June 17: Tour De France

The challenge was simple: go for a bike ride. The execution was not simple.


Why this challenge?

I own a bike. I bought this bike a little over a year ago. I have probably ridden this bike less than ten times. That is why I chose the ‘challenge’.

The second reason for doing this is that I am the type of person who stays in his room. I will go to work, lectures, and be at home, that is all. But going outside is great, being around trees is amazing and simply being mobile is enjoyable. Staying inside is easy, however. Comfortable also.

I purchased my bike to ride to university, and the first time I did, a piece of glass punctured my tire. Being somewhat of an extraordinarily lazy person, I did not get around to fixing it until I moved, six months later. Since then, the main users of my bike have been the people I live with, which is great because if that wasn’t the case, it would probably have no users at all.


Execution.

As a direct result of my not using it, the bike was in disrepair. The joint between the handlebars and the rest of the frame was loose, making them not only wiggle but slide side to side. Add to that a semi-flat front tire as well as bad wheel alignment and you can imagine how difficult it was to ride. I could blame my housemate for not repairing the bike after he used it, but I could also blame myself for simply not using it at all. I choose option 2. The trip was only half an hour, around the immediate neighborhood, but it was pleasant, and the wind in my face actually improved my day.


What I’ve Learned.

Only buy things you will use. Like most, consumerism grips me to the core, urging me to always buy, buy, buy. Regardless of how much I scratch the itch, another object takes the pedestal of want. I make it sound like an addiction because it is, society is just built to see this addiction in a positive light.

Be honest with yourself for a moment, and ponder this:

Do you find yourself with no money at the end of every pay week? I do. I could work an extra couple of hours, or even get a better paying job, and I will always have no money. Because, much like a drug addiction, the moment supply goes up, demand does as well. Your wants swell to the size of your ability to acquire them. You get more money, and so you can buy better things.

Stopping yourself buying unnecessarily is easier said than done. Marketing is a billion-dollar business with the sole purpose of making you want. Businesses are in the business of making you desire their product, simple, and all the individuals in society perpetuate those desires. All of this is in the name of looking good. An average car might get the job done perfectly, but we want a Ferrari. I could wear an average t-shirt, but I want that branded logo. I could enjoy music from a cheaper speaker, but I want the one that is 50% more expensive, even if it is only 5% better. Why? Well, people will see it and think I am cool of course! I know it is stupid and yet it is so ingrained within society, human biology and my very self that it is incredibly hard to curb.

What is more, also in parallel with other addictions, your brain justifies it in any way possible. It will work much better, I will have it for a very long time so it is worth it, I got paid extra so I can afford it and plain impulsively purchasing with no regard are all tools the brain uses to reach its desired drug.

I bought my bike with full intention to use it but I did not. An ample amount of self-honesty and a dash of ‘I’ll be fine without it’ is essential to stop the addiction train in its tracks. Again, easier said than done.

I shall try.


 

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June 16: Social Conformity

The task: Lie on the floor for 10 minutes in a busy area.


Why this challenge?

Anxiety sucks. I don’t have extreme anxiety or anything, just regular old social anxiety. When you think your shirt looks stupid and immediately assume everyone is looking at you, saying the same thing, or when you notice you are walking funny and start analyzing your walking which makes it worse and sets you into a downward spiral until you give up and sit down. That sort of stuff.

Heart thumping, adrenaline running through your veins and tunnel vision that accompany anxiety are all results from the fear response. You know, the thing that is supposed to prevent you from being eaten by a tiger. That fear response sucks but isn’t objectively a bad thing. What’s bad is when we let it affect our actions and stop us from doing the things we want to. So how do you prevent it from controlling you? Well, it is quite simple: become familiar and learn to be okay.

I first heard of this from a company called comfort zone crushers. Basically, they issue challenges that put you out of your comfort zone so you can grow as a person. Conquering fear and social anxiety sounds like a great thing to do to me, hence this challenge.


Execution.

I would first like to note that from the moment I got into my Uber, my heart was racing. I went to one of the major train stations in my city (Central Station) and asked the workers very politely, heart trying to tear out of its prison, if I would be allowed to. With thoroughly confused faces they declined. So, I rode the train to a lesser known station, in a sort of food court/shopping center and laid down, heart still thumping, just inside the entryway.

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A few seconds after I did so, the steady war drum in my chest died down to… a less intense war drum? (I didn’t know how to complete that metaphor) Why did it die down? Well, the fear was unwarranted. No one cared. The very worst thing I got were strange looks.

