at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Tag: better lives

The Chance of a Better Normality

There is a complementary opposite to how the really hard thing to do is changing what’s normal (for you, in your life), a logical conclusion that follows from the challenge of (creating) a better-normal life: the useful normality of a better life.

That is, where it is the hardest to change things for the better in normal life, making a normal life one’s better life may well not be all that hard.

What it takes are two things, the mindset and the doing.

Try and Think this Way…

There are very popular ideas focusing on the mental side of creating a better life.
Only too many of them are nothing but “mental” in the worst sense of the word.

Only because you want something, it will not happen.
No matter how much you desire it, no matter how often you write down what you want each and every day, it will not come.
Neither your attitude nor your best of intentions will change things auto-magically.

Mindset still matters, though.

It will help to see the problems that are holding you back not as insurmountable obstacles and shackles that will never let you live better, but as challenges to overcome and grow by.

See that as a part of design thinking, consider it a gameful attitude, work on it as part of a growth mindset – think of it however you want to think of it.

Not in the sense that it doesn’t matter, but in the sense of choosing what works for you, from those things that have been shown to actually work.

Or choose something to try out, at least; it’s all just different labels for a similar approach focused on the potential to learn and grow rather than remain mired in the thought that there’s nothing you could do, after all.

…and, Walk This Way

Then, however, there’s also how you’ll have to do something – and as the proof is in the pudding, so the change is in the doing.

When it’s all about the challenge of changing a current normality to the normality of a better life, however, maybe things are not all that difficult.
After all, then, you don’t have to change everything immediately and to great extent.

The first thing you have to do, more simply, is to accept your mission, take on the challenge, take small steps in the direction in which you want to go.

Better-normal challenges:

  • Clean up, get organized, seek ways to stay organized.
  • Eat “clean,” staying away from ready-made “foods” (not to mention serious junk foods) and going for whole ingredients and/in self-cooked meals.
  • Move more, walking and taking the stairs whenever you can avoid the car and the escalator/elevator.

These are just the kinds of things that are such small steps that they are hard to do, for they sound too easy and too small for the grand results we’d like to have, and have at once. But, they are also the practices that have good long-term effects.

Tricking Your Normal

These things may just be hard enough to do that we commonly fail, just as we do when we make a new year’s resolution to, well, be more organized, eat more healthily (let alone, lose weight), or visit the gym regularly.

So, it may still take some tricks.

And again, it’s a matter of normality and of what works for you:

Small Steps…

You may be the person for whom a small change, a nudge, works best.

Get a FitBit or similar step counter (or Google Fit on your smartphone, if you carry that around enough) and play with hitting a “good” count.

Figure out where you can put what so the things you always use have their place and get put there.
Slowly get into the habit of seeing where what should go, taking it from there before you go out and putting it back there as part of the routine of returning home.

Start taking the time and trying out things, from the produce aisle, in the kitchen.

… Or A Leap

Or maybe you need a more radical step.

Go cold turkey on the junk food you love too much, keep it out of the house, and have better alternatives you also like at the ready.

Follow a clean-up program and throw out everything you haven’t been using for too long, then figure out the proper places for the rest.

Probably, you’re still thinking that this is just too little – and too hard – to have a great effect , but it’s not about an immediate great effect, it’s about making the normal better.

Better Normal, Not Harder You

In being about making the normal better, it’s not about being harder on yourself.

Somehow, we so love to be hard on ourselves, thinking that this is what it takes (just look at CrossFit or at the way UnderArmour advertises itself, even if as part of a focus on the practice it does take indeed).

Yet, it hardly ever works out. Instead, why not focus on taking our needs and our limits more seriously, with empathy – and including with empathy for the steps we may have to take to trick ourselves into a better normal.

Also, don’t try to change everything because you hate your life, your looks, whatever.

Try to just move towards the life, and the self, you think you’ll love – not because it is the great dream presented by others (and above all, by marketing that just wants you to hate yourself and buy stuff to make up for it).

