flower essences

My Experience Trying Flower Essences for the First Time

The first time I heard about flower essences, I thought, “this is crap.” My well-trained, western scientific brain read “vibrational energy of plants” and wrote it off immediately. 

But then I fell under the spell of some amazing plant-based skincare. Skincare that, when I smelled it, when I massaged it into my face, and when I rinsed it off, made me appreciate the beauty of the plants that went into it.

This built on my pre-existing appreciation for plants in the form of vegetables. There is such a beautiful and diverse array of plants that taste great and provide nourishment to the body! If plants can do that, and make for the most relaxing and enjoyable skincare, I thought, what else can they do?

Inspired by this newfound appreciation for plants, I began The Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne and learned a bit about western herbalism. 

Herbalism resonates with me in the same way that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda do. According to my limited understanding, western herbalism, TCM, and Ayurveda are all health systems that address a wider range of things than western medicine, including emotional health and non-severe imbalances.

And, these health systems have been around for thousands of years. If they’ve lasted that long, there must be something to them, right? And interestingly, it seems like every time I bring this up to friends, either they or someone they know has had a problem fixed by a traditional system that they could not fix with western medicine. (I’m not discounting western medicine, of course. I’m interested in learning from both systems.)

Anyway, herbalism is fascinating to me, and the book is quite the thorough guide (from my beginner’s perspective). It explains general methods for working with types of herbs, including drying, extraction, usage, and more. And it has a short chapter on essences. The presence of the chapter in a seemingly well-researched book opened up my mind enough to not write them off.

The timing also coincided with a challenging period at work. The combination of work challenges and reading about essences in the well-researched book brought me over the edge and back to the original website where I first heard of essences. (The website is a sister site to the skincare I had enjoyed.)

The instructions on the site said to either pick flower essences based on my attraction to the photo of the flower from which it is made, or based on reading the descriptions. So, I went ahead and scrolled through photos and read descriptions. Before I knew it, I had made it through all the essences on the site. (Did I have too much time on my hands? Maybe.)

Three stood out to me:

  • Canada Goldenrod Essence, for the person who needs some perseverance and determination to do the work that needs to be done. I wondered if this would help me complete a looming milestone. 
  • Ponderosa Pine Essence, for the perfectionist who could use a little more self-forgiveness. I wondered if this would help with me being hard on myself due to the work situation. I also love ponderosa pine trees.
  • Shooting Star Essence, for the person who wants lightness and freedom from worldly problems. I wondered if this would help me get over my tendency to let work challenges overshadow my life outside of work. I also adore the way this dainty and magical flower looks.

I also learned more about how essences are made and how they’re supposed to work.

A flower essence is made by infusing picked flowers in spring water outdoors in the sunlight, then straining out the flowers and preserving (with alcohol) and diluting the remaining liquid for use at home. This is said to capture the vibrational energy of the flowers, which is absorbed by the user at home.

Essences can be digested in small quantities (3-4 drops, 3-4 times a day, not with food), or sprayed above the head or in a workspace. The ones I got were only available in drop (digestion) form.

When I was a kid I had a hippie babysitter that told me you can eat up to one rose petal per day, and if you eat more, it’s bad for you. I have no idea if that’s true, but I figured if I have literally eaten rose petals, flower-infused spring water could not be that bad.

I figured trying essences couldn’t hurt.

So I bought the three mentioned above and have been using them for a few weeks. I keep them on my desk and use them when I’m not snacking (though I snack a lot, so I don’t always get in the 3-4 times a day). 

And I’ve been feeling better in both life and work. Work had been bringing down life (which sucks) but I picked up some side projects I had dropped, which improved life. I had some nice side conversations at work about cool moonshot ideas. And I took some steps to reduce the worry I felt about the work milestone.

Was it because of the essences? I don’t know. It could, of course, be the placebo effect.

It’s also possible that I bought them at a particularly low point, and because emotions vary, I’m feeling better because I’m regressing towards the mean

Another possibility is that the ritual of doing something 3-4 times a day (which I especially remember to do when I’m feeling down) is good for me. Supposedly even 5-minute meditation sessions are good, so maybe this is too.

My other idea is that it seems the flowers have an energy that herbalists can intuit, which maybe normal people can subconsciously intuit also, and in the same way that you become like the people you spend time around, you become like the flowers you make regular contact with through essences. (I know, this one’s a bit of a stretch.)

Anyway, I’m not totally sure if it’s the essences at work or something else, but either way I’m enjoying the process so far and I look forward to trying more. Who knows, I might need to keep a shooting star essence around permanently to inspire me to keep seeing out interesting things.

Note: Links are not affiliated.

person at work desk

9 things I wish I knew for my first engineering job

Maybe you’re nervous about your new job, or perhaps you’re excited. Perhaps you don’t really care either way and are just looking forward to a paycheck. Regardless of how you feel, when you start your job, you’ll be spending over a third of your waking hours at work. Here’s how to do your best with that time – and do it in a healthy, wholesome way.

I started my first full-time engineering job several years ago now. I’ve been through a few job changes and a few more manager changes. Here’s engineering job advice that I’ve learned from others and through my own experience.

This is geared towards engineers, but much of it is relevant to everyone starting a new job. As always, feel free to pick and choose the advice that works for you!

Your job is not like college

Your grades, your ability to pull all-nighters to cram for a test, and your extracurriculars don’t matter anymore. Your problem-solving skills do matter.

The problem space is vast compared to the problems you solved in school. You will be solving open-ended problems that may not have right answers. You are also balancing priorities: some things need to be done quickly but with lower quality, and some things need to be done with high quality and can take a long time.

In addition, your work lasts a lot longer; you don’t get to throw it out every other week for the next assignment. This also means you (or others) have to keep working with what you did last month or last year. In addition, you will get to see your work being used, which is usually rather satisfying.

You will no longer get assignments where the TAs took care of all of the setup and the not-interesting work for you. You don’t just get cute and interesting problems anymore. Most stuff doesn’t work straight out of the box. You have to do your own setup (and ask for help with it), too.

It’s a whole new world. Don’t assume that because you did well in school, you’ll do well in your first engineering job. As with anything new, start with an open mind and learn from those around you.

Keep learning

Learning is the best way to advance in your career, switch to another career, or start a side hustle. Luckily, doing things on a job is one of the best ways to learn, because you’re solving real problems, you have support and can learn from others, and you’re around other motivated people. Take advantage of the learning opportunity, and learn everything you can.

Learn both deep and wide. The perfect balance is up to you, but do both. Deep learning often makes you a more valuable and helpful employee, and deeply learning a few things will help you pick up new things in the future. Wide learning helps you broaden your skill stack.

A skill stack (or talent stack) is a set of diverse skills that together enable more possibilities than being very deeply skilled at a single skill (more detail here). This term comes from Scott Adams, the author and Dilbert cartoonist. My own skill stack looks a bit like this:

  • Engineering (general, plus a few specializations)
  • Project management
  • Communication (writing and speaking)
  • Biology (skill in progress)
  • Cooking

Time has yet to tell what opportunities my skill stack is going to make available for me, but some possibilities might be:

  • Starting a science-backed health blog 😁
  • Working for a biotechnology company
  • Starting a summer program for aspiring engineers
  • Building robots that create really excellent-tasting food based on the biology of plants (okay, maybe this one’s a bit far-fetched 🙃)

The point here is, make sure you keep learning while on the job. Learning takes many forms – for example, a frustrating project can be a learning experience – but if you’re constantly bored at work, not only is that a waste of one-third of your waking hours, but it’s also a missed opportunity to be learning and growing.

If you’re not learning at work, talk to others and look for other projects you can get involved in. Start a side project (I highly recommend side projects). If it doesn’t seem fixable, look outside your company.

Ask questions

In school, the lecture or the book typically has all the answers. In a job, while you do need to use your own logic and reasoning to figure some things out, a huge amount of information lives in the minds of senior engineers, in the mind of your boss, with engineers who have left the company, in outdated documentation, etc, etc. In order to learn that information, you have to ask questions.

