I’m 25 – and I’m angry

Every year, around my birthday, I write a post about myself. When I wrote regularly about self-improvement, it would usually be a reflection on how I’m achieving my goals.

Yet, when I reflect on being 25, within the context of our current world, the only emotion that comes to mind is anger.

I am angry. I am hurting.

I am hurting for my brothers and sisters who have to live through racism. I am hurting for those who have lost their lives for demanding a simple thing – respect.

I am angry for my brothers and sisters who have to live through racism. I am angry for those who have lost their lives for demanding a simple thing – equality.

Anger, in these times, is arguably the most appropriate reaction to the death of George Floyd and all our brothers and sisters before him. We cannot always control how that anger is expressed and we certainly cannot tell people to not be angry for that only works to silence their pain.

Demanding “cool pragmatism” simply says “take a number, we’ll get to you” then closing the shop indefinitely.

Must we come to sit at your table for justice? It is not as though we do not have space at ours. Our invitations are simply not accepted or acknowledged.

As I’m writing these words, Kendrick Lamar’s I Hate You has popped up…

Let me start off this letter saying I don’t like you, scared of you but I will fight you

I stare at the ceiling and think about you

Curiosity killing me, thinking of when Ima meet you

You introduced yourself to so many others, mothers, sisters and brothers, children

Kendrick Lamar – I Hate You (Letter to Death)

There are no black people who have not experienced racism, whether it is explicit or implicit or even been harmed by unconscious biases and systems that work to disadvantage them on a daily basis. Whether they are in the UK (as I am) or anywhere else.

I am simply lucky that I haven’t been pinned to the floor with a knee behind my neck.

Even though I’m 25, Tamir Rice will never be 25. Nor will Mike Brown. Nor will Trayvon Martin. Nor will… who is next?

We all have a responsibility to make the world better, to rid it from injustice and to not only look for the helpers – be a helper.

Even if it isn’t our fault. It will forever be our responsibility.

#JusticeForGeorgeFloyd

The Myth of a Productive Pandemic

On 23 March, the UK went into lockdown to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. As a result, a large majority of people are forced to spend much more time at home either by themselves or with the immediate people they live with.

People have unfortunately lost their jobs, others have to work from home and some simply have much less work to do.

Unfortunately, this has lead to far too many articles on “how to be productive while you’re at home” or “How to start a business from home” articles.

Generally, it’s fine to want to be productive (whatever that even means…) but there is an unnecessary environment growing which pressures people to be productive simply because we’re now at home.

While time has been gained because we’ve lost our commute times (on average, we’ve gained back one hour), it doesn’t mean we can, or even need to, utilise that time “productively”.

There is a lot we do not know

Many of us have never had to live through a viral outbreak that shut down the world’s economy. We are learning more about ourselves and interactions with one another as lockdown’s around the world continue. It raises a number of questions:

Will the structure of the economy look the same after the pandemic?

What will the end of the pandemic look like?

Will remote working become more commonplace?

Will we learn anything?

Big questions that everyone will end up considering. It isn’t something we can ignore and “leave for the politicians and academics” because it directly impacts all of us.

Because of this, we will also figure out how we best adapt to long-term working from home. We are not simply “at home“. We are “forced to stay home during a pandemic“.

It’s an important distinction even though, right now, it often doesn’t feel like it exists in practice.

We are in unknown territory at the moment. Emotionally, socially, and physically.

If you feel pressured to be productive, remember, most of us won’t be. Especially at the beginning

And those who claim to be productive, will be far less productive than portrayed.

Prioritise family and self-care. Allow yourself to experiment with healthy coping mechanisms.

But do not get lulled into the idea that we need to boost our productivity by 1000% to be valuable.

Most importantly, wash your hands and stay indoors. Boring, but effective. 

Books I read in January

Last year I did a reading challenge. I wanted to hit 40 books read for the year and was recording my progress on Goodreads.

I promptly forgot to log anything on Goodreads for the entire year, tried to remember what I read throughout the year and hoped that I remembered everything.

I didn’t. I got mixed up with books that I read in 2016 so I have no idea how many books I read last year.

In 2020, I’ve realised that doesn’t matter at all. WHO CARES if someone has read a book a week for the entire year…

Instead, I’d like to increase the amount of time spent reading rather than the number of books read.

Using the number of books and a measuring metric encourages skimming, and picking shorter books to stay on track.

Trying to maximise the amount of time spent reading accomplishes the whole point of these reading challenges. To read more – without making you feel bad for being “slow” or “reading short books” or “lying about the number of books read”.

I’ve said my piece… onto the good stuff.

Books I read in January

January books

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts – Laura Tillman

An insightful read that has evidently been treated with the appropriate sensitivity required of a case like this. She managed to bring in the impact the case had on a small community through valuable interviews and research.

Unfortunately, overall, it wasn’t all that interesting.

When I finished the book, I genuinely felt that her talents were wasted on this case. She has the ability to navigate sensitive areas well but my goodness, the case, while gruesome, just failed to interest me. Pity.

The Girl Who Stole An Elephant – Nizrana Farook

A very enjoyable and easy read (and I was disappointed it was over!) The characters were a pleasure to know as their friendship grew during their journey.

Apparently, stealing an elephant will force you to become well acquainted.

I picked this up because I loved the cover and I’ve been enjoying children’s books a lot. This didn’t disappoint – though the ending was slightly rushed.

Ayoade On Top – Richard Ayoade

This was a short, enjoyable read about, yes, a film no one has seen. Including me. However, this has convinced me to fill the aeroplanecentric-comedy-hole in my heart.

Ayoade’s personality shines through every page and it’s wonderful that it isn’t just another biography.

I still haven’t watched the film yet though, so my opinions may change after the viewing…

The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

This book is a wonderful thriller and I haven’t read one of this sort in a while.

The main shortcoming is that it’s only in the second half of the book do we understand just how talented Mr Ripley is… And how much luck he has on his side.

But the ending was a masterclass in tension building. Brilliant!

Really enjoyed this read – mainly surprised I hadn’t read it sooner!

A Bear Called Paddington – Michael Bond

Everyone has heard of Paddington but I realised I had never read the books. Without a doubt, one of the most fun books I have ever read.

Paddington, a bear from the darkest Peru always gets himself into some kind of commotion but despite his best intentions. … But let’s not forget, he is a literal bear.

We can’t blame him for too much, can we?

Ladies and gentlemen, 2020 may have only just started but this may be my book of the year. I decided that, during lunch and my afternoon walk, I’d go to Waterstones, sit down and read a chapter.

The perfect cure to a bad day. I recently watched the film too – wonderful adaptation. I love Paddington, I love the Brown family, I love Mr Gruber, I love everything about Paddington Bear.


And that brings me to the end.

The number of books may be unsustainable for the year but I will do my best to maintain or increase the amount of time I spend reading.

It’s been incredible amounts of fun.

Socials:

Facebook – Improving Slowly

Twitter – Improving Slowly

5 ways to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life

Mindfulness is really easy to not practice it because at first it can be boring, intimidating and seem pointless.

But – it is a practice, not a solution. It takes time but it pays off. I want to help make it easier for you.

Here are 5 methods you can use to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life.

Pockets of peace

Meditation for most people can be pretty daunting. It’s tough to just sit in a room for 10 minutes and observe your thoughts if you’ve never done it before.

Instead, try 30s to 2 minutes of paying attention to your breathing or your surroundings. I recommend having nothing in your hands (especially your phone).

You can do this as many times as you want throughout the day. This way it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming obligation you’re tempted to skip.

Treat yourself to “pockets of peace” throughout the day.

 

luigi-liccardo-y0bUB8jcUio-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Luigi Liccardo on Unsplash

 

 

Slow eating

Mindful eating is an important technique to keep in your toolbox.

When you’re eating, for the first few spoonfuls (forkfuls… whatever, you get the point), try to appreciate the flavours and textures of the food. If you do this, you can actually appreciate food much more, especially if you made it yourself.

Another technique is… I pretend I’m a chef who’s figuring out what spices are in my food. Even if I know all of them in advance.

It’s silly but it’s fun, and I like to pretend.

Mindful cleaning

Similar to the pockets of peace earlier, when you’re cleaning the house, instead of treating it as something you hate or want to run away from, try this:

Your house, your body, whatever you choose to clean, is important because you spend a lot of time with it.

When you clean it, you’re helping it get back to its best.

You’re making your environment better. Whether it’s one dish, a fluffy afro or folding away one shirt.

Morning stretching

The morning can be extremely hectic because

1) Who wants to be awake in the morning

2) It’s time to prepare for work

But, stay with me now, you can do some stretching for 30 seconds, and do them without any distractions.

Not only do you get to treat your body well but you get to practice mindfulness at the same time.

You can follow the sequence in this article.

 

timothy-meinberg-AL2-t0GrSko-unsplash
Photo by Timothy Meinberg on Unsplash

 

Your next walk

Whether it’s a 5 minute trip to the store or a 30-minute stroll through a park, put your phone away and take in your surroundings as best you can.

What colour do you see most often?

Are there any clouds in the sky?

Are there many people around you?

Is the floor bumpy or smooth?


These small techniques will help you get started with a mindfulness practice. They are non-invasive and don’t take up a lot of time.

With practice, you’ll be intentionally be more mindful and with time, you’ll be better equipped with skills to help you handle stressful situations.

One step at a time.

Let me know what has helped you below!


As always, thank you for reading!

Follow me on twitter @improvingslowly and Facebook for more work on mindfulness, technology and disability.

And a few bad jokes.

 

You Are Stronger Than Your Pain (Pt.2)

Chronic pain, whether the intensity is high or low, can feel like the only defining feature of your personality.

It chips away at your energy and your willingness to do things you enjoy.

When you’re in pain, you may feel as though everything is meaningless.


Our aim, when we tackle chronic pain, often isn’t to get rid of it completely.

When we live with the pain rather than live against it, it means that we grow to understand how to manoeuver the world despite the pain and in many cases, this can make us stronger.

This takes some acceptance, some courage and a sprinkle of determination.

Manoeuvring the world with pain is a skill. It takes time to learn your body and how it changes when everything hurts.

It’s a skill to keep smiling, to laugh and to stave off cynicism. If you ever have the fortune of no longer being in pain, these are skills that you will carry with you forever.

It’s a skill to make time to complete some self-care. It’s forever tempting to try keeping up with the people around you and ignore the consistent distraction and disadvantage that is chronic pain!

It’s a skill to focus more – even if it’s just because you can’t sit in the same spot forever!

It’s a skill to slow down, be mindful and be kind to ourselves.

It takes effort to get to work or keep the house clean or simply take care of ourselves. Even if you are being cared for by someone else – we express gratitude with a “thank you”.

Do you see it now? Pain feels like it is all consuming but we’re actually strong people. No matter how weak we feel. The simple fact that you’re able to do more than just be in pain, shows that there is more to your life than pain.


 

I’ve been in pain for 10 years now and I’m still very much a rookie. However, I’ve learned skills that help me with negative thoughts. I’ve learned to be more empathetic with people. I’ve learned to move through my days slower but with greater focus.

At the foundation, chronic pain is a difficult mountain to climb. Especially when we’re at the bottom.

But, we can give ourselves credit – we get around the world despite being in pain. There’s more to our personalities than being “people who hurt all the time”.

It’s something to acknowledge and appreciate.

I want you to acknowledge that you’re stronger than your pain. There is more to you than being a vessel for pain.

And whatever that extra stuff is – appreciate it. Love it and value it.

We’re all trying to get better. One day at a time.

#WorldMentalHealthDay

Visit pt.1 here.

Is Monzo a force for good for the banking industry?

Within a year of its launch in 2015, Monzo was valued at £50m. Now, in 2019, it is a certified “unicorn” – a start-up valued at over £1 billion.

Staggering numbers for one of the earliest banks who challenged the traditional banking model by utilising technology. There are no branches, and everything is done via their smartphone app. With this, it has seen a primary customer base of under-40s.

As you can imagine, it has been popular with the younger generation.

Another monopoly to come?

In 2017, Tim Lewis of the Guardian rightfully asked, Is Monzo the Facebook of Banking? A powerful question for a young start-up. Even more so because this question is taken seriously.
Monzo has been growing rapidly with the younger generation because it takes advantage of the item we use the most – our smartphones – and couples with it a light and hospitable tone. This can give users the impression that Monzo is a helpful banking tool or friend that allows people to become more engaged with how their money travels.

Rather than an imposing vault we take money from and refuse to check because we’re scared of how much was spent on a night out. Shown by its strapline:

“We’re building the kind of bank that you’d be proud to call your own.”

Yet, a bank, no matter how wonderful its communications strategy is, cannot be your friend. In the same way that Facebook, no matter how much they apologise, still control vast amounts of personal data and use it to make money.

While it will be quite difficult for Monzo to grow to the same heights Facebook has (despite its aims to have 1 billion customers), it forces us to ask important questions about how we bank and the types of problems we face as users.

A Bank for the Devil’s Advocate

Before the Switch Guarantee was introduced in 2013, on average, we would stay with our banks for seventeen years.

With such impressive loyalty comes inevitable stagnation as innovation is not a requirement to stay ahead of the curve. Why spend money trying to do new things and failing?

With the introduction of banks like Monzo, we can almost see it as the bank for the devil’s advocate.

What if we wanted all our money to be safe? Monzo keeps all its money in the Bank of England and does without speculative trading.

What if we wanted to spend money abroad without fees? Monzo only charges 3% on withdrawals above £200.

What if I wanted to talk to someone through my phone without long waiting lines? Monzo’s helpline is a messaging service and you’re simply notified when there’s a representative ready.

What if my data was imitated because someone got access to my digital banking? Monzo… we’re not sure yet.
What if there was a concentrated cybersecurity attack on digital banking services? Monzo… hmm. Tough question.

What if Monzo reaches 1 billion users but instead of personal data, it controls money? Are these Facebook-sized problems? Yes. Yes, they are.

Speak of the devil and she will appear

Monzo does a lot of good for its customers by making it easier for them to access their money, find help and structure their savings in a way that benefits them.

Beyond that, we see a large long-term impact it has on the banking industry. It forces the industry to move into the digital age and answer important questions regarding cybersecurity, loyalty, and banking monopolies on a scale we have not yet experienced.

As frustrating as they can be to answer, it is better to attempt an answer, rather than hide from them until we have the Cambridge Analytica of finance breaches on our doorstep.

Tom Bloomfield says that Google’s “Don’t be evil” vow is limited. He asks instead:

“Why not try to leave the world a little better than you found it?”

Monzo, by itself, won’t be the complete answer to our banking problems. Let us not overestimate the impact of technology.

In the long-term, we may find ourselves thanking Bloomfield and Monzo for asking us questions about the banking industry we may not have seriously considered.

Perhaps that is how Monzo will leave the world a little better than before.

How to achieve anarchy using computers

In the 1970s there was a battle going on in Harvard. It was between two impressively tall men who were sat in their offices trying how to best figure out how the world should work. They wanted the world to be as fair as possible for as many people as possible.

This was ultimately a question of how the government should work.

The most important person (for our purposes, at least) [1] was Robert Nozick who argued in Anarchy, State and Utopia, that we should have a minimalist government. The only reason for government to exist is to provide security to its citizens. Perhaps the main reason why he reached this argument is that the act of taxation is theft. While tax can be helpful because it provides healthcare, education, social services and so on, it doesn’t reduce the importance from the idea that any time the government taxes you, it unfairly takes away something you have earned.

This was for a long time one of the most popular renditions of libertarianism. However, it isn’t taken seriously now because of the consequences such a system would cause. You are probably already thinking of the problems – no universal healthcare, increasing social and economic inequality, fewer education opportunities open to the least well off and so on.

Importantly, it wasn’t anarchy. It wasn’t meant to be a lawless mess but ultimately, the government wasn’t allowed to do more than provide security for its citizens.

Now, what if the government simply couldn’t provide security to its citizens? Or provide any social services?

The difference between the government choosing not to provide social services and being unable to provide them is important.

In the first instance, there isn’t much stopping them providing services past political difference. Usually, tax is still collected but used for minimal things such as security.

The second is much more problematic. It’s scary. And it could be happening sooner than we think.

Enter crypto-anarchy…

Cryptoanarchy is anarchy achieved through technology. People send information to one another using cryptographic software which allows for a large degree of anonymity. Proponents of cryptoanarchy say there are three main benefits of this:

  • It protects from mass surveillance
  • It prevents censorship
  • It provides an alternative to traditional banking

Before we delve more into this topic, let’s clarify what cryptography is:

“Crypto-“ can be translated as “hidden” or “secret”.

“-graphy” can be translated as “to write”.

Together, it means writing private messages or information. Cryptography relies a lot on mathematics and algorithms. This is where you’ve probably heard of computers mining for bitcoins. It requires a lot of processing power. As more bitcoins are mined, it becomes harder to get more. [2]

Let’s move onto some pictures.

Cryptographic communication.PNG

  1. Messages are encrypted with keys that are generated with algorithms.
  2. The public key is shared, and the private key is private.
  3. These keys are similar and mathematically linked.

Now that Oj has encrypted the message using Michael’s public key, the only way to decrypt the message is with the private key. You can try to figure out the message without the key but that may take millions of years.

Right, now we have some understanding of how it works. Don’t worry if you’re still not 100% on it. The basics are enough for now.

What’s the deal then?

Imagine all our communications are done this way. There is no middleman between myself and the person(s) I’m talking to. The government has now lost control over what is said and how it is said. What if our social networks were like this?

Now, Facebook and Twitter act as publishers for our material (although they want to be platforms [3]). They have rules for what can and cannot be said as per their terms and service. With increasing frequency, social networks are struggling to remain as neutral as possible because of the demands on them to remove hateful speech as well as strike a balance between allowing their users to be as active and expressive as possible.

Because they own the servers, they can ban people and follow the requests of the government to disallow certain things being said. However, and you’re probably seeing the trend now, if we remove these centralised networks, we can say whatever we want and be anonymous while doing it.

The most popular use of this technology is through currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Governments around the world rely on taxation to fund social services such as security, healthcare and so on. With a reliable banking system, we can track earnings, force people to pay tax and fines. If there’s a problem with our finances, in the UK at least, the government can protect up to £85,000 of a person’s savings.

A decentralised system used to make payments works to remove the Government’s ability to do these tasks. How do you tax a transaction if you don’t even know who made it? Or who it was sent to? Should we remove the government’s ability to do these necessary tasks, we lose the benefits that come with it.

Returning to Nozick’s minimalist government. He put forward the philosophical argument that the government should not tax us for things beyond security.

In the scenario above, it may not even be able to provide us with that.

No computer should have all that power

A problem with reading books on technology and intelligence in the 21st Century is we may work ourselves into a bit of a frenzy. It seems like the world’s first smarter-than-all-humans-ever computer will appear tomorrow and it’ll be let loose into the world. Then it’ll turn us all into paperclips [4].

There are headlines of computers finally beating the world’s best Go and chess players without any prior data at all [5]. This is exciting stuff within the field of A.I. Surely, they’re only a few years away from beating us in everything?

No. Robots suck at picking things up from the floor [6]. We’re a while away from becoming paperclips.

Yet, the rise of crypto-related technologies forces us to think about and answer questions regarding the reach of the government. Jamie Bartlett rightfully notes that in a mature democracy, we give up certain individual liberties in order to secure collective rights (such as security).

Crypto-related technologies consolidate massive amounts of power into a small population of people who can do large amounts of harm. How many people know how to use cryptographic technologies? (Not many.) Bartlett also says that the Government would likely need more authority to ensure the safety of the public.

And we can already see how Governments across the world are acting in response to technological advancements right now.

On October 2nd, 2013, a couple was arguing in the San Francisco library. They were distracting everyone nearby. One of the distracted members of the public was Ross Ulbricht who as a result had his laptop taken from him.

He was then arrested and taken to federal prison and faced charges of money laundering, computer hacking, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics.

You see, Mr Ulbricht was the founder of Silk Road. The dark net online marketplace that was famously known for facilitating the sale of nearly $1 billion worth of drugs. He was found guilty and sentenced to 2 life sentences without the possibility of parole.

It’s an interesting case because it seems like a heavy-handed sentence for a person who allowed people to shop anonymously. Additionally, it is somewhat like the cryptographic social network described above.

Having a middleman allows regulation because activities can be seen and impacted. People can be attached to the actions they take. If everyone is anonymous with no central platform, we lose security protections afforded by central non-anonymous platforms.

Should the possibility of cryptoanarchy be taken seriously?

If so, how should democracies around the world respond to the rise of such technologies as they potentially rip control out of their hands?

If cryptocurrencies continue to rise in popularity, how will we manage the inevitable increase in inequality since most of the population have no stake in things like bitcoin?

Will the Government need more powers to ensure our security?

How much liberty are willing to sacrifice for the promise of security?

Final words…

As I mentioned earlier, I do not believe crypto anarchy is something we need to be afraid of right this second. Currently, it is a useful tool to think about how governments around the world should respond to the increasing complexity of technology and, in this case, its direct opposition to how the world currently functions.

However, this isn’t just a thought experiment.

The technology is real. The problems are real. The questions must be answered.


As always, thank you for reading!

I know this is a stray away from my usual personal development posts. I hope it was enjoyable nonetheless!

I’d recommend reading Jamie Bartlett’s The People vs Tech for a much better explanation of the problem. This was heavily inspired by the final chapter.


[1] I think most would rightfully argue that John Rawls had a much greater impact on political philosophy in the long-term.

[2] There was a cap placed by Satoshi Nakomoto at 21 million bitcoins. There are currently about 18 million in circulation.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/02/facebook-mark-zuckerberg-platform-publisher-lawsuit

[4] This is a famous example given by Nick Bostrom in Superintelligence where he argues that a super-intelligent artificial program may just want to develop as many paperclips as possible. We will be those paperclips if necessary.

[5] Artificial intelligence: Google’s AlphaGo beats Go master Lee Se-dol

[6] Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark

I’m 24

Happy birthday to me.

Every year, I write something for my birthday, reflecting on how I’ve developed over the past year and how I hope to improve for the next year.

Last year, I answered two questions – Do I love myself? and what am I grateful for?

I can say I love myself more for the positive changes I’ve managed to make to my health. Even if I’m still dealing with a substantial amount of pain daily, I’ve maintained a regular swimming and yoga habit. There’s still a long way to go with overall self-compassion though.

I was grateful for a number of things. Many of them including friendships, the ability to exercise, charity, vegetables (yes, really) and books.

These still hold true. I believe I am extremely lucky for the friends and family that I have. I still exercise, read and donate to charity. But…

Let me tell you something about vegetables.

One sunny day in July I went to a vegan market in Hackney. It was pretty small considering how large some markets in London can be. However, there were peanut butter blondies so I was sure that all was going to be OK regardless if my lunch sucked (it didn’t).

I had a burger that was remarkably sloppy and literally, everything fell out into the little paper that was holding it. I got some on the floor and I dirtied my jeans. The tiny napkin they gave me barely cleaned my pinky finger.

At the same time all of this was happening, I was slowly, but surely, tipping towards the floor because I weigh a lot and the bench I was sat on was very wobbly. Everyone else on this table, while regular-sized humans, were all smaller than me.

I was in a perpetual state of fear that I’d fall over and embarrass myself.

I did not fall over. However, one of the leaflets I used to clean myself , was a Challenge22+ leaflet (what is shame? I do not know.)

The aim of this challenge was to go vegan for 22 days, join the facebook group and have the chance to talk nutritionists and other people trying out this vegan hype. I didn’t put any pressure on myself to complete the challenge. If I didn’t, I’d just continue on as normal.

22 days came and went and I was transferred to the Challenge22+ graduate’s group. Cool. Nothing special but cool.

40 days came and went. If this was for lent, I’d ironically win a milk chocolate Easter egg or something.

Then 50, 60, 70… all the way up to today. I’m still going and let me tell you – it’s brilliant.

During that time, I’ve learned a lot about the treatment of animals, the impact of animal products on our likelihood for chronic diseases and on the environment.

Last year, when I said I was grateful for vegetables because they’re like an automatic rainbow for your plate, I guess I didn’t know how much I like rainbows.

Cooking in the kitchen is a different challenge now and now my tastebuds are regularly blessed with new flavours and textures. I also get complimented on how healthy my shopping trolley looks in Tesco.

Little do they know, all of the junk food is hidden underneath the spinach.

So thank you, everyone, over at Challenge22+. This is the most significant change I’ve had over the past year and any time I reflect on it, I’m grateful. My attitude toward animals has changed completely and I believe I’m more in line with being compassionate towards others – even if they don’t have big toes or thumbs.

JUST LOOK AT JOSHUA AND HAROUN. JOSHUA IS MY LIFE MASCOT. HE’S JUST THE BEST.

If they make it, we’re all gonna make it.

 

Haroun and Joshua
Pictured: Joshua and Haroun from Kittenxlady on Instagram

I have composed myself. We can move on.

My values and self-improvement

When I first started these birthday posts, I would write about the values that I try to live with and act in accordance with.

Without going into detail of various shortcomings I feel I have had over the past year, I think the overall problem that can be taken from that is that, yes these values are good to live in accordance to. But that’s about it – they’re good and nice to have.

I spent more time thinking about the values themselves than how I’m going to do that.

I can look back on the year but I have nothing concrete to measure it against. My journal entries exist but they are not focused on these values in particular.

This doesn’t mean I will sit down each day with a checklist in my hand saying things like “Did I improve with compassion?” or “Did I give myself permission to be content?” Nah, we all know that isn’t going to happen.

After the first few days, I’d probably misplace my pen by a few centimetres and use that as an excuse to not bother.

I will not try to quantify every aspect of my life because 1) who has time for that, 2) who wants to have time for that, and 3) that won’t help.

However, I think more regular reflection would go a long way. Maybe I’ll share that with you all here. Maybe.

Lastly, a word on self-improvement.

To the extra attentive folk reading, the last post I made was in 2018… for my birthday.

This failure to write started off as standard procrastination. Then it extended into something different. I fell out of love with self-improvement.

I stopped reading self-improvement articles because I felt as though many articles simply lacked context. Both in terms of the author appreciating the context in which they are writing from and the potential context from which their audience is reading from.

If the advice needs to reach as many people as possible, then it needs to be extremely general and watered down. Overall, a lot of it became boring to read and there was nothing for me to contribute to the genre.

I still enjoy writing but haven’t had the confidence to post anything as a result.

I’m not saying goodbye to my blog but I may try to explore different interests. Who knows – if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year – there’s always more to learn about yourself.

As always, thank you for reading.


Me when I was younger:

I’m 23 | I’m 22 | I’m 21 | I’m 20 | I’m 19

How Chronic Illness Ruins Your Motivation (and what to do about it)

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If you’ve been ill for any period of time, you know that it’s more difficult to do things you need to do or even enjoy. Usually, when you get better, your energy and motivation levels improve also.

Chronic illness makes that equation slightly more complex.

Even when the pain leaves, the motivation levels may stay as low as they were when you were ill. If you’ve noticed this phenomenon, you may wonder why, beyond the clearest answer – “depression”.

How chronic illness ruins motivation

Robert Malenka of Stanford University and his colleagues studied chronic pain in mice. They showed that persistent pain resulted in mice being less and less likely to work for food in comparison to their pain-free friends.

Long-term pain (in this case, a week for the mice), resulted in nerve-cell changes in the nucleus accumbens which is important for processing reward and reinforcement.

When the pain was relieved, the mice were still less willing to work for food even if they were hungry.

The researchers asked if they did not work for food because…

  1. their pain was too severe?
  2. they no longer valued food as much?
  3. they lacked motivation?

More tests showed that they could walk fine and still valued food. Their pain was relieved. They lacked motivation.

Although Dr. Malenka’s study was valuable, it may not be best to directly translate these findings to humans. What we can take from this is that long-term pain seems to reduce motivation even after the pain has left.

There seems to be a slight edge taken off life when you’re in pain because you grow to expect the pain to continue. More tasks appear futile because they were difficult or unable to be completed in the past.

Moreover, we must also be aware of the complex intertwining with depression, fatigue and emotional tiredness that comes with living with an illness for a long period of time. Quite literally, it can change you physically and mentally.

What can we do about it?

Now we know that chronic pain can influence motivation even when the pain isn’t there, we can start with the first tip:

  1. Forgive yourself

There are days when pain isn’t as bad but we still don’t want to do anything. Now we know why.

To stop yourself from falling victim to the useless command of “just snap out of it!”, understand that it’s more important to be on your own team and to forgive yourself if things don’t always go to plan.

2. Start small…

…and stay small.

I’ve long been an advocate of making small, healthier changes that you can do every day. They are more sustainable, more enjoyable, easier to do and easier to fit into the day. Not everything needs to be a 100% effort – and they’re useless if you can rarely put in that effort.

For example:

  1. 5 minute daily walks
  2. 5 minute meditation
  3. 20 minutes of reading

The daily actions vary from person to person. Some people can manage 30 minutes of walking a day, other people find it difficult to walk to the kitchen sometimes. No need to feel ashamed or arrogant about whatever stage we’re at.

What does “stay small” mean?

It means, on pain-free days or simply days that you feel good, you may not want to take advantage of that and do everything you’ve hoped for. It feeds into the boom and bust cycle of pain management.

Pain ratings:

Day 1: 5/10 | Day 2: 6/10 | Day 3: 4/10 | Day 4: 1/10 NOW WE RUN A MARATHON WHILE COOKING FOR 100 PEOPLE

Day 5: 9/10 – We do nothing.

And repeat.

We want to have a reasonable amount of consistency in our days so that we can consistently feel rewarded for our efforts regardless of our pain levels. That is easier said than done but still possible to a degree.

If we feed into the boom and bust cycle, even those days where your body doesn’t feel like it’s on fire can result in us doing very little.

3. Take time to slow down

Some days, all the medication or tips in the world can’t really help us. But we can try our best to take some time to ourselves and slow down just a bit.

Whether that is through:

  • Taking a few deep breaths
  • Stroking our hands lightly
  • Eating and drinking mindfully
  • Hugging a teddy bear (or person… subject to availability, of course)

We can experiment with healthy ways to stop ourselves from getting lost in the self-hatred or anxiety that comes from a lack of motivation and depression.

Why bother?

Chronic pain often makes us ask ourselves – why bother? We can very easily build resentment towards our condition and ourselves. Who doesn’t want to have more control over their lives?

I won’t tell you that you should feel a certain way after reading this. I certainly won’t say that you should feel motivated. However, do take away that small, sustainable changes can be a healthy way to manage pain and our motivation levels.

To end, I quote Toni Bernhard…

May you make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens.


As always, thank you for reading!

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Further reading:

12 Ways to Cope with Chronic Pain and Depression

Decreased motivation during chronic pain requires long-term depression in the nucleus accumbens

Study reveals brain mechanism behind chronic pain’s sapping of motivation

The Want Monster: Wanting What We Don’t Have

The “Want” Monster.

It’s that little voice in your head which tells you “I want this and that and everything in between!” or “I don’t want this because it’s horrible!”

