Why routines are better than habits

If you have a goal that requires some changes in your everyday behavior you will need to work with new routines. If you successfully stick with your new routines for long enough you will build new habits. By that point, routine actions have become a part of your personality. And here a critical distinction needs to be made between routines and habits.

As long as you work on building new routines, you are actively working to improve yourself. But once an action has become too easy to require any effort, it does no longer challenge you enough to change you. Habits are not actively improving your skills, routines, on the other hand, are a framework that can be used exactly for such purpose. 

Achievements through routines, but not habits. 

The point of this post is simple. Work on creating positive routines that, with time, turn into effortless habits. And then, keep on adding new ways of challenging yourself. It has to be a deliberate process of evaluating your routine. Look for the things that have become second nature to you. Be proud of yourself for that, but also look for the areas where you can level up even further. Which habits have become too easy for you? Could you increase your skills by making them more challenging or adding other activities to them?

Apply this process to your routines from time to time. Look at the two levels of your routines. The framework and the content. First, what does your general time-management framework look like? Are you efficient with your time? Do you have parts of your day where you apply a laser-like focus towards your goals? Have you made room for your creativity to unfold?

One level below that are the actions themselves. Where is your mind while you are executing your routines. Questions to ask yourself: Are your actions effective towards your goals? Are you mindful when you meditate? Are you concentrated when you study? What is the quality of your work? Are you distracted? Do you think about other things while you executing the routines? Or are you present with what you are doing? And do you enjoy and love what you are doing? 

If you have high goals and you know you have to improve to become the person that matches your ambitions, then working with routines in that way is essential. But even more so it is essential to enjoy the process. And how you do that is my core teaching.

To train the mind to be fully connected to the present moment at all times. This releases your superpowers.

If you want to learn this strategy to apply mindfulness towards your goals, go to the Coaching-page and contact me through the message box on the right.

Revealing The Beauty Of Every Moment

When we are talking about enlightenment as a way to become free, we really mean freedom from suffering. Self-Created suffering that blocks our view form the beauty that lies underneath every moment of our experience. In this article, we are going to explore five ways in which we suffer and the role of our immediate reactions and habitual judgements. 

Is every moment inherently beautiful?

1. Attachments to good and bad

The first thing that makes us suffer are our attachments. Our attachments are forcing us to categorize our experience into good and bad. The good things we want to attract and Theo bad things we want to avoid. This constant struggle is a source of suffering. Why are attachments leading to suffering? As everything in existence is impermanent, being attached to any certain way of existing, will lead to suffering, because we will eventually lose that thing. Our loved ones, money, possessions and our life. Everything is impermanent.

To resolve this source of suffering we can take a couple of steps. First is the recognition that fundamentally there is no good or bad. These are human categories in which we put our experience. The things don’t have these attributes in and of themselves. Like understanding your mother language, this is an automatic process which is very difficult to transcend. Try not understanding your mother tongue and you will see how hard it is to get past habitual, automatic interpretation. Something very similar happens with every experience.

After this realization the practice of mindfulness can follow. With many hours of training, we can stay absolutely present. This is done by constantly reminding ourselves to step outside of our judgmental mindset and into the observer mode. At one point the directing of our attention towards some aspects of our experience will be replaced with an open and restful presence. Our actions will flow unrestricted and we naturally respond to the events in our life without feelings of inadequacy.

The third step in this process is the acceptance of existing as a human being. Existing as the form that we are we have specific characteristics. One of which is this habitual judgmental categorization. Becoming aware of it is the most important step. It is not necessary to completely stop doing it. Operating in the world requires that we make decisions and judge our experience. All we have to do is to make it a conscious process.

2. Survival based judgements and actions

The second source of suffering is our habit of evaluating our experience in terms of our survival. We judge situations by their meaning for mental and physical survival. This pulls us out of being and into a stressful state with the need to survive. What has to survive? The illusion of being a separate entity, of being a human. This illusion can only survive as a mental idea. The idea of being a human with a certain life-time exists only as a mental concept. It there has to be maintained with constant effort. But we deny it and instead think we are real. It is hard to grasp how deep this lie runs in our psyche. But to keep us from detecting this lie, our mind needs to employ a strategy to keep us from discovering the deeper truths of our being.

