A Modern Disease: Self-Optimization

Last week, near Koenigssee, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria.

Last week, near Koenigssee, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria.

Its been quite a while since the last post.

This has two reasons:

1) I drastically cut down on my internet activities.

The internet is a great thing, but as you probably have noticed yourself, it has also a great potential for addiction and distraction from real life. You might negate that this is the case for you, but very like it is nonetheless. If you disagree, try to turn it off for only one week, NOW.

The good thing is, there is no need for quitting. But what I tried (and will continue to try) is just to shift focus even more from conversations, discussions and experiences in the virtual world back to conversations, discussions and experiences in the real world.

E.g. I joined some “offline” groups of like-minded people who keep me quite busy, plus drastically increased outdoor activity with friends and family, plus more reading (paper books!) as well as more sports.

Look at the picture above. All internet activity, all online conversation and facebook-crap can finally not keep up with a good hike and a sunset in the mountains (and – no picture of that – a classical Bavarian Weisswurst-Breakfast with beer at sunrise on the lodge next morning). At least not for me, so I will continue to prioritize offline over online. Even if that means fewer posts or lower investment income.

I might add more details later, all I can say now (no surprise): Highly recommended.

2) I am struggling how to write this very post and am not sure if the though is finished already.

I’ll try now, but am not sure if I can bring across the thought correctly yet. Lets see.

As said a few post before I came to a point in this blog where I found that more or less all has been said on a topic that occupied me for a long time (about two years):

Downshifting, Frugal Living and the laws of happiness.

I guess if you read all the posts here, you get the picture, you will be able to get control over your spending and your time usage and about setting the stage for more happiness.

But now comes the complicated thing:

At a certain point I noticed that all this “stage setting” for happiness was in fact driven by my wish to find an algorithm, a way of life to “force happiness”.
If I am brutally honest to myself (and what other way is there when you are working at the higher stages of Maslovs pyramid?) I have to realize that I was hoping to arrange life in a way that happiness will endure “forever”. In other words I made the same mistake that so many searchers for happiness made before, I thought there is a receipt for happiness, or in other words a “religion” one has to follow to be happy. Where indeed happiness is a complicated state of being that kicks in without planning but as a side effect of things done the right way.

In my case the “religion” was a mixture of downshifting (maximizing free time), frugal living (maximizing financial independence and minimizing need to work) plus social contacts, travelling, outdoor experience etc.

In other cases (allow me to say more “trivial” cases), the religion is consumption, accumulating wealth and status, career or – closer to Woodpeckers case – things like financial independence (for the ERE community).

And now comes the complicated thought that somehow struck me one day during my two months of sabbatical in summer:

All of the downshifting and frugal living exercises do obviously not bring happiness per se, and if done wrong, they can even create unhappiness.

Don’t get me wrong, I still highly recommend downshifting and frugality as ONE way to set a good stage for happiness, as a good fundament where happiness can prosper and unfold itself.

But only under one precondition:

Most of us people today, downshifters and others alike, we should relax  a bit on our self-optimization efforts.
Actually we not only have to relax a bit, but we have to relax a lot.

I am convinced that a huge, very huge opponent of becoming happy is today’s world’s focus on self-opimization and never-ending growth (be it personal or economic). The constant urge to get better, faster and more perfect in whatever area we are concentrating on. An urge to grow and to get richer without knowing the “what for?”.

The low hanging fruits suddenly have a bad reputation, staying in your comfort zone is considered something bad and boring today, and deciding not to grow or not to develop seems not really acceptable anymore.
Whereas not to grow and not to stretch might be an excellent choice from time to time.

And, if you are honest, the treadmill that most other people tread  in their jobs and lives (putting themselves under pressure to go ever higher and further); this very treadmill can exist as well for the frugal living and the downshifters (save even more money, spend even more effective, generate even more free time).

And this is the big danger:

Than in your (perfectly reasonable) desire for leaving the job-/work-treadmill, you are merely exchanging it against the “extreme frugal”- and “extreme downshifting”- treadmill.

That you forget about the middle-way.

You calculate and count too much, you are optimizing things too grim and create another system in your mind that is as stiff as the old one.

Coming back to the middle way means concentrating on the low hanging fruits (there are many), stay in your comfort zone (this is what all sane life forms wish to do), and more than all be careful to not put yourself under too much optimization stress.

Plus two things:

1) Avoid contact to people too much concentrated on this “optimization” (they are constantly unrelaxed and their urge for self-optimization is very epidemic).

