Say yes

Miscellaneous thoughts, Motivation, Philosophy

Say yes to that flash of inspiration.

I started this blog in a frenzy, not knowing what it would be.

Say yes to that thing you’re frightened of doing.

I was scared to share it with my friends and family, embarrassed of what people might think.

Say yes to trying out something new.

I didn’t know if I could write. 

Say yes to getting up early to crush that workout.

It never feels easy, but it is always worth it.

Say yes to that opportunity, whatever it is – even (especially) if you don’t know you can do it.

Someone asked if I could do an illustration for the cover of their book after finding me on Instagram. I said yes.

Say yes to the best possible version of you. 

Violent and original

Art, Creativity, Fitness, Motivation, Philosophy, productivity, writing

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Gustave Flaubert.

What this means for you and I:

  • Have a routine (go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day)
  • Forge habits that, when aggregated, make your life better over time
  • Look after yourself – good nutrition, adequate rest, strenuous physical exercise, access to a broad range of mentally stimulating inputs (films, books, podcasts, conversations etc)
  • Don’t make stupid financial decisions that will put strain on the rest of your life

In sum: get out of your own way. Don’t let chaos impede your ability to do the work you’re capable of. You owe it to yourself.

Getting back on the horse

Creativity, Motivation, Philosophy, productivity

You know the story. It’s all going brilliantly: the diet, the study schedule, the workouts, the commitment to practice learning a new language. Then something comes along and messes it all up.

Before you know it you’re in a downward spiral. You ate that donut, so the rest of the diet can go out the window. You missed a workout so you may as well wait until next week to start the new routine again.

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In my case, I missed a few days of writing and drawing over the weekend. I prioritised other things. It doesn’t feel good to know I’m never, ever going to get those hours back. But there’s nothing to do about it now other than to get going.

Think of a strongman dragging a lorry (or truck for any of my American readers). They push off, straining, every tendon taut. It’s hard at first, but they start making progress, inch by painful inch. As soon as they start to slow down, even slightly, it’s essentially impossible to get going again.

So keep the momentum up for as long as you can. When you mess up (which you will, and I will), leave as little time as possible before getting back to work. Don’t give yourself a chance to breathe. Don’t let the thing you’re hammering at stiffen and set – get right back to pounding at it until it’s red hot again.

Today, I got back on the horse. And that’s good enough for now.

Dead time

Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, Philosophy

I took the coach back home for the Christmas holidays yesterday. Portsmouth to Southport – 300 or so miles, with plenty of stop offs on the way. It takes longer, but it’s way cheaper than the train. My student budget accommodates it a lot more readily.

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I love people watching. In the dark of the M6, 8 hours in, bored faces all around me were illuminated by their phones. It seems whenever we have long journeys ahead of us, people absolutely love to moan about it, to feel frustrated, like they can’t wait to get to their destination (“12 hours on the coach? Wow, how awful.”). This is ‘dead time’ (I think Ryan Holiday coined that term, but I’m not sure… I definitely didn’t come up with it). Of course I was excited to see my family, but there’s no point wishing for the journey to be shorter. It’s a waste.

I refused to let it be dead time. I’ve written before about Victor Frankl, and Stoicism – the gap between stimulus and response, your freedom to choose how outside events circumstances impact you. So, I could choose to frame this 12 hour slog into something completely different. How did I want to spend your time? Obviously, I had some constraints in a confined space. But, applying constraints of some kind is an incredibly effective way to get creative. It’s actually the only way to stop planning, and start doing (letting go of perfection).

I took 5 minutes the night before I left to plan how I’d spend my time roughly:

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If you can’t see the photo for whatever reason, it’s a loose list. Here’s what I actually did:

  • Finish reading The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell)
  • Start The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  • Listen to Sam Harris/Joe Rogan podcast
  • Listen to Rich Roll/Ryan Holiday podcast
  • Draw (observation)
  • Write (review fitness goals for the new year)
  • Write – ideas for blog
  • Meditate (headspace)
  • Curate Spotify playlists – listen to music

That’s all stuff I’d like to do on an ideal day! The only thing missing is being active, busting out some pullups or sprinting up hills. Even then, being stuck in a seat unable to move makes me appreciate even simple things like getting up and walking way more.