The more questions you ask, the better you’ll get at identifying when you should figure something out yourself versus when you should ask someone. When you’re starting out, err on the too-many-questions side. A good senior engineer will also help point you at resources that enable you to figure out more things for yourself over time.

It is part of the job of senior engineers to mentor and grow junior engineers. (If that’s not true at the company you’re joining, you may want to find another company.) This means that when a senior engineer gives you a convoluted or jargon-filled response, you should not feel obligated to feign understanding. Ask questions until you understand.

Related post: How to be Naturally Confident

Another way to look at it is: as an engineer, you’ve probably been hired for your reasoning and problem solving skills. Your question-asking may actually uncover something wrong, and if it does, that’s a very good thing, because you’ve put those reasoning skills towards improving your project and company.

Understand the big picture

What is your team trying to achieve? What is your part of the organization trying to achieve? What is your company trying to achieve? How does your team contribute to the org and the company?

What products make the company money? Which ones are research projects? How much does the company care about its bread and butter versus the research projects? How do the bread and butter projects work, and how does your team contribute to them?

Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing is not only motivating, it’s also incredibly valuable for making good prioritization decisions. When you’re first starting out, your boss or mentor might make most of the decisions for you and tell you exactly what tasks to complete. This is fine for a while, but you’ll eventually need to:

  1. First, divide and prioritize the tasks within a component on your own. This usually just requires the maturity of engineering skill.
  2. Then, prioritize features within a project or across projects. Project managers and your boss should be helpful here, but project managers are not always available. Having a good understanding of the big picture is essential for making good decisions at this stage.

The big picture is also important for understanding how the company is doing, and how important your role is to the function of the company. Having a more important role in a better-performing company tends to result in more opportunities for learning.

Set boundaries

Go home at 5pm on your first day. And on your second. And every day for the rest of your career.

Don’t respond to messages or emails on weekends. Or after 5pm. Or in the middle of the night. When you respond to a message the next morning, don’t apologize for keeping the sender waiting; leave out the apology and just respond to the content of the conversation. It may feel awkward the first time, but it gets better.

If someone is messaging you near the end of your work day, let them know you’re signing off at 5pm, but you’ll respond first thing the next day (or on Monday, if it’s Friday).

Of course, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do all these things every single day of your career, but I highly encourage making these your general rules. I’ve found that when I set a pattern, other people learn it and go with it. If you respect your time, other people do too.

Setting boundaries results in the obvious benefits of having more uninterrupted personal time (or a better “work-life balance”), but it can also result in some non-obvious benefits.

One non-obvious benefit to setting boundaries is that when you set boundaries, you force yourself to improve your prioritization. Imagine two people, Alice and Bob, who have the same 10-item to-do list. We can pretend that each to-do item takes 7 hours to complete:

  • Alice works 7 hours a day. She completes the 3 most important things by Wednesday. As a result of doing those things, she finds 2 more important things to do, and does them on Thursday and Friday.
  • Bob works 14 hours a day. Wanting to do everything, he works hard and completes all 10 items, in no particular order, by Friday.

While sometimes we may need to be more like Bob (but hopefully working more like 9 hours, not 14), Alice’s ruthless prioritization has resulted in her completing more important work than Bob in half the time.

Set boundaries. Like I mentioned above, there is always something else that can be done if someone has time. Protect your own time, because no one else is going to protect it for you.

Ask for feedback

Ask your boss and the senior engineers you work with if they have feedback or suggestions for how you can do a better job. If they give you constructive feedback, thank them for it. If their feedback is not clear to you, ask questions to make sure you understand it.

You don’t have to follow all the feedback, either. Once you understand it, reflect and evaluate whether you’d like to make a change.

Asking for feedback is a great way to discover your blind spots. Sometimes, we think that to do a good job, we need to be the best at skill A, but our boss or a more experienced engineer with a wider view of the world can see that a little bit of skill B would be more impactful.

In fact, basically that exact thing happened to me. I thought I needed to get better at core engineering skills, but a great boss and mentor gave me feedback that I had fine engineering skills, and improving my ability to talk about what I did would be much more valuable.

So, remember to ask for feedback.

Give feedback

If you find yourself frustrated by something that you don’t know how to fix, don’t just keep it to yourself and let your frustration build. That’s bad for you, and it’s bad for the company, especially if other people feel the same way you do!

To be clear, I assuming here that you trust your boss and that he wants the best for you. If you don’t trust your boss and suspect that he might treat you poorly as a result of giving the feedback, you probably want to hold back. I personally have not experienced any adverse effects from giving feedback, but I may just be very lucky. Use your best judgement.

When you feel frustrated by something, it’s a signal to you, and to your boss, that there may be a problem that needs to be fixed. Sometimes your boss might hear the same frustration from multiple people and really see a need for change. But if your boss hears nothing at all, he/she will have no idea there might be something wrong.

When you give feedback, you don’t have to be as specific as “I think X is wrong and we should do Y instead.” For many things, or when I’m developing a relationship with a new boss, I like to give softer feedback, things like:

  • I’m feeling nervous about our team completing X on time
  • It may just be me, but when our team meetings last longer than an hour, I sometimes feel very exhausted.
  • I could just be sensitive, but sometimes I feel like the new coworker talks down to me.

Such “data points” can be very useful for your boss, especially if he observes a pattern of similar data points.

So, if you can, give feedback.

Ask for what you want

In the same way that your boss can’t know there’s something wrong unless you share feedback, your boss also can’t know what you want unless you tell her. Neither can your coworkers or mentors.

When you ask for what you want, you’re much more likely to get what you want. For example, if you want to work on something different, it’s unlikely that someone will guess the exact thing you want to work on and offer it to you. Your coworkers can’t read your mind.

Also, if you think you deserve a raise, you are very unlikely to get one unless you ask. If you don’t ask, others typically assume you’re happy with things the way they are.

In addition, when people know what you want, they know what opportunities to recommend to you. This is especially important for your boss or any mentors – they typically have a wider view into opportunities on new projects and more.

Be able to explain your work

Being able to clearly communicate what you do, what you’re working on, and a few technical details goes a very, very long way. I’d venture to estimate that it’s one of those things that takes 20% of work and goes 80% of the way towards other people thinking you’re a good engineer. (The remaining 80% of the work is actually becoming a good engineer, which is still super important… but you already knew that.)

Engineer communicating a thought

Being able to explain your work is useful for communicating with your boss, your team, your sister teams, people you meet outside of work, and interviewers for your next job opportunity.

A great way to practice explaining your work is to administer interviews for your company, if you can. At the beginning of every interview, you introduce yourself and explain what you do! Interviewees may even ask you questions about it at the end of the interview, giving you the opportunity to practice more.

Conclusion

So, that’s my best advice for starting your first engineering job, or 9 things I wish I knew when I started my first engineering job. Thanks for reading, and best of luck to you on your journey! Also, if you found this helpful, share it with a friend!

Resources:

salad template recipe title photo: simple quick wholesome salad

The Salad Template: The Last Salad Recipe You’ll Ever Need

Last week’s post was a bit heavy, so today we’re going to keep it light… with a salad!

This 5-minute recipe is the last salad recipe you’ll ever need. It’s good on its own, and it’s also a template that’s easy to extend to whatever you feel like eating (or whatever you’ve got in the fridge).

The simplicity of this recipe allows the taste of the ingredients to shine through. If you’ve been saving fancy olive oil or apple cider vinegar, use it here! (Just make sure the oil hasn’t gone rancid while you were waiting for this recipe.) Really fresh vegetables are also very nice here. But, feel free to start with whatever you have!