2) Avoid contact to people with significantly higher socio-economic “status” (i.e. the rich guys, the “big” guys), because it is very hard to not start comparing to them is you see them too often and as a result of the comparison you will either (a) start to self optimize again, or (b) feel depressed.
Let them life in their money world and stay in your own world. At least in my case I noticed that both conversations and activities with the rich guys are quite boring anyway – too much focussed on money and political tactics.
And definitely put all your “why-Steve-Jobs-is-such-a-great-guy-and-how-you-can-become-him”-books in the bin immediately. They are all crap and this Steve Jobs guy never struck me happy or good company anyway.

Your world is already big enough (in a way likely much bigger than most big guy’s world) and can offer a perfectly happy life if you just accept being where and what you are.

That’s it for the moment.

Hope I was somehow able to bring across my thought.



What are you living for?


Inspired by the comment of Klaus on my last post, I started thinking about what really means stage 4 and 5 of Maslow’s pyramid of needs. This is not so easy as these stages obviously are much more complex and immaterial as the somehow “tangible” stages 1-3. This post from “Tao of Wealth” seems to be a good first step to me.


Originally posted on The Tao Of Wealth:

What am I living for


Fortune: Money is needed for many things in our lives. We should work for money and save it and spend in wisely. But making accumulating as much money as you can as the goal of your life is not right. Because money cannot make you happy or satisfied by itself. We need to be contented with what we get in life. We also need to give money in charity and to those who need it and for worthwhile causes. For when we die, will money come with us? How we use money in our lives is important, but never chase money as your goal.

Fame: Fame is empty. Fame is a vapour. It comes and it always goes. Do not go after it. In case it comes into your life, use it well to serve others and be humble. Do not become…

View original 2,537 more words

The next step.

All is flowing. From time to time you must venture on to new waters. (pic: Sailing, approaching north-west coast of Mallorca)

All is flowing. From time to time you must venture on to new waters. (pic: Approaching north-west coast of Mallorca by sailing boat)

It’s been a long time since the last post.

There were a couple of reasons for this which I think can be best summarized as “creative break” or “philosophical re-adjustment”.

Actually this had three aspects:

  1. Woodpecker & family were simply quite busy these months
    Social “capital” increasingly pay “dividend” in the form of various invitations, visits, social activities etc. Plus obviously the travel season started good and early this year and let to quite a list of trips, e.g. to Verona (see here),Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Freiburg in South-West Germany, a trip to relatives in Hamburg and finally, the last two weeks, I managed to integrate my passion – sailing – deeper into family life by doing a family sailing trip in Croatia. More on this in a separate post. All of this led to a phenomenon that – thanks to downshifting in the job – I seldom encountered before:

    Time got scarce!

  2. I decided to decrease virtual activity a bit
    This is on one side connected to scarce time and social activities.
    Plus while I like blogging and being in the internet, I am more and more convinced that we (as the western society) spend too much time in the virtual realms and too little in real life.
    I mean the internet is fantastic, one of the greatest inventions of modern times (right next to the dish washer), but more information is not always better.
    The internet is also dangerous in that it can distract us from living life itself. Distracting us into planning and planning, looking for non-binding contacts and social exchange, flipping from idea to idea without ever sticking to something real and enduring…you certainly know what I mean.
    And all the time, the real life is out there right in front of our doors and beyond the screen of our smartphones.

    When in doubt better turn off the computer and take a step out (Even if this means decreasing traffic to this blog! ;-) ).

  3. I had to do a few re-adjustments in my job
    In todays world which is centered all around work, progress, “sucess”, career and status, it is not always easy to go the middle way. It is easy to run in the rat-race and it is easy to just quit the job but if you want to go down the down-shifting road, i.e. work in a job, but in general concentrate on maxing out free time rathern than pushing career, then a lot of people around you will frequently get confused.

    Because not living 100% for your job is kind of a taboo today and considered almost a rebellious act by many of the rat-racers.

    The reason is clear: You do question their view of the world, and people don’t like that.
    So you have to do your moves carefully and spend some time every now and then to convince bosses and co-workers that you are committed to do a good job, but you simply want a different balance in your life.

    Companies are typically very normed social entities, thus the way to do this is to seek personal contact and build trust. On that basis it will be easier for others to accept you being different.

    Thats what I did, and I’ll go on another two months block of parental leave this summer, according to the plan to have a minimum of 50 free days (plus weekends of course) per year.

  4. The frugal living and thinking about money topic is sucked dry for Woodpecker
    We shall not forget that money still is only a tool. It is extremly important and thrilling to set the stage right by getting your financials in order, start to monitor and question your spendings, think about opportunity costs, efficient spending and the fact that happiness and money spending are consumption are little correlated, learn about adaptation effects and psychological traps when dealing with money and consumption, and understand the principles of successfull investing.

