identify what’s made you lose focus as well as what’s helped you stay focused. If you want change your behavior, you need to understand how you’ve done it in the past.

What causes me to lose focus:

  • I hit a plateau in progress and it feels like hard work to get better (e.g. learning guitar beyond the initial 8 chords)
  • The initial thrill is gone and I’m getting bored (e.g. snowboarding same runs over and over again)
  • I’m afraid of failure, and I doubt whether any of my efforts will lead to anything worthwhile (e.g. starting a business)

What causes me to stay focused:

  • Make myself accountable to people: When I raised money from friends for my film documentary, I had to follow through.
  • Set hard deadlines for myself: In order to make progress on my business idea, I would set up meetings with my partners before the work was done so it would force me to do it.
  • Reaffirm why it’s worthwhile: I’ve stayed focused on investing and personal finance because I know that they’re the keys to financial freedom, which I deeply want.
  • Find a way to derive immediate benefit out of it: Establishing a fitness routine required immense willpower at first. But now that I feel immediate improvement in my mood and energy each time I work out, I’ve had no trouble staying committed to it.

2. Categorize all your interests into buckets, and understand why you’re interested in each bucket.

My interest categories:

  • Personal Growth: I want greater self-awareness and better relationships with others.
  • Financial independence: I want the freedom to spend my time as I please.
  • Music: I want to enjoy playing music for myself and for others.
  • Fitness: I want to have the physical energy and capability to enjoy life.
  • Learning: I want to grow in my knowledge about the world so that I can enjoy it more.
  • Adventure: I want to enjoy the beauty of nature with my own two legs (and arms, if I’m kayaking).

3. Choose a small number (I’m going with 3) of specific interests to focus on for the next 90 days. It’s also helpful to articulate why these are important to you now. The why is always more critical than the how, and it’s these reasons that will keep you committed when the next shiny object comes around to tempt you.

4. Build a 90 day action plan around those interests. Olympic athlete performance coach Todd Herman talks about making goals inevitable with 90 day sprints. The gist of it is to choose process goals (e.g. run 15 mi a week) vs. outcome goals (e.g. be top 20% in my triathlon age group), while still measuring for performance (e.g. improve my running pace by 10%). This way you’re focusing on what you have 100% control over (process goals).

5. Build in safeguards to keep you focused based on what you identified in #1

  • Make myself accountable: Promise a deliverable to someone, track your progress on a chart tacked to the fridge, write a blog to publicly share your journey! Whatever works.
  • Reaffirm why it’s worthwhile: In addition to accountability, this blog also helps me work through all the mumbo jumbo in my head and gives me greater clarity about the purpose of my goals.
  • Derive immediate benefit: Make sure you get something tangible out of your diligence right away. While FI is a long-term goal, I get the immediate benefit of a surge of excitement whenever I look at my net worth figure in Personal Capital because I know that freedom is truly within reach!


Why you need to change your beliefs about rest

What if I told you that there is something you could do that would lead to weight loss, improved creativity, and better performance – if only you could get over your guilt and let yourself do it?

I only came to this discovery through a recent session with my therapist (which I highly recommend getting, because an objective listening ear is an invaluable resource in life):

Me: I feel like a lump on a log.
Therapist: Why is that?
Me: I haven’t done anything this morning and it’s already 11AM. I should have responded to work emails. I should have researched those real estate questions for my parents. I should have at least gone on a run.
Therapist: How does that make you feel? (typical therapist question)
Me: I hate wasting time. I feel bad. I’m actually rather angry at myself for not being more productive.
Therapist: What would it feel like if you told yourself: “I needed the rest, this is good for me.”
Me: I don’t believe it. I don’t have time to rest.
Therapist: But what if you could believe it? How would it change things?
Me: What if I believed that rest was actually good for me, and I let myself do it?
Me: …I think I would be a lot happier.

So at this point, I recognize that my inability to give myself any downtime is causing me unnecessary stress. The self-beratement I experience for “wasting time” is neither helpful to my life nor fun for anyone around me. I blame this on the fact that I was parented by a Chinese tiger-mom.

But, hasn’t my productive drive lead to much success in my life? If I let myself rest, won’t I lose my edge?

As it turns out, quite the opposite is true.

I did a bit of research and it turns out that real rest (versus mere distraction, like TV or People magazine or a glass of wine) has all kinds of benefits that can make you even more productive and help you live a fuller life, which ultimately is my end goal. What is real rest? While distractions seek to temporarily tune out life, real rest turns inward and anchors your awareness on the present.

