The end of my detox month in Lisbon
Sharing 3 of my personal lessons learned
My trip to Lisbon is almost over. A month of new experiences, new culture, new foods and lots of sunshine. A long holiday that makes it hard to go back to Holland.
However, the biggest long term benefit will usually come after the trip. Travelling on your own results in — no surprise — being alone a lot. A new environment will force you to find your way again.
And that can be hard for a routine junkie like myself. I have a fixed workout schedule, do weekly groceries and all habits around journaling and doing my laundry.
But when you travel to a new city you need to figure it all out again. Restaurant or cooking at home? Going to a park or to the beach? Being alone or with others?
A new environment forces you to look with fresh eyes at your behaviours and daily choices and the why underlying those choices.
I want to share with you some lessons that I learned to be true. Things I already knew but maybe forgot or never truly internalised before. They are currently relevant to me and reveal what I am currently thinking about, but feel free to apply, share or question them yourself.
There we go.
Lesson 1: Direction over speed
I love Lisbon. It makes me feel relaxed like no place before. It is full of creatives and travellers, parks and nature, coffee places and vegan restaurants.
So, why should I not just stay here? Why would I go back to Rotterdam if I feel so good in this city instead? Is it fear? Is it discomfort? Is it a lack of stability?
Why? Why do I not dive into the deep, dive into the unknown? Why do I not add a little bit more #yolo to my life?
I honestly don’t know. But I do know this.
Life happens at the intersection between newness and stability, between chaos and order, between Ying and Yang. Balancing with one foot planted in the known and one foot in the new. The newness embodying adventure and risk.
If you would have two feet in the unknown, you would go completely crazy. Imagine quitting your corporate job to become a deep-sea diver, moving to another city, adopting 15 cats, investing all your money in crypto and dying your hair blue.
There is a limit to the level of newness we can handle at the same time. And for everyone that limit is different and for you personally to figure out.
On the other hand, too much of the same would make your life utterly boring. If every day is exactly like the day before, if you hold too tightly to the known — your life will become a rut.
The Buddhists are going even one step further. They state that holding too tight to the known in your life is actually the same as death — death while living.
They believe that our joyful adventure called life only starts when we are willing to let go of our desire for control. So having one foot in the known and one foot in the unknown. It is all about balance baby.
If the main aspects of your life are stable, you can allow some newness in your life. You can pick up a new hobby, start dating, move cities or change jobs.
But not at all once Jeroen. I had to learn that changes take time. I had to learn to be more compassionate with myself and learn the power of patience. Because despite what modern society is trying to tell us — we do not have to change everything within a single year.
Change is more about direction. It is about direction over speed.
Lesson 2: Don’t force connections. Look around instead.
You are a lucky man in Portugal. There is an absolute abundance of beautiful women. Every cafe is full of reading, coffee drinking or chatting women that would all fit as Vogue cover models.
Beauty might be present in abundance, real connections are something else. And real connections can not be forced, it needs to grow over time. But with whom?
It took me some time to figure this out. Allow me to share a little story.
In my first week here, I felt quite lonely. Travelling alone to a new city where I did not know anyone is difficult. But instead of sitting by myself at home, I would force myself to go out. Go out to Bairro Alto, the neighbourhood of Lisbon full of bars and dancing people.
The problem is, I do not drink and actually do not like clubbing. So despite being surrounded by hundreds of — drunk dancing — people, I still felt alone.
It changed when I realized how stupid this was and just started doing what I love. I went surfing, I went hiking, I could sit for hours at the waterside watching sailing boats, I would read and eat in lovely restaurants.
All I had to do next was to look around and say hi. Because around me were my people.
What followed were a few amazing weeks and lots of random chats with strangers, waiters and locals that share the same interests as me.
I learned that friendships are formed on your way to something else. So do what you love doing and then just look around.
This does not only apply to friendships alone, but to everything in life. I believe in doing what naturally excites you, instead of fixating on achieving some long term goals.
Do you know that standard question during job interviews: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” To this day I never knew my answer to this question. I would rather focus on what I love doing today.
And since I allow myself to just focus more and more on the things that excite me today — not worrying about the outcome — life brought me more joy, real connections and so-called ‘success’ than ever before.
Focus on the things you intrinsic love doing today, not in 5 years. You will notice that your opportunities and your people will naturally be there too.
Lesson 3: You are more likely to surf when you live close to the beach.
Research shows that we do not really have control over the choices we make. We just pick the default option.
If we have chips at home, we will eat them. If we hear music, we will start tapping our feet. If everyone around us is running in the morning, chances are we will start running in the morning as well.
The simplest way to habit change is to change your environment and the people you interact with. Stop going to the bar where you always seem to have the worst hangovers from. Stop hanging out with that colleague that only complains all the time.
Because behaviour follows environment. We simply adapt to where we are. You are more likely to surf when you live close to the beach.
So far nothing new, everyone that read Atomic Habits by James Clear knows the theory. But it leads to a more fundamental and interesting question: Who is the person I want to be?
Because I have the conviction that we can limit stress and anger if we can be whoever we desire to be. And live the life we want to live. We will feel more at peace, are kinder and more joyful as a result.
I love to be calm and artistic, to regularly be out in nature, go hiking, chase waterfalls, read, write, have deep conversations, learn new creative skills and eat healthy foods. To try new experiences and just wander around.
This can be achieved anywhere. It can be achieved in Holland, Portugal or somewhere else. But where is it the default option? Where is the easiest to find others that already live like this? Where is it the music that makes your feet tap automatically? Where is the environment designed to make it as easy as possible to live a life you do not need a vacation from?
For long I did not have the stability to even explore these questions as my possible next adventure.
But now I do — and slowly over time I am becoming more and more the person I love to be. I like the path I am on.
Without forcing it, because remember — it is all about direction over speed.