    But honestly, once this is done, it is time to move on to the next step.

    Because if you did your homework, your habits will sustainably change and you can savely put lots of the money related things decribed in this and other blogs to auto-pilot to a certain extend.So I could write 100 more posts about tiny savings and tiny optimizations, but I would start to repeat myself.

    Money is merely the tool.
    It is the hammer that drives the nail into the wall.

    But we should not admire the hammer, but the beautiful picture that you will put on that nail.And the picture is your life.

    If you keep on admiring the hammer, you are in no better position than the rat-racers or career-driven, no matter how frugal your life is.
    In that case you’d still worship the wrong god, the colden calf.

    Only from a different angle.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs (link)

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

So Woodpeckers journey (and with it this blog’s topics) will probably move forward to focus on the next stages on Maslows pyramid: Stage 4 (Esteem) and 5 (Self-Actualization).



To the next 70 great years for Europe!


The European Family – let’s stick together in crisis time instead of running for divorce!

European Readers:

As you know, Woodpecker is a great fan of the European idea.

I just came back from London today and have been to three other European countries already this year (Austria, Italy, Netherlands). And again and again I find it fantastic that finally we are living on a continent of peace, freedom, open borders, good relationship and even a common election throughout dozens of countries!

Whatever one might criticise of a European Union that – as all political and social constructs – is obviously not yet perfect and probably never will be, we always have to take into mind that freedom, peace and good relationships are not an automatically given thing – in fact it is a state quite new to this continent!

For 2.000 years or more, the people on this beautiful and unique patch of earth banged their heads, crossed swords, fired rifles and sent tanks at each other. And it is only 70 years ago that we finally overcame all of this crap and now live in one of the best places in this world in a harmony never seen before.

If you have not done yet, go and vote for the European parliament!

Let not pessimist, nationalists, populists and other narrow-minded people destroy what was built here!

Let not disappointed and angry people take the easy way and simply blame all the problems of this continent, its countries and economies on the EU as the new universal scape-goat.
Do not forget that many problems stem from other sources (demographics, greed, financial system imbalance, global competition, speculative bubbles to name a few) and that it is naive to think that weakening the EU would help in any way.

I firmly belief the opposite is true – we need Europe to have any weight in this world compared with the big chaps like China, Russia, the US etc.

Instead vote for something that might not be perfect yet but could very easily get replaced by something very nasty and much more unpleasant if we are not careful!

Woodpecker recommends:

Be optimistic! No one said it will be easy, but we will overcome current problems together.

Vote pro Europe! Vote against Nationalism!





Exchange Freedom for Money?

The lovely city of Freiburg im Breisgau. A worthy short trip from Munich two weeks ago, and only 30 EUR return by the new "Deutsche Bahn Bus".

The lovely city of Freiburg im Breisgau. A worthy short trip from Munich two weeks ago, and only 30 EUR return by the new “Deutsche Bahn Bus”.

Hi Guys, it’s been quite a time since the last post, but what can I say:

Spring hit Germany very early this year and with this is coming the wonderful season of outdoor activities, travels, short trips and general idling in the sun. And this is what Woodpecker & family are quite busy with these days.

Today I’d like to share a few more thoughts on the work world, a topic where you can never spend too much thinking on how to (down)optimize this unfortunate time-consuming necessity.

Because besides enjoying the sun I was somewhat busy with an issue at my workplace:

A potential move within my company

… a move to an even more bright spot from a monetary and “power” point of view, but of likely negative effect on freedom and work load.

The thing is that the new position would increase salary quite substantial (+12% or so and a better outlook for future growth) and it would come along with one of these stupidly important titles in the company and thus more “prestige” and “power”. But it would most likely mean that I’d have to sacrifice my holy days in home office, have much fewer relaxed coffee breaks with colleagues, work under a quite work-focused and demanding boss and have a slightly increased commuting time. And it would be a much more challenging job than today, meaning that any 80/20 effort scheme would not work anymore but quite likely frequent stressful times would be part of the package.

As often I seem to think in quite different ways about these things than most of my co-workers or other rat-racy people, most of whom would lick their fingers for this “opportunity to get ahead” or to gain that “warm feeling of power”.

But getting ahead where to? To having the most lengthy title on your business card at the end of the career?

And what warm glow of power? For some reason the fun of having power is a feeling that my cerebral system is missing entirely. I know all sorts of warm glow, but they come from having a good authentic and relaxed time with friends, see a foreign city, collect new impressions and experiences, wrestle with my kids on the sofa on a rainy evening, sailing through a thunderstorm at the edge of your abilities to steer a sailing vessel.