Here consciousness is again the solution to the problem. Making those processes conscious and revealing our tendencies to act on survival based thinking is the first step towards freedom. With the realization of our survival activities we open up to the possibility of experiencing the transcended state of pure being.

3. Existence in time

When we go through our daily life, we usually do so in a highly rational state. We observe only very little in our actual experience and filter for what is relevant for our future. We make these judgements based on our past experience. This is troublesome because we are pulled into the emotional energy of our stories. Instead of resting in the always peaceful energy of the present moment, we are living out a story that seems to spread out in time. But this time is illusory and we are therefore living in a mental construction of our mind. More so than living in what is actually true and real in the present moment. The result is distorted view of reality. We mistake our own personal story for reality because that is where 99% of attention goes. Rarely do we experience moments of clarity, where all of our personal story drops away.

Again, consciousness and the development of our mindfulness muscle is the simplest solution. An object or reminder can be of great help for beginners. Either set a timer on your phone which reminds you with a certain interval that you want to be mindful. The trick is not to overlook or overhear the reminder because it has become a habit. At the beginning you have to work on really becoming mindful every time you hear the sound or see the cue.

As an alternative, I like to make an object part of my regular experience, which I then associate with the goal of staying aware in the present moment. An armband for example. In the first few days of wearing the armband you have to instill the habit of making the connection between the armband and mindfulness. You can even use it during your regular meditation practice as you object of awareness. Feel the armband on your skin and let the sensation be your constant reminder and anchor for mindfulness in the present moment.

4. Comparing yourself to others

We only observe the facade that others present to us. We never know what truly goes on inside them. I often find myself thinking that I am pretty good at judging others by their facial and bodily reactions. But I also think that I am equally good at hiding my true emotions from others. So which is more accurate? And can I really trust my judgments? If I am honest I would have to answer no.

But we always compare ourselves and our own life to our idea of the life of others. If we judge our life or current experience as inferior compared to that of others, we create those feelings purely based on our own mental construction.

Doing this gives us a certain kind of security. But it comes at the price of feeling inferior and this is only exaggerated by social media today. When most people only display their greatest moments on their Instagram feed, we compare our own lives to the greatest moments of others.

Conscious awareness is curative. Observing the mental constructs you create around the lives of others helps you to discern facts from illusions. The hard truth to accept here is that you will never know the internal experience of others. Personal experience will always stay personal and we cannot share this realm of experience other than what we can share through language and images.

Accepting the fact that there is only you in your experience has a liberating effect and may free you of the grip of mental constructs. I have found that experiencing them as a part of my reality but not giving them more weight than necessary had a positive impact on my well-being.

5. The illusion of happiness as a future state

We believe in the illusion that happiness has certain prerequisits that we need to fulfill before we can be truly happy. The exact opposite is the truth. But we will get there.

For example, we may have unconsciously created the idea of money being a requirement for happiness in our mind. Over the years we have unconsciously adopted this as fact, maybe from society or even our family. Therefore we subconsciously created a barrier in our mental space, that does not allow us to be fully happy before we have not reached our financial goals. But this is purely a mental construction as well.

This delayed gratification has a danger. We are building the habit of always needing some future goal (in this case money) to be happy. We may live a lifetime in the illusion of happiness just being right around the corner. Just that next goal seems to be needed to make us fulfilled. But as soon as we reach it, our habitual behavior to search for the next thing is much stronger than our capacity to enjoy our present experience. 

This is our default state. If we do not practice some sort of mindfulness or have had some luck in our upbrining, the tendency to always see our happiness in a future scenario is very strong. This default state is not to be mistaken with the best way to life. Working against it with a regular mindfulness practice is a wise move. The earlier you make it and the longer you practice it, the better the outcomes may be.

Is Your Spiritual Practice Worth The Effort?

What do you hope to gain from spiritual development? Is it a practice that will benefit you in any way? And is it worth the time you have to invest into it? To answer these questions, we have to become clear about two things. First, about the you (the ego) that you identify with and secondly what a benefit to that ego structure actually is on a fundamental level.

In other words, gaining clarity about what you are and how spiritual practice can benefit you, in the context of this new understanding. With a clear understanding about the ego and what can benefit is, are you able to create a solid basis of motivation for your spiritual practice.

Who is dreaming?