The majority of people either didn’t look or simply looked and kept walking without a second glance. A few people gave strange confused glances, and a lot more than I thought actually smiled at me. I was met with smart quips about stargazing and how it was a great place for a nap. At one point a child, hand in hand with his father, pointed at me, giggled and exclaimed: “look at that man Daddy!”. He was adorable and it made me beam. About halfway a girl, who I found out was named Lane, sat down beside me and shared a pleasant chat. After 6 minutes, I got up because I was already late for work and felt like I had conquered my fear.


What I’ve Learned.

One thing I have learned from studying psychology is that social conditioning is a tremendously powerful influence, drilled into us from the moment we are born. The reptilian brain, which all humans have, perceives social ridicule as a threat to your life and triggers the fear response in an attempt to save you. Your body treats any perceived threat, such as a tiger, starvation and you guessed it, social ridicule. We have the same response to an angry tiger as we do to the possibility of someone thinking we are weird.

Social anxiety is stupid. I mean, I understood that already, however now I know it to the core. Am I suddenly vanquished of all anxiety? Hell no, that wasn’t the point of the exercise. Am I better able to handle such things? Definitely. At least a little.


 

June 15: Human Heater and the Mind’s Limits

If you can learn how to use your mind, anything is possible. – Wim Hof

Day 15: Learn the ‘Wim Hof Method’.

Disclaimer: Don’t be stupid. Research stuff before you do it and learn how to do so safely. A good way to accomplish that is to google “downsides of ___” or “bad experience with ___”.


Why this challenge?

First of all, what is the Wim Hof Method? Well, it is basically a breathing technique for self-heating and handling the cold. Wim Hof holds a plethora of world records in regards to handling extreme cold and is nicknamed ‘The Iceman’. He sits in snow with nothing but shorts, swims in frigid arctic waters and once did a TED talk where he stood in a chamber filled to his neck with ice. It is safe to say that this man can withstand cold, and is an example of how much our physiology can do.

It has a few health benefits, which is appealing, but who doesn’t want to be able to feel warm in a t-shirt and shorts while everyone else is shivering? It is a useful skill. When I lend my girlfriend the jacket I was wearing, I want to be warm also.


Execution.

If you would like to know the specifics, you will have to research the method yourself. But in summary, it involves three things: controlled hyperventilation, exhale and hold, then inhale and hold.

I did it right before my shower, three times consecutively. I had my shower entirely on cold. Yes, entirely on cold.

Side note: Cold showers are actually super healthy and feel good too, research it if you are interested.

So how did it go? Well as the warmth of the breathing swept over me, I put my leg into the water aaaand turn the heat a little up. It is winter here in Australia, land of the kangaroo. That means that my water was extremely cold. I have had cold showers in the past, but mostly in the summer. Don’t worry, the shower was still way colder than most people, probably including myself, would have handled. Yet I did handle it.


What I’ve Learned.

Our bodies can do much, much more than we think they can. The sole purpose of the human brain is to keep itself alive, and the easiest way for it to do that is to stay away from the limits of the body. Why use 95% of your fuel when you can use 40% and still be okay? I think this is why you hear of people doing extreme things in extreme situations, because their brain is much more scared of something else than it is of overexerting the body. Like a 14-year-old girl that lifted a car which had fallen onto her dad while working on it, or individuals, stranded without water or food surviving much, much longer than they should have. Another example is Buddhist monks, who have silenced their brain’s concern, meditating without food and water for extended periods of time.

This challenge has helped me see that I have not been living within the limits of my body, but rather the limits of my mind.


 

June 14: Optional Starvation

This challenge was to have a 24 hour fast.


Why this challenge?

There are a ton of health benefits to fasting, such as ketosis, longer life spans and better overall health. (very scientific explanation, I know) There are also psychological benefits, such as resiliency and more control over hunger. The reason I wanted to do a fast is partly those benefits, and partly seeing if I could do it.


Execution.

Not eating is kind of self-explanatory…

The only thing I consumed during this 24-hour period (00:30 14/06/17 to 00:30 the next day) was water. I woke up at 1 pm (which is cheating, but it wasn’t a planned thing) and immediately found myself going to the kitchen for food. I had to stop myself many times during the day. The shop’s food court was hell, but hunger pains kind of didn’t happen to me during this fast.

Was it hard? Not really, no. I had the expectation that it was going to be much harder. I think, however, that because I just agreed and accepted it, it made it much less of a challenge.

As soon as the 24-hour mark ended, I cooked one of the biggest meals I have had in a while. Seasoned chicken with broccoli and sautéed onion and mushroom. Top it with some quinoa and a rasher of bacon and I was in heaven:

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It doesn’t look pretty, but it was delicious.

What I’ve Learned.