And I had the opportunity to go down rabbit holes I never usually get the chance to in the hurly burly of life…

I went on a bit of a Joe Rogan binge, listening to an early episode with Joey Diaz and Doug Stanhope from about 8 years ago. Joe spoke about the massive impact of Opie and Athony’s radio show on him and his podcasting style. The conversational, freeform format was the absolute the antithesis of phonie, talking head shows in the US at the time. Doing shows like that became less of a chore for people, and something more akin to a meaningful conversation with a friend. It’s so interesting seeing him before his current, insane popularity, before podcasting blew up. The format is decidedly unchanged, but I also liked seeing how much more open minded and mature Joe’s become in the intervening years.

That was a whole chain of thought I wouldn’t have had if I’d just been listening to the podcast in the background like I usually do.

I think my recent consistency in a meditative practice has helped me see the opportunity for tranquillity and satisfaction in the seemingly mundane. Rather than getting frustrated at a delayed connecting coach in Victoria, annoyed at people barging in the queue and encroaching in my personal space, I was absolutely sanguine, content in observing the world around me. When the coach pulled into Southport, 12 hours after I got on it at the Hard interchange in Portsmouth, I jumped in a cab at the station. The cabbie was an old, dyed in the wool Labour type, with an incredibly rich Liverpool accent. He was fascinating, and I had this engaging, intense conversation with him. When I finally walked through the door and saw my family I was ecstatic. Spending the day moaning, unsatisfied, longing for it to be over would in no way have made the reunion more satisfying. Being present, engaged and doing the things I love seemed a much better use of my day.

Have a think about all the time in your life you’re allowing to slip through your fingers. Stuck in traffic? Doing your grocery shopping? If you added up the hours, I think you’d be horrified. I know I was.

So get out there and reclaim your dead time. It’s your call.


Notes/drawings:

Birds flying high

Creativity, Motivation, Philosophy

Thinking about your life in its entirety is overwhelming. It can be especially hard when you have a bad day – when you disappoint yourself, when you don’t live up to your expectations. To err is inherently human.

But telling yourself that doesn’t make it easier to stomach the feeling of upsetting someone you love, skipping a workout, or procrastinating on that long put-off project. It’s easy to enter a downward spiral from here, compounding poor decisions.

Don’t let the fuckups define you. I’ve found this saying immensely important over the last few years. It helps me deal with my frequent, inevitable shortcomings:

 

“To the wise man, each day is a new life.”

 

Every single day of your life, you have an opportunity to completely reinvent yourself. It doesn’t matter how you spent yesterday. That’s over, it’s done, it’s utterly unchangeable. But you can do the right thing today. A factory reset. Your victories don’t last forever. But neither do your failures.

This saying has become a mantra to me. I’ve realised how incredibly lucky we all are just to experience being at all.

I genuinely look forward to making a cup of coffee in the morning. Smelling the beans, boiling the kettle, listening to the sound of the water hitting the grounds, the smooth plunge of my cafetiere. And that’s before I’ve even taken a sip. Something that on the surface seems mundane has become one of my favourite rituals. And every day I get to experience it anew.

You’re not indelibly tied to your past failures. You can define who you are. So find the beauty in every day and make the right choices.

Nina’s got it right.


Notes:

I coupled this evening’s writing with a drawing. I’m not pleased with it – Nina’s someone I’ll definitely revisit.

Pride before a fall

Fitness, Motivation, Philosophy

My neck aches.

I lift weights on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and in between I do mobility work, runs, yoga, HIIT or otherwise. That’s what works for me.

At the end of my most recent yoga practice, I got the idea to try doing a headstand. My balance isn’t great, and I’ve never been able to do them. More importantly, I’ve never put any consistent practice into trying to do one either. But, I thought ‘I’m feeling pretty good, pretty flexible. Let’s do it.’

You may have deduced where this is going. Cockiness got the better of me. I came crashing down, landing hard on my neck at a funny angle. As I lay there on my mat collecting my thoughts, I felt ashamed and humiliated. Not because anyone had seen me fall, but because I knew I’d forgotten a critical lesson.

Seth Godin, in his excellent blog, wrote recently about trying to ‘win a yoga race’:

 

It makes no sense, of course.  

The question this prompts is: Are there places you feel like you’re falling behind where there’s actually no race?

Seth Godin

 

Do you remember that feeling of elation after receiving a good exam result, a promotion, or hitting a new bench press PR? That feeling is ephemeral. Living your life in expectation of these fleeting moments is a misguided waste. You’ll spend 99% of your time in the process, the grind, the journey.