Top 3 benefits of letting yourself get rest:

1. It stops you from resorting to unhealthy distractions to get a break: How often do you get up from your desk for a coffee or a pastry to avoid dealing with an unpleasant task? I’m pretty sure that this is a leading cause of my prediabetes. We need breaks, but because we’re not willing to allow ourselves to close our laptop without having another task to go to, we end up distracting ourselves with bad food, frivolous errands, and mindless Facebook browsing. If you just give yourself permission to rest for a few minutes whenever the desire to procrastinate comes a-knocking, you may find that you end up skinnier and wasting less time.

2. It restores you to perform at much higher levels, so you can achieve even more: In the must-read book The Art of Learning, chess champion Josh Waitzkin talks about the importance of pulsing between stress and recovery in order to achieve peak performance. Josh would use all kinds of techniques to relax between matches – stretching, deep breathing, play, washing his face. He writes, “By conditioning ourselves to move fluidly between intervals of tension and serenity…we become more able to rally our powers of intuition and creativity and call on our knowledge and skills at a moment’s notice.”

3. It facilitates insights and breakthroughs that only come when you step away from the problem: This one is really counterintuitive to me because my tiger-mom upbringing says that when I face a tough problem, the only way to solve it is by grinding through and not giving up. There’s no doubt that grit is critical for success (as proved in this TED talk by a Chinese-American psychologist), but there’s a difference between staying committed and bashing your head against the wall. Taking a break doesn’t mean you’re giving up. It just means you are giving yourself a chance to step away and find another perspective. I love this quote from essayist Tim Kreider: “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Okay all this is great, but how do you actually rest? This sounds like a silly question, but when I tried to think of an answer I drew a complete blank. The last time I could remember experiencing rest was at a spa day with my wife one year ago. This made me realize that I have a serious case of rest deficit. I turned to the internet and searched for “how to rest” for some ideas, and I found all kinds of advice from “go walk a labyrinth” to “try laugh yoga.”

I settled on experimenting with these 5 strategies that appealed most to me:

1. Have a private listening party: Listening to music with your full attention, as if you were at a concert, has been scientifically proven to bring all kinds of well-being benefits. Last night after dinner, the wifey and I set some mood lighting, snuggled up on our couch and listened to a Krishna Das album (we figured if we’re trying for rest, we may as well go for some mellow yogic chanting, but I’m sure this will work just as well with ‘regular’ music that you enjoy). I can’t remember the last time I just listened to music without doing something else, so it was quite a novel experience. And with a partner, it can be quite romantic as well.

2. Do an activity that brings you into “flow”: When you’re completely involved in an activity for its own sake, you are in a state of flow. Getting to flow takes effort, which seems at odds with rest, but when you’re in flow you forget yourself and begin to act effortlessly with a heightened sense of awareness of the here and now. I plan to explore this topic more in a later post, but for now I’m trying a couple of activities that I think might get me flowing: Playing guitar, going on a run and writing this blog post. Results vary, but I intend to experiment until I find an activity that can regularly get me there.

3. Get a massage or take a bath: This one’s an easy sell. Yet, how often do these things fall off your list of priorities when the to-do’s stack up? I’m back on my once-a-month regimen of massages, and I’m committing to more bath time in 2015.

4. Practice yoga and meditation: I already have a (relatively) regular practice of yoga and meditation. But to be honest, I’m not sure how restful they are. Most of the time, I’m struggling to keep my brain from wandering off into the wild blue yonder. A couple of tips that I’m trying out to stay more present: Take a deep breath. Feel every pose from head to toe. Focus on the small movements. And above all – be compassionate on yourself.

And above all, the most important strategy for getting rest:

5. Change your beliefs about rest: What is it about your beliefs that’s stopping you from closing the laptop and taking a break? For me, it comes down to self judgement. If I’m not striving and achieving, who am I then? If I’m not moving forward, where would I be? I’m afraid that if I sit with myself in the now, I might be sorely disappointed. The relentless inner critic mutters in my ear: I should be better; I should have done more. To combat the self-judgement, I’ve started repeating this mantra to myself: I am enough. I do enough. I have enough.

I’ll admit that this is extremely difficult for me. But what if I could truly believe that I’m good enough just as I am now?

…I think I would be a lot happier.