I have learned how unnecessary the mental panic you get when you are hungry is. Think about this: whenever you are hungry, it takes up most of your brain power and pretty much controls you until you eat. Well, that is until you accept it. If you start having a conversation with someone, and ‘forget’ about the hunger, you aren’t forgetting it, you are subconsciously accepting that you will be hungry for the time being, and that allows you to focus on the conversation. The hunger is there, but the mental panic isn’t.

The other thing I learned about myself is just how much of what I do is on autopilot. I came to this realization when I blocked YouTube and still found myself searching for it. Basically, throughout the day I would get up and walk to the kitchen because I was hungry, even though I wasn’t going to eat. This act was only realized when I got halfway down the hallway and questioned what I was doing.

I compare this to the model of habit that goes as follows: cue, response, reward. In this example cue is hunger, the response is going to the kitchen and get food, and the reward is eating the food and the dopamine release that goes with it. It really showed me just how unconscious habits are.


 

June 13: If

Day 13 was to learn a poem by heart, simple.


Why this Challenge?

Expressing, in different forms, is not only enjoyable for me, but often bring with them a new perspective. Poetry is great at taking complicated, often overwhelming feelings and expressing them compactly. If clearly expressing your thoughts and feelings was the Mona Lisa, poetry is more a white canvas with a single dot in the middle. That is to say, not everyone gets it, lots think it is over-valued but for those who do connect, the clarity is boundless.

I like poetry. Not most poetry, and certainly not traditional poetry. Spoken word poetry, however, I really enjoy. Poetry that is not meant to be read and analyzed, but rather spoken, performed and felt.

Honestly. I have no idea why having a memorized poem appeals to me. I know why the poem I chose appeals to me, which is for the same reason I wanted to memorize it.


Execution.

I had a poem in mind: If, by Rudyard Kipling. (copy of it under the post) I really enjoy this poem because it basically lays out reminders on how to live life and lists the values I would like to embody. These values are that of Stoicism, which I thoroughly enjoy. I figured that if I knew it off by heart, it would be much more effective.

The poem speaks clearly, but in a way that is not detrimental to itself. I only regret that there is no fun word play within it.

Unfortunately, I only have two of four stanzas memorized so far, but I will definitely be continuing my efforts.


What I’ve Learned.

Memorization is harder than I thought, and I need to procrastinate about 40% less than I do.

I also noticed that when I wrote the poem out and thought about every line for the purpose of remembering it, I discovered a lot more meaning for myself. Of course, this meaning is probably only in my eyes, as the way humans look at things is a reflection of themselves, so it is interesting to take a third person view on such things and take a different look at myself.


IF

Rudyard Kipling

 

If you can keep your head when all about you

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

June 12th: Less is more.

You only lose what you cling to. -Buddha

The 12th challenge: De-clutter my room.


Why this Challenge?

Minimalism is a thing with design, having simple but impactful outcomes, however, the term can be used toward anything. One aspect people use it for is consumerism. In the extreme, some people live with only 100 items. That sounds like a lot at first but just think for a second. Plates, cutlery, shoes, clothes, pens, sheets, and towels, everything in their life. I don’t want that, but I think how attached we, as humans, get to our ‘stuff’ is crazy, as it can really hold you back. So, I make a sort of semi-regular habit of throwing out everything I don’t need. All of the things I own that are just taking up space.

As a result of this practice, which started as a necessity when I moved out of home, I have fewer things in my life. I find things in my room easier, as I don’t have random stuff filling up places it shouldn’t be, Additionally, going through belongings has the side effects of knowing where it all is, but also gives you a time for organizing it in a way your brain understands intuitively.

However, I have not done the practice in a while.


Execution.

Went through my stuff, and selected the things I didn’t need. I then offered my housemates anything from the pile.

It is also good to note that while doing this, it is essential to embody a sort of ‘I don’t need it’ mindset. (Oh, and not get toooo distracted by all of the memories) A rule I have to help myself embody said mindset is that I am only allowed one sentimental item from each event. So, if I had a shell, as well as a souvenir keyring from a vacation that has never seen the light of day, I would have to prioritize which means more to me in regards to the holiday.

What did I throw out? Well, the main few things were a flask, an incense burner, old hair product, an alarm clock I never used and a face scrubber. They don’t sound like much, but there is a lot less clutter in my room as a result. (Both the physical room and my mental model of it)


What I’ve Learned.

For start, I have learned that doing the practice makes the practice less crucial. Not in the ‘throwing out stuff gives you less stuff’ way, although definitely that way, but more in the change of mindset. I have collected less stuff as a result of throwing things out, because I know how I work, I know what items are important to me, and I have less of a desire for items.

