Tag Archives: zen habits

How to Get Ahead Without Losing Your Head

Get ahead without losing your head.

Get ahead without losing your head.

I finally got around to picking up a copy of The Last Samurai:  The Life and Times of Saigo Takamori.  After watching the Hollywood Tom Cruise version of history, I realized it is time to get a real historian’s re-telling of this transitional period of history.   Saigo Takamori is the “real” last samurai, who rebelled against the central government.  Long story short, Takamori loses his head.   The central government tries to find it but can’t.  That becomes a problem.

For me reading this chapter was an opportunity to turn great history writing into a schlocky self-help mantra:  How to Get Ahead Without Losing Your Head.   In truth, this is what this whole blog is about: how to move your mind and life forward without self-abuse.

One of the key germs for this life approach was All Japanese All the Time.  I was beating myself up about how I wasn’t learning Japanese and stumbled upon this website.   Khatz, the founder, explained that you could learn Japanese by doing more fun things in Japanese and through consistent but micro moves such as SRS flashcard reviews, and a whole host of techniques.  What AJATT helped me to do was be gentler with myself and keep trying, probing, and most importantly looking for the fun opportunities.

I haven’t made learning Japanese a big priority though I still make it a daily habit.  (I am treading water, but I still know a hell of a lot more than if I had kept on beating myself up.)  However, through my AJATT methods I’ve learned how to get ahead without losing my head.  Khatz explains in “Why are Third Rate Ideas Better than First Rate Ideas”:

Here’s the trick to making deep, long-term, self-directed language-learning work.

Don’t do ten good things.

Do one good thing. One day. At a time.

And not even a very good thing. Just a good enough thing. Just barely good enough.

I think this is a great idea for making “deep, long-term, self-directed” growth work in areas beyond language.  Be gentle but push forward.   The samurai mind notebook is a great way to do one good thing.  Put your daily inspirations/vital information and review–just a little bit if you can’t do more.
Get ahead without losing your head.

Take time each day to reclaim your samurai mind.

Samurai Networking: Skip the Baloney

I am rethinking networking.   Maybe when it comes from true connection, it's about building bridges.

I am rethinking networking. When networking comes from true connection, it’s about building bridges.

This is one of those cases where I’m going to give you advice about something I’m not actually too good at yet–networking.     Part of the reason I may be developing in this area is because previously associated networking with oil and slickery–forced associations with others for personal gain. Then this summer, I met Tony Draper over the phone through an Introduction to Coaching class.   He explained that the best way to network is to make genuine connections with people and groups.  He made a couple of suggestions:

  • find groups that you are naturally attracted to rather than forcing yourself into a “networking” group–follow your interests
  • give most groups at least two tries–you may find your groove with the group on the second try
  • think in terms of “givers gain”—think in terms of how you can genuinely be of service to the group or members of that group–whether it is an important piece of information, a lead, or just your full attention
  • be genuinely curious about the members of the group

As I’ve tried to think about networking, part of what I’ve been doing is also thinking of the people that are genuine at their networking.    My former writing teacher and author of Devil in the Hole, Charles Salzberg, is also a genuine networker.    Whenever I have lunch with Charles he is  inquisitive about my life and the lives of many people that he comes in contact with.   He recommends the great work of his former students, friends and in turn has a good network of people who recommend his work.   Charles works at promoting his writing, of course, but I think it goes a lot easier because of authenticity and connection that he has with people.

No. Phoney. Bologna. Who knows?  Maybe 2014 will be the year that Juan got his Samurai Network on?  In the meantime, I am grateful for the connections I have now.   In the midst of this cold snap I thank you for being part of that and I wish you the deepest and most warm connections for 2014.

Automatic Samurai: Sprinkler Systems On!

Screen shot 2013-12-02 at 7.12.51 AM

How can you water your dreams? Your mind? Your soul? Set up gentle “systems” for yourself to sustain growth and wonder.

