Threshold through Life

We are so stuck up in our own world; we have no time to pay attention to anything else or anyone else. We live our lives on autopilot. We read some newsfeed on Facebook and look at some pictures on Instagram that we forget in the next five minutes. We become oblivious to everything but us. I recently realized that I was the same. I was self-centered without wanting to be. I thought I gave a damn about the world but I didn’t. That changed, when I travelled to Spain and Portugal.

I am not going to preach about how great it is to travel. That even if I try is not going to communicate the message until you experience it, but I am going to share my experience about the knowledge that I received and how that broadened my horizons on issues that I would have cared less before.

The moment I arrived in Portugal, I was faced with an ardent task of carrying my 45 lbs. suitcase up the hill to my apartment that I was renting; mind you I am a 95 lbs. girl. It was a 10 minute walk which felt like an hour.  That is when I realized that I am in a completely new country with a topography that I am not used to. I walked up that hill while stopping multiple times to catch a breath and when I finally reached, I saw a view that completely mesmerized me! I knew at that moment that I would not experience this anywhere else. While walking through the hilly streets of Porto, I experienced architecture that was completely different than the United States. It was more culturally driven with an attempt at modernization. The environment was cozy with people always smiling and drinking and always ready to help. Although the help stopped at the few Portuguese men who tried selling fake weed to me.  Porto was my threshold to the new world.

Next was Lisbon, which was marvelous, more because of the people and the hostel that I was living in. The whole city was celebrating their Independence Day at the time I was there and the excitement in the people was making me excited. The streets would be filled with music and food and people would be out on the streets drinking at 3 am. Also there were an abundant amount of tourists. The first person I talked to was from the hostel I was staying in; he was this guy who was sitting on a long dining table with a bunch of people from different countries laughing about something that I had no idea about. I made my way to the table with a drink I do not remember the name of but that tasted really good. I sat down in an attempt to meet new people and really awkwardly introduced myself. He sheepishly laughed at my attempt and then I got more comfortable and reintroduced myself. He was from New Zealand. I had never met someone from New Zealand before and this was exciting for me. We started talking and he told me that he was on a holiday just before his new job started and I told him that I was on a study abroad trip, studying architecture. It was a long, really fun conversation and weirdly it touched the subject of cricket. He knew the cricket teams I was talking about and that made me really happy since not many people I usually talk to know about it. Throughout the 4 days I stayed there, I met a lot more people from different countries and I found out so much about those people that I will remember for a long time coming.

Spain was the next stop and in particularly the city of Granada. It is a small city with the main attraction being the Alhambra. Everything seems to be surrounded by the majestic presence of the castle, if not literally then symbolically. The streets are filled with shops that are named the Alhambra. There are influences from the Mediterranean region through food, spices, and sometimes even clothes since the Alhambra was built by Mediterranean people. I had expected to be blown away by the architecture of the palace, but I was left disappointed. One of the main reasons was due to all the tourists being there taking pictures which also increased a lot of security blockages. I wanted to observe some peace and sketch in the once magnificent castle but was very restricted. Although I did end up drawing some spaces when the security wasn’t looking and the tourist weren’t bothering. Overall Granada wasn’t one of my favorite cities but it did give me a lot of knowledge on the history of Spain and the influence of the Mediterranean on it.

The last city that I visited on my one-month travel was the famous Olympic city, Barcelona. The first feeling that I felt when I reached the city was that it felt a lot like New York City, and unlike any other places I recently visited from Portugal or Spain. The streets were crowded, lots of people selling things. Public transportation was abundant and the buildings were a mix of contemporary and historic but the modern element was really prevalent. I stayed there for 21 days and most of those 21 days I was functioning as a college student. I would go the university from 9 am till 7 pm. When I would get some free time I would explore the city. The city in general is very open with a lot of history to it. The residents are welcoming to the tourist and there are a lot of places and events based on them. Two things that I would take away from the city was the beach, and my project that I designed. The former is one of the reasons people come to the city for and I can totally understand why. The beach is marvelous even if it is man made. The latter is dearer to my heart since it is my design. When I was functioning as a college student, I designed an archaeological museum in the Gothic district of Barcelona. It is supposed to showcase the Roman and the 18th century ruins that are underneath the site and through the amount of time I spent on the site and designing it, I fell in love with my project. I can envision the people visiting the museum and using the space outside. It, I think, is the best take away from Barcelona I can get, since even through imagination I have my own building there and whenever I visit again I am going to remember that.

Throughout the month, I spent so much time thinking about life, the priorities I have in it and what matters most to me. I was so confused whether architecture was the right major for me but this trip gave me a new direction to think of in terms of what I want to do and how I can do that. This was one of the best decisions I ever made.

-HS

The Power of Habit

Think about this: are the things you do each day habits or are you actively making decisions? Are you making specific choices or are you following cues?

Ever wonder why change is so difficult? Oftentimes it’s because our habits get in the way. Our brains are trying to be as efficient as possible. When we start to do the same things over and over again, these actions and/or behaviors become something we do subconsciously or without second-guessing. Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t differentiate between what’s a good habit and what’s a bad one. All things considered, habits help us feel safe. So how do we get over the bad in our efforts to change and furthermore, create new and improved habits?

We can start with these simple tips:

  1.     Acknowledge they exist.
  2.     Understand the cues.
  3.     It’s not just about breaking routines, but creating better ones.
  4.     Build momentum with small wins.
  5.     Don’t forget to reward yourself.
  6.     Take your time, it won’t happen in a day.

New York Times reporter and author, Charles Duhigg states that every habit functions essentially the same way. It begins with a cue: something that triggers a certain behavior, which leads to a certain routine. These triggers can be a place, an emotion, or even a time of day. Once you figure out what the cue is, you can start to break down the routine and ultimately the habit to create better and new ones. One example would be getting motivated to exercise in the morning. If you set your workout clothes near your alarm or right next to your bed the night before, it will be the first thing you see and prompt your brain that a certain action needs to occur. This cue: seeing and having your workout gear close by, will trigger the behavior: getting up and going to workout. That’s a simple way to improve your routine and be a little healthier in the process.

As you are making these improvements in your routine and creating new habits, don’t forget to reward yourself. Make small changes at first, so you’re not overwhelmed. If you love shopping, buy some new workout gear to motivate you. If you love sweets like me, reward yourself with some cake – just one piece though, we’re not trying to reverse your hard work. Your brain will release endorphins with the excitement you feel from getting a reward. Over time you won’t need to have the cake, because your brain will recognize this new habit and prompt the neurotransmitters that create a euphoric feeling after you exercise.

Last but not least, remember to be patient. The goal here is not just to eradicate your bad habits in one full swing (although that would be great), but also to understand the process. By acknowledging the cues in your life, you can understand the role they play on a daily basis. Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Habits aren’t random nor are they resolute.  As a matter of fact, many of our habits are formed from previous habits, whether good or bad. If we keep repeating the same things each day, these habits essentially form who we are, how we act, and everything we believe. It’s always good to keep your habits in check.

-AJ

Based on Charles Duhigg’s New York Times Bestseller, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.