What you are

The idea of being a separate entity is something that developed over time in your early childhood. As you learned to separate one part of your experience from another, you gained the ability to survive. For basic survival it is necessary to make the distinction between you and other, so that you are able to distinguish between beneficial and harmful objects. We get so used to this helpful distinction that we no longer recognize that we even do it. Once we have become more or less conscious beings we have already many years of training in this way of perception under our belts. To perceive our true nature, the consciousness that contains all of experience, we have to overcome this automatic function of our nervous system. And that requires work. That realization brings us to the second point. When we see that the ego is fundamentally no more than an automatic response of the nervous system to distinguish between self and other, the question of a benefit for that distinction becomes even more interesting.

Your life in one goal

One way to look at what you are trying to achieve in all activities is to define it as the striving for benefits for yourself. But what is a benefit?

A benefit to a subject can be defined as circumstances that support its persistence and as something that helps to overcome obstacles to its survival. For biological systems this is obvious in our needs for food, water and staying physically intact.

Spiritual work though happens in the mental sphere. The ego is not limited to the physical level. Much of it's survival requires certain mental behavior. And here we come to the point where the question of receiving a benefit out of spiritual practice gets to the root of what spirituality is. When the goal of spiritual work is to overcome the separation between self and other and to eliminate the illusion of an individual ego, than we are exactly doing the opposite of what we defined above as a benefit.

Successful waking up eliminates that thing that could receive a benefit. Certainly the thing we identify with when we ask this question. Even though that thing always was an illusion to begin with. Which is the reason all of our effots to achieve lasting happiness for that illusory ego are predetermined to fail. Something that has no substance can't hold on to any lasting circumstances that would lead to happiness.

Trading the ego for the solution?

So why then engage in spiritual practice? Why spend all the time and effort on something that is of no benefit?

The solution that spiritual enlightenment promises to deliver is simple but uncommon and generally not easy to achieve. Enlightenment eliminates the illusion of being an autonomous and separated identity that has the need to mold it's experience to it's benefit. In enlightenment there is not a hint of resistance left over. No resistance to whatever is arising. No struggling, no effort. A natural flowing in and out of the emptiness that is the center of the universe.

The Realness In Reality

Have you ever asked yourself the question, why it is that you think about reality as real? In this article, I would like to take you on a journey towards realizing some insights into that matter for yourself.

To start our investigation we might begin with the one state that we would consider to be not real. Besides our waking awareness, the only other state that we all share and visit on a daily basis are our dreams. This you might call an experience that is not real. 

Real or unreal? In relation to what?

1. What dreams teach us about reality

Why is it that we say dreams are not real and is that even true?

In order to answer this question, we have to analyze it from two points of view. And by making that distinction we can learn what we mean by “real”.

In our direct momentary experience, dreams appear to us as very real. Inside the dream, we are usually not aware that we are dreaming while the story of the dream is unfolding. If we become aware of the fact that we are dreaming, an ordinary dream turns into a lucid dream. But in regular dreams, we only are able to label it as unreal after we have woken up and the content of the dream is put into a larger context. The context, in this case, is that the experience took place inside of our heads, while the body was asleep.

If you had your first insight by now, you might have noticed the first pattern here. What we call real always needs another context. Keep this in mind, as we will build on top of this understanding going forward.

From the point of view from inside the dream, on the other hand, the dream appears as real as everything else in life. This is important to notice. Because we have no “outside”-reference to our actual life. In other words, we might say, that we have never woken up from the dream called life. If that would be possible, it would put life into proper perspective. Just as waking up from a dream does with the content of the dream. Try to imagine right now, how radical of a shift that would be. How different would waking up from life feel? What could you wake up to? And is it possible to wake up while remaining “in life”, just as you do in a dream when you become lucid?

Think about these possibilities and you might arrive at some deep insights for yourself.

If dreams are not important to you, you might even think that you aren’t dreaming that often. But in fact, everyone has several dreams each night. How much attention we give them determines if we remember them or forget about them the moment we wake up. This might also give us a clue about how our current life might feel or matter in a larger context. If waking up from life is more radical of a shift than waking up from a dream than also the shift in context is something to think about. How different would you live if the context of life becomes much vaster than what it seems to form your current point of view? What would change? Would you gain some clarity and truly be living your dream life?