I just finished my Building Your Personal Foundation course through CoachU, taught by Susan Abrams.   I was excited and challenged and by the idea of creating “automatic sprinkler systems” to fulfill various needs.   For example, I realized that one of my needs was energy.   Last week I joined the YMCA located near by job.  Oh yeah, and I actually went.  Y-M-C-A!

Needs may not be completely satisfied but it seems that you can at least create systems that challenge you in that area and increase the potential of moving forward.  For example, one of the needs that I isolated was the need for motivation and inspiration.  I may not be motivated or inspired all the time but I have started to play with  some systems and rituals that have the potential of kicking me back into motivation and energy.    Here are some of my “systems”:

  • What I read–I’ve always been kind of a self-help book junkie but I’ve added a few titles to my kindle:   Words Can Change Your Brain and Loving What Is.   Both of these books were suggested by Susan Abrams.   I keep the reading process fun.  When I am no longer inspired by what I am reading I move on to the next title and then switch back.
  • Who I hang out with:   people provide the frameworks and conversations that can motivate and inspire you.  Part of the benefits of starting the coach training program is that I get to talk to people who are focused on moving forward  I’ve also been experimenting with finding a positive spiritual community.
  • What I write and say:   I am not censoring myself but I am playing around with something I call “Happiness Journal.”   Inspired by a little page from Words Can Change Your Brain, I am taking time in the mornings and evening to write three things that made me happy.

Finally, I realized that my samurai mind notebook is actually one of my automatic sprinkler systems.  If I put ideas from projects and quotations that excite me, review them regularly, I have those thoughts as part of the conversation.   I may not listen to them but at least they may challenge the crappy mood and change the terms of what I think is possible.

What I like about everything that I’ve been hearing and encountering is that none of it commits me to becoming a happiness robot.   All the work I’ve come across acknowledges that there will be periods of darkness and –err–shades of gray.   I think the trick will be to set up “systems” that challenge the darkness without becoming inflexible or ignoring the depth and color of life.   Join me.  What are your sprinkler systems?


Samurai Attraction: Get a Little “Shelvish”

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This is one of the bookshelves I’ve started to go through. Reading is a powerful way to move your life forward. But sometimes we need to give ourselves to not be so precious or serious about our reading. Find ways to be “attracted” to books. Fun is serious stuff. 🙂

This will be the year of getting “shelvish.”  I have been feeling a little overwhelmed that I have all these great books on my shelf that have gone unread and are just “lying there.”   So I’ve begun a one page campaign.   I am going through my bookshelves methodically and just letting myself read one page each night.   Sometimes the information sings to me and I read more.  Many times I get excited and move on to the next book to see myself moving forward.  I bookmark the page and the next night I move on to the next book.

Keep in mind that I am a busy parent and teacher.    I turn to the bookshelf after I finish reading “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Jamberry”  to my three year.  The other day I read two or three pages of David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace:   The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and The Creation of the Modern Middle East.  Last night I read two pages of Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam:  A History.  In the next few nights I will hit Zen and the Art of Making A Living and some other self-helpy materials.  (My bookshelves aren’t necessarily arranged according to the Dewey Decimal system.)  I am also approaching a fun little patch of Japanese manga and self-help books.

We live in an age of information overload and days that may have 1000 demands.   It’s easy to fall into overwhelm.  But increasingly I’m finding it is important to do two things:  1)  think small and 2)  follow joy.    The information or the story or the song has to be attractive and attracted to you because that’s when you can really grow into your skill, into your self the way that you want to be.

Whenever I start to feel a little too precious or self-righteous about reading, I head over to ajatt.com.   The blogmeister, Khatzumoto, taught himself Japanese in fifteen months through fun immersion.  A big part of that involved reading fun materials in Japanese.   One of his latest blog articles is “Multipass Reading:   Be Sloppy the First 10 Times Because You Can Always Come Back.” 