The Salad Template (The Last Salad Recipe You’ll Ever Need)

What you need:

  1. “Leaves” (spring mix, romaine, spinach, whatever)
  2. Oil (veggie, canola, olive, or extra virgin olive, and probably others work too)
  3. Lemon juice (or substitute white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar)
  4. Salt

Step One: Ready the Leaves

Wash your salad leaves, and shake out any excess water. If the leaves are too big to easily eat as-is, cut or tear them into smaller leaf pieces. Put them in your salad bowl.

Step Two: Dress the Salad

Season, toss, taste, and repeat:

  • Season. Drizzle your leaves with oil and lemon juice. (If either liquid is not in a container conducive to drizzling, use a spoon.) Add a light sprinkle of salt (a small pinch, or a few shakes if you use a shaker).
  • Toss.
  • Taste (eat a leaf).
  • Repeat, adding a little more of one ingredient, then another, until you have a balanced, light, and tasty salad.

Note: don’t worry if this step takes a little while the first time – you’re learning! It gets easier and quicker once you know what balance of tastes you like and approximately how much oil, lemon juice, and salt it takes to achieve it.

Really Great Add-Ons

Add-ons are 100% optional – this salad is great by itself! But, just in case they’re helpful, here are some simple add-ons. I typically use one or two of these with most salads I make.

Flatlay of wholesome food, including kale, avocado, strawberry, thyme, and peppers.
Feel free to experiment with a variety of add-ons!

Herbs

Fresh herbs make this simple salad AMAZING. I typically use flat-leaf parsley – leaves and stems – because I regularly have it on hand, but the wonderful Alison Roman (in her book Nothing Fancy) also recommends chives, dill, mint, tarragon, or cilantro.

How much of the herb(s) should you add? However much you want! Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy. I usually use a healthy handful, and Alison suggests an “almost 50/50” ratio with salad leaves (though I personally haven’t gone that far).

The Quick Pickle

This is a quick way to mellow out “sharp” tasting foods like onions and radishes so they meld better with the rest of the salad. You can also apply it to other vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, or bell peppers, for some taste variety. 

To do the quick pickle:

  1. Slice your onions or radishes or whatever you’re quick-pickling, into sorta thin slices. (If the slices are very thick, your quick-pickling may not reach the center, so the center may still taste sharp.)
  2. Put the slices into a small bowl, drizzle them with lemon juice (or white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar), sprinkle with salt, and toss to lightly coat the slices.
  3. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes or so, then add to your salad.

It’s easiest to add your quick-pickle mixture before dressing the salad (step two) because the extra lemon juice from the quick pickle can be incorporated into the dressing.

Whatever You Want Or Have On Hand

As you make this salad more and experiment with various add-ons, you’ll start to get a sense for what tastes you enjoy in a salad. Make what you like, and don’t be afraid to try out new things! I personally like a variety of textures and colors, and recently made a spring mix + quick-pickled daikon radish + extra tomatoes + extra parsley salad which I liked a lot.

Using flexible template recipes like this also helps you to not waste food, because it allows you to be more flexible with your ingredients in the kitchen!

Bonus Tips

Incorporating the Salad Template into a shopping trip

Back when I used to follow more recipes, one of my biggest struggles was buying ingredients which were sold in much larger bunches than what I needed. I’d buy a whole head of celery because I needed a single stalk. You should never have to do that with this salad.

If you’ve got salt, oil, and a bottle of white wine vinegar at home, then all you need to add to your shopping trips are salad leaves, it’s that simple! And if you want to jazz it up, I highly recommend using the flexibility of this recipe to not plan ahead and instead buy small amounts of whatever looks fresh and tasty (or is on sale) at the store to add on – or use any extra ingredients you have left over from preparing a main dish. I almost always have half a tomato or some extra onion that I toss in this salad.

Incorporating the Salad Template into a meal

How you incorporate this depends, of course, on the rest of the meal you’re cooking. Here’s how I typically incorporate this into cooking a whole meal.

This slots in as a veggie side dish for most western food, including steaks, stews, burgers, fish, and chicken. I especially like it with steak or burgers because it helps balance the heaviness of the meat. For middle-eastern food, I typically make a cucumber salad instead (same recipe, but swap leaves for cucumbers), though I imagine this salad would work fine with many meals. I usually don’t make this with central-and-south-American cuisine, and I don’t make it with Asian food.

Wholesome spinach salad with chicken and pomegranate as part of a complete meal
Keep it simple, or adjust the add-ons to make the salad more in-theme.

For a long-cooked meal like a stew, I prepare this at the end, just before serving, so it tastes fresh. Usually I’m already chopping fresh herbs to scatter over the main dish at the end, so the salad is an easy addition. 

If I’m cooking a quick meal, I prep leaves and any add-ons with the rest of the vegetables (and typically before I handle the meat to avoid cross-contamination). If quick-pickling, I do that after chopping veggies, because chopping everything at once is more efficient for me. When I’m waiting on the main dish to finish cooking (e.g. waiting on the chicken to come to temperature), I add the quick-pickled goodies to the salad bowl and dress the salad. When you first start, you might just make the salad at the end, so you don’t burn the main dish if you need more time to adjust the dressing tastes. 

And that, my friends, is the last salad recipe you’ll ever need. Hope you enjoy!

Resources

  • Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman. I love both her cookbooks (they are two of the few books I own), but this one contains the herby salad recipe. Her cookbooks are full of colorful recipes with awesome flavors.
  • Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat. I have been cooking for many years, but this cookbook seriously leveled up my game by teaching me how to use salt (and other things, but most importantly salt). You might recognize that the Salad Template recipe has salt, fat (oil), and acid (lemon juice or vinegar).
loneliness title photo: man sitting on rock looking at misty water

Let’s talk about loneliness: the three dimensions, why you should see your friends in person, and more

Loneliness should be at the forefront of health and self-care conversations. This is because:

Loneliness is everywhere. According to a 2018 study, 43% of Americans sometimes or always feel that they are isolated from others, and 1 in 4 Americans feel like they can rarely or never find companionship when they want it (source).

Loneliness is unhealthy. Loneliness corresponds to a 26% increased likelihood of mortality (source), the same impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In terms of mortality, it’s more dangerous than obesity. In addition, adults with a mental health condition (1 in 6 adults in the U.S.) consistently also suffer from loneliness (source).

Social interaction is a basic human need, just like eating or sleeping. While individual people may need different amounts of social interaction (for example, an introvert may need less than an extrovert), the fact remains: we are all hardwired to be social.

Let’s start with a quick refresher on loneliness before diving into the three dimensions, why you should see your friends in person, and more.

What is loneliness? It’s not the same as being alone

Loneliness is a feeling of being alone, but it’s not the same as being physically alone. And being physically alone is not the same thing as feeling lonely. For example:

  • One might feel lonely while physically alone
  • One might feel engaged in a solitary hobby while physically alone
  • One might feel lonely in the presence of others
  • One might feel engaged with others around them

I imagine most of us are familiar with the “lonely in a crowded room” situation, but I think the “engaged in a solitary hobby and not lonely” situation is a less well-known one. We often think that physical aloneness corresponds to loneliness, but that’s not always the case. Instead, comfort with solitude can make physical aloneness not feel lonely. 

When we look at loneliness this way, we see two ways to reduce it. One is the classic way of decreasing physical aloneness by calling a friend or dropping by their house. The other is increasing comfort with solitude by picking up meditation or working on a hobby.

But that doesn’t tell us all we need to know about loneliness. Next up, we’ll learn about its three dimensions.

The three dimensions of loneliness

Research shows that there are three dimensions of loneliness: intimate, social, and affiliate.

Intimate relationships are relationships we have with close confidants like significant others or best friends. Social relationships are those with regular friends outside of our intimate relationships. And affiliate relationships are what we have when we belong to a community, such as an interest group, church, or sports team.

We need relationships along each dimension to ward off loneliness, which is why a person with a perfect best friend but no community, or someone with lots of friends but no close confidants, might still feel lonely.

Loneliness in younger generations: are we missing community?