That doesn’t mean I don’t buy stuff. My brain is quite adept at convincing itself that one of its ‘wants’ is actually quite logical to buy. For example, I tend to buy the most expensive, or at least a more expensive than necessary Item because ‘it will last longer’ or ‘it is an investment’. An example would be my phone, a Galaxy s7.

But nonetheless, I am aware of it, and I am attempting prevention.


 

June 11: Enlightenment, enlighten-not.

Day 11 is something I need to do again, unfortunately, as it was poorly done (I say that like my others days are done well or something). The challenge was 2 hours of straight meditation.


Why I chose the Challenge.

Meditation has a stigma. Like most others, if not all others, meditation’s stigma is misguided. When the majority of people think of meditation, what comes to mind is a shiny headed monk in robes sitting in one spot for his entire life, never moving. When asked “what is meditation?” a correct answer is scarce at best. Instead, at least in my limited experience, most people have vague notions of religion, spirituality and ‘nothingness’. I expect most people if they had to describe the act, would come up with sitting still and thinking nothing. That is only somewhat true.

I used to be a normal person once, (hard to imagine I know) so when I think of meditation I kind of think about that bald monk automatically. But each time I do, I check myself. Once I do that, meditation is many things.

First and foremost, for me it is brain training; it improves your ability to focus, it declutters your mind and genuinely makes you happier. This is not a pseudo-science, I’m not saying that rotating a quartz crystal 347 degrees clockwise while drinking carrot juice on the night of a new moon will double your life expectancy or anything, that would be crazy. I am saying that in our lives, everything wants our attention, whether other people, our phones, or the stories in our heads. All meditation does is focus your attention on what is happening where you are, when you are. Not tomorrow morning, planning out your breakfast, or that meeting in a week, planning what will go wrong, or the argument yesterday, planning out what you could have said, but right now, in this second.

For me, my brain starts getting slower and slower, more distressed and run down as life goes on. I don’t know if this mental strain happens to everyone, I rarely actually notice its ever-presence, maybe for others, it just goes away when they sleep. When I sleep, I get more energy so I can think in the midst of the fog, but there is still fog. Meditation not only gets rid of that, but it prevents it from accumulating in the first place.

This isn’t like lifting a weight off your shoulders, it is expanding the very thing you are. All ‘you’ are, is the thoughts in your head, and when you expand that, you expand your very self.

Note: there are a ton of science studies on Meditation’s benefits, both physical and mental health wise, but I will not cite them here. (Mainly because I am lazy and university has bred a hatred for science literature) But Google will give you a ton of results.


Execution.

Meditation is simple to do by nature. Sit on your Himalayan mountain peak, rainbow-colored hippie cushion or computer chair of choice, and let your thoughts go. I focused on one sensation, and when I noticed that I had stopped, I went back to doing so.


What I’ve learned.

I used to meditate on the daily, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The two-hour meditation really allowed me to see how far I have fallen. I would love to start a daily practice of it like I have wanted for quite some time. Perhaps a month challenge for it?

I would recommend meditation to everyone, really. It does not matter who you are, it will help you if you stick with it daily for about a week.

Two hours in one go, however, did not really get much done for me, and I suspect it is because I am so out of practice that I am at ground zero again. I definitely had bursts of a meditative state, but they were short and scarce. I would not have slipped into one if it were only for 20 minutes.


If you are someone that likes improving and being the best they can be, I urge you to try out meditation. If you would like to, check out an app called Headspace, and their ’10 for 10′ program. 10 minutes a day for 10 days.

You will see results.


 

June X: Sunday Best

Today’s challenge: sew something.

A note: Someone told me that I should have been more specific with my list of challenges, and I am starting to agree. Bake something new and sew something are very broad objectives.


Why this challenge?

Sewing has always appealed to me. Not in the grandma knitting a sweater way, but more of a self-sufficient way. I am a fan of repairing your own clothes, or at least the concept of it, as I don’t think I have ever done so. Hence why this is a challenge.


Execution.

I may have cheated a little. I could not find anything that needed sewing, so I took an old shirt I no longer wear (was keeping it in case I needed to paint a house or some other dirty job) and ripped a hole in it:

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Through the magic of YouTube, I got the basics of sewing a hole shut, and I have had a three-dollar sewing kit that I picked up from Coles for a while, so I was set. Ten minutes later and I had successfully patched up my piece of chest cloth:

 

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No clue why I used green thread…

 

It isn’t exactly photogenic, but it isn’t a hole anymore, so I’d call it a mission success. It doesn’t need to look good for me, as I wouldn’t really wear a patched-up shirt to something that I need to dress well for.


What I’ve Learned.