I love this invitation to “read sloppy” because the other option for little ole “perfectionist” me is not to read at all.   Why should I let these hundreds of dollars of books and thousands of hours of human knowledge pass me by because I’m frozen about how to read correctly?  It’s time to be shelvish and just have fun.

If not reading is holding you back, join me!  Let’s make this the Year of Being Shelvish!

Samurai in the Cloud: Bookmark Your Life on the eCloud

The "cloud" is just one more tool to bookmark your life.  Stop worrying and let cloud.

The “cloud” is just one more tool to bookmark your life. Stop worrying and let cloud.

I resisted for the longest time but I am finally on the Kindle “cloud.”  It started with a used Kindle that I bought from a friend, and then I became a real convert when I realized that I could stay “in the cloud” through apps on my iPhone, iPad, or even my computer.

What sold me on the whole process was how I could use the cloud to stay conscious of where I am in all my various life projects.   It’s nice to be in the belly of the subway beast and be in the cloud.  Instead of looking at the skin doctor ads, I can scan a page of “What Color is My Parachute” and work towards finding a new career or re-imaging my current career.   Richard Bolles’ book is now a career searchers’ classic that emphasizes how important it is to really have a vision of what you want before you even search for a career.

Being “in the cloud” I can dip in and out of life process books and always have a constant reminder of where I stand.  The cloud is a way of bookmarking my life.

There is a relationship between my Samurai mind notebook and my cloud.   Since I put juicy quotes and ideas from the various books and projects I am working with and review them regularly (Samurai Mind Notebook),  I am regularly reminded to go back to my cloud for on going inspiration.

The Samurai notebook is a great place to get reminded of ideas.   Theoretically, I review any entry on a roughly algorithmic schedule.   This is great but sometimes it can feel a little haphazard.   Lately for ongoing work and “visioning” I’ve realized I need a more permanent place to keep track of where I am.

Though I can brainstorm in my samurai notebook, google docs is a more permanent place to put final results.  "What Color is Your Parachute" is an interesting, at times challenging way to really explore how you want to go forward with your career.

Though I can brainstorm in my samurai notebook, google docs is a more permanent place to put final results. “What Color is Your Parachute” is an interesting, at times challenging way to really explore how you want to go forward with your life and career. I am still flushing out the categories above.

Enter google docs (or whatever cloud space you like to write on).  I used my samurai notebook to brainstorm and work out some of my “Favorite Fields” using “What Color is Your Parachute.”  However, once I prioritized my favorite interests using Bolles’ system, I put it up in the cloud to be able to work at it from any point on earth.  The samurai mind notebook is more like a sketchbook, while the google docs is a more permanent yet cheap canvas.

The real canvas is my life.  All these different tools are just more ways to play, draw, and create.  Though I try to keep my feet firmly planted on the earth, I am also a samurai in the cloud.  Join me.



May the Non-Force Be With You

For a couple of bucks I left to go to a manga kissa in a different town.  Easy enough and a little adventure to boot.  You don"t have to kill yourself to try and learn something new.  Look for small but powerful shifts.

For a couple of bucks I left to go to a manga kissa in a different town. Easy enough and a little adventure to boot. You don”t have to kill yourself to try and learn something new. Look for small but powerful shifts.

I’ve been in Japan for about three weeks now.  The jetlag has gone away and I am coming to my senses more.   But I’ve noticed one strange thing.  Up until a few days, I had not bought reading material.  Reading is part of my immersion path (I don’t want to say strategy-because that sounds a little too calculated).  I go to a manga cafe almost every day and I have the opportunity to check out magazines and manga every day and I do.   There are a few bookstores close by and I’ve taken the opportunity to go browsing there a few times.  But I’ve only taken one item home.