Did you have an insight into the state that you are in? You may have noticed that you never asked yourself these questions and that you have no reference outside of life. That is a very important first insight to have. It’s better to know that you don’t know than living in the illusion of never asking those questions in the first place.

If you deeply grasped the fact that you lack a larger perspective on life, then it can be a great motivation for spiritual work. And to invest time into answering these questions for yourself and gain direct knowledge of what your life is about.

2. Shared human experience

The second more important aspect of reality that makes it appear real is found in our human relationships. Since you remember, all of your experiences took place in a social context, whether you were with other people or alone. But mentally, you always put your experience into the frame of experiencing what it is like to be a human in a social environment.

I would like to ask you to try and grasp the fact, that you project onto other humans the idea that they share basically the same internal life as you do. You can only experience yourself as a human being through this very idea. This apparently self-evident fact is in truth a projection that is created by your mind.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it is possible to experience reality with a total lack of this idea. To see another person without the projection that they have their separate internal lives. This is only possible when our direct experience is seen for what it is. Normally we don’t experience reality like this. Just like you cannot stop your brain from understanding your native language. It just happens. And every time you see a human being, you automatically assume they possess internal experience. Even if you think that you don’t want to do it. Just like thinking the thought “I will try not to understand these words” won’t stop you from making sense of the words which you are reading right now… Do you begin to grasp how tricky this is?

We might, therefore, conclude that reality becomes real because we share a part of reality (external reality) between all humans. Even though we see it from slightly different angles, we have some overlap between what we consider objective reality. The discovery that shared experience with other humans is just a belief rather than a feature of external reality, will reveal a deeper truth to us. This information is something that needs to be contemplated until a genuine insight arises. It has to feel similar to the experience of looking at these words without also interpreting them at the same instant.

These are two important aspects that make reality real. But it’s important to notice that there are probably countless more details to reality that create the overall packages of realness. Contemplate the difference between dreams and waking life. And, secondly, the importance of other humans to your sense of reality. This will take you very far in your discovery of the true nature of reality.

Spiritual Intelligence

Ken Wilber, in his book "Integral Meditation", writes about the different human intelligences. Usually when we speak about intelligence we think that it is a certain character trait which is measurable. The well known intelligence quotient (IQ) is a result of a test that is designed to capture and measure a persons intelligence. At least since the discovery of EQ, emotional intelligence, do we know that intelligence is a wide field.

Thinking we understand the mechanism behind reality takes away wonder and awe.

The research today is pointing towards a very complex landscape when it comes to human intelligence. Even though it might not be the case that we possess multiple intelligences, which are completely independent of one another, we can point to different aspects of intelligence. These aspects might be developed to varying degrees in one individual.

One of these lines of intelligence is our spiritual understanding. Our spiritual intelligence is a measure of how we understand our relation to existence/the universe/god itself. If we have a direct experience of god, a so called awakening experience, we might interpret it in a number of different ways. The way we explain such an experience to us is our spiritual intelligence. Someone with a deep believe in christian mythology will interpret the same experience very differently from someone who has a background in buddhism. The problem with religion is that it has stopped it's evolution on the mythical level of spiritual understanding. This was the common understanding of people 2000 years ago.

A person at an integral stage of development on the other hand will arrive at a pantheistic understanding of the same enlightenment experience. His level of spiritual intelligence could be regarded as much higher than the person on the mystical stage.

The critical insight here is that we have to admit that we have no school in western societies that addresses our spiritual intelligence. Since religion has turned it's back on true spiritual practices that lead to waking up, many people have lost faith in it's efficacy or don't even know it's original purpose anymore. In general that leads to a population of people with very low spiritual intelligence. Most people in western societies have very little chance to ever discover the value of an effective spiritual practice. Some people discover eastern traditions, eventually leading to an awakening. But it is a difficult undertaking because these traditions developed from a very different cultural background.

To effectively develop ones spiritual intelligence requires serious effort, which is why very few people are willing to do it. There is no default mechanism build into society that would advance spiritual development, making it a very personal undertaking.

By the nature of the overall process of human development, and because the different intelligences are at least partly interlinked, our spiritual understanding of the cosmos advances slowly over time. It takes hundreds of years until the insights from physics trickle down into our common understanding. We can see how, one hundred years later, the insights from quantum mechanics, that nothing exists independently of anything else, has not made it into our common understanding. Our perceived reality is still such, that we experience ourselves as an independent entity.

