7 things I did to improve my life in the crisis year of 2020
This year is tough, no doubt about it. But if all you can do is complain — that is on you.
A crisis always is a chance.
To rethink. To change. To adapt. To sit back. To refocus. To learn.
My wife and I witnessed the upcoming corona-madness arriving in Europe while being in Japan, that was at the beginning of March. Upon returning home, the only crisis appeared to be in the media, not on the streets. The virus was still invisible to all of us.
One week after our return, my home country Austria went into a full lockdown. That was in mid-March.
After a summer that made way too many people forget about the reality, we stumbled back into a light-lockdown, which was immediately followed by a full version — just like in spring.
What can you do?
You did most probably the obvious one — meaning trying to stay healthy.
Social distancing, staying home more than usual, wearing masks, working from home, cancelling overseas vacations. Right?
One evening my wife and I sat with a glass of wine (or maybe two) and said: “So, what are we going to do now?”
We knew we could not change certain things.
It is always better to focus your energy on those things that you can influence.
You cannot change the fact it might be raining outside, but you can bring an umbrella.
So, instead of going out with friends, we simply did not want to spend our evenings and weekends in front of Netflix. That is not matching our standard.
We came up with many things, some which we shared to stay sane and together, others which we did individually.
Here are the 7 most important things we did during this crisis to learn and improve!
#1 Reading more books
Self-education is always a good idea. Reading books is probably one of the cheapest forms of education.
Especially these days when you can buy a digital version and have it on your reader immediately.
We all somehow know it would be good to read a few more books. However, there is always something else in our fast-paced world. You may feel the same!
Naturally, that is only an excuse. I started to block time in my calendar — usually 3-hour blocks in the late afternoon. Just for reading.
I grab a tea, sometimes a glass wine if it is later and make myself comfortable. I will tell my wife that I am “mentally off and reading”, which means leave me alone.
Also, to not just read, I start to mark important passages in my read. Later, I would review them and place the notes where they belong.
That would mean, for example, adapting a model or framework I am using or researching a named person and so on.
There are so many great lessons at a very low price; it is insane.
Here are 5 books I have read this year which I think are worthwhile to check out:
- “When — The scientific secrets of perfect timing” by Daniel H. Pink. This book was critical in developing my morning routine and re-think certain other things. It gives excellent insights that not only the “what” and “how” we are doing things is important, but also the when!
- “Tribe of Mentors” by Tim Ferris. I love his books. A collection of short advice from the greatest names in their disciplines on various subjects. Extremely interesting and countless things you can adapt for your own life!
- “Sell like crazy” by Sabri Suby. Eventually, a book that is naturally written, logical and understands to bring a well-known topic in a different presentation and explanation. A non-technical but rather reality approach to selling.
- “The one thing — The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results” by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. A book that technically should have never been written, because it is so logical yet eye-opening at the same time. It made me cut countless useless stuff in my life to be able to focus on the winning drivers.
- “Modernist Cuisine at home” by Nathan Myhrvold. A scientific approach to cooking by the former Microsoft CTO. It is the short version of the 5-book-collection “Modernist Cuisine”. Ground-breaking approach, and absolutely suitable for home chefs like us!
If you have read other great books — just drop me a line, always curious what else I could check out!
#2 Developed a working morning routine
In 2015, during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup run, I turned into a morning person.
Typically, I get up at 5 am during a workweek. It is the most peaceful time of the day for me. Nobody is bothering; it is just me and my coffee.
But I never really got anything done. I would read the news, articles, watch random videos on YouTube and… it was just too comfortable on the couch.
That should be your Sunday morning, but not every morning.
I was mad at myself. That is a lot of wasted time.
Just imagine what you can do in 2 hours — and then it would be not even 8 am, with most of the day still ahead of you!
So, I sat down. I looked at the problem. Then I found the issue.
I know what you are going to say, but no — getting up at 5 am is not even the smallest issue. That comes very easy and natural for me.
My issues were all the other things distracting me from getting productive when my energy was at its best.
So, I implemented a very simple framework. I call it my “Minimalist morning routine”.
It essentially looks like this:
· Get out of bed
· Drink some water, get a coffee!
· Get a shower, get dressed.
· Use 15 minutes to activate your brains.
That is all. 5 steps. You cannot get it any more simple than that. Unless you hate coffee. But then you have a different problem anyway.