I’m not worried.   First of all, the fact that I can stroll into a Japanese bookstore, browse, and realize that I am not interested in anything is a big victory.  I know what each section is, I can skim the titles, the table of contents, etc.  One of the things that I rediscovered through AJATT is that reading doesn’t have to look pretty.  In “Why the Way We Read Sucks” series AJATT really explores how to really get the most out of reading by avoiding the stifling obligation patterns we learn at school.  For me, reading is fun but what makes it more fun is also about making choices, rejecting,  and jumping around the text.  Browsing is a powerful reading activity.

Browsing is also a powerful review though it may not feel lik it.  Browsing is a reminder that the most important review is in real-life, in navigating, hunting, and just plain old having fun.  There is a time and place for hard work and effort in real life but fun can work too.   There is a time to be the worker ant and soldier on for the colony.   But there should be time to be like the hummingbird, flitting around and looking for nectar.  There is a time for “force” and “study” but the fun stuff reinforces it and gives it life, too.

Lots of pictures.  Information I am interested in and oodles of information I already know.  All part of letting the non-force be with you.

Lots of pictures. Information I am interested in and oodles of information I already know. All part of letting the non-force be with you.

I finally found a book at the local Numazu bookstore.  It is a visual guide to how to use an i-Pad mini.   Recently, I’ve been looking for books with a lot of pictures.    Besides the pictures, the nice thing about the iPad book is that I kind of know how to use an iPad already and I am really interested in learning how to use new apps.   I already have the inner motivation to use the knowledge in the book.   I already know a lot of vocabulary but what really helps to “read” this book is my slowly growing knowledge of kanji.  I don’t look up words, write down key sentences, etc.  I am enjoying what I am reading and that enjoyment is sealing the deal on whatever worker ant work I’ve pushed through.

Fun little book I found in a manga kissa.  This manga kissa had different offerings and was a fun, but comfortable to stretch while at the same time getting some work done.

Fun little book I found in a manga kissa. This manga kissa had different offerings and was a fun, but comfortable to stretch while at the same time getting some work done.

Currently, I am in a manga cafe in Mishima, a quick train ride away from Numazu, where I usually go to the same chain store.  But it was a little bit of adventure to find this place, the books and lighting are different.  I  have work in English to do, but with frequent breaks of intentional Japanese study and just “goofing off.” Currently, I am browsing and looking at book about the pop culture (video games, pop stars, and manga) of Japan in the 80’s.

Use your hard power.  Use your soft power.  Fly like a bee and sting like a butterfly and vice versa.  May the non-force be with you.


Where Does the Samurai Time Go?

Break Through!

There are strict recycling regulations in Japan. That has a positive side and then a weird side. Sometimes people just throw their junk away on the streets and in the parks. I found this clock during my morning walk. Break through your use of time by simply tracking it!

Confession time.  I broke off from a weekend event with my family to catch up 0n work, curriculum writing, Japanese study et cetera.  I knew that I was going to lose a day because we are going to spend the day in Sanrio-land (“Hello Kitty Land”–please pray for me!)

I checked into a mangakissa (a Japanese internet cafe with unlimited “free” non-alcoholic drinks, comics and private booths with internet access) for a six hour stint.  I proceeded to “waste” most of the six hours checking Facebook, creating a non-Samurai mind twitter account, and looking at a lot of grade B movies available on the Cinema Channel.

I probably needed a day of “doing nothing.”  However,  if you find time slipping away from you and you don’t even know where it’s going, I suggest that you start recording it.  Write down what you are doing and if you can, how long you are doing it for.  It’s interesting that even though you may never sit down and total the information, it makes you aware and helps you structure your time better.

For me, it works like a money journal, a simple little notebook I kept when I decided to become financially balanced.    The books I read suggested I keep a money journal, and every month figure out how much I spent in different categories.   After a while, instead of totalling up the information, I just kept the money journal and noticed that I was being more careful with my resources just because I had to write it down.  Why buy the third pint of Ben and Jerry’s in a week when I would have to write it down?  Now, I occassionally keep a money journal when I feel my spending gets out of control.