This dull ache in my neck is a reminder:

A steady, incremental climb towards a worthy goal is infinitely more meaningful than short term gratification.


Notes:

I’d definitely recommend subscribing to Seth’s blog. He’s incredibly insightful. Most importantly, his advice and wisdom is actionable.

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Brain reps

Philosophy

Humans are unique. Between stimulus and response, there’s an opportunity to decide how we feel. For some, that idea sounds ridiculous. Someone slaps you in the face for no reason, you’re going to be angry, right? For others, this will ring true. There can be a vast expanse in which to gather your thoughts, and the prospect of just lashing out like any other animal would seems equally silly.

This was one of the key ideas of Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl. His seminal work, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. It details his survival in three different death camps during the Holocaust. That’s an incredible example of someone deciding how to react to the outside world. Life for him at that time was full of darkness, despair and misery. His entire family was killed. Every day, he faced his own impending death. Yet he kept going, somehow…

I am confident that not a single person reading this faces any problems remotely approaching those of Dr. Frankl. And yet, how many times today did you find yourself frustrated over something completely inconsequential – when you’d rather not be? Did you snap at your other half, or swear at someone for driving slightly too slowly for your liking? Wouldn’t it be better if you could take a moment to just consider your reaction, to show some of Frankl’s measured, calm reserve?

I am absolutely not an exception to this kind of behaviour. Only yesterday, I spent about 30 minutes playing with the spacing of the margins and layout of my dissertation, growing increasingly annoyed when I couldn’t get it ‘just right’. But, I was able to recognise myself getting lost in thought and move on, rather than walking around with a nagging sense of frustration, without being aware of why, all day (or all week for that matter).

You work on growing that gap between stimulus and response in exactly the same way you’d seek to grow stronger or more flexible physically. You come up with a plan you can stick to and you consistently put the work in. The body and the mind are incontrovertibly linked.

The exercise? Meditation.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Blaise Pascal

I have always found sitting still, even for 10 minutes, unbelievably hard. In today’s world, nobody is used to being alone with their thoughts. The internet has killed boredom. But it’s so vital to spend some time faced with the reality of being. Otherwise, you’re just permanently ‘lost in thought’ (as I’ve heard Sam Harris phrase it).

Guided meditation is a good place to start. I’m a big fan of Headspace. Here’s one I found on Youtube.

If you can’t watch it right now, mindfulness meditation looks something like this:

You sit down, preferably somewhere quiet. You don’t need to sit in a lotus position like a monk. Just on a chair, the floor or the end of your bed is fine. You close your eyes and pay close attention to the sensation of the breath. You’re not trying to ‘empty your mind’. Rather, when you’re inevitably distracted by something, you recognise the distraction, and return your focus to the breath. Do this for as long as you can – 10 minutes is about right to start, but one mindful breath is infinitely better than nothing.

10 minutes out of 24 hours is less than 1% of your day. Can you think of anything with more upside and so little downside? Doing this regularly is exactly the equivalent of tearing muscle fibres. They’ll knit together and heal, stronger than before. The benefits of meditation are vast. You’ll start widening that gap between things happening to you and how you respond. In making better decisions, you’ll find your freedom.

Think of Viktor Frankl in the camp next time you find yourself moaning or complaining. You have the option to choose. That’s not to be taken lightly.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning


Notes:

Man’s Search for Meaning really is an incredible book. I read it in one sitting – it was impossible to put down. I’d highly recommend it. Find it here.

Meditation is also something that’s vastly improved the quality of my life – this Reddit article really captures some of the specific benefits. I’ve experienced everything on the list, including some lucid dreaming. Definitely the thinking visually too.

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Slippage

Fitness, Motivation, Philosophy, Uncategorized

Last night I stayed up far too late watching an awful movie I’d seen before. I didn’t want to do that. But I was tired, and lazy, and travelling had taken it out of me. It seemed easier than brushing my teeth and walking up the stairs to get into bed at that point.

I eventually turned in at half past midnight. I had a gym session planned mere hours later… 5 and a half hours is definitely not a healthy amount of sleep, whatever bravado you want to throw at me. Given that, there were so many ways I could have rationalised the decision to shift my plans about, move the workout to later in the day… But later far too often becomes never.

So, I gritted my teeth, got my head down, set my alarm (and several backups)… and got up on time. On the 4th alarm. I stumbled downstairs, made a cup of strong coffee and cycled to the gym, as planned.

