Alex Antoszek. Student, artist, writer & tutor. This is my weekly newsletter about finding balance in life. Out every Sunday. Contact me: hello@[my last name].eu
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Addicted To Change

Addictions are bad. It doesn’t matter what you are addicted to. Being addicted to something means not having control. You should be able to control yourself, shouldn’t you?

Everyone is addicted to something; it’s either good or bad, maybe both, but it’s always there.

To break an addiction, you need to change. That’s the simple answer. Change is not always easy, but it might be.

Change-wave

This past year has been an incredible period of my life. A lot has changed; my mind, my body, my surroundings. Change itself is good. Yes, sometimes it may result in worse things, but without change there wouldn’t be anything. Our species wouldn’t exist. Our culture wouldn’t exist. Change is a necessary element of our universe. That’s why we should rather embrace it than escape from it.

Throughout the last year, I’ve learned more and more about how humans change. We change mostly because of other change. Imagine change as a constant, never ending chain of events. One small change always leads to another. Sometimes it moves between people, cultures, societies, but it always happens. That’s the beauty of it. Embracing that change-wave makes our life better.

Addicted to change

I think that there’s one exception to the addiction rule: the addiction to change. As we’ve established, change is always good. So, not having to press yourself into changing, but just being addicted to it can have tremendous results.

I’m observing this on myself. Everyday, I think about things that I could change for the better. I’m addicted to it. I crave change. Of course, there’s always time to reconsider your next actions, but with this internal drive everything happens smoother.

Change is powerful

Don’t underestimate your ability to change. Never. Because that way you’ll never change. Even if sometimes you change for the worse, you’ll learn a lot. Learning from your own mistakes is the best way to learn. Thus, change is always good.

Change + reflection = stability + openness.

How To Establish Powerful Relations

Two weeks ago I wrote about why relations are the most important aspect of school. Now, I’ll try to help you establish new, powerful relations, and improve the existing ones. It certainly is not an easy task, but I think that there are some basic principles that apply to all scenarios.

Start with respect

The first principle of powerful relations is undoubtedly respect. Being respectful to others (especially teachers) should not be important just because it’s appropriate, but because it makes you a better person. Through respect we can learn patience, tolerance, gratitude, and virtue. It also obviously makes the people that surround us more thankful for our existence. Isn’t it a win-win situation? Being respectful is also surprisingly easy. Yes, sometimes when we feel a very negative emotion to someone it can be hard, but it always pays off. Be respectful to be respected – it always happens. No matter how much the other person dislikes you, they’ll always, at some point or another start to respect you more. When your relations are establish with full respect, your life becomes peaceful. Even negative emotions seem to be meaningful doubts instead of dramatic cries. Do not expect to be respected by others. If you spend your whole life expecting, you wont be flourishing. Start with respect on your side, they’ll switch at some point.

Honesty helps in tough times

The next principle is honesty. Honesty cannot exist without mutual respect, because without respect, in hard times, honesty can be misunderstood. Misunderstood honesty only deepens the problem. The person that has opened up feels vulnerable and left out, and the other almost always cannot comprehend the honesty. Be honest not just when “it’s appropriate”, but whenever there’s a chance. Honesty makes the world a better place. I cannot tell you how much have my relations improved after I stopped lying. We often don’t think of small lies as bad things, and maybe they aren’t very bad, but when your relations are full of little lies, they stop feeling real and important. I felt really bad when I was lying. Even though it saved my honor a couple of times, it has never lead to a better life. Tell the truth, at first it’ll hurt, but after some time it’ll give you unimaginable amounts of inner power.

Gratitude strengthens bonds

You certainly have been told to be grateful many times. Expressing gratitude can be hard, but if done with good faith, it can fill you up with immense joy. Being grateful for the people that surround you makes your life more colorful. Gratitude is connected with respect, but can be expressed without it. But gratitude without respect, in my opinion doesn’t have as much power, and often is simply fake. Respect someone and be grateful for their presence. It is very important to not just be grateful for the good actions of the other person, but also for their general existence.

To establish powerful relations, fill the people around you with the greatest good.

P.S.
I’m experimenting with shorter, more concrete blog posts. I’ll try to publish them twice a week. You can follow me on Twitter, Medium, or subscribe to my RSS feed or newsletter to get info about new posts. Thank you for being a reader of my thoughts.

Relations: The Most Important Aspect Of School

A simple question: Have you ever felt bad when going to school?