Time is an important non-renewable resource, so it is worth occassionlly keeping track of where it goes, especiallly when you feel that you are wasting it.   I began the summer experimenting with an app called, “Eternity” ($9.99!) that allows you to create different time categories and then keep track time of how much you are doing in each as part of my project to not let my summer time slip away.  I find that I am more productive during my creative, study time if I am more like a hummingbird, flitting from flower to flower (project to project) rather than working with huge blocks of time (thanks to AJATT and timeboxing for this).   It was simply taking too much time to use the time tracking app.

I recently just experimented with a simpler method for keeping track of time.   Using my notebook  (yes, my samurai mind notebook),  I simply wrote down what I was doing on the margins. A simple few words sufficed:  wordpress, iKnow, kanjikoohii.com, Facebook….   What I found was that doing this kept me focused on getting things done.  If I had to write it down it had to be at least fun or productive.  It became more of a game to see how productively I could use my time.

Another big advantage of this is that it helps me fight the distraction of social media.   I like social media but I get lost when I use it.  I enter into it and then I forget what I was going to do.  Keeping my notebook out with some goals and a list of what I’ve done keeps me on track.

It’s a simple tool but writing down what you are doing helps you answer the eternal question:  “Where does the samurai time go?”



Take it to the Edge and Empty Out

I believe these are cans of oxygen to get you to the last steps of the climb up Mt. Fuji.  Sometimes you need a little help as you take it to the edge.  Make positive reaches.

I believe these are cans of oxygen to get you to the last steps of the climb up Mt. Fuji. Sometimes you need a little help as you take it to the edge. Make positive reaches.

In order to have something, you actually need to leave it.  In order to remember something,  you need to take it to the point of almost forgetting. In order to listen to the music, you need to have silence.

Yep, I guess I ended up sounding Zen-ish.  But it’s seriously something that has been going through my mind lately.   In order to have something, sometimes the best thing to do is to leave it or at least have it almost beyond your reach.

The easiest way that this comes to me is in terms of flashcards.  I have a very basic flashcard program on my iPhone and iPad called Midori.   The flashcard program is very basic in my view because it for the most part studying words in isolation is not the way to go. (See AJATT on this one.)  However, I have come really try to use cracks in time and sometimes hate to waste a minute so, in a pinch, I will have some fun with the flashcards.  (Speaking of a pinch–on the iPad version of Midori if you “pinch out” a flashcard that you are reviewing you can see sample sentences.)

But is really important to remember to forget.   I make it a point to stop studying cards when they start to repeat.  If a card starts to repeat too soon, you are drilling to kill.    You are fracking your mind.  I prefer to wait, look around, have some fun and come back to the card when it is more of a “reach” instead of a mindless repetition.    Daniel Coyle, author the talent code, and many other writers speak about the effects of positive reaches.   You want to consistently go towards facts, skills, ideas that are just beyond your reach.

I also think in terms of emptying.  To get full, you need to empty.  If you want to soak up water with a sponge, you need to squeeze it out.   If you want to hear music better, you need to have silence.

Sign for cyclists on the beach.  Slow down.  I think to speed up, you need to be strategic about having opportunities to slow down.

Sign for cyclists on the beach. Slow down. I think to speed up, you need to be strategic about having opportunities to slow down.  Forget to remember.

I’ve incorporated this into my morning exercises in Numazu.   I walk out with my iPod, listening to a podcast or Japanese music.  I am staying in an area called 千本浜, and I fast-walk in a shady area filled with thousands of pine trees.   I tack my way back through the beach (don’t get too inspired–it’s concrete lined beach 🙂 ) and stop at a rocky point and do Chinese exercises called Nei Kung.  I used to listen to music, but I was starting to get annoyed and decided to turn off the music and just listen to the sound of the waves.  Or not.

I think that silence is important.  It’s another way of taking things to the edge by emptying out.  I don’t think there should be any rules or techniques about how you do this, but I think it is important to be cognizant of when music, words, and information start to be noise.