I always train legs first thing on a Monday morning. Why? Heavy squats will beat you down, punish you and put everything else into perspective. It’s easy to focus on completing a piece of coursework, crunching numbers, writing emails or whatever else it is you have to do when you’ve already willingly put yourself under a heavy, crushing weight and willed yourself up, over and over again. It’s building that resistance to procrastination, getting the week started with a bang.

Stephen King writes about a concept called ‘slippage’ in his collaboration with Peter Straub, ‘Dark House’. It’s a feeling of a kind of inevitable, sometimes hard to detect degradation into darkness. Everything is in a state of entropy. So, you’re either working to improve or letting things degrade and break up.

Forcing yourself to do the hard, worthwhile things you know you should, even if you’ve not put yourself in the best decision to do them, is the best way to combat this ‘slippage’. That holds true both in your own life and the way your actions impact the world around you.

Don’t let yourself slip.


Notes

I almost slipped writing this article. It’s late now, but I’m getting it done. Too many ideas vanish into the ether and this is an important one.

So I got it done.

The nugget of this idea came while cycling back from the aforementioned leg workout, so quickly jotted it down on one of these pads. After a long day of econometrics lectures and work on my dissertation, I wrote it in one sitting (with the help of a cup of coffee – pictured).

 

A mass of habits

Creativity, Philosophy

At 7:30 this morning I was up and rolling around on my yoga mat. I’ve got a mild ‘winged scapula’ (my shoulder blades stick out a lot because of some weakness in the serratus [1]). It’s caused some issues with shoulder pain and a slight muscular imbalance. I researched it and I’m doing something about it. It’s not the most fun workout I do, but I’ve certainly noticed the difference already.

It got me thinking about the journey to ‘being in good shape’. What does it mean? Isn’t being something really just a series of activities? Creating a workout plan, maybe a diet plan too, fitting in training around your busy life, not neglecting flexibility or endurance, resisting biscuits, buying groceries, cooking packed lunches, adjusting your plan, getting to and from the gym, sacrificing extra minutes in bed…

“We are what we repeatedly do.”

Aristotle

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”

William James

So, if we accept that the ‘doing’ in each day ends up defining our lives, it’s important to think about what it is you want to be, and then set up the ‘doing’ portion according to those aspirations. So let’s say you sleep between 6 and 8 hours. What fills the rest?

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Casey Neistat does a fantastic job of explaining this idea here – there’s no bullshit here. It’s such simple advice, and it’s incredibly actionable:

This was the first one of Casey’s videos I ever saw. I’d highly recommend subscribing to him on Youtube. He’s an incredibly hard working, innovative creator. I’ll write about him soon.

You’ve got a certain amount of time each day (24 hours to be precise). It’s up to you how you choose to allocate it, fit stuff in and actually do it. As soon as you have the realisation that your time is scarce, and you have some choice in how you spend it, you can never look back.

If you don’t take action, you’re making a conscious decision that you don’t care about your future.

How do you know what the right things to spend your time on are? Get your thoughts out on paper – it’s cheap.


Notes

For a relatively short essay, this required a lot of thinking, and I’m still not blown away by how it came out. I’ll revisit this topic once I feel I can articulate myself a little clearer on the issue.

As usual, here are the various notes this article came from:

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5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

Motivation, Philosophy

I’m an early riser. I don’t remember if I’ve always been that way – definitely over the past 3 years or so though. But I don’t ever find it easy to get up (I don’t believe anyone does really). It seemed up until recently that it was still a monumental effort every single morning to drag myself out of the warmth of my bed and into the business of the day. Waking up wasn’t necessarily the problem. It was actually making myself get up and out of bed.

But I’ve discovered a method that’s working for me so far. It’s incredibly simple. Maybe my simple mind needs a simple method.

Just count backwards from 5. Once you start that countdown, you can’t stop it. When you get to 0, spring out of bed. Forcibly tear the covers off yourself and make sure your feet hit the floor. Stand up and move away from your bed. That nice, fuzzy warm feeling dissipates instantly and you can get on with whatever you need to do.

The trick comes in doing it a couple of days in a row. Once you make the decision to start that countdown, there’s no way you’re not getting up. Because you know that if you get to 0 and don’t go once, it’ll never work again.

Give it a go and see if it works for you.


Notes

5,4,3,2,1 notes-1