But getting warm feelings because you are able to command others?

Sorry, but this always struck me as quite pathetic and to be honest as a very pitiable way of having a good time.

So no, power drops out as a motivator for Woodpecker.

And same holds for prestige.
If people want to talk to me and spend time with me I enjoy this as every other human does. But the reason should be that this very people like me, find talking to me or spending time with me interesting, and not because they fear me or somehow are attracted by my potential prestige, title, money or whatever.

Good, that’s done then, so we are left with the last motivator:

More Money

Yes, the warm glow of more money pouring in is more understandable to me. Or, to be more precise, the warm glow of the things, experience and freedoms I can buy with this money. Because getting warm feelings from the money per se is as poor as the power thing. Money itself is only numbers in your bank account, not more. Nothing against enjoying these numbers, but if your life is reduced to feeling proud or happy more or less only about the size of this number, then you certainly life a failed life. And many, many people with money do exactly that. They are called Scrooge or niggard.
Not my goal obviously.But buying more freedom, working even less, yes, this are worthy goals.

So, slowly we come closer to the solution:

Sacrifice freedom for more money?

Hm, after the bullets above you might have figured out where this is leading.

Should I sacrifice a fairly large degree of freedom I have in order to earn more money which I primarily are planning to spent to buy myself more freedom?

Sounds like a stupid trade, doesn’t it?

And in my case, indeed it is.
Because +12% is nice but not a world of more money. This 12% can be tucked away for saving, yes, and earn interest, yes, but it is not likely to make a tremendous change in Woodpeckers wealth position, while the costs of freedom outlined above are substantial plus they are difficult to predict. Could be that in the end the new position is less stressful than anticipated, but could also be (and my inofficial research indicates this) that the potential new boss would give me a really hard-working time (something that is priority one to be avoided! ;) )for a mere 12% more of solatium.

So chances are that I will decide to not go for this position and leave it to someone else eager for career.
And probably I will just wait until fate washes a better chance to my shores – more money without giving up freedom… ;)

All my life experience so far shows that typically all sorts of great chances simply appear sooner or later if you only wait and stay open and prepared. As a undestroyable optimist I do not see any reason why this should not be the case in future again.

OK, this was my special situation.

What is my general advise?

Obviously it is not to decline any opportunity that shows up, but the following:

  • Strip the benefit of the new opportunity from all valueless benefits, which are: Power, pride, prestige etc.
  • Remaining benefits are: More money, shorter hours to work, more freedom, a nice and relaxed boss (very important! maybe the most important of all), a nicer office, less stress, more satisfying work, shorter commuting, nicer colleagues, better lunch meals etc.
  • Check honestly for all disadvantages, which are basically the opposites of the items listed under the bullet above.
  • Do a lot of informal research to find out about all these “soft” factors. Use your informal network of co-workers that you hopefully have to find out the “truth” about the position in question.
  • Actively test readiness of the potential boss for your needs. E.g. I openly (but diplomatically) raised the home-office question and got a quite clear (negative) answer. Better for both sides to know before than later what they are up to.
  • Deduct for uncertainty. In case you can not get accurate information, assume a more negative scenario.
  • At the beginning of your career you will most likely be able to improve on many of the items above. So change a lot while you are young, eager and flexible.
  • The longer you are in a current position (especially if the boss is nice) the more difficult it will be to improve. You will already have a satisfying salary, you will have found your niches and made it comfortable, you will have a set of informal rules and tacit agreements with co-workers and bosses at hand that avoid stress and conflict. Thus later in the career, a step only makes sense if it offers a lot.
  • If in doubt, decline, stay open and prepared and wait. Your day will come.

And, most importantly if in doubt of sacrificing freedom:

  • Check for opportunity costs!

As with spending the question freedom vs. money boils down to the concept of opportunity cost, i.e. “what else could I do with the time / freedom I have to sacrifice for the job?”

It might be different if you have no family, less hobbies and inclination towards outdoor activities, but in the Woodpecker case the opportunity costs are simply huge.
I have just too many ideas how to spend my time outside of work in a very satisfying way, and the Woodpecker family not only needs a lot of vacations, days off, parental leaves etc to do so, but also a very relaxed working week to get household things done Monday to Friday evenings, such that the weekends are completely free from Friday early afternoon on.
Social life at Woodpecker’s is booming, the network of downshifting and outdoor focussed people is ever-growing and requests / ideas for frugal weekends and weekday evening activities are piling up higher than ever before! :)

So, sorry, dear employer, but no way that I am sitting in the office until 6 o’clock each day or on Fridays after 3!



ps. There was a second project related to the work place that I chased the last weeks but this post is too long already. More of this later.