When I first read about the three dimensions of loneliness in Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, the community belonging dimension really hit me. I looked around and noticed that I and lots of people around me – including coworkers, neighbors, and friends from college – don’t really belong to communities. I grew up belonging to a few communities but somehow had moved on in life without preserving them or finding new ones. I suddenly realized a big hole in my life.

One of the communities I grew up with but no longer participate in is a religious community. This appears to be a generational pattern: as many as 9 in 10 Americans identified with a religion up to 1990, but in 2016, only two-thirds of young adults (age 18-24) did. Older generations are also more likely to regularly attend religious services than younger generations (source). The pros and cons of religion aside, there’s no question that religion is a source for community for many people, and with the decline of religion, there is also a decline in a source for community.

Is participation in other such communities declining as well? Maybe. That’s what I think I see around me, but I need to see some more data to be sure. What we do know, though, is that younger generations are lonelier than older generations (source). Is it because younger people are lacking intimate relationships, social relationships, affiliate/community relationships, or perhaps some of each?

Hey, wait! Aren’t younger people the most connected of all due to technology? Shouldn’t they have all of these relationships, and shouldn’t they be more convenient, with social media, instant communication, and more?

The impact of in-person interactions on loneliness

As it turns out, people who have daily in-person interactions are the least lonely, while people who have the least in-person interactions are the most lonely (source). In addition, in-person social interaction is linked to more happiness in teens, while texting and social networking websites are linked to more unhappiness (source).

This means that greater reliance on virtual communication, especially among younger generations, does not seem to make us happier or less lonely.

But do in-person interactions cause decreased loneliness, or does decreased loneliness cause increased in-person interactions? While I haven’t seen a study specific to loneliness, studies have shown that increased social media use causes unhappiness (source), not the other way around. Since loneliness is an unhappy feeling, I think it’s fair to conjecture that increased social media use can cause loneliness.

TL;DR? See people in person when you can. Instead of texting your friends, go get a coffee together. Or play tennis together. Or go to the grocery store together. Or swing by their house with some cookies.

What you can do about loneliness, and further reading

In summary, loneliness is super prevalent, partially because it’s not widely recognized as a basic human need. There are three dimensions to satisfy to ward off loneliness: intimate or close confidants, social, and affiliate/communal. In-person interactions, when they’re possible, are much better for health and happiness than virtual ones.

Given all of the above, you probably already have a bunch of ideas about what you can do about loneliness, but just in case it’s helpful, here are a few more:

  1. Loneliness is a basic human need, so treat it like one! If you’re thirsty, you get a drink of water. If you’re feeling lonely, do something about it! Also recognize that when a friend wants to talk to you, they may not have anything to say but may be feeling the need for companionship.
  2. Have a hobby. This helps in two ways: it can reduce the amount that you feel alone while you’re working on your hobby because you become more comfortable with solitude. And, it can be a way to connect to a community of people with similar hobbies.
  3. Join or start a community, ideally one that has a regular in-person component. This can take many forms: befriending your neighbors, volunteering somewhere regularly, taking an art class, or going on group bike rides organized by a bike shop. If you don’t know where to start, just start somewhere
  4. See your friends in person. And, when you do, be fully present; put your phone away and enjoy every moment. And don’t feel pressured to come up with a perfect activity to do together, a simple walk in the park is just fine!

Further reading:

title image for my journey with minimalism with man looking out window in minimalist room

My 5-Year Journey With Minimalism

I’ve wanted to be “minimalist” since roughly 2016. I went through multiple phases of trying and failing, but was eventually able to make permanent changes.

Today, my closet is the smallest it’s ever been, my bookshelf has been cut down to 10-15 books, and my cleaning is the most efficient it’s ever been. The progress so far has even allowed me to discover new and exciting interests.

This is an account of my journey with minimalism so far, including the failed attempts and some key insights that made a big difference for me.

Failed Attempts

Changing my ingrained patterns is a huge struggle for me, because I’m pretty inconsistent and have a hard time willing myself to do (or not do) different things. Nevertheless, I kept trying to apply various minimalist strategies to my life.

When I wanted to focus better, I’d clear off my desk and file everything away neatly in drawers. The clutter quickly came back.

When I wanted to think less about getting dressed, or when I wanted to reduce how much I shopped for clothes, I’d try a capsule wardrobe… and then within a few days I’d decide to wear something that wasn’t in the capsule and fall back into my regular patterns.

And when I thought I had too much stuff, I’d go through some of it and painstakingly make a little pile to take to take to Goodwill… and then maybe half the items would be “rescued” from the Goodwill pile when I decided I could continue to use them.

I also tried to reduce the amount of stuff I owned by asking for only consumable gifts, because I had such a hard time getting rid of non-consumable gifts I had been given in previous years. This made me less stressed out about accumulating more things during the holiday season, but didn’t significantly impact the number of things I owned.

This went on for maybe three years. I had the best intentions, I read a lot of blog posts about minimalism, and I really wanted a cleaner space, but I just didn’t make very meaningful changes.

Key Insight #1: Remove Stuff

The first big turning point for me in my journey was the realization that I needed to remove stuff. Minimalism is about not being burdened by physical possessions, which (for people like me) means having less stuff.

people holding big boxes of stuff

Yes, in retrospect, this is pretty obvious, but a big part of my failed attempts at minimalism was that I never succeeded in removing a significant amount of stuff. I’d reorganize without removing, so the clutter would always come back. And I’d remove a few items here and there, but then offset them with more shopping, so I never made any meaningful progress.

The practice that helped most with finally removing a large amount of stuff was Marie Kondo’s item send-offs. When saying goodbye to an item, Marie Kondo advises holding the item in your hands and thanking it for its service to you, whatever that service was. “Thank you for making me look nice on that date,” and “thank you for teaching me not to buy bras without trying them on,” might be examples of how to thank an item during its send-off. 

When I did send-offs, it became easier to part with more items, so I’d do more send-offs, and part with more items.

The part of the item send-offs that was so magical for me was the expression of gratitude. Before I learned about item send-offs, I had a very hard time getting rid of things. I owned lots of things with nothing really wrong with them, and getting rid of them felt like a waste, and I hate to waste. Expressing gratitude for what an item did for me made its use to me explicit, showing me that it was, in fact, not a waste.

In addition to item send-offs, reading Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things, challenged my conception of which items I truly needed, putting things like dedicated shampoo on the list of items to be considered for removal. (I’m currently using a combo shampoo-body wash.)

I also needed to cut back on shopping in order to keep down the amount of things I owned. This continues to be a challenge for me, but I am getting a lot better. It has also gotten easier as, due to minimalism, I have begun cherishing the things I own more.

Key Insight #2: Minimalism Is Not A Goal

I got all fired up and spent a number of weekends sorting through my possessions and removing stuff. But as much as I enjoy having less stuff, I quickly realized that that removing stuff was not how I wanted to spend all my free time.

My big realization, after I had removed a bunch of stuff, was that I don’t want to be a minimalist. That is, that’s not what I want my friends to know me as, and that’s not want I want to talk to strangers about when I meet them for the first time.

I want to start a successful business, be a great engineer, make cool art, and/or learn biochemistry. Minimalism, like meditation, is a really great tool to help me achieve such cool things; it’s not a goal in itself.

water drop in calm water
Minimalism is like meditation because it clears your space and mind so that only the important things make waves.

My failure to realize this earlier was probably also a reason for some of my failed attempts. I knew that minimalism would make getting dressed easier because I’d have fewer clothing choices, but outside of that, I thought of it as mostly an aesthetic pursuit. Little did I know it is not a goal in itself, but rather a way to achieve other things and generally improve my life.

And with that, on to the benefits of minimalism that I’ve experienced.

Benefit #1: Fewer Chores

As it turns out, when you have less stuff, cleaning is a whole lot easier.

I currently live in an apartment with rather dusty, old carpet, and dusting and vacuuming used to be quite the struggle. I’d always have to move things so I could vacuum under them or dust around them. Now, I have less stuff, so I have less stuff to deal with when cleaning!