"If you have not been shocked by quantum mechanics, it is impossible that you have understood it." - Niels Bohr

The Final Frontier

In mindfulness meditation we become aware of the concepts that build up our self-identity. What we have formerly identified with and have unconsciously seen as the subject, is slowly turned into an object in awareness.

The Zen-symbol for the oneness of existence.

We dis-identify with the tendencies of our psyche. Through that process we gain freedom from our worldviews, that shape our behavior and determine how we feel about the world. Just by holding these concepts in our awareness, we become clear of their underlying mechanisms and see through the ego-identification that is there.

In that process we come to a point where we have separated from all mental phenomena and recognize them as not-self. This is also called the neti-neti method. Finally we come to a state where we seemingly have nothing to let go of anymore. At that point we continue to ask the question: what remains?

The last identification that remains is that of the Do-er. We think we are directing our attention. We think that we are the source of our thoughts. That we produce our actions.

This is the final frontier which needs to be investigated.
Finally we might discover, that this deepest of all identifications is also illusory.


Time is so essential to our existence, we usually overlook it.

Dogen watching the moon.
Here I will present an interesting viewpoint from Zen-Buddhism. Dogen writes about this in his book Shobogenzo. What follows is my interpretation of it.

Time can be seen as fundamental to reality. Everything can only appear as moments in time. Time is what we observe as the pattern with which the present moment changes.

If everything exist, it exist as moments in time. Infinite possibilities are unfolding as a seamless band of individual moments in conscious experiences. This band we call time.

Interestingly, time itself only exists as a concept. The only real thing about time is the everlasting moment. Time is never experienced outside of now. The concepts of past and future emerge as functions of our minds, always in the now.

Truth is only found now. There are all kinds of different experiences happening in the now. One day there will be enlightenment happening in the now, where the human concept of individuality is seen through and is replaced by more genuine understanding of being. On the other hand, there are many moments, in which the flow of events has no knowledge about it's own nature. This is the ordinary human experience.

Time after enlightenment. After enlightenment, time is seen for what it truly is. The change of events in the moment are still going to occur, but the awareness will always stay in the now. Concepts of future events are recognized as such. Plans can still be made and memories are still useful and nice. But the present moment will no longer appear as a tiny sliver of time, in between the seemingly infinite past and future. Instead it will be the eternal now that it actually is. Time being a property of what happens in it.

There is only being-time. All time occurs as moments of being. Nothing exists outside of it. Time both encapsulates all of existence and does not exist at the same time. This is one of the paradoxes of reality.

Win-Win-Win Decisions - From The Perspective of Spiral Dynamics

When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you. - Lao Tzu

We know Win-Win-Situations. When we make a business deal or we buy something, it usually is a Win-Win-Deal. We get what we want and the other party gets what it wants too.

We buy something because it is more efficient for us than if we would have made it ourselves. We benefit from efficient mass production. The company usually offers the product at a price where they make a profit too. A classical Win-Win-Situation.

Industry exhaust
The result of our highest wisdom?

From the theory of Spiral Dynamics we know that, in order to deal with future problems and to be successful in the long-run, we have to consider the third "Win". What is the third "Win"?

In the context of business, the third "Win" emerges when at least the whole industry benefits or better yet, the whole economy. But really, the third Win represents a higher level of consideration. It means we have to take into account a larger picture than the immediate people that are involved in the decision. In the long-term, in order to fulfill this third "Win", we will have to take into account the impact on the largest system we can think of. The ecosystem of the earth that supports our very existence.

No longer can we overlook the negative impacts of egotistical Win-Win decisions of the past. To enable the sustainable long-term success of a company, decision-makers will have to take into account the environment that they unquestionably depend on. If we want to develop a society and an economy that is able to support future generations, taking the biggest view possible is necessary.

Otherwise we will have to attribute our failure to survive to our unwillingness to embrace human-psychosocial development past the point of adolescence where we are still unconsciously living from a state of avoiding basic fears and work to compensate for our lack of safety. Which is, at it's core, caused by our false believe in a separated, illusory ego that needs to be defended at all cost to cover up it's inherent emptiness.

One must be deeply aware of the impermanence of the world.  
- Dogen

Essential Spiritual Practice: Zazen

According to the Shobogenzo, which is the best resource of Zen-Buddhism, the practice of Zazen is the only real practice that is required to achieve the realization of truth. While we are sitting in the clear awareness in an upright position, we are cultivating the qualities of the buddha-mind or no-mind. The practice is simple yet effective. You sit with your legs crossed or with your feet under your butt. In both of these positions the spine stays straight without muscular contraction. These positions become comfortable for extended periods of time after the first few weeks.

Zazen is the only essential spiritual practice.

Then the whole practice is to remain as awareness, which is aware of itself. You could accompany this being aware with the question: "What am I?". This question emphasizes the empty nature of awareness and denies our commonly held believe that we know who we are, when in fact our true self has none of the qualities we attribute to our self.

Sitting in Zazen is therefore an exercise of remaining aware of the nothingness that it is. Over time this will increase our capacity to stay in this clear state of mind and detachment naturally develops. A detachment from the false self which we identify with.

Even though this practice sounds simple, it has many nuances and should be evaluated and discussed regularly with a teacher to avoid the various traps of wrong practice. For example, it is easily possible to do ones daily practice in a state of day-dreaming, where one is almost entirely absorbed in thoughts about ones life. Which actually achieves the opposite of what Zazen practice is about.

To start the practice of Zazen it can be helpful to choose an object in ones experiences to focus on. This will train the ability to concentrate without interruption for extended periods of time. In my own practice I have found constant objects, like sensations to be best to develop this concentration. I start out every meditation practice with about 10 minutes of concentration on the sensation of my hands which lie on top of each other in my lap. This concentration requires effort and silences the mind. When I feel that my concentration has deepened and lengthened, I shift over to concentration on awareness without objects. Remaining aware as awareness of itself, as mentioned in the beginning.

I wish you much success with your own meditation practice. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments, or book a Consultation with me, if you want to discuss your progress in detail.

Create your own best life

This is a list of a few concepts and action-steps that I have found to be helpful for personal development. This list has developed in my journal over time and is likely to change and grow in the future. But at this point in time is is worthwhile to share. Enjoy, adjust and implement!

Becoming your own success story is hard.

First, an example for why we should engage in continuous improvement and personal development:

  • See yourself as the boss and the employee of your own life
    • and then consider yourself to currently be the worst of both: you tell yourself strictly what to do but you never do it, right?
    • how can you become a good boss and employee?
    • by designing a negotiation-process for continuous improvement for yourself
    • strive for continuous but step-by-step improvement
  • Develop a profound routine:
    • why? better to have a plan than to drift aimlessly through your life
    • work on improving your routine over time, test different styles and see what works for you
    • get up every day at the same time, even on weekends (more energy through solid circadian rhythm)
    • do one hour of meditation daily. Suggestion: 40min in the morning and 20-30min in the evening
    • pick the times when you work, when you exercise, when you study
    • remind yourself every evening before going to bed what you are thankful for that happened that day. Maybe start a journal.
    • set weekly goals of new things and challenges you want to do.
    • Set a certain amount of time that you dedicate towards caring for your relationships
  • Live your life as though you are already the version of yourself that you want to become
    • Visualize daily, where you want to go and which goals you want to achieve
    • Goals need to be kept alive. Ever wonder why you tend to forget about your motivation behind your goals? They die without constant reminders that keep you on track.
    • Acting the way you want to become is the only way to get there. Change is inevitable.
    • let your journey for personal development be guided by the best version of yourself
    • constantly remind yourself of how you would think and act if you would already be that person and then, slowly over time, you will develop those habits and skills.
  • In Buddhism they teach that you become free by letting go of your attachments
    • Giving up materialistic possessions and attachments is only one side though
    • Giving up attachments to who you currently are is the other side
    • That means having no attachments to your current state of being because a lack of freedom is largely a conceptual limitation
    • That is a tricky thing to do, because changing the self feels like letting parts of yourself die
  • Seek out your errors
    • Confront them in a way that does not crush you
    • ask people of their opinion and listen with a non-judgmental, open mind
  • When you feel fear, see it as an opportunity for growth
    • Fear is the imaginary border off your comfort-zone, behind which, growth-opportunities lie
    • Beyond that, the self imagines danger. Which feels very real, even though it usually is not