2020-12-31 20:08 — By Erik van Eykelen

My Personal Habits for a Balanced Life


Over the years I have adopted habits that, combined with exciting work, make me feel energetic, upbeat, and excited about the "here and now" most of the days. In this post I like to share these habits.

One: cook together. My wife and I prepare dinner together, starting relatively early around 5:30 PM, seven days per week. We don't have a specific arrangement about who-does-what: we just notice it's past five, get into the kitchen, and whip out a meal in about 25 minutes (we've become really efficient over the years). On most days dinner consists of cooked and raw plants (zucchini/courgette, tomatoes, eggplant/aubergine, onions, carrots), meat, or tofu and milk-based meat substitutes.

Two: sit down to eat. We eat together two times per day (on weekdays) or three times per day (weekends) at a nicely set table, with plates, cutlery, napkins, and preferably no pots and pans in sight. We discuss the day ahead, or the day behind us, and we do our best to make this a no-phones event lasting about 25 minutes including dessert. This past year we've started to watch the evening news on an iPad during dessert to keep abreast of the Corona situation.

Three: alone time. We live with three people under one roof: my wife, our son, and me. We are lucky to have a fairly big house that provides ample space for "alone time" which we try to seize every day. I might be working on my laptop in one room, while my wife reads a book in the den, followed by watching a show on Netflix together later in the evening. We don't have to be together to feel together.

Four: surround yourself with trees. I find it rather important to live in a house surrounded by trees, or located close to a park or forest. It may sound like hand-wavy bullshit but I strongly believe that being close to trees has a profound impact on my well-being.

Five: instill and savor daily routines. With the exception of a handful of days per year, I read to my son before he goes to sleep each and every day. I've been doing this since he was a baby. Today, ten years later, my son and I still enjoy this part of the day. I usually read for 15 minutes which is often long enough to make David sleepy. After I kiss him goodnight he passes out in a matter of minutes. Another daily routine I enjoy is taking a brisk walk around lunch time.

Six: avoid long haul vacation flights. We hardly ever go on vacations that require flights, and never to destinations in e.g. Asia or South America. As a family we are probably missing out on tropical beaches, rainforests, and whatnot but we simply cannot fathom being cooped-up in a plane for 20+ hours twice to go to a holiday destination and back again. The travel stress would take two weeks to subside, as long as the vacation itself. Instead we visit countries in Europe, by car or plane. One exception was a three-week trip to the US in 2012. Luckily I don't have to fly for my business anymore which often brought me to the UK, US, and Costa Rica.

Seven: minimize family visits. We try to minimize the number of family visits which, for me at least, are a huge stressor. We visit most of the anniversaries of my wife's family, visit my parents every other week, and organize a christmas dinner (except this year). Sure, we love our family but it seems better for all parties to reduce the number of interactions to fewer than six or so "multi-hour" family events per year.

Eight: read (more) books. Several years ago I stopped fretting over my impulse wanting to read two or three books at the same time. I used to think it was an odd habit, so I used to force myself to finish each book before picking up the next one. Oddly enough, as soon as I stopped getting anxious about this, I actually started to read more because when book A starts to bore me I continue with book B, returning to book A the next day. Reading calms my mind, delivers insights, and pushes away thoughts that would otherwise occupy my mind.

Nine: reduce news intake. I used to be an avid consumer of news. I easily spent two hours or more per day watching TV news, reading a newspaper, and listening to the (car) radio. About ten years ago I stopped doing this, reducing it to 30-40 minutes per day. Nowadays I visit the homepage of the New York Times, then visit Axios to read several articles, take a quick glance at the local news, and hop over to Hacker News to treat myself on a daily doses of links to (and comments about) interesting new tools, people, startups, etc. Hacker News is also a goldmine for links to articles about biology, physics, maths, history, books, movies, and other stuff that interests me. Throughout the day I try to catch up with people I follow on Twitter which for the most part are part of the tech scene.

Ten: no cable subscriptions. We bought an Apple TV about twelve years ago and immediately fell in love with ad-free binge watching. We lived in the US for a few months in 2006 and signed up for a US iTunes account, which we continued to use in the Netherlands. It meant no more mindless channel surfing and waiting for ads to finish. Being able to carefully choose what to watch, when, from a huge content library versus having to endure the shit on (Dutch) broadcast channels proved to be a major improvement for our sanity.

Eleven: exercise. I walk between 30 and 40 km per week at a brisk pace, I also use a small desk bike, and work a couple of hours per day at a standing desk. All three activities combined provide enough excercise to close all three Apple Watch rings each day.

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