Aardvark Advisor

Om

On November 4th, I began a 30 day Meditation Experiment. What follows is a day-by-day account of how it went. If you just want the summary, skip down to the bottom.

Daily Experience

Day 1: I found a random 10 minute long guided meditation video on YouTube and gave it a try. I don’t know if I have enough experience to judge the quality of the guidance, but it was decently relaxing, at least. A couple of times I realized my thoughts had drifted and I brought them back to the present, which I think is what I’m supposed to be doing. So, I’ll count it a win.

Day 2: I downloaded the Head Space app and then promptly deleted it when it required me to create an account to even use it. I then downloaded the Calm app and discovered they have the same problem. At that point, I sighed and gave in, creating an account, then started their 7 day free trial set of meditations. Day 1 was about 10 minutes focused on breathing

Day 3: Did the 2nd day of “Calm” and thought it was pretty good. Mainly focused on bringing myself back to the present moment after my thoughts have drifted away. My wife got home right as I was finishing and said I seemed very “Zen”, so I take that as meaning there may at least be some short-term benefits from the practice?

Day 4: Sat on the couch with my dog and did the 3rd day of “Calm” which involved a full scan of the body to remain in the present without getting distracted by thoughts of the past or future. Felt nicely relaxed after.

Day 5: Made it all the way to bedtime before I realized I hadn’t done this yet for the day. Close call! Had a good session and also looked into the bedtime stories in the Calm app which seemed interesting, may give those a try at some point. One interesting thing during the session is my mind wandered to some pleasant memories from childhood that I had totally forgotten about. Interesting to see where the brain goes when it’s not just obsessing about things.

Day 6: Another day of the calm app, generally positive, nothing much to report.

Day 7: Another near miss, I was in bed getting ready to fall asleep when I realized I had forgotten to do the day’s meditation. So, I used the calm app, but I think it was a mistake to do it lying in bed with the lights off. My brain kept drifting off significantly more than it did in prior sessions and I found myself actually completely forgetting that I was even supposed to be meditating. It was only the occasional speaking from the app that would snap me out of it, rather than my own awareness. Probably won’t make this mistake again.

Day 8: Finished up the 7 day trial program of calm. For this one I sat cross-legged on the floor and my back was actually nagging me the whole time that it didn’t like sitting up straight. I took this as a sign that I’ve been too reliant on chairs and couches and it was a neat experiment to block out the muscle fatigue while focusing on the practice.

Day 9: Although I may return to Calm later, I thought I’d try Tara Brach’s guided meditations, since I’ve seen them highly recommended from multiple sources. The first one was very calming and nice. I’ll try a few more and see how they go.

Day 10: Returned to Calm rather quickly, but mainly because the app was the most convenient option at the time. That said, I tried the “Gratitude” set they have and really loved it. Taking a few minutes to think through all of the things I’m grateful for was actually overwhelming with a sense of joy. Since gratitude is one of my main goals along with meditation, I’m glad there was an option that combined both.

Day 11: Since I knew I’d be needing to work for an hour or two after the session, I tried a guided meditation related to “Focus”. This got especially interesting/ironic when my dog decided to lay across my arm and start chewing on her bone. Good practice for tuning out distractions I guess?

Day 12: Not much to report for this day, successfully got my session in though.

Day 13: Did my meditation and then did a flexibility routine that I had been meaning to try. Mind and body practice! #winning

Day 14-16: Busy weekend meant I didn’t get to write down my thoughts for each session, but I still was able to get the meditations in each day, which is the important part. Still mostly using the Calm app, not because I’m totally enamored, but mainly because of the convenience of just popping it open on my phone.

Day 17: First time trying mediation while at work. I closed my office door (thank goodness we don’t have an open office plan) and laid down on the floor for 10 minutes. Ended up being great and I felt very refreshed afterwards!

Day 18: Did another session in the office with my door closed. Despite feeling a bit distracted, it was again a nice way to get away from the computer for a bit and reset.

Day 19: Thanksgiving! I probably should have taken more time to do a gratitude related session, but given that I was fairly busy with the day, this ended up being a relatively quick one focused on breathing and letting go of random thoughts.

Day 20: Since I’ve been mostly doing 10 minute sessions, I thought I’d try a 20 minute one from Tara Brach. This is my second time trying her and I’ve seen her recommended all over the place, but I’m not sure the style is for me. I do enjoy the little chime at the end to close out the session, very pleasant.