Rather, because you can see it’s good: a sense of control over your life, because you handle its basics well-enough, experiences (and experiments) that are nice and interesting and help you get to new places, be that in running or in trying out new foods, in travel or in the armchair.

Living the Forever that Could End Any Moment

How do you make yourself at home in a world that seems, if only you watch the news, bent on your destruction?

Start to think about life and death, and – even in a year that was, statistically, the best for the greatest number of people – it is death that has the upper hand. It is death that is normal and everywhere, caring little what we do.

Life is a fickle thing.

Read More

Performing Magic, Bought in Products?

For all the complaints about our dull lives, we still find a lot of magic – in the marketing of products. What about active living and exploratory lifestyles, though?

snappy-dresserAs I stand here, in blazer and pants made of a softshell material, promising comfort and a cool look, performance and a certain classiness, writing on a shiny notebook delivering great performance in a thin chassis, I am only too well aware that this is something of a performance.

Even if it is just for myself, it is an attempt at projecting a certain image and taking on its attributes. It’s close to notions of sympathetic magic, only that it’s not a voodoo doll being poked, it’s me myself being dressed up for work.

Read More


The Adventure Race of Reality

Tough Mudder, The Spartan, and so many more – adventure/obstacle course races have been gaining in popularity and become a great market.

Even trail and ultra running often seem not to be enough by and of themselves any longer. No, it must be done everywhere, jetting around the world to experience more exciting places, participate in better-known races – and producing the  side-effects of the everyday ruinous lifestyle.

At the start in Umag

Start of the 100 Miles of Istria – which was at least somewhat local and of reduced impact…

Running alone has apparently become boring, and it goes the way of so many activities in recent times: towards ever greater action and ever more adrenaline.

People keep falling for such highly-regarded races. Such great challenges, so many world-class runners, all the fun obstacles, the stamina it takes to finish – the very real stupidity behind them is quickly overlooked in all the quick excitement.

“Civilized life has altogether grown too tame, and, if it is to be stable, it must provide harmless outlets for the impulses which our remote ancestors satisfied in hunting.” Bertrand Russell

Of course, it is mean to say so. Why not let people have fun the way they want to?
But that constant permissiveness is part and parcel of the attitude we increasingly follow, the attitude that we’ll just do whatever we can, because we can, ever-faster chasing after ever-more of the same, ever-more-exciting and ever-more-promising but ultimately dissatisfying experiences.
Because they are dissatisfying, we just try to increase the dose, like rats in the cage, pushing the lever that gives them stimulation, faster and faster, more and more.

Even as we can hear more and more on how happiness is in the mind, how our attitudes supposedly determine everything, how we just need to stay positive to “attract” whatever we want in our lives, we don’t work on the only thing that can really give happiness: a better handle on our lives in this world, understanding how things are, living well and truly, with engagement and the excitement – and calm – it brings.

No, we create more and mightier fake obstacles to pile excitement onto something that would give us  all we could want from it, if only we learned to experience it as it is.

Being in this world, moving through it with our bodies and observing it with our minds, seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, touching, comparing over time… – it all would give quite enough, if only we learned to be fully here and now rather than let ourselves get drawn into the constant whirring of the machinery that produces ever more fake excitement for senses that are ever-more dulled by this very same machinery.


Having a buzzard fake-attack you, running through ever changing landscapes… Adventure enough, if only it’s seen.

But, it’s a business, it makes money, it spins out great marketing, so it must be just as great as it says, right?

Are you ready for the ultimate challenge? The greatest adventure?

No, if you fall for the constant spin, you clearly are not. Because the ultimate adventure is life itself, purposefully lived and skillfully ‘performed’, without all the fakery.

If you want more excitement/adventure in your life, quit buying into the fake excitements, the virtual adventures, so that you make room again for the real adventure all around you!

The Off-Season of Life?

Cold outside, uncomfortable, few if any races on the schedule…. the running season is over, the discussion on runner’s websites seems to have switched to either how to stay fit during this time of holiday stress and festive overeating, or what to plan for next year.

The talk is of the off-season.

How, though, can there be an off-season to running when running is a part of life?