I suspect that every person will answer yes. Everyone remembers those moments when school was the worst. It usually happens before an important exam or when your best friend or favorite teacher disagrees with you. We all have those stories. Most schools are quite unpleasant places to be. The buildings are large, hard to manage, painted with dull colors, and of course every single room looks almost the same. Most schools look and feel like some kind of a factory, not a place where science and art flourish.

But there’s one thing that makes schools alive: the people.

You may say: Of course! That’s obvious! Schools wouldn’t exist without people!
Yes, this is obvious, but not for everyone.
When you listen to politicians, school principals and everyone else, they always talk about funding, exam results, new curriculum and a whole plethora of lower-level importance topics. Yes, those things are important, and they definitely help improve the quality of education, but they’re not the most important. Of course, a state representative won’t be talking at a press briefing about the relation between Mrs. Jackson and Cody from fifth grade (Maybe he should?). Still, there’s not enough people in education focusing on improving relations in school. While student-to-student relations are more often cared about, and programs focusing on improving student mental health, among other things are certainly great and necessary, student-to-teacher relations are generally bad and unhealthy. Think about it like this: Have you ever had a teacher that you could call a friend?

Usually the primary goal of a teacher is simply to teach you new stuff, and while that’s of course great and essential, many lack the ability to establish meaningful relations with their students. A few days ago I was invited by my class teacher for an overnight sleepover in his house – the whole class was invited. The best part about this is the fact that it was actually our third time in his house! For some it may sound normal, but I bet that for most of you it sounds like something that would never happen in your school. Ever.

Building meaningful and thorough relations based on trust, kindness, and common interests changes what school is. Suddenly, this uninspiring, depressing, uninviting place turns into something where creativity and kindness prevail.
Let’s build a better future.

Note: Today’s post is shorter because I’m traveling. Next week I’ll come back with something much longer.

How To Create a Non-distractive Study Environment

Let’s face it. You don’t really know why you can’t focus. Wherever you go, something, maybe small, maybe big distracts you. It happens to all of us all the time. And it truly is annoying, but you already know that. You just want to start doing the things you’re supposed to do without major distractions. Is it achievable? Definitely. Before you start to train your brain (I’m going to write about that in the near future) you need to clean up your surroundings. Not the tools you use like your computer or notebook, but the place where you work. Your environment.
1 Get rid of the unnecessaryFollowing the philosophy conveyed in Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, which is an amazing piece of literature and ranks high on my book recommendation list, we must focus on the essentials. What does this mean? When you want to design a better workplace, the first step is to evaluate the necessity of all the tools you have in your current one. For example; look at your desk and evaluate the items you have on it using my process:

  1. What is this thing? (Tool, decoration, maintenance, useless shit, etc.)
  2. How much value does it hold? (especially personal stuff such as souvenirs or decorations, not material value)
  3. How often do I actually use it? (be honest)
  4. Does it actually help me achieve my goals?
  5. If it’s not directly contributing to my goals, is it inspirational but not distractive?

If the item isn’t satisfying you, simply get rid of it. Seriously.2 Create empty spaceNow that you’ve got rid of all the unimportant things, you probably have more space. If not, you need to get rid of more stuff. Empty space is crucial because it creates a breathing space for your brain. When you’re tired or demotivated your brain has space to relax. But now that space is not stuffed with more tiring things, it’s relaxing. Check out Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin: https://amzn.to/2C0uGex. You’ll suddenly feel more creative and decompressed.3 Clean everythingYou just got rid of all the things that distracted you and created breathing space. The last step is to simply clean it up. Wipe your desk. Vacuum the floor. Clean your window. Now that you have all that empty space, even one breadcrumb will be incredibly annoying. Keeping your space clean is one of the simplest yet most important work-related habits.4 Equip the space with a few very useful and non-distractive toolsThis part is maybe not for you, as you might already have all those things, but if not, then here are some of the things I couldn’t live without:

  1. A bin. It’ll make cleaning and throwing stuff out way easier.
  2. A paper tray. If you’re a student, you’ll always have to deal with paper, no matter how much you like/dislike it. Having a simple, three-level paper tray will make less overwhelmed by it. Label the top level To-do, the middle one doing, and the lowest one done.

5 Add something that motivates youI know, I know. Every single boring corporate office is full of shitty motivational posters. I’m not trying to convince you to them. But maybe there’s a piece of art, a math equation or something else that simply motivates you. Don’t over-stuff your room with too many inspirational paintings by Picasso because at that point they’ll become distractive. Keep it simple yet powerful.

You’ll immediately see the benefits of a non-distractive, symbiotic study environment. While it’s only the first step achieving total focus or Deep Work, it’s already relieving.

If you want to focus, revise your surroundings.

Stuck? Move.

Are you stuck?
By stuck, I mean not able to grow.
If yes, then below you may find an answer.

It happens to all of us. Everyone gets stuck sometimes. Of course, that can happen in many ways, for example:

  • You’re working on a very important project, and you can’t move forward either because of your tiredness, lack of motivation or the thoughtlessness of others.
  • You feel somewhat dissatisfied with your life.
  • You’re at odds with another person.
  • You’re often uncertain about the decisions you make.
  • You have significant amounts of physical or mental burnout (or both).
  • You find it very hard to do demanding tasks.
  • You feel stuck in your physical environment

One very important note: you’re only stuck when you want to overcome the things above, but can’t. If you’re accepting them, then it’s much more complicated and requires a thorough change to your mindset.

Being stuck is incredibly frustrating, and often sucks out all the energy you have. Whenever we’re stuck, it means that the combination of our feelings, ideas, thoughts, and the outside world is just not working. Then the only option is to move. Because that combination is not working, you need to change at least one element of it. Many people react to being stuck by blaming other people, their current projects, the weather or something else mostly not dependent on their decisions. Blaming that on the outside doesn’t help, it only deepens the problem. The condition simply becomes more and more tense and may lead to chronic depression or a mental meltdown. The easiest (but often invisible) way is to move. Change your approach to the situation, your part of the combination.

Whenever I get stuck, I try to move. When I find it hard to focus in my room, I move the furniture around. When I feel stuck when doing a task, I try to do it in a different way or in a different environment. When I’m at odds with someone, I try to apologize first, and then change my approach, as it didn’t work the first time.

Moving doesn’t just make you unstuck, it also makes you grow. You try different approaches to different situations in life. Isn’t this a win-win process? The best thing about moving, in my opinion, is the fact that in 99% it depends only on you. You don’t have to wait for others and spend time convincing them to change.
Of course, in many situations, the other side (people, environment, or heck, even the weather) also has a fair share of making you stuck. Understanding that and not completely ignoring the other factors is also very important.

I wonder, how would the world look, if everyone moved when stuck… Wouldn’t we be less stressed, more open to new ideas and overall just better? I know that not acknowledging your own wrongdoings is a very prominent part of the human condition, but I truly believe we can start overcoming that.

If you’re stuck, move.

How To Clear Your Mind Before An Exam

The vast majority of all end-the-of-year school exams take place in April, May, and June. They’re very often accompanied by stress, uncertainty, and extrinsic pressure. Throughout your educational journey you probably already encountered a few and are going to face many more. That’s just how life is. Someday I’ll definitely share with you what I think are the biggest pros and cons of exams, and why I think most exams today are completely useless.

No matter how useless and stress-producing they are, 90% of them are mandatory. There’s no escape from hell. Of course, I don’t believe that exams are hellishly bad, just mostly bad, but when approached wisely by both the teacher and the student, they’re a powerful tool, but as I said, that’s a whole another topic for another time. Even though I haven’t written many exams in my life (blame Maria Montessori ;), I designed a simple process that’ll hopefully help you prepare well, reduce (or even completely kill) stress, clear your mind and just ace the exam. It has worked well for me but might not work for you.

Section 1: Plan ahead

1. Ask

Whenever you start a new class, join a foreign language club or dance class, ask the question: Will there be an end of the year exam? If the answer is yes, then you’re going to need to learn as much as possible about it. When? Where? How? What area/subject will it focus on? Being prepared is never a bad thing. Write down the date, location and any other specific info you need. Try writing down only the most important info, don’t go as deep as “The chair I’ll be sitting during the exam has the following dimensions…”. Yea, I know people who do that.

2. The textbook

Almost always there is an official, well-prepared textbook containing all the basic information that you might need on the exam. Of course, if there isn’t one, don’t stress out. Try learning at least all the topics that might be included on the exam, and look for the info in other sources.

3. Assign

Assign all the main topics to every month in the year. Have an overarching “theme” during the month. When you finish studying your current topic, revise last month’s one. Schedule at least 15 minutes every day just to think about that particular topic.

Section 2: Before the exam

1. Last two weeks

When the exam is approaching, schedule two weeks of work just for the exam. Of course, that time should depend on the importance and length of the exam. Clear all the distractions. Revise all the most important and difficult topics.