Day 21: In the spirit of mixing it up further, I thought I’d try a mantra based meditation for the first time. I’m….not sure I was doing this right. Planning to do a bit more research on this style and try again.

Day 22: Did a basic mindfulness meditation session. Spent some time thinking about how unusual it is to just observe without judgement, as I’m meant to be practicing. I feel like I default to having positive or negative feelings about every thought or event in my life, so it really takes some practice to try to passively observe and let go. That said, it certainly seems like a beneficial skill.

Day 23 & 24: These were both attempts at meditating with zero guidance, I just set aside 10 minutes and went for it. I had to laugh here in realizing just how many of my sessions have contended with my dog as a distraction. Often it’s whining if I don’t pet her while I’m meditating, but this time it was her falling asleep against my leg and then twitching crazily while dreaming. Hard to concentrate while trying not to laugh!

Day 25: Oh man, this was a close one. I just barely remembered at the end of the day and got my session in before falling asleep. This one was nice because it emphasized how the practice of letting thoughts go and returning to a focus on the breath isn’t just an end in itself. Getting good at this also means we get better at controlling our thoughts in our daily lives. It closed with a quote I’d like to remember: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

Day 26: Not much to report today. I got it done, but was generally distracted and it probably wasn’t my best effort. Oh well.

Day 27: Got this one done at work in anticipation of having no time in the evening and definitely glad I did that, I wouldn’t have gotten it in otherwise. I tried to sit nice and straight against a wall and discovered I really need to work on my posture because just a few minutes in and my back muscles were not happy with the forced position. Ended up being very distracting…

Day 28: Good session today, felt nice and calm after.

Day 29: Another super close call, remembered as I was getting ready to sleep. I really should learn the lesson here that it’s better to do the meditation early in the day and not procrastinate or I run the risk of forgetting all about it. Fortunately, my perfect record was not ruined.

Day 30: Final day! Ended on a high note with an excellent session that left me feeling very relaxed when beforehand I had been feeling a bit anxious. Glad to have made it through all 30 days successfully!

Summary

Well, I made it through. I’m pretty happy with myself for sticking with it every day. I think this challenge has reiterated the power in an all-or-nothing approach sometimes. When I plan to do something partially, I usually end up losing steam and quitting, but when it’s a full commitment, I often find it easier to stick with. For example, going out with friends and thinking “I’ll just have a couple of drinks” is a surefire way to end up tossing that plan out the window and waking up with a hangover. If, on the other hand, I tell myself I will have no drinks, it’s suddenly somehow easier to stick with. There’s no wiggle room and it becomes pass/fail, so ending with a “pass” is more likely.

Moving on from that musing, I think the meditation itself was pretty excellent. I don’t think I’m a fundamentally different person, and there were certainly sessions where I didn’t get a lot out of it, but I can confidently say that I find value in the practice of meditating. That’s enough for me. I’m also confident that more practice will lead to better sessions more consistently and better results overall.

Going Forward

Despite my success, I am glad to no longer feel obligated to meditate. It’s a little frustrating, especially at the end of the day, to feel like I must get it done. It’ll be nice to now be able to meditate specifically because I want to, rather than feeling like I have to.

I don’t think I’m going to stick to doing it every day, but absolutely want to keep it going regularly and continue trying to improve in my ‘practice’. It’ll be interesting to see if the lack of a hardline, pass/fail approach ends up with me gradually falling out of the habit or if I’m able to ease off the gas a little bit, but still maintain consistency in the long-term. I’ll report back down the line on how it’s going.

 

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TV

You may remember that in 2015, some dictionary made headlines by declaring “binge-watch” to be their word of the year. Now, if you’re like me you probably take issue with a hyphenated word being given such a high honor in the first place, but let’s move past that… Binge-watching has become a part of our lexicon because the action has become ubiquitous (now THERE’s a word worth honoring) in our society. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, pick your poison, but they all make it super easy to get sucked into episode after episode of whatever shows you happen to be into.

We made the decision to “cut the cord” and not pay for a cable subscription a few years back mainly because the value proposition seemed terrible. You want me to pay dozens of my precious dollars every month for a whole bunch of channels I couldn’t care less about? No thanks. However, I was raised on a steady diet of TV. Huddling up on the couch after dinner to watch the latest prime time hits was standard-fare in the Aardvark household growing up. So, you’d best believe that a lack of cable has not stopped me and the wife from binge-ing through dozens of hits over the years on the various streaming services mentioned above.

That brings me to today and to this experiment. I certainly still love television and movies and don’t necessarily want them gone completely from my life. I think they’re a cornerstone of our culture and I love seeing the ones that are really on top of their game and discussing with friends and coworkers. What I don’t want, however, is the binge-watching in my life. I hate the feeling that I got sucked into watching more than I should have, especially when there are a lot of ways I’d prefer to spend my time. For example, writing to you fine folks here on the interwebs!

Phew, long introduction, let’s get down to brass tacks:

The “Make TV Watching Hard” Experiment Terms

Catchy name, I know. As it implies, I’m not going to go cold turkey with zero TV at all, despite that probably being way more badass. I’m simply going to make it hard to watch TV in an effort to only watch something after making a very conscious decision to spend my time in that manner. Here’s how this will look:

  • First, I’m moving the TV and associated devices- Roku (built in), Xbox, Steam Link- into the cold, scary basement. With it being Winter, I’m not going to be too interested in going down there. (Accomplished this last night)
  • Second, I’m going to try to avoid going down there in the first place by doing more productive things with my time like studying, writing, reading, etc. Meals will become a time for conversation and reading instead of passively absorbing programming.
  • Third, any TV watching will be for a single movie or a single show episode. No getting sucked in and watching them back-to-back!

This will kick off today, December 1st, and last through the whole month.

Give It a Try!

Got something in your life that’s sucking up your time with no real benefit? Whether it’s TV like me or maybe those incessant social media apps on your phone, maybe try a month or even just a week of making it harder on yourself to get sucked in. I’d love to hear how it goes!

Alternatively, if you think I’m a wimp for not just tossing out the TV altogether, that’s fair too…

 

Also, check out my last experiment here.

 

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Fable

Pretty much as long as I can remember I’ve been big into the fantasy genre (starting, of course, with Tolkien) and role playing games (RPGs). They were both excellent forms of escapism for a shy kid that loved the ideas of magic and fighting monsters. So, when the game “Fable” was released in 2004, and its successors in 2008 and 2010, you’d best believe I was all over it.

These games had all the classic tropes and conventions for the genre. They were set in a pre-industrial society (at least initially) where the village-folk needed protecting by a noble hero wielding magic and weaponry to ultimately save the world. There was the classic system of gaining experience through battles and quests to “level up” and gain new abilities and spells. They also had less common features like the ability to become evil or good based on your actions- which had an impact on your appearance and how people would react to you.

Now, I’m not going to claim that the Fable series was the best thing since slice bread or try to bore you non-video-game-people with a recounting of all my heroic deeds. What I want to talk about is a neat little feature in the games that actually ended up tying in well with the investing strategies I use and recommend. Continue reading Video Game Investing Lessons

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Happy Pup

Last time, I talked through 5 different areas that have a big impact on happiness and how I’m working on improving or adding them in my own life. Today, we’ll round out the list with a few more key happiness boosters.

Remove the Unhappy

The Happy Philosopher has a great post about removing “alligators” from your life. These are the things in our lives that actually take away from our happiness and we’ve all got plenty, I’m sure. For me, the big ones that come to mind are Social Media and “The News”. There’s a consistent argument that people need to stay “informed”, which is used to justify this barrage of negativity in our lives. I don’t buy it. Anything truly “newsworthy” will end up making its way to my ears, regardless. Instead, what I’m filtering out is the 99% of “news” that is really about entertainment, fear-mongering, and click-baiting. Most of the content out there is meant to generate advertising revenue and/or push an ideological agenda that often involves partisanship and anger.

Continue reading Upping My Happiness Game (Part 2)

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One Happy Dog

Last post, I talked about the ways that we get stuck in loops of chasing hits of pleasure which ultimately end up feeling unsatisfying. Today, I want to get into some of the key things I’m trying to focus on to increase lasting happiness and contentment.

Practice Gratitude

This is first because I think it’s the best and easiest way to find happiness on a daily basis. I’ve seen plenty of successful people recommend taking a few minutes every morning to think about a few things that you’re grateful for and write them down in a journal. I don’t personally do the actual writing, but I’ve found that whenever I take a minute to reflect on all of the wonderful things and people in my life, I immediately feel better. It’s also a great way to get over feelings of jealousy, anger, or discontent. It’s hard to feel any of those things when you’re awash in gratitude for how truly blessed you are.

Continue reading Upping My Happiness Game (Part 1)

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Smiley Coffee

Happiness. I may be slowly becoming obsessed with it.