Read More

Micah True - Caballo Blanco

True Inspiration and Better Jobs

By now, if you are into ultramarathon running, you have heard that Micah True, a.k.a. Caballo Blanco, has died.
If you haven’t read Born to Run, aren’t into ultramarathons, couldn’t care less about a Mexican indigenous group for whom running for days is a normal way of having fun, you probably have no idea what any of this is about and why anyone would care.

Reactions have certainly been widely divergent, reflecting just that divergence of interest…

Some people heard of a 58-year-old guy dying while running in the Mexican wilderness, and suggested that having a beer on your couch will keep you from that fate.
Many people who comment have at least read a little of the background story, and conclude that True died well, doing what he loved – and finding inspiration, more importantly, in the truly authentic way he lived.

As much as I tend to dislike it when people are put on a pedestal, adulated as great examples, elevated to a status so far above the adoring crowd, all their equally-human faults are seen as their perfections, and so many of the adoring people seem to just conclude – same as the distractors – that they could never get to living so well, True’s is an example that is great to think about.

By conventional standards of success in business and/or family life, he was a failure. He seems to have been quite the  drifter, searching for something to throw himself into, a purpose to live, live for, and feel alive about – and it happened to be running and the Tarahumara (actually: Raramuri) way that found him.

Compare his example to that of the other, universally acclaimed great example, Steve Jobs: He also lived pretty much on his own terms, he came from a dysfunctional social background, and went to make Apple great… and so on. You’ve heard the story.

What strikes me is this: Jobs has been venerated, he was successful in some of the usual (business) terms, and I think he rather liked how and what he was doing with his life. You could also go and say that he changed business, gave people the i-things that made them happier, and all that.

Still, it was his way or no way. If the design and business sense hadn’t come together with the opportunity to make them count (and don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that it was all luck), they would just have been part of a headstrong character with a bad attitude who didn’t fit into the company (or even the business world at large).

We often celebrate companies and individuals once they’ve achieved undeniable success, but shun their disruptive thinking before reaching such a pinnacle. Before Oprah was Oprah, before Jobs was Jobs, they were labeled as misguided dreamers rather than future captains of industry.

Fast Company: The Dirty Little Secret of Overnight Success

Moreover, there was little concern for wider impacts. Not that intention and results have to fit – the best of intentions can lead to the worst of outcomes – but true greatness, in my “ecology of happiness”-concerned view, does not and must not come from creating new products everyone suddenly feels they need to have, and then to  constantly replace with their newest iteration. The better technologies we need are techniques of better living; the greatest inventions will not be products to buy, but ways of making a living creating a social and ecological benefit.

In that respect, Micah True’s “bad” example is much better. He just lived looking for something good to do with his life, a way to get by, the way so many of us do, now that the former shackles and certainties of clear-cut career and life paths have been giving way to more freedom as well as more uncertainty.

He, unlike a Steve Jobs, lived – and lived for and in a way – that the vast majority of people could follow and make the world better for themselves and others. No, not necessarily by going running all the time and moving to live with an indigenous group – but living on your own, and a community’s, and the world’s, terms. Not looking for happiness in fame and fortune, or a clear career and the amassing of stuff, but in doing something good that you love. Leading not by knowing better than all the others what they need, but by listening and learning, and leading your life well.

That, from all the little I’ve heard of Micah True, might be something he’d have approved of: Not remembering him reverentially, but living inspirationally yourself.

Lifestyle Designer, Writer, Inspirational Speaker… Can I Just Be a Live-r?

It’s a strange world I’ve been falling into: people who track their life in order to quantify their self, who try to design their ideal lifestyle – and live it, too –, people who aim to be location-independent… and it’s oftentimes the same usual suspects one encounters again and again.

Before long, it also tends to be the same approach one seems to find over and over: “manifests” of just how they want to dominate the world, and change lives for the better, a desire to speak at TED, e-books and courses, and ideas to drive web traffic and build a following.

Oftentimes, what’s presented is presented as something new and fantastic – and if only you buy the book, follow the course, you can be all new and fantastic, too!

I’ve seen it before, though.

Read More

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén