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. 

Rocky IV changed my life

Creativity, Fitness, Motivation, productivity

One of the best things about the Playstation 2 was that you could play DVDs on it. Around the time I got one, I managed to procure a small TV somehow. Then, one night, I made the move – up to my room they went. That heady combination led to many late nights gaming, and watching movies.

When I started working a Saturday job, I bought pre-owned games and DVDs by the dozen. The summer holidays of Year 9 were like a crazy, self-funded term at a film school. My curriculum was as varied as you’d imagine a teenage boy’s to be: Bond, Rambo, Conan the Barbarian, Predator, Under Siege. Then, at Christmas, I got the complete Rocky box set. I can’t remember if I managed to watch them all in one sitting or not, but it was pretty damn close.

Yes, they’re cliched and hammy. But they’re glorious. The training montages are the crystallised core of the films, representing all that makes them an iconic part of the zeitgeist. Rocky IV sees a bearded Stallone in the best shape of his life, sprinting up mountains, lifting rocks and helping Russian peasants. Why’s he putting himself through this agony? To avenge the death of his best friend at the hands of Ivan Drago. His trainer screams “No pain!” while synth music blasts in the background. To this day, the scene below gets me pumped up:

 

At the time, I was simultaneously extremely skinny and ridiculously out of shape. I’d never been in shape! I didn’t play any sports, or even think about why anyone would want to. My diet consisted of anything and everything – bags of donuts from the tuck shop were a staple. I just wasn’t connected to my body in any way. I had absolutely no drive or discipline: physically, or in any other area of my life. I was simply floating along, letting things happen to me.

For some reason, seeing Rocky control his body in that way, deliberately putting himself through hell to become stronger, faster and better in pursuit of a worthy goal, changed the way I looked at the world forever.

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s winning.”

Ringside at the final fight.

I started doing pushups, situps and pullups in my bedroom. I progressed onto making contraptions out of cinder blocks, sticks and rocks. I’d load up Sainsbury’s ‘Bags for Life’, and haul them around in a crazy circus act of a workout. Eventually I started running too, with absolutely no finesse, strategy or understanding. I literally just ran around the block in plimsolls. At first, I could barely get to the nearest lamppost and back before I was out of puff. But, it filled me with a kind of joy different to anything I’d ever experienced. At 17, I joined a small, local gym and started lifting weights properly. From there, I’ve not looked back.

[Untitled] (4).jpg

I’ve become more and more addicted to exercise over the intervening years. It’s slowly formed a central pillar in my life. It grounds me. I know that wherever I go, whatever I do in my life, physical exertion will be a part of it somehow.

Exercise showed me how the actions I took had direct impact on outcomes. If I chose to do pushups and pullups, I could literally see a physical development in my chest and back muscles in a matter of weeks. I’d never thought of things in that way before. The realisation was incredibly empowering.

It didn’t take long to start applying that understanding into other areas of my life: the more I read, the more knowledgeable I became. The greater my effort into thinking clearly and having challenging conversations, the better my ability to communicate.

Rocky IV was the way I discovered self-discipline. And that’s at the root of everything I do today.

So… what’s the point? Why did I tell you that story?

Well, I’m not saying Rocky IV is going to be as transformative for you as it was for me. But you don’t know what film, song or book could be. It might be anything, and it may arrive in your life at just the right moment to make a difference. So deliberately expose yourself to new things. Go in with an open mind to every book you read, every TV programme you watch, every conversation you have – and maybe even every blog post you read.

In being curious, thoughtful and ready to act on your convictions, your mind will become a fertile ground for new ideas.

And, if that moment of realisation hits, you’ll be ready.

 

“Shy bairns get nowt.”

Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, Motivation, Uncategorized

I love this saying from the North East of England. I’d never heard it before today. It essentially means: “You don’t ask, you don’t get.”

That’s rock-solid advice. On reading it, I thought about my own life. Has there ever been a time when I’ve been nervous about making an ask, and my fears came true?

I couldn’t think of one occasion that happened. Just consider that. In 23 years, there hasn’t been one time in my life making the ask has had the negative consequences I’d imagined. It was all fear. Worse, I’d been pouring the fuel on that fire myself.

“What’s on the other side of fear? Nothing.”

To get anywhere in this world you have to be willing to put yourself out there, to make those asks, to say yes even if you’re scared. You have to push past the uncomfortable feeling that you’re inadequate, that you’re somehow unworthy of this opportunity. Don’t be happy sitting there meekly, dreaming about the type of life you’d like to be leading. 

Don’t be a shy bairn. Go out there and live it.


Other thoughts:

I had a bad day yesterday. I felt lazy, depressed, tired, unmotivated: in a word, I was down. But I didn’t let the feeling propagate. You can’t let moods like that settle in for the long haul. Don’t give them it a moment’s respite, or it’ll start to lay foundations. You have to uproot it while the cement is still wet. Maybe you can get a sense of my mindset from this gloomy drawing I did:

Sunday sketches. This is a cheery one.

A post shared by Joe Hart (@joehart.one) on

So, this morning I set the alarm, got up early, and ran to the seafront. Nothing like some interval training to shake up the negative vibes. Today’s been excellent. And it’s a reminder – mood follows action, not the other way around. Laying around on your phone is not the way to get motivated.

Screenshot 2018-01-31 at 15.38.27

In other news, I’m fast approaching 1000 views on the ink. What’s more, over half of them came this month. I can almost physically feel this thing picking up speed as the momentum builds. It’s incredibly exciting to feel every piece of writing, every drawing, contributing to this larger body of work. I’ve loved the process of creating. My writing and drawing is tightening up every day. I’m just so appreciative to everyone who’s taking the time to read along. I hope you’re getting as much from taking these posts in, as I am from creating them.

Here are my top 5 most read posts so far if you’ve missed any. By the way, isn’t it interesting that sometimes the posts you didn’t think would strike a chord seem to really take off?

  1. How (and why) tidying your room will improve your life.
  2. Nobody’s listening. Here’s three reasons why that’s a good thing.
  3. Getting back on the horse.
  4. A mass of habits.
  5. Always be closing.

 

 

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.

IMG_20180122_222213.jpg

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.

Always be closing

Creativity, Fitness, Motivation, productivity

Juggling commitments is hard. I’ve got coursework due, projects to work on, gym sessions to hit and goals to achieve. So do we all.

Sometimes we get worn down. It’s impossible to go full throttle all the time. But let’s remember one thing: always be closing. Don’t lose sight of what you’re working towards.

If you need to, take a breather, reload – and get back to work.

Nobody’s listening. Here’s three reasons why that’s a good thing:

Creativity, Motivation, writing

I started ‘The Ink’ to share what I’m working on, find other creators, writers and interesting people, and ultimately to satisfyingly scratch the creative itch I’d been ignoring for years.

I’m ‘showing my work’, as Austin Kleon put it.

So, in that spirit, here’s the drawing I did this morning. I’ve been waking up earlier recently and just getting it done, before I have the opportunity to distract myself.

I couldn’t stop tinkering around with my ink brushes, adding specks of colour. But I like the way it came out. I can see a larger version of this as a poster. Hopefully that’s where some of my work will be one day.

The practice of creating, putting it out there, improving with every single mark of the pencil, and type of the keyboard is so satisfying. But there is a dark feeling, lurking just beneath the surface here. The social triggers built into all of the platforms that enable us to share our work can leave us lusting after virality, beating ourselves up over the number of likes we receive. Our psychology has been manipulated and (perhaps permanently) altered.

With all of that social conditioning, blogging can sometimes feel like howling into the abyss when you don’t get an immediate dopamine hit of a like. But it takes time to be discovered, and you need to fill that time with creating good work.

It’s so easy to get filled with enthusiasm and energy initially, then realise how hard it is to keep going, quit, and endlessly justify it to yourself and others.

I’m determined to persevere this time.

Image result for austin kleon creativity graphFrom Austin Kleon’s Tumblr, found here:

Here’s three positives you can extract from the difficulty of gaining attention in an increasingly crowded world:

1. Relative anonymity gives you the opportunity to get better

I haven’t had a consistent practice of drawing or writing for years. I’ve sporadically started work an idea or done a half hearted sketch, but never sat down and put in the work every single day. Why would I be any good with that kind of work ethic? Still, I daydreamed and imagined being a creator one day…

Now, every day is an opportunity to get down to business, to practice, read widely, watch interesting things, think about them, draw my icons, and improve.

Bill Burr, one of my inspirations (not just in comedy, but in life), didn’t start stand up until he was in his late 20s. He’s spoken at length about how badly he bombed on stage at the start, how many opportunities he messed up. Now he’s grateful for all that time. He needed those formative years, all of those experiences, to forge him into one of (if not the) funniest and most successful comedians in the world today. All those years toiling away meant that when opportunities finally arose, he was absolutely ready to take advantage of them.

I like finding stuff that I suck at and trying to get better. So I’m taking classes, getting myself comfortable in an acting scene. You’ve got to work out those ticks.

Bill Burr

A great podcast to get to know Bill, where he tells some interesting stories about his early years, is with Tim Ferriss. You can find it here.

Bill also hosts his own podcast, which he’s kept up for many years now. It’s absolutely hilarious, and he uses it to work out new material for his sets – definitely give it a listen.

Bill’s podcast is actually a fantastic example of the benefits of consistent, focussed practice coming to fruition over many, many years. It was his outlet, before his TV series took off, before his Netflix specials – and yet he still records one several times a week to this day. What does that tell you?

2. Increased likelihood of experiencing ‘flow’ state

You may have come across this concept – it’s been quite trendy over the last few years.

To put it simply, think of an occasion you completely lost track of time. You were probably doing something you really, really enjoy. Maybe you were on a date, engaged in this fantastic conversation with someone you love. Or perhaps you were playing football, passing, dribbling and fully engaged in the game. For me, I get into it pretty much every time I draw, and sometimes when writing.

It’s that state of full absorption in the task at hand, absolute focus, in an activity which is enjoyable but challenging. You lose track of time, space, and your only goal is to keep doing what you’re doing in that moment.

Here’s an incredible Ted Talk on the topic, with one of the primary researchers into flow states, Mihaly Cskiszentmihalyi (I promise I wrote that name out in one go, no typos):

People chase after this feeling with narcotics, expensive cars and lots of other external validation.

It’s eminently possible that you can achieve this pure joy, completely grounded in the present moment, without any of that stuff.

Here’s how:

Simply pick an activity you can improve at! Try out as many as you need to before settling. You’ve got time

Then, spend time doing it consistently, working towards improving. I guarantee you’ll find this feeling there.

3. Finding meaning in work

Every single article I write, each drawing I do – it’s all contributing towards this huge project. The project of life. I’m building my life’s work, brick by brick. It’s incredibly satisfying.

Satisfaction (which is, of course, entirely different from pleasure) is derived from progression towards a long term goal. How satisfied you feel depends on how much progress you’ve made, and the relative importance of the goal.

I can’t think of many better ways to spend my time than creating, editing, curating, and working.

Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it.

 Joseph Campbell

How (and why) tidying your room will improve your life

Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, Motivation

The world is chaotic. It’s loud, dynamic and confusing. There is only one place you have total control – your room. This small area that’s entirely yours is an external representation of who and what you are, as much a part of you as your arm or leg. By taking the simple action to tidy up, you are asserting control over your environment, creating your identity, developing confidence, and bringing order to chaos; both internally, and externally.

Three key benefits of taking this simple, powerful action:

  1. Bring order to chaos (mental state follows action)
  2. Develop personal pride (surround yourself with the things you love)
  3. Allow yourself to focus (optimise your personal studio)

Watch this video by psychology professor (and Youtube sensation) Dr. Jordan Peterson – he can explain the concept far more eloquently than myself:

If you’d like to hear more, his Youtube channel is an incredible resource. I’ll include some of my favourite lectures, seminars and podcasts in the ‘Notes’ section at the end of this post.

It took Dr. Peterson’s vocalisations to make me realise this was something I already knew. When my world has felt the most chaotic, random and cruel, the last thing I needed was to come home to a disorganised mess. So, on these occasions, I’d do some sorting. Nothing crazy – just organise books, fold clothes or throw away rubbish. Within that process, you can almost feel your mental gears shifting to a different zone entirely, getting ‘unstuck’. Peterson describes feeling ‘disintegrated’. In tidying, I almost feel like I’m assembling my atoms together again.

A messy room is the epitome of chaos. You can’t find the things you need, you see nothing around you you enjoy, you feel cluttered and unsatisfied. There’s an itch, a nagging feeling that will prevent you from doing what you know you need to. So maybe you’ll scroll through Instagram or Snapchat instead. In procrastination lies the death of dreams.

Ayn Rand wrote about a NY Times writer’s routine in ‘The Art of Nonfiction’:

When she sits down she knows she does not want to write. Here is what her subconscious does to “save” her from that difficulty. She thinks of everything she has to do. She needs to call a friend on business, and does so. She thinks of an aunt she has not called for months, and calls her. She thinks of what she has to order from the store, and places the order. She remembers she has not finished yesterday’s paper, so she does. She continues in this way until she runs out of excuses and has to start writing. But suddenly she remembers that last summer (it is now winter) she never cleaned her white tennis shoes. So she cleans them.

Circumvent ‘the white shoes’ problem by ensuring your environment is conducive to whatever you want to do. Set your priorities, and organise your space to support that. Someone who’s done an incredible job of that is Casey Neistat. His studio is incredible. Is there a better representation of who he is than the space he’s created to sustain his incredible work ethic? Importantly, this space is constantly evolving, growing and changing. It’s not stagnant, nor should it be… Exactly like us.

Caught up in the ‘new year, new me’ hype, I recently reorganised my desk. I’m in a student house, so the space itself isn’t everything I’d want – but I’m making the most of it. Now, I’m happy and proud every time I sit down to draw, read or write. I’ve surrounded myself with the equipment I need to be productive, things I love and that inspire me. The massive benefit to this kind of process oriented organisation is that once you’ve had that initial tidy, it doesn’t take long to keep that way, just a few minutes each day to put things back where they belong.

These kind of themes are also discussed by Admiral William H. McRaven (who is also a NY Times Bestselling author of a book titled ‘Make Your Bed’).

He advocates simply making your bed as soon as you get up in the morning, a habit I’ve maintained for over a decade. It’s the best way to kick the day off with a success, completing an objective. That gets the ball rolling and sets you up to keep ticking things off your list, progressing towards achieving your goals.

Tidying your room is like the ultimate version of making your bed. Create order out of chaos. Feel pride in who you are and the space you create.

Today, your room; tomorrow, the world. 


Notes, links and sources:

First post of 2018! Big plans for this site in the new year… Stay tuned. Been loving the process of creating, through writing and drawing. Here’s some recent work (with progress pics):

Books, podcasts and other links you may find useful:

Planning this article:

Recommended reading: 12/12/17

books, Creativity

I love books. Over the years, they’ve been my friend, ally, counsel, entertainer and teacher. I had the fantastic fortune to be raised in a household surrounded by books and reading. Nearly every weekend, I’d go to the local library, max out my library card and immerse myself. I’d say it’s up there with exercise in the most important activities in my life… But then again, I first got inspired to start working out reading Arnold Scharwzenegger’s autobiography, Total Recall. Books can encapsulate a human being’s life work – the opportunity to learn from that, to be effectively transported into their brain, is enormous.

Here are three I’ve either read or revisited recently:

  1. Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

This book was one of the biggest influences in finally starting the ink. It demystifies the creative process, reminding the reader that no work exists in a vacuum. Everything follows what’s come before – you are part of an evergrowing story in your chosen discipline.

“Nothing is original.”

Austin Kleon

It’s short, actionable and extremely powerful. You’ll feel fired up to stop consuming, get your hands dirty and make something.

“It is better to take what does not long belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.”

Mark Twain

  1. The Daily Stoic, by Ryan Holiday and Steve Hanselman

I’m familiar with Holiday’s previous work – The Obstacle is the Way was a particular favourite, my introduction to Stoicism. He’s an unusual bloke. Apprenticing under Robert Greene (of Mastery fame), and working with Tim Ferriss, he was appointed Director of Marketing at American Apparel by the age of 22.

He loves reading and writing, and has shifted his career in this direction in recent years (while maintaining strategic consulting work). The mixture of anecdotal evidence from his own vibrant career, historical examples and clearly stated Stoic principles make for excellent reading. I also love how he shares his process, like here, in this exhaustive blog post on how his book, Perennial Seller, was written. He’s not scared about revealing ‘the secret’ – because it’s doesn’t exist. It’s hard work and consistency. Ryan knows there’s no risk of anyone stealing the method. It still takes countless hours of research, synthesis and concerted effort to create something of value.

“If you find something very difficult to achieve yourself, don’t imagine it impossible – for anything possible and proper for another person can be achieved as easily by you.”

Marcus Aurelius

The Daily Stoic has become my bible. You may recognise some of the pages featured in the notes section of various essays on this blog. The book is split into four sections, reflecting the core principles of Stoicism. There’s a different meditation to consider every single day of the year from Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus or another Stoic thinker, complete with Ryan’s riff on the topic. It’s an incredibly powerful way to reset every morning, remember these critical lessons and put them into practice.

  1. The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell

One of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever come across. Gladwell has become synonymous with popular science, a field rife with copycats, sensationalists and those who pack out 300 pages with nonsense and fluff around one half decent idea. That is categorically not Gladwell. His work is inventive, creative and meticulously researched. I find it incredible the way he frames concepts, connects dots and constructs a narrative from the seemingly chaotic world around us. If I had one criticism, it’d be the feeling of worthlessness and idiocy that sets in when I compare my writing to his. But I don’t despair. I can only try and emulate Gladwell, learn from him, and focus on incremental improvement.

What are you waiting for? Get reading!


Notes:

You can buy the aforementioned books here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Daily-Stoic-Journal-Writing-Reflection/dp/1788160231/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1513116102&sr=1-1&keywords=the+daily+stoic

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tipping-Point-Little-Things-Difference/dp/0349113467/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1513116128&sr=1-1&keywords=the+tipping+point

The idea for recommending books came when sketching my desk (don’t ask me how or why that happened)… so here’s the ‘note-taking’ process for this post:

 

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.

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).