Also, when I had more clothes, I used to let the laundry pile up, because I could always wear something else clean from my closet. Then, laundry days would be big, annoying days. I had the same problem with dishes; I used to let dishes and pans pile up (yeah, I know, yuck) because I could easily grab another clean one.

Since I cut back on clothes and kitchenware, I do chores more regularly and in smaller bursts. Each burst is a small amount of work, often small enough to complete while waiting on something else, so the total amount of time I dedicate to chores and cleaning is much smaller than before.

Every item I own requires care in some way. If it’s out and I use it regularly, I need to regularly clean and dust it. If it’s not on display or is infrequently used, it will still require care to pack and unpack during my next move.

Having fewer things has resulted, wonderfully, in fewer things to care for and thus fewer chores.

Benefit #2: Relationships With My Things

I have magically become much more appreciative of the things I own. This is probably in part due to occasionally following Marie Kondo’s method of thanking each of my items when I am done using them for the day. It’s also in part due to having fewer items that I can reuse for more purposes, so many items I own are hardworking ones that get lots of use. 

Whatever the cause, my newfound relationships with my things makes me treat my things better while I own them, makes me eager to find better homes for them when I do not use them, and makes me careful about what new items I bring into my home.

Finding better homes for items I don’t use is especially relevant for reducing books. Books are containers of information. Letting them sit on a bookshelf deprives them of sharing their information. Because of this, I’ve been able to let almost all of my books go. I like to imagine that they’re happier in a Little Free Library than on my bookshelf because they have a greater chance of being read and enjoyed by someone else. 

The desire to find better homes for items I don’t use has also showed me the joy of giving. Not only is finding a new home a great way to treat the item itself, it can also be a wonderful thing for the gift recipient! I gifted an easel to a very-excited 12-year old, and I gifted all my knitting supplies to someone who was looking to try out a new hobby. My relationship with my things doesn’t mean that I will always keep all my things, but rather that I want to find them the most appropriate homes.

small gift
Taking care of my things includes finding new and good homes for them.

My relationship with my things also affects how I bring new items into my home. Rarely do I buy non-consumables just because they are on sale anymore. Instead, I think about what items I might have that fulfill a similar need. Continuing to use something I’ve owned for multiple years is a better decision because I trust that that item will continue working for me. A new item has a chance of warping in the wash, breaking after a few uses, or not performing as well. Thus, I often don’t feel the need to buy new things, because I prefer what I already own.

An unlikely relationship that I’ve developed is with my cast iron skillet. On average, I use it daily, and it gets better the more I use it. I hope to never have to replace it. I’ve gone as far as taking it on the occasional trip with me, because I prefer it to the pans available in most Airbnbs.

I’ve also rekindled a relationship with a pea coat that I’ve owned since high school. When I was more in-tune with the constantly-changing fashions of the day, I thought it looked a little out-of-style and tried shopping for something that looked more modern. But since I pared down my coat closet, I have rediscovered how much I like the classic style as-is, how the weight is perfect in a variety of temperatures, and how well the material has held up over many years. It is now my single nice (non-athletic) coat, and I adore how it does its job perfectly, and has done so for many years.

Benefit #3: Personal Discovery

Having fewer things has resulted in me having more free time and energy. To be fair, some of my newly-freed-up time is definitely due to the ongoing pandemic, but I attribute the newly-freed-up energy to my minimalism pursuits. 

I’ve recently been reading a lot more books, exploring new fields and ideas, and researching various interesting careers.

My newly-empty bookshelf has allowed me to stop feeling guilty about the books I kept hoping to read, so that when I recently identified an exciting new area I was interested in (biochemistry!), I could buy a book or two to learn more and really focus in on it without getting distracted by my other possessions.

My newly-cleared space has allowed me to invest in things I need to go deeper in this exciting area; in particular, I purchased a microscope and have been looking at various specimens! While this would’ve been possible before I made progress with minimalism, it would not have been nearly as successful because I would’ve had less time and mental space to devote to the new pursuit.

Oh yeah, and I also started a blog!

Conclusion And Resources

So that’s my 5-year journey with minimalism. I don’t think of myself as a minimalist and I certainly still have a lot of things, but I feel like I have come very far nevertheless. I continue to discover new ways that minimalism changes how I think about the world and I have no doubt I’ll continue trying and experimenting.

My favorite minimalism resources are:

What key insights helped you make minimalism stick, or what are you struggling with if you’ve yet to make it stick? Do you have any favorite minimalism resources?

girl shopping online with credit card

8 Ways to Stop Shopping and Reclaim Your Money and Time

Do you spend time scrolling through shopping websites only to realize a few hours have passed? Do you have a bad habit of frequently buying more than you need, and you’d like to cut back?

My own answers to those questions are yes and yes. Shopping is so fun, but it has big downsides: 1) the amount of time and energy it wastes (both up-front when you buy and down-the-line when you are cleaning or moving), and of course 2) the money that it costs!

Luckily, with the strategies I’ve been using, I’ve gotten a lot better. Read on to learn how to reduce your shopping so that you can free up your money and time!

Set a Time Limit on Browsing

There are a couple ways to do this. If you’re browsing online, you can set time limits on your phone/tablet/laptop. I personally have a daily limit of 15m for Mercari on my phone. I also have a 15m daily limit for Instagram because I never have more than a couple minutes of real content to catch up on and the rest are product updates. 

Another way to do this is to predetermine the amount of time you will spend in a physical store before you walk in the door. For a reference point, I can complete most big grocery-only runs in about 20 minutes, and if I only need two items I can be in the checkout line in under 5 minutes. I’ve done this enough that I don’t even need a time limit anymore, because I’m in the habit of going straight for what I need and ignoring other temptations!

Predetermining the amount of time you spend in a store also applies to shopping for clothing. For me, shopping for clothing is exhausting! It took me many years to realize that after about 15 minutes I get past the point of enjoying myself. Your threshold may be different, but I encourage you to experiment with time limits.

Wait On What You Want

(Cue Paul Pena.)

When you want to buy something, write down the item you want to buy, and give it some time. You can experiment with the amount of time, but they key is to avoid impulse purchases and instant gratification by inserting some amount of delay between the moment you want something and the moment you buy it.

Another way to do this, especially if you’ve already spent time browsing and have things in your online cart, is to take a screenshot of the cart instead of buying on the spot. You can always come back to the screenshot later if you want to!

This strategy has multiple benefits. It reduces buying, because you delay purchases. It reduces browsing, because you delay needing to look for something when you think of it. And having what you want written down can also be useful for prioritizing what to actually buy later.

Personally, I usually forget about or decide against buying 90% of things I write down, so this strategy works really well for me.

Don’t Shop Sales

Sales are a premium strategy for getting people to buy things that they were not otherwise planning to buy. Next time you visit a website or store because they are advertising a sale or deal, ask yourself if you would visit if they didn’t have a sale. If you weren’t planning to visit in the first place, then any money you spend there is 100% more than you would’ve spent without the sale. That’s not really a great deal after all.

For me, sales also make me spend way more time on a site than I would usually because I want to make sure I’m not missing out on anything. Is 15 or 20 percent off really worth that extra time? Even more, why do I feel the need to spend money that I wouldn’t have otherwise spent, just to take advantage of a sale? That makes no sense!

To be clear, I’m not saying to never buy anything on sale. If you’ve been waiting on something on your list (see point above), absolutely, buy it on sale! The main point here is to keep an eye out for how sales affect your behavior. They may be tempting you into shopping for and purchasing things you don’t need.

Calculate the Actual Value to You

Advertised value is not the same as value to you. A “$24 value” “free” gift has $0 value to you if it’s not something you want or need. (In fact, it arguably has negative value, because you have to expend effort to store it and/or get rid of it.)

In addition to free gifts, this principle also applies to bundle deals and clothing.