Take it to the edge.   Empty out to fill up.  Forget to remember.

Reset Samurai: Start Your Morning with A Power Hour

Take time every morning to create, take a little dip into the "impossible" skill, brainstorm, dream, and create.  I promise it will be good for you, the people around you, and even the earth.

Take time every morning to create, take a little dip into the “impossible” skill, brainstorm, dream, and create. I promise it will be good for you, the people around you, and even the earth.

I knew I was getting closer to my Kentucky home when I started to notice the limestone shouldering the edges of the relatively lonely highway.  I was there to visit friends and family and be social but one of the first things I did every morning was to go to the Common Grounds quiet cafe and spend a little samurai hour, writing, studying, and spending a little time re-creating myself.

One of the best things you can do for yourself, your loved ones, and the earth in general is to find time for your samurai self to create.   Spending some time brainstorming, writing, playing, studying, or even walking or running in the morning works on several levels.   In one way it is like hitting the reset button.  It’s a fresh start to create and imagine.   Or it’s a chance to put another brick in whatever fun project you are up to in your mad labs.

What I’ve also discovered that this time is also good for the other people around me.  They may never be exposed to anything that I’ve written or studied, but they are exposed to the real me.  (In a non-creepy way. 🙂 ) If I’ve taken even just a few minutes to create, I am more present.  I am more pleasant.  It may seem selfish to spend some time away by yourself but the best thing that you can do for your friends and family is spend a little time re-creating yourself.

Back when I was doing an Japanese immersion service called Silverspoon, I did suggested morning “sprints” that included an affirmation (in a non-new-agey non-creepy way) and a pretty intense burst of Japanese study/play.   There’s something great about waking and baking in the freshness of a new skill or just heading in a new direction with brainstorming or writing.

Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in how this morning time is supposed to look.  Don’t wait for the perfect office space to get started.  Head to the cafe.  Head to the quiet hallway.  If you don’t have an hour take fifteen minutes.  If you don’t have fifteen minutes, take five.

Do it for yourself.  Do it for the children.  Spend a little morning time in your mad labs and power your day.


Give Up Samurai: We are the Two to Five Percent!

Work can be play.

Work can be play.  Give at least two to five percent a day to play/work towards your dream/goal/skill.

So it is in any situation you find yourself, no matter how overwhelmed you feel, no matter how much you may feel you are at the mercy of things that are just beyond your control, some part of it is within your control:  2 percent, 5 percent, who knows?  There is always something you can work on.   And often changing that little bit results in a whole lot.  . . . Above all else, it gives you Hope.   I am not as powerless as I thought.   –Richard Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute?

I don’t know about “Hope” with a capital “H.”   I’m not a Presbyterian minister who writes career books like Richard Bolles.   But I’m really grooving on the idea of finding the space were you can move towards the two and five percent.  We can move daily into the 2% to 5% that you can claim for your skill,  dream,  job search, or vision of what the world could be.  By moving ever so little forward you also reclaim  a part of yourself, samurai.

Even if you never reach proficient in your skill or reach the goal, you may just experience collateral benefit.  For example, I’ve been studying Japanese off an on for ten years.   The first six years or so were whiny self-loathing years.    Then I started to pick up some new methods and inspiration from All Japanese All The Time.  I started infusing fun into studying Japanese.   I learned about timeboxing.  My Japanese is a lot better, but what I discovered is that there have been “collateral benefits” to taking on this seemingly-formidable goal.  I’m writing more.  I’m being more persistent in guitar.  “. . . changing that little bit results in a whole lot.”

You don’t have to give 100%.  It’s awesome if you can devote your days to your goal or skill, but the all or nothing mentality can often kill.  What’s going to add up faster–a couple of weekends a year of 100% or daily shots of two to five percent?  Don’t let today’s poem die.  Yes, you may be tired but what’s a measly two to five percent?  Drop the seeds and let the flowers bloom.