I think it’s kind of inevitable that once you get out of “crisis mode” and are able to cover all of your bills and get all the day-to-day stuff sorted, you start to look at the bigger picture and what you want for the long term. Either that or maybe it’s just an offshoot of getting older and falling into a stable life.

Either way, happiness is often an obvious place to focus. I think you can make a solid case for answering “What is the meaning of life?” with the simple “To be happy”. Sure there are lots of other valid answers, but I think most people would agree that finding real happiness is a cornerstone of a life well lived. Where this has led me is to the theory that too much of our culture and our experiences aren’t actually focused on happiness (although we may think they are), but instead on pleasure. The problem with this is that pursuing the latter is one of the best ways to never achieve the former.

So what’s the difference?

I think, intuitively, the difference between happiness and pleasure is fairly obvious when we take a minute to think about. Happiness in this context is synonymous with contentment; the kind of feeling you get when you’re sitting on the patio on a beautiful morning, sitting next to someone you care about, with a hot cup of coffee (or tea, no judgement) in hand and you sigh and think “Life is good”. Pleasure is more fleeting; it’s that hit of dopamine, that indulgence that you know probably isn’t great for you long term, but you do it anyway. Sure, it feels good, but it doesn’t last, and so, many of us end up stuck in an endless cycle of trying to find the next thing to chase after to make us feel good again and again. Continue reading Happiness Vs. Pleasure

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Buddha Meditating

This idea was inspired by David Cain over at Raptitude, who over the years has compiled a list of experiments that he’s performed in his own life to apply interesting ideas and see how they turn out. I’ve always found these to be entertaining and interesting and I think doing quick trial runs of potential habits is a great way to really test their value in your life. So, in his honor, and given that I’ve been reading a lot about it lately, I wanted to run an initial experiment in my life with establishing a daily meditation practice. I also believe meditation was the first of David’s many experiments and now it’s a huge part of his life; so, definitely a big inspiration.

The Meditation Experiment Terms

My goal will be 30 straight days with some form of meditation practice every single day. I’ll probably aim to keep each session between 5 and 10 minutes so that it doesn’t seem too daunting. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious or particularly rushed, I have no problem changing that up though. Continue reading The Meditation Experiment

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On YouTube yesterday I stumbled on a quick little video from Mark Cuban with 9 quick tips to “getting rich” (embedded below). Now I, like most people, hate the hell out of clickbait headlines and yet, they still inevitably work on me from time to time; so I watched it. Much of my curiosity came from the fact that lists like this either contain basic, common wisdom that is so bland as to be irrelevant, or ridiculous claims that will never apply to your average person. Despite that, my impression of Mr. Cuban has always been one of a highly competent entrepreneur, who is successful, not by chance, but because he’s really earned it. So, all that said, I wanted to see what ideas he was putting out and whether or not I agreed with them.

The 9 tips and my thoughts on them:

Continue reading Get Rich Tips from Mark Cuban

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Travel Hacking?

There’s a lot of talk about hacking things these days- life hacks, personal finance hacks, travel hacks, etc… Everybody wants to be a hacker. I assume this is because that little girl in Jurassic Park made it seem super cool back in 1993.

It's a UNIX system, I know this.

Call me old fashioned, but when it comes to the business of getting points/miles/shiny rocks as a result of using credit cards, I usually just stick to calling them “Credit Card Rewards”.

All semantics aside, it’s a pretty sweet gig if you’re able to take advantage of it. So, today I’m going to talk about how I’m putting CC Rewards to use and how you could too, if you were so inclined.

Continue reading Adventures in Credit Card Rewards

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Reset button

I started writing this article while taking an overnight train from Seattle to San Francisco and looking out the window as we passed through a gorgeous national forest. Now, I say “started” because about 10 minutes into the process I got so nauseous from staring at the screen on a moving train that I had to abandon that whole idea… but that’s beside the point. The train ride was pretty fantastic and it was part of a week-long trip that took me to a number of new towns (thousands of miles from home), with a number of old friends, and, most importantly, well outside of my normal daily routine.

It was the lack of a routine that got me thinking

Humans, like many animals (I assume…I’m not a scientist), are creatures of habit. Once we’ve done something a certain way more than a few times, our brain actually starts to rewire itself and create fairly automatic routines. The next time we encounter the same situation, our brain will run through that routine with much less thought or attention. Continue reading Hit the Reset Button

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