It isn’t a kind voice but one of consistent temptation. It’s a quiet and smooth voice which can infiltrate your thoughts without a problem. And when we’re bombarded with advertising and deals designed to make you panic, the voice comes out in full force, puts on its lawyer suit and starts justifying everything it possibly can.

Unfortunately, the Want Monster is also dumb because wanting is all it can do. It doesn’t disappear once we have what we apparently desire. Rather, it presses the snooze button and waits for another opportunity to wake up again.

It’s an unquenchable thirst.

Tanha – the Buddhist idea of the self-focused desire to want more and more. We justify it by thinking that we will have a peace of mind after it appears.

But nah. That doesn’t happen.

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She’d probably go shopping for more. Looking good though, can’t lie.

I Want What You Have

I was eating lunch with my sister when I was about 7. We were having chicken wings with rice and stew. I finished mine, she hadn’t finished hers. And I sat down and ate the rest of my food in peace.

Ok, of course not. I stared at her plate of food until my gran gave me her wings and replaced my sister’s food with a boney piece of meat.

She held a grudge for years. Hell, I’d be mad too because those wings were magnificent.

This somewhat comical example of just wanting what other people have. Kids do it all the time. Adults do it too but with things more ambitious than chicken wings and toys.

Here is the science.

Lebreton et al in Your Goal Is Mine: Unraveling Mimetic Desires in the Human Brain, explores this in a lot of detail but I want to get to the important part for our purposes.

First, it’s really easy to start mimicking the desires of other people. The authors simply showed the participants pictures of sweets that looked slightly different and had an unseen person pick one. Uniformly, the participants preferred the sweet picked by the unseen person.

Second and most importantly, we don’t want something because someone else has it, we value something because someone else values it. This means that we believe the reward given by the item is greater because other people have it and we value highly valued things (sorry for the mouthful).

What does this mean for us?

The Want Monster will always have something to feast on and desire!

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I suppose in this picture, I would have taken the whole plate. Photo by Herson Rodriguez on Unsplash

How can we want less?

I’ll say that there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting things. Rather, it’s a source of suffering because our desires are ever changing and we can never seem to satisfy them.

Even if we get what we want.

So clearly, giving into our desires every time they pop up, isn’t a healthy way to address them.

What are your values?

When we notice the Want Monster knocking on our door, we may want to ask if what it is offering matches the values we want to live by and the long-term goals we have for ourselves.

We don’t always need to tell the Want Monster to click its heels three times and disappear. Addressing it with some calm can resolve the conflict the quickest.

If you haven’t thought through your values and long-term desires, you may want to take a few minutes from your day to think about it. Here is the example I wrote at 21.

The “If/Only” test

Another helpful pointer from Toni Bernhard (bloody love every word she puts on paper).

It helps us find out – do we think we’ll be completely satisfied if we got this one thing?

If only I had my sisters chicken wings, I’d be satisfied.

If only I wasn’t ill, I’d be completely happy.

If only I had new shoes, I’d feel better with my shoe collection.

If only I had this new job, I’d feel useful again.

Looking over these things, it seems odd to think that one new thing can put an end to the desires that we have. That isn’t to say they can’t help but I suggest we try moving away from believing that satisfying the Want Monster is the way to get it to leave.

After I had my sister’s chicken wings, I went back to the kitchen to look for more. There weren’t anymore.

Our happiness quickly gives way to new wants and don’t wants.

Focus on the desire rather than the object of the desire

The above test helps gently shift our attention towards mindfully thinking about the fact that we’re desiring something rather than what we are desiring.

It is helpful to realise that satisfying particular desires doesn’t lead to sustained happiness because more appear in its place.

When we notice this desire, we can simply let it be. With time, it’ll pass. That’s why it’s said, “if you want something, wait a week and see if you forget about it”. (OK, it’s probably more elegant than that but I’m an amateur.)

Desires aren’t all bad.

To end, I want to clarify something that could be easily mistaken. Don’t take this as me saying all desires are bad.

I’ve used the term Want Monster because unchecked desires can often lead us down a dangerous path.

We begin to follow our desires blindly rather than let our desires be guided by our values. If we want junk food but we also have a greater aim to feed your body good foods, it is the Want Monster guiding us to make decisions, for example.

Generally, the Want Monster is much more focused on the short term rather than the long term.

Mindfully addressing our desires and remembering the unquenchable thirst will allow us to live closer to our personal values and get things that mean the most to us.

If I could go back in time, I would give my sister’s chicken wings back and enjoy my rice and stew in peace.


As always, thank you for reading!

No question for today. All I ask is that you share your thoughts on this topic!

Comment down below :)

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Further Reading:

You want that? Well I want it, too! The neuroscience of mimetic desire

How to Wake Up