I was doing a full pomodoro-cycle — meaning 100 minutes work, separated by 5-minute breaks. It keeps amazing me how much you can achieve when working laser-focused on one single topic.
You do not need yoga, meditation, journaling or all the other pseudo-stuff.
A simple framework that works for you is everything, and that is exactly what I did.
#3 Becoming a wine sommelier
You probably have one or the other passion in your life, right?
Same with us. For example, I just love coffee!
Last year we spent one week in Rome and doing a barista-course. It was a blast to learn what and how great tasting coffee is made, and Italy is definitely an excellent country to learn that!
Another passion we have is great wine. Fortunately, we have some very good wine regions around and close to Vienna. We know restaurants with great sommeliers. We also know a couple of wineries.
We were so interested that we decided to start our own sommelier education.
How is wine exactly made? What is the climate? What about the turf? What methods can be used? How can you say which wine has great potential, and which one better drink immediately?
Wine tastings can be spectacular, especially if you know how actually to do it yourself.
How to describe the colour, the smell, and the taste of a glass of wine in front of you.
We have successfully passed the basic course, the first advanced course with a focus on Austrian wines got half-way through stopped due to the lockdown and will probably not restart until next year.
Nevertheless, what can you do?
Well, drink and describe wines at home. We have one of us choosing a bottle and the other one has to do a blind tasting and description.
We keep taking vegetables, fruits and whatever we can find that smells to train our nose.
It is great fun, and you can see the progress.
We even bought a few sets of 2019 red wine from Bordeaux, which will be delivered starting in 2022 — just to sit back another ten years or so before it should be where we want the wine to be.
Hopefully, we will pick the course up soon, and there is always more to learn.
Did somebody say “sake”?
#4 Cooking on a new level
We love going to great restaurants. We also love to cook at home. Together.
What may seem to some hard to believe, this is us, and it works perfectly. It is great fun, too.
Many well-known chefs stayed home and did “Quarantine-Kitchen” episodes via Facebook or Instagram. This was our fast-track to bring our kitchen-game to a whole new level.
We always loved to cook, and by now we really only go to the best of the best restaurants — not the average cheap-one where you cannot be sure where they source their ingredients.
We tapped into different types of cuisines — from Sushi (we did a great course on that one!) to Turkish, Middle Eastern or Italian. We looked into new techniques such as sous-vide, fermentation, spherification (Albert Adria, are you listening?) or smoking.
What is more important, we aim to buy the best ingredients and get step by step away from supermarkets.
Meat? We call our supplier who buy directly from farmers. Vegetables? Twice a week a box with ingredients which are in season straight from the fields.
This inevitably led also to a very different ratio in terms of vegetarian meals — I guess by now we are about 70–80% vegetarian. But if we eat meat or fish, it has to be of great quality not from a mass-industry chain where we know how much-poisoned crap is in there.
It is great fun to learn ingredients to know from a different perspective. Make a carrot the star with all of its flavours, or play with the endless possibilities of red beets.
I have no interest in being a hardcore vegan/vegetarian sorting my corns and berries (which they by the way also mostly source from questionable sources) according to sizes and colours, claiming it is so “yummy”.
We also challenge ourselves with a special dinner, where one names an ingredient and the other has to create an entire dinner with dishes based on that chosen ingredients. This really makes you research.
Examples: So far, we had dedicated challenges with asparagus, red beets, potatoes and rice.
Eventually, this will pay off health-wise — because what the industry and supermarkets are selling you is contaminated with so many bad things, it is insane.
Best of all… we have never been eating better at home!
#5 Started intermittent fasting
When my wife started doing this, I just let her go for it. But I never considered to join her.
At one point, I did not manage to fulfil one task, and so I had to join for one week.
I was sceptical, to say at least. I mean, what would you think to fast an entire day, or more precisely 36 hours?
There are many variations — from 16/8 hours to one or two days a week. There is no long-term research that says which way is “the best”.
Well, best for us has always worked 36 hours straight. Usually, we take Mondays and Wednesdays.
This means Sunday night after dinner, and we do not eat until Tuesday morning — which is roughly 36 hours.
I was surprised! So positively surprised that I kept doing it ever since, without much of a problem. Sure, some days are tough — and we usually skip if we are not well, borderlin-ish sick not to overburden your body.