Bundle deals. If you saw low-effort, high-reward beauty, you’ll know I love skincare and subscription boxes. Subscription boxes and bundle bag deals always advertise high values, sometimes in the hundreds of dollars, for a low low price of $40!!!! The catch here is to calculate the value to you. I don’t need any makeup, so any makeup in bundles has no value to me. And a $80 serum that would replace the one you normally buy for $20 doesn’t have an $80 value to you, because you wouldn’t pay $80 for it in the first place. So, beware the advertised value of bundle deals.

Clothing. High value clothing is clothing that 1) will last and 2) you’ll wear a lot. If a piece of clothing costs $7 but it’s going to pill on the first wear, or lose its shape after the first wash, then the value to you is $7 per wear. If a piece of clothing (say a quality coat) costs $100 but it’s going to last 5 years, and you’re going to use it twice a week, that’s about 20 cents per wear. Watch out for high price tags with a large percentage off – those numbers are all about making sales and are totally unrelated to the actual value to you!

In sum, advertised value and actual cost can be very different from the actual value to you. Focusing on the latter can lead to better (and thus fewer) purchases. 

Consider the Raw Material Impact

Consumers in privileged countries like the United States are some of the greatest contributors to global warming because they consume.

Consumption has big costs for the planet, from the cost of creating or synthesizing raw materials such as cotton or plastic, to the cost of creation of the end product in a factory, to the cost of shipping the product, to the cost of transporting it to a landfill (or recycling center) when it’s “consumed”, to the cost of the gases it releases as it breaks down in landfill (or the perhaps the cost to recycle it). Every step along the way takes energy and resources from the earth and contributes greenhouse gases and various forms of waste/trash (including – eventually – the “consumed item” that gets thrown in the wastebin).

The best way to reduce greenhouse gases and many forms of waste is to not buy unnecessary things in the first place. Consider that next time you hit the checkout button.

I find this especially helpful when I’m buying inexpensive things. A lipstick on sale for $5? (Or a low-quality dress, or some plastic squirt guns?) Sure, the cost to me may only be $5 (plus tax and maybe shipping), but it comes in a combo plastic-metal tube which cannot be recycled, plus I’ll use it every few weeks at best, so I’m really paying $5 to create more trash. The same issues apply to most inexpensive items. They may be cool for a little while, but most of the time they quickly become trash.

Consider reducing your waste and your impact on the planet by simply not buying things you don’t need. It’s not a glamorous way to help the planet, but it is effective.

Don’t Buy Items Online, Especially Clothing

Have you ever bought something online only to pull it out of the package and realize it doesn’t feel as soft or as sturdy as you expect?

Buying online is a gamble, especially when it comes to clothing. It’s hard to tell how a piece is going to fit based on the photos, and it’s even harder to tell how a piece is going to feel. I’ve had some big disappointments in pieces that had good reviews but when I touched them for the first time the fabric was not comfortable, or did not feel good-quality.

Whenever possible, hold items in your hands before buying. Marie Kondo advises holding items in your hands before discarding, and I see no reason why this should not be applied before bringing new items into your home. It is a totally different experience from viewing pictures or reading reviews.

To make this more concrete: I recently made two disappointing online purchases, a beautiful dress and a frying pan. When I took the dress out of the box, I immediately felt that it was not as well-constructed and sturdy as I was expecting. I was disappointed but I nevertheless kept it… unfortunately. I only wore it once before finding it a new home. If I would’ve touched it before I fell in love with the way it looked in photos, I would likely have not wasted my money. 

I also had high hopes for the frying pan, which I had extensively researched before purchasing. However, when I took it out of the box, the weight distribution was all wrong and I knew I would have trouble tossing food in it. It went right back in the box and back to the retailer. If only I had bothered, in all my research, to go to a store and hold one.

Buying stuff online is obviously convenient, and sometimes there is no other option depending on what you’re buying and where you live, but buying in-person gives you the most complete information about what you are buying. That allows better purchasing decisions, which results in fewer bad purchases and fewer purchases in total. I highly recommend buying in person whenever possible.

Pay For Shipping

How many times have you bought more than you needed to hit the free shipping minimum? I was discussing this with a friend, and we realized that we both do this!

The thing about “free shipping” is… just like “free lunch,” there is no such thing! Someone has to pay USPS to get your items from place to place. If shipping is “free”, it’s really just rolled into the cost of the items, because the business has to pay for it somehow.

I recently paid $9 for shipping on a purchase of a $15 pound of gum. The particular gum I wanted to try out is “biodegradable,” and it’s sweetened with xylitol so it’s better for my not-great teeth. I was able to buy it in bulk so I create a little less trash. The shipping cost was high, but even after the cost of shipping, the amount of gum was cheaper per piece than what I can get in a local store, and it was exactly what I wanted!

So, just pay for shipping sometimes. Watch out for “free shipping” minimums which might be causing you to buy more than you need. Remember, extra items are not a great deal if you don’t need them in the first place.

Track Everything You Buy

Keep a single list of everything non-consumable that you buy. This includes things like clothing, electronics, and kitchen gadgets, but does not include things like bananas, toilet paper, and toothpaste. Non-consumables are less hassle to track than consumables, and they’re also a lot more work than consumables to deal with when cleaning house or moving, so it is valuable to keep the amount you accumulate in check. 

Tracking helps you with awareness of how much you buy and how much you are adding to your home. It will also help with reflection as you look back on everything you’ve bought. You might see patterns of bad habits emerge, or you might use your list of several months of purchases to set a goal for the months following.

Having recently done a big clean out at home, I started the new year with the hope of not reversing all my hard work by continuing to accumulate things. Tracking is a lot less effort than a full-on ban which has made the practice easier for me to stick with. Seeing my growing list is a gentle reminder that I mostly buy things I don’t need, which is a reminder that I already have everything I need, and I don’t need to be shopping.

Track everything you buy to keep tabs on your purchases. The knowledge you gain will help you reduce your shopping!

Conclusion and Further Reading

Above are 8 strategies to help you stop shopping so you can reclaim your money and time. The most effective strategies vary from person to person, so some of these strategies may work for you while others do not. I wish you luck in your personal journey!

Further reading:

naturally confident woman smiling at work

How To Be Naturally Confident

Oh, confidence, that elusive thing. That thing you’re supposed to fake, because everyone else in the room seems to have been born with it. Right?

Great news: confidence is a just another skill that you can learn and develop. Unlike the “fake it till you make it” kind of confidence, this kind becomes second nature over time. In this way, you can become naturally confident.

Of course, being confident is not the same as being cocky or obnoxious. A confident person knows that she doesn’t have to brag or constantly prove herself and instead focuses appropriately on the task at hand.

Here is our complete guide to being confident—without faking it. You’ll learn a prerequisite and the basic behaviors that you can practice to develop your confidence, as well as some common pitfalls.

Prerequisite: Know Yourself

Step one towards being confident is knowing what you know, what you’re good at, and what you can do.

If you blindly apply the other confidence strategies without knowing yourself, you risk applying the right confidence strategies at the wrong time. For example, in a meeting where you’re not the expert in the room, you might speak up when you should’ve known to keep silent or speak second. Knowing yourself will enable you to appropriately apply the other confidence strategies.

So, take stock of yourself, forgetting for a moment where you want to be. Evaluate where you are, and don’t forget to take a few steps back as needed. 

For example, I have been working to clear the next hurdle in my career for a little while, and the fact that I haven’t cleared it yet sometimes makes me feel like a failure. But, I forget that I have been doing well in a very competitive job, which means that in the big picture I am not a failure, and I’m doing fairly well in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, there are a few experts on my team who know a lot more than me. 

One thing to watch out for when you’re taking stock of yourself is the Dunning-Kruger effect, in particular two points:

  1. When you only know a little about a subject, you’re likely to grossly overestimate your ability. 
  2. When you learn some more, you might be underestimating your ability.
Image from https://blog.stockspot.com.au/dunning-kruger-effect/

In summary: be honest with yourself about who you are, what you know, and what you can do. It’s the first step towards real confidence.