2. Recap

Try preparing your own “Most important info” list. There are a lot of already prepared recaps, but making your own will also help you focus on the most important and the most difficult. Ask your friend to do one herself/himself and then compare both. You might consider different topics and information as the most important.

3. Clean your mind

This is the actual mind cleaning part, and probably the most important of all. If you have done all the steps above and mindfully prepared for the exam, then you need a break before the exam takes place. Schedule two-three days before the date for your hobbies, time with family or friends, etc. Anything that you like and is not mindless (TV, social, lying on the couch) will do. Don’t shut off your brain completely, just let it flow. Go on a hike, to a museum, visit your grandparents. Relax.

I can tell you from my own experience that if you follow all of these steps, then you truly won’t be stressed out and you’ll just ace the exam. No matter how important or grandiose it’ll be.

If you want to just do it well, clean your mind.

Running Out Of Time? Delete Social Media

To be honest, I never really got into social media. I had accounts on most platforms, I had friends, followers, and all that stuff. I even posted quite regularly. But it never became a part of my personality, I wasn’t living the “insta-life” or regularly engaged in Twitter discussions. But I still spent a lot of time there, around one hour and a half daily. That might not seem much compared to more heavily addicted people, but for me, it was already too much. The worst part was that I wasn’t actively participating in any discussions that could have had any value, I was just passively consuming mostly shitty content. By shitty, I mean not bringing any value to my life. This was destroying slowly my ability to focus, spend time without the need to pick up my phone and most importantly of all be present wherever I went.

If this story seems familiar, if you struggle with having not enough time in the day to do all the stuff you need and want to be generally less anxious, distracted and more present, the answer is simple: Delete all social media. I know, this seems very drastic. But please, let me convince you to this idea by telling you the story of my change.

I started noticing my social media problem around November last year when I was in the midst of optimizing the way I work and rethinking most of my work-related habits. First, I decided to simply trackeverything I did — be it school, personal, errands, food, even sleeping. I wanted to know where do all those twenty-four hours disappear. Later, I changed many of my work habits by implementing a wide range of tools and techniques, but that’s a story for another time. Still, I spent around 1h 30m to 2h daily on my smartphone — mostly on social media.

At first, I went the softer way — deleted all the apps from my phone. True, I spent a lot less time, but it still was around 45 minutes, and all of that happened on my laptop, mostly during times when I was supposed to work. Previously, even though I spent more time, it was mostly on the bus, where I can’t work productively, so I felt less guilty about it.

I still was addicted, but just limited my supply of what was addictive. That made me even more frustrated as it seemed a missed goal. Then, I stumbled upon Digital Minimalism— a book by professor Cal Newport about deleting social media. At first, I wasn’t convinced as I hold the belief that social was a great way to connect with my friends and the people I care about. In the book, Newport describes the idea of the 30-day social media detox, something that is becoming more and more popular. It’s simple: you get rid of social for 30 days, and then you decide to come back or not. Because I had really no other idea on how to solve my problem, I decided to do it.

Here’s what I did with every platform I had an account on and checked at least once per week:

  1. Facebook — I deactivated my account — not completely deleting, but simply turning it off. It made my profile disappear from most places on Facebook — and of course, turned off all the notifications.
  2. Instagram — My account serves the purpose of my portfolio — I’m an artist. I simply unfollowed everyone.
  3. Twitter — Same thing as with Instagram, but I also deleted all my tweets that are not photos.
  4. Reddit — unsubscribed from all subreddits.

I also changed passwords to every account, printed them on a single piece of paper and hid them somewhere in my cupboard.

The first few days were very weird — my subconsciousness expected that dose of excitement accompanying checking my phone. But after a week I just forgot about it, and that was very liberating. And yes, I had more time. Even though my days still were composed of twenty-four hours, I managed to read a book for 25 minutes, exercise for another 25 and meditate for the last 25. I have not looked back at social media ever since.

I like comparing social media to a shadow — it has the overall shape of human interactions, but it’s two-dimensional, texture-less and empty. Social media feels a little bit like real life — you can say things out loud, meet new people, participate in groups, comment on others. But it is not exactly like real life — what you see is selected by a machine, how you react is just limited to six emotions or less (at least on facebook), and those emotions are conveyed by simple icons. If you struggle with social media, ask yourself this question: Do I really want to live in a world that is an imperfect copy of the real one? I believe that all sane people will answer no.

If you want your life to be sane, delete social media.