First, it helps to stay in shape and cutting calory intake. Secondly, you learn to value meals and their size again. Before that, it is basically eating, eating, eating in the western world.
Breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner. That was not always the case, but our consumer-industry transformed our society.
Time to revert that. Mondays were usually tough because we tend to be out on weekends in restaurants and having a good life.
Technically I did not need to eat on Monday, really. But I did and never thought about it. Intermittent fasting makes you listen to your body again. You don’t need to eat that much — and certainly not that much per meal.
Things I have learned:
- If you can do it together, it is easier — nothing is worse if one is eating you smell food but are fasting.
- Listen to your body. Sometimes it is better to eat a little bit, but it is not necessary to give up an entire day of fasting.
- Make sure you choose an interval that fits your life!
- Do not binge-eat the first meal after breaking the fast. Make sure you stick to normal portions!
- Drink enough, especially on fasting days!
Sciences are generally in favour of fasting but lack long-term studies on the human impact.
But in the scientific article “Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease”, authors Rafael de Cabo and Mark P. Mattson summarize the advantages the following way:
„Evidence is accumulating that eating in a 6-hour period and fasting for 18 hours can trigger a metabolic switch from glucose-based to ketone-based energy, with increased stress resistance, increased longevity, and a decreased incidence of diseases, including cancer and obesity.“
I never thought this is something for me. Still, after cross-reading through scientific papers and studies, and ignoring any esoteric blogs, I really see how this can be a long-lasting advantage for my personal feeling and lifelong health-effects.
Did you ever try it?
#6 Learning a new language
I strongly believe, especially in Europe if you only speak English aside from your mother langue it is embarrassing.
I am — well, was embarrassing! My wife speaks about 8 languages. That is insane, but this is how you integrate into whatever country you are living in.
Since 2008 and today I must have been way over 50 times in Barcelona, my favourite city after Vienna. I still could only order a beer in Catalan.
I got a language course for Easter last year and intensified this during the pandemic and lockdowns. Apparently, I am now A2, whatever that means.
Last time I have seen a classroom from inside was probably March. Since then, we do weekly classes (including summer and winter breaks) online.
It is great, especially learning Catalan — which really is different from Spanish before you ask. It feels great to not only learn the language, but learning it by looking at the local traditions, their cuisine, famous people, history, and other things typical for Barcelona and Catalunya.
Naturally, my wife had to catch up — as I am writing this, she is sitting in our office-room and having her Mandarin-lessons online. She just started a few weeks ago but is entirely on fire about it.
In probably two years we want to go on a long trip to discover the Chinese culinary scene on the countryside. There is no chance to do that without speaking the local language. That is our goal.
Most likely, I will also take lessons next year, to at least get a glimpse of China when we are able to go there.
Do not listen to others, it is never too late to learn a new language.
But make sure you take on that you can actually use, otherwise it is a very theoretical approach.
#7 Boulder addiction
Thanks to my wife, I started to discover new sports for me. I learnt properly skiing — I even know now why and how to use my sticks!
I also started ski-touring (that is the one thing where you walk up the mountain with skis!) and in the summertime we are going for Via-Ferratas.
Question: What might be the problem if you live in Vienna?
Exactly, things like that are not always possible. A Via-Ferrate is closest one hour away from us — but after the third time it gets boring.
Then by accident, my wife discovered there is a boulder-centre about 5 minutes away from us. The biggest in Austria (a fact which I have never, ever verified!). It costs little to nothing.
Boom! Suddenly we can have a glimpse of a great activity also straight in the city’s centre!
It is incredible how your body transforms, your arms and your back especially.
Alright, I got to admit it does not work during the lockdown, as the boulder-centre is closed as well.
However, we bought this thing here for our flat:
It is better than nothing, and at least the lockdown should not take forever!
Yes, I get it! This pandemic sucks.
Get over it.
Because, here’s breaking news — the next crisis will come!
It is up to you to focus on things you can influence and change your life for the better.
There are many, many things.
Netflix & co are not wrong, who is not watching anyway? But if you know their entire catalogue by now you got a problem bigger than COVID-19.
And you miss out on many things that matter and which will improve your life.
You might as well start right now using the pandemic crisis (at least to the part it is possible), to your advantage!