The Basic Behaviors for Being Confident

Being confident is a skill, and 80% of this skill is mastering the basic behaviors. Like any other skill, it might take some practice to master, but after enough practice, the behaviors become habit. When the behaviors become habit, so does confidence.

Basic behavior 1: Body Language

The three elements to naturally confident body language are:

Good posture. Standing up straight and tall is good for you. One way to improve posture is to associate it with a common queue, for example, every time you sit back down at your desk after getting up, check your posture. 

Stillness and smoothness. Habitually touching face or hair, fidgeting with a pen, and bouncing your feet, are all ticks that distract people from the real content of what you have to say and give the appearance of a lack of confidence. Practice adjusting these habits by sitting with your hands loosely folded in meetings and while speaking. 

A steady gaze. Looking in all different directions is also distracting. I know, because I struggle with a steady gaze, and once my gaze was so distracting that I caused my boss to look out the meeting room window behind him while we were meeting one-on-one. (There was nothing there, of course.) Luckily, this gets better with practice. One way to practice is by looking directly at one person for a whole sentence, then another person for the next sentence, and so on.

Basic behavior 2: Speaking

Speaking can be tough! Some people experience speaking as a gradual escalation of tension: the first sentence is easy, but then the heat rises and their heart starts pounding, and soon all they can think about is getting the speaking over with. Whether that describes your experience speaking or not, hopefully these elements help you increase your comfort with speaking, naturally boosting your confidence in doing so.

The two elements to naturally confident speaking are:

Breathing. If you feel the heat rising in your face or the pounding of your heart, don’t rush. Take a moment to take a deep breath. This helps you reset, and by giving your brain a quick break, it can help you refocus as well.

Practicing. Speaking gets more comfortable over time, but it doesn’t get better without practice. Starting small, by asking simple clarifying questions, or adding an extra detail to something someone else said, is an easy way to start practicing before moving onto bigger things like proposing a new idea in a meeting. And of course, always remember that mistakes are part of practice and how we learn.

In summary, the basic behaviors for being confident are:

Body LanguageSpeaking
Good postureBreathing
Stillness and smoothnessPracticing
A steady gaze

These things take some time and effort to practice and incorporate into your habits, but once they become habits, they will help you be naturally confident no matter the situation.

Bonus Tip #1: Don’t let anyone intimidate you

Watch out for intimidation on your confidence journey. Just because someone has a fancy title or uses words you don’t know does not mean that you cannot learn and participate. Sometimes they don’t mean to be intimidating, and in rare cases they do. Either way, don’t let it deter you. 

If someone with a high title or lots of letters after their name says something you don’t understand, ask them what they mean! If they’re saying it, they should probably understand it well enough to be able to explain it to you.

Don’t be intimidated! Asking smart people to explain things to you is also a great way to learn.

In addition, don’t be intimidated by jargon. While jargon has its uses in the right contexts, if you don’t know a word, most of the time the problem is that you don’t know what the word means, not that you’re somehow incapable of understanding the concept (the important part). Don’t be afraid to ask what foreign terms mean. 

Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll get jargon or complicated answers in response to questions. Don’t feel obligated to fake understanding! Feel free to follow up. You might ask: “I think you’re saying this, is that right?” or “I’m still not clear on this, how is it related to that?” Or, if you prefer, “I still don’t understand, can we talk more after this meeting ends?”

In some cases, the person may not actually have a good answer for you, and is responding with jargon or something more complicated out of habit. (They might be suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect themselves!) Training yourself to ask questions when you don’t understand will be especially helpful in these situations. 

Bonus Tip #2: Say “I don’t know”

It is a sign of both confidence and maturity to say “I don’t know” when you don’t know something instead of making up a false response.

Of course, you can save face by saying “that’s a great question, I can have that answer for you in an hour”—you don’t literally need to say the words “I don’t know”—but making something up on the spot instead of telling the simple truth is not confidence, it’s overconfidence or even cockiness.

And if you’re still not convinced, know this: the people that matter have really good bullshit detectors, and you probably don’t want them thinking you make stuff up.

Personally, when I’m at work and I can tell someone is making something up instead of just saying they’re not sure, I lose a lot of trust in what that person tells me and immediately prefer to get information from other people. (I don’t mean to be mean or harsh, it’s just that having accurate information is important to my job, and if they’re making something up and I recognize it, how many times have they made something up and I haven’t recognized it?)

Confidence is knowing when you don’t know something, and being confident enough in yourself that you can admit it. So, say “I don’t know.”

Conclusion and Further Reading

Confidence is a skill, largely composed of basic behaviors that anyone can master. The above tips should help anyone develop the skill of confidence, as well as apply it appropriately. Anyone can be naturally confident!

Mastering the skill of confidence does not replace being actually skilled at something substantial, so the tips on this page will only get you so far. After mastering these basics, if you want even more confidence, you’ve got to work for it, by continuing to learn and improve your skill set.

Best of luck on your journey!

Further reading: Speaking Up Without Freaking Out by Matt Abrams, or any of his talks

woman smiling in mirror

Low-Effort, High-Reward Beauty: How To Look Great Every Day

Looking to simplify your beauty routine so you look great with less effort? Or want a refresh, but already have too many clothes and beauty products–or want something so easy it can replace your work-from-home sweatpants?

Look no further. This is your guide to low-effort, high-reward beauty, or how to look great every day.

Beauty is how you look, but it’s also how you feel, because how you feel dictates the way you look. Thus, below is a combination of strategies for feeling good (so you can look good) and looking good.

My routines have always been minimal. I cared how I looked, but I never had the patience to spend much time on it. What follows are the strategies I’ve been using for years to get around that impatience and achieve (outer) beauty with minimal effort.

Beauty Sleep

Seriously, how effortless is sleep? Getting enough uninterrupted sleep is one of the best ways to take care of your mind, your health, and yes, how you look.

Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. If you’re not getting that, don’t buy another eye cream that promises to diminish dark circles! Invest in yourself in a more meaningful way: make sure you’re getting enough sleep.

If you’re having trouble getting enough sleep, you might:

  • Put your phone in a different room 📵
  • Go to bed around the same time each night
  • Experiment with temperature and air flow in your bedroom. I prefer cool and fresh air, when possible.

Self Care

Just as tiredness shows on your face, your mood and emotions show on your face. Humans are the only animals with prominent eye whites, making our emotions easier to read. This means other people can see how you feel, which means your emotions are on display just like your hairstyle. They may not be as obvious, but they’re still part of what you’re bringing to the world.

There’s not really a “beautiful” emotion, but one can intuit more-beautiful and less-beautiful emotions.

More BeautifulLess Beautiful
ContentmentStress
JoyFrustration
ExcitementTension

In summary: if you feel good, you look good*. So, take care of yourself. Infuse some joy into your day by taking some time to enjoy a pot of tea, dance to your favorite song, sit out in the sun, or whatever makes you enjoy your day a little more.

*This is a theory. I cannot find any science to back this up, but I hope you find it intuitive. Another way to look at it is: if you don’t feel good, you may not look good.

Skincare

Beware skincare! If your skin is clear and not irritated, a skincare routine is going to be the opposite of low-effort, high-reward beauty. It is high-effort, delayed-reward, because products have to be used consistently and for a long time to, say, lighten pigmentation or reduce wrinkles. Probably the lowest-effort, highest-reward skincare is wearing a face sunscreen every day. Whether this is worth it or not is dependent you and your skin.

The exception to this is lip balm. Chapped lips are not cute. A quick swipe of Vaseline (my favorite!) for hydrated, evenly-colored, and plump lips is always worth the effort. Plus, it won’t stain the inside of your mask if you’re out and about.

If your skin is not clear or it is irritated, a simple skincare routine as advised by a specialist or a dermatologist will be high-reward. It will also be high-effort because, again, products have to be used consistently. If this effort is worth it to you (it is for me – the cystic acne I get is painful!), you can still keep the effort down by keeping your routine simple.

(All this being said, I personally love skincare, but for me it’s about self-care, not about beauty. I love taking the time to massage nice things into my face; it’s just an enjoyable part of my day.)

Minimal Makeup

Black Makeup Brush With Palette

A fast makeup routine frees up time for more important things, like self-care, learning new things, and sleep! Below are some ideas for quick but complete routines. The 2- and 4-minute routines might be daily options, while the 6-minute routine might be for special occasions.

2-minute routine4-minute routine6-minute routine
Eyeliner (a single line on the top lid)2-minute routine, plus:4-minute routine, plus:
MascaraBlushLight eyeshadow on the eyelid
Dab of concealer as neededLip colorDark eyeshadow on the crease

Nowadays it is so easy to accumulate way too many beauty products. Between constant sales, deals, and subscriptions (my personal pitfall), many beauty enthusiasts have massive stashes. That’s great if it’s your hobby! But for the rest of us – let’s not hang onto stuff we don’t use or need. If you love unboxing, but don’t always use what you buy, watching unboxing videos is a great way to get the fix without buying extras.

The above complete routines require a total of 7 products, or 6 if you have a combined blush-lip color. This is an achievable makeup-box size! I have 8 products: eyeliner, concealer, two lip colors (one which doubles as blush), a dark and a light eyeshadow, and two brow products (RapidBrow and a color pencil). I don’t have mascara, not because I have long and luxurious eyelashes (I don’t) but because it’s such a hassle to clean completely. I don’t wear makeup all that often, but when I do, I have everything I need.

It may take some time to find what works for you, but play with it and see what you can do to keep it simple. French makeup routines are typically minimal, and are a great source of inspiration.

And of course, be sure to remove your makeup every day!

Trim Clothing

Wear trim, neat clothing. The key to making this low-effort and high-reward is to strategically make trim clothing your go-to clothing. But first, what even is trim clothing?

Basic characteristics of low-effort trim clothing:

  • No holes or stains (mend or recycle these pieces!)
  • Fits well
    • Is the right size (this includes bras!)
    • Is generally not oversized or shapeless, unless it’s got structure and is balanced (see below).
  • Fits comfortably
    • Is not too tight
    • Feels nice to wear

Advanced characteristics of trim clothing:

  • Simplicity: Basic shapes and colors that go with everything. The more things match, the less effort is required to put together a trim outfit.
  • Structure: A collar on an oversized shirt or a less-slouchy fabric like linen on comfy wide-leg pants can further clean up an outfit.
  • Balance: Consider balancing an oversized top with a fitted bottom, or vice versa.

Don’t go out and buy new clothing just yet – remember, this is supposed to be low-effort! Start by selecting a few go-to pieces for the next few days: comfortable items in simple colors that match (no need to go for the advanced stuff right now—it’s more important to start somewhere). Then, ignore your regular closet and pick only from what you’ve set aside. This is an exercise in making trim clothing your go-to clothing. See what you think!

Many of us have large closets of things we mostly never wear. You can reduce your effort and mental burden by filtering out just the stuff you need to be trim and comfortable, and default to picking from this pile every day.

Worried about wearing the same thing twice? Don’t be. As long as you’re not smelly or something (which you probably aren’t), there’s no reason to not wear the same thing twice if you love it and look great in it!

Conclusion

Low-effort, high-reward beauty is a combination of how you look and how you feel. Keeping it simple and taking care of yourself will go a long, long way. In many ways, this kind of simple, low-effort beauty is self-care. It’s like nourishing your outer self in addition to nourishing your brain and inner self.

Further reading:

successful man on mountain top with arms outstretched

How to Succeed at Anything New

Are you looking to start a side hustle or make a career change? Or perhaps you’d like to pick up meditation or eat less junk food?

Or maybe you’re trying to make a change for the second (or third) time, and you want to see it through this time?

Regardless of what you’re doing, there are a few key things that will help you harness your motivation and turn it into productive action. If you’re trying something new, here’s how to succeed at it.

Start somewhere

The #1 most important thing to do is to start somewhere. It’s easy to get caught up in the details, logistics, and planning, but the best way to start something new is – surprise! – to start doing what you want to do.

You should not try to become an expert before you start. That’s because you’ll learn a lot more through the process of doing, and what you read will make a lot more sense once you start. If you’re the type who likes to research something extensively before doing something new, that’s fine, but don’t let researching get in the way of starting!

Also, you should not try to be perfect. This is super important. As the saying goes, “perfect is the enemy of done,” or in our case, “perfect is the enemy of starting something new.” You probably want a stellar result from your new thing eventually, but that will come with time and practice, which is all the more reason to start with what you can do today.

Excellent ways to start somewhere:

  • Picking up meditation? Close your eyes and take three deep breaths, focusing your attention on each breath. Congratulations, you just started somewhere!
  • Finding a new job? Submit one application today. Your resume doesn’t have to be perfect; you’ll be applying to other jobs and improving your resume as you go.

Ride the waves 🌊 of motivation

Your motivation is your most valuable resource.

You are most productive when you are motivated.

When a wave of motivation comes, take advantage! When the wave subsides, keep progressing, but don’t expect the same level of productivity from yourself as when you were riding the wave.

This is also why I think planning is overrated. Motivation waves don’t operate according to a schedule. In my experience, riding the waves is way more productive than sticking to a regimented schedule.

Reduce barriers to entry

Starting something new can be hard, but you can make it easier by reducing “barriers to entry.” What this means is that it should always feel easy to continue working on your project. This will help you maximize the output you get from each wave of motivation.

One of the big “barriers” is the willpower barrier. If you’ve had a long day, your willpower may be exhausted. (Yes, it runs out!) You want to minimize the willpower it takes to work on your project so you can make progress even when your willpower is low.

An excellent way to reduce the willpower barrier is to accept from yourself whatever you have to offer. Did you plan to practice guitar for an hour, but you only practiced for 15 minutes? Congratulate yourself on practicing for 15 minutes; that’s infinitely better than 0 minutes! You could even try to not plan to practice for an hour in the first place.

Another great way to reduce the willpower barrier is to reduce the time it takes to get working on your project. If it takes 10 minutes to set up your workstation, can you get that down to under 1 minute?

Beware sideways progress 🦀

Sideways progress is progress that takes time and energy but does not get you closer to your goal. It is so important to not waste your valuable motivation on moving sideways.

Examples of sideways progress are:

  • Updating your schedule/plan for doing your new thing too often, instead of using that time to do the new thing
  • Feeling like you need to know more, but ending up researching things that are unrelated
  • Spending a lot of time picking a slightly better WordPress theme, meditation pillow, etc.

Allow yourself to “fail”

“Failure” is often a Very Good Thing.

Did you know that when you get an answer wrong, you have more brain activity than when you get it right? Yes, that means you get smarter when you fail.

A lot of people say that perseverance is the key to success, but this ignores the possibility that you may have picked something that is not to your taste. It also ignores the possibility of you wanting to try something different. Are you supposed to keep doing everything you’ve ever tried for the rest of your life? 🤔 Probably not.

Giving up on a project or putting it aside for some time may feel like failure to you, but that doesn’t mean it was a loss! If you happen to hate some aspect of your project, it’s really valuable to know that. Or perhaps you learned a new skill that you can apply to a future project.

Some very successful people have “failed” multiple times in the conventional sense! (I won’t spoil it for you–read Range by David Epstein to figure out who they are.)

Always allow yourself to truthfully evaluate if your project is still for you. We sometimes have to put things aside so we can progress towards the next new thing.

Conclusion

How to succeed at anything new: Start somewhere. Use your most valuable resource well. Beware of things that distract from what you’re really trying to do. If your new thing is not for you, take stock of what you’ve learned and let yourself try something new, again.

Brown Wooden Blocks on White Surface

Sources and further reading