Well, I have learned to sew holes shut obviously…

But I also found myself appreciating the virtue of patience, as well as the joy of simple, semi-repetitive tasks. Do I enjoy sewing? Well, no, I am not going to go out of my way to sew something, and it is not going to become my hobby, but I don’t really dislike it either. Plus I always enjoy learning a new skill.


 

June 9: The Self, in Physical Form

I am sorry this post was a day late, but by the time I finished the challenge it was definitely time for bed.

The challenge Yesterday was rather broadly defined as simply baking something new. The catch? It had to be from scratch. Who would call Nutella croissants a bad idea?


Why did I pick this challenge?

I enjoy cooking. When I say that, people assume two things: the first is that I am good at cooking, and the second is that I look forward to it. I am no chef, and I should definitely measure a lot more of my ingredients. Additionally, I don’t exactly wake up looking forward to cooking breakfast, and in fact I often procrastinate cooking, but once I force myself to get started, I find joy in the task.

I consider myself a person open to all new experiences, as broadening my horizons is one of my core values. I think humans in general love new experiences. In my opinion, television, which opens people to limitless experiences, is a reflection of this in my opinion as it offers the most amount of experience for the least amount of effort. The culinary world has an incredibly diverse makeup and is another easy area to gain broader horizons. Hence the term ‘foodie’.


Execution.

As my lovely girlfriend, Natalie suggested the challenge in the first place, it was only fitting that she participated in it. An adventure to Woolworth’s for puff pastry ingredients lead to a ten-minute long primer on what ‘strong’ flour means, before finally finding it and heading home.

I had no idea that puff pastry was only flour and butter, but I also had no idea how hard it is to get right. We combined the ingredients and rolled it, folding it about 5 times, before storing it in the fridge to cool. I should mention that I don’t own a rolling pin so improvising lead to a mostly-empty red wine bottle being used. #unilife

At this point, Natalie went to bed because she needed to get up early, and I continued the process. Let me tell you that it did not end up as planned. Croissants were a bit ambitious, ending up more along the lines of shortbread biscuits. Bad shortbread biscuits. On the plus side, I had fun making them and didn’t just make the one shape:

 

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Unfortunately the only picture I took of them. Romantic though right?

 

The puff pastry really didn’t embody the ‘puff’ aspect of its name.


What I’ve learned.

Baking is much more of a science than cooking is. I am not saying that cooking is simple, but you can use a recipe as more of a guideline and still get a decent result. Baking is not similar in that respect, especially pastry. The measurements were followed; however, I didn’t read the warnings about pastry personally, simply relying on my girlfriend’s knowledge, which resulted in me ruining them.

I was more affected about my failure than I would have usually been. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, working on them late into the morning and/or the creative nature of rolling out the dough, cutting what you need and crafting the shape. All I know is that I was crushed when they sucked, and I now know what bakers mean when they ‘put their heart into their food’ in a very intimate way. The action of creating something, and putting effort into it, imbues that something with part of your personality, and when the final product comes out good, you feel pride, not just in your creation, but also yourself. Sadly, when the result is not so good, the reflecting nature of it can make you feel a sense of shame.


 

June 8: A long-awaited phone call.

Today’s challenge: call a relative that I do not usually call.


Why this challenge?

I rarely keep up with my relatives, and this kind of bothers me a little. Sure, I see them once a year at Christmas, but I don’t know anything about their lives (and, actually, often mix a lot of their names up, relying on my mother’s knowledge). I’d like to know a bit about their lives and learn all they have to teach. I am a big believer that no matter who you meet, there is something to learn from them. Whether it is learning about a certain experience you have never had or just some wisdom gained over a whole lifetime, you can learn something. Even if I think about someone my age, they have had the same amount of experience I have had, but for completely different things. It is literally a whole lifetime of knowledge within them, and I think that is great. It is the reason I like meeting new people, and the reason I want to learn about my relative’s lives.


Execution.

I called my mum first, not for the challenge, but just to get ideas on relatives I could call. She mentioned my great Aunt (my mother’s Aunt), who lives south, near the NSW border, so I called her.

We spoke about my university and how it is going, we spoke about my mum, we touched on parenting, and she told me she liked what I was doing, ie calling a relative.


What I’ve Learned

It is pleasant to catch up with people, and talking with my Aunty was delightful. I have often said that I dislike small talk, and many times phone call have wished to skip it and get straight to the “real talk” (this does not work by the way), but I have changed my mind.

Small talk is pleasant if you are interested in it, plain and long-awaited. If you foster a genuine interest in the other person and their life, you become sincerely interested in what they have to say.

I will be calling relatives more in the future.