The two-week experiment|The Sunday Monday Post

We’re two weeks into 2018.

How many new year resolutions have been broken and revitalised already? How many are still going strong?

That doesn’t matter too much. We all hear the same advice – make it a habit. Shoot for sustainable change rather than drastic alterations to our lifestyle. If you slip up once, get back on track as quickly as possible.

I agree with all of this advice because it’s helpful. However, it doesn’t address the main problem I find with New Year Resolutions.

They’re often boring and create too much pressure for perfection.

Who cares about being healthy when Pringles are £1? or exercise when it’s raining and windy?

2018 isn’t special. Neither will 2019 be. There is nothing grand about the change of year. We all know this, yet depend on it anyway even if we decide not to formally create any resolutions.

Why is this a misleading mindset?

Let’s take a quick look at the term “resolution”:

The firm decision to do or not to do something

“I’m going to exercise more”

“I’m going to eat less junk”

“I’m going to call my parents once a week”

Whatever the form, the underlying philosophy is that “this is the time I finally make a change!” When we make resolutions, we often treat them as though we should make a specific change and if we fail, we are failures. That isn’t true – it’s a misleading train of thought.

Experiments and Projects

I returned to an idea I probably heard from the likes of Tim Ferriss and that is the two week experiment and six month project. 

Experiments are an opportunity to try something new or do something slightly differently. They view failure as a possibility rather than something which must be avoided at all costs.

With New Year Resolutions, we always have the possiblity that we’ll fail but it’s as though we choose to ignore it because we believe we can will ourselves to success (it’s not that easy).

Two weeks is a short enough timeframe for our efforts not to feel unproductive and damaging. If we choose to jump ship early, we haven’t sunk too much time into it. If we enjoy it, we can simply carry on and maybe we’ll stick with it long enough.

It’s also a short enough timeframe for it to stay exciting, I’ve found. It’s like we get to become a slightly different person for a short time! Given how easy it is to get stuck in mundane routines, small changes can be wonderful.

The six month project allows for an overarching theme to come from the experiments.

A six month project: Learn data visualisation.

Two-week experiment no.1: Only utilise data on a sport you know nothing about when creating visualisations.

Two-week experiment no.2: Produce a new visualisation every two days.

Two-week experiement no.3: Work on a detailed visualisation that utilises a new skill and produce a story at the end of the two weeks.

You get the idea?

A current example of mine is the following.

Six month project: Lose weight.

Two-week experiment no.1: Have a vegan meal a day

It’s been going very well actually. They’re fun and a helpful break from the bad and good habits that I’ve maintained for a while.

Try the following:

  1. Write down a goal you’ve wanted to achieve.
  2. Think: six months has passed – what do I want it to look like? That is your new project.
  3. Experiment: what’s an interesting way to make progress on your project? What haven’t you tried before? What has been unsuccessful in the past and how might you make a change to it?

Now, be reasonable. I don’t recommend you try fasting for two weeks or skydiving without a parachute to aid weightloss.


Happy 2018!

What might you experiment with next?

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for updates!

4 Ways To Be Happy for Other People

It’s easy to feel bad about other people’s achievements. We compare ourselves to their personal position in life (as though life is a straight line with a finish!) and usually note the bad stuff.

“She’s got this wonderful job – I’m stuck here!”

“He’s in really good shape and I’ve just finished a burger and chips with plenty of regret on the side”

Whatever it is, it tends to follow the pattern of “they’ve done x, I haven’t done x so I suck”.

This kind of thinking pattern sucks out a lot of joy from every interaction.

Our joy becomes inauthentic, we dislike ourselves because of what someone else has done and the other person may feel guilty for sharing their happiness.

Instead, we can practice mudita or appreciative joy.

Here are four skills we can slowly develop to increase the amount of happiness we have for other people!

  1.  Empathy goes both ways

Empathy is usually spoken about in terms of making sense of another person’s suffering. We step into their shoes to experience the path they walk in order to treat them better in the future.

But really, empathy is a neutral term. It is:

The capacity to understand and share the feelings of others ~ google 2017

Meaning we can do the same for happiness as we can for sadness. And don’t worry, you’re not stealing happiness from them the same way you’re not taking sadness from someone by simply being empathetic.

It’s the result of the empathy which tells you whether you’ve been kind and helpful.

We can develop empathy in a variety of ways. For now, I’ll pass you onto the lovely book Empathy by Roman Krznaric

2. Start with those we do not have a complicated relationship with

Oddly enough, it’s those closest to us which may cause us the most sadness. The self-comparison is often that bit more intense.

But when we start with people our relationship isn’t too complicated with, we reduce the chances of feeling envious or frustrated because we see less of their lives (and have less to compare ourselves too).

So this can be a distant friend or an acquaintance. We take ourselves out of the equation and simply experience the happiness that comes from someone else’s joy.

When we start practising appreciative joy towards people who are closer to us, that feeling becomes more intense and valuable. We’re likely to understand just how much someone wanted that job or how hard they worked to achieve the results they did.

The extra context, instead of inspiring envy, intensifies the joy.

andy-kelly-402111.jpg
Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

3. Keep your ego in check

Ego is the Enemy says Ryan Holiday and in many respects, I agree. Especially when it comes to being happy for other people.

When the feelings of jealousy and frustration arise due to someone else’s happiness, much of it can be attributed to our ego being starved for attention and jealousy is its way of taking it back.

It doesn’t care whether it brings sadness or happiness, all it wants is attention.

It’s incredibly difficult to be genuinely happy for another person and at the same time be completely self-absorbed.

So when you notice those feelings arise you can ask yourself: am I simply craving attention? The answer is likely “yes”. If it is, you can gently return you attention to the other person’s happiness.

mi-pham-223464.jpg
Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

4. Enjoy being happy

It may be tempting to think something along the lines of “I don’t deserve to be happy because someone else is happy!”

That’s just the comparison monster creeping in again. And it’s speaking complete tosh.

When do you deserve to be happy, then? When you’ve crushed everyone around you with your unwavering financial success? When everyone in the world is happy for you and you’re too cool to smile and say thanks?

Forget about whether you deserve to be happy by rejoicing in someone else’s joy.

What you’re doing is a lovely act of compassion. You’re allowing yourself to calm the feelings of envy and you’re directing even more happiness and pride in someone else’s path.

How wonderful is that?

And that is appreciative joy. A remarkably simple practice but one which brings plenty of happiness to everyone who experiences it.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

Who are you happy for? 

Comment down below :)

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

Will I be OK? – Accepting and running away

I’ve maintained a journal for over three years.

Every day I sit down and write something. Usually about my day, a topic that’s interested me or thinking about how I’m feeling. The main topic tends to be about pain because I tend to write these words late in the day when my energy is low and my pain is high.

A theme that continuously appears in my journal is this: Will I be OK?


I’ve noticed that being in continuous pain and face to face with my bodily limitations on a day to day basis feels like a personal failure.

I wasn’t the one who caused this pain nor was I the person who asked for it. Yet, being in pain and lying in bed for hours or struggling through work feels like I’m doing something wrong and it feels like I am staring failure right in the face when I think about how I am in the present moment.

I’m exhausted even though I’ve barely left my room. I’m sad even though there are many reasons to be happy. I’m disappointed even though I’ve reached difficult goals in the past (like completing a Masters degree).

So, when I’m in pain, I feel as though I am also experiencing failure however irrational that might be. Perhaps you feel the same way.

Despite the belief that I’m “failing”, why do I still believe I’ll be OK? How do I know I’ll be OK?

ihor-malytskyi-204553
Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash

What does it mean to be OK?

Maybe a strange question but it deserves some attention. Generally, it’s defined as something that is simply acceptable. Perhaps not good but not bad either.

We say it to our friends all the time:

“Don’t worry, you’ll be OK, alright?”

“We’ll be fine, we’ll make it through”

“You’ll survive this tough patch”

Should a life of pain be “simply acceptable”? Is it simply acceptable?

There isn’t much to like about chronic pain. However, that doesn’t mean that living a “simply acceptable” or even good life is impossible despite the challenges.

Experiences in life and relationships with others are thankfully a bit more complicated than the following argument:

  1. Life with chronic pain is bad
  2. I have chronic pain
  3. Therefore, I have a bad life.

There are many other people, experiences, relationships, gifts and so on to find richness in. To “be OK” is a reasonably personal definition because only you know what you find acceptable or which areas of your life are worse than others.

We can be OK in some places, worse in others. Upon reflection, we build an overall idea of whether we’re OK.

Engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult.

joshua-clay-27368

I don’t know

Let’s look at it differently.

Perhaps I don’t know at all. Perhaps any time I say to myself or to my friends “you’ll be OK” is simply a leap of faith.

Perhaps I won’t be OK.

When faced with uncertainty, could it be best to believe it because it’s the most helpful option? Admitting we don’t know if we’ll be OK doesn’t mean we should definitely believe we won’t be.

Instead we believe it anyway because it helps inspire action that will help us walk in the right direction.

It reminds us that engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult. It is unlikely to be life threatening and can help us in the long-term with a healthy approach to addressing emotions we usually avoid.

Reminding myself that I’ll be OK started off as a near meaningless chant that I simply really wanted to be true.

Only telling yourself that you’ll be OK isn’t how to begin to believe it. It comes from slowly working through emotions and trying to address them any time they come in.

Anger, frustration and sadness are akin to unwelcome visitors. It is best we welcome them in and let them leave on their own.

Otherwise they’ll pick the lock and let themselves in.

Will I be OK?

ricky-kharawala-10194
This doesn’t have much to do with the post. But I like it. Photo by Ricky Kharawala on Unsplash

And we’re back to the main question and my answer is this: maybe I will be. Maybe I’ll be good or even brilliant!

But that starts with slowly and softly giving ourselves a way to address and accept our difficult emotions instead of running from them. This way, when they come up in the future, we have practiced and know how to handle them.

We can start with a few things:

  1. Give ourselves a place to be vulnerable

Sometimes, everything just becomes overwhelming. And you know what? That’s fine. Having a physical place we can relax and simply experience our emotions is useful.

For me, it’s lying in bed or the yoga mat. For others, it can be a park they know they’ll have privacy.

Whatever it is, it’s a place for honesty. Over time, it may even become a place of strength. A place where you can say to yourself “I’m not running from this”.

2. Let the fear pass

The fear of the negative emotions approaching can be just as bad as the experience you’re hoping to avoid.

It can be difficult to notice but with some mindfulness training, it becomes easier. You may find that your body becomes tense or you crave junk food (not personal experience…).

But the fear won’t bite. We just sit and focus on something small. With time, the fear will subside and we will have the focus to engage with the tough emotions.

Like many skills, emotional acceptance is one to be developed through practice. We may not know we’ll be OK (whatever that means to us) but sometimes it’s helpful to believe that we will be.

Then, with time and practice we can answer the question of “Will I be OK?” meaningfully. Maybe we’ll accept that we do not know the answer.

Will I be OK? Perhaps.

Will you be OK? I definitely hope so.

Whatever it is, let us appreciate that we’re developing the skills to help ourselves along when times are difficult.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

Do you have a sacred place to be vulnerable? 

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

 

 

Should You Follow Your Own Advice?

The first answer seems to be yes. If you’re giving advice, you must think it’s good to follow therefore you should too.

I don’t think the answer is obvious. There are situations when you can give advice without following it yourself and still be in a good position.

Unpacking the question of whether you should follow your own advice is valuable in a few ways. The first is that it’s  interesting (to me, at least) and second, it gives us the chance to think about whether the advice we’re giving is useful.

Not following your own advice

There are a number of situations when not following your own advice is perfectly fine or even the right thing to do.

In 2005, Steve Jobs gave a commencement speech at Stanford. He said to the students ‘follow your heart’. That advice, as argued by Cal Newport, he didn’t follow. He didn’t seem to be the most passionate about technology or start-ups but ended up becoming a leading influence within technology and his effects are still felt today.

Whether or not this argument is convincing, similar things happen to other people. Leo Babauta recently admitted he’d stopped focusing on single tasks (although he wants to return) and still produces great work every day.

Despite writing Create Without Expectation, I still find it difficult to rid myself of paralysing expectations to do well.

You’ve probably given advice, not followed it, yet still achieved what you want.

In these examples, there are two themes.

In the example of Leo, he’s graduated his advice and can now handle more than the person he’s giving his advice to.

He’s no longer like the person he’s advising.

This doesn’t need to be elitist. When we start learning maths, we’re taught techniques that a teacher would no longer use. The advice is still valuable for the beginner but not for the advanced person.

If a person is sufficiently advanced enough to know the effects of following the advice, they can give advice without following it themselves. For example, fat dietitians or personal trainers can still give useful advice about losing weight and doing proper exercises.

In the example of Steve Jobs, it’s possible that the advice simply isn’t very good, too vague or unrealistic.

Who can give advice?

Anyone.

It’s easy to give advice. There are many people who give relationship advice without ever being in a relationship or people who talk about beating procrastination despite being the worst procrastinators.

The requirement for advice giving is low.

A lot of advice seems to be personal experience with a self-proclaimed detachment from the situation. Personal experience adds credibility because we then know that it’s at least worked for one person and that person has no reason to lie to us (assuming they’re trusted). Objectivity helps because they can analyse the situation a few more ways than you might have yourself.

Following advice, even if it’s good, is harder. The advice giver is nearly in opposition to the person receiving it. They are attached to the situation and the problem becomes very personal to them when the advice giver tends to be very detached.

“When we think about other people, and what might be right for them, it’s a lot easier to see them as the big picture. It’s much harder to apply that big-picture perspective to ourselves.”

Hal Hershfield

It’s when advice giving and advice reception is complementary we make progress. In order to make these two position complementary, I’ve found it helpful to reduce the importance of objectivity and practice more empathy.

How should we give advice?

Advice can still be good without the advice giver following it themselves. Different situations often demand different types of advice.

However, what seems to be more likely is that by giving advice to other people, you’re giving advice to yourself. This means you’re in similar positions. Should you follow your own advice in this situation? Yes, if you have some desire to change.

If you can’t, it might speak to the quality of advice you’re giving. Which brings us to why the question is helpful.

If you can’t follow your own advice yet give it to others, the advice could either be bad, too simplified or irrelevant.

It’s easy to give lazy or ‘just-do-it’ advice.

  • Just start working
  • Just save more
  • Just stop eating so much

Simple advice, right? Sometimes helpful but rarely does it inspire much action. It’s easy to give because it negates the problem and packages it as a helpful answer.  Most importantly, it distances us from the problem – reducing our likelihood of being empathetic when helping others.

We probably don’t aim to be dismissive when giving such advice but I’ve found it’s useful to make a greater effort to refrain from giving dismissive advice.

“Once you understand something, it is difficult to remember what it was like not to understand it”.

Peter Lipton

When we’ve overcome a problem, it’s tough to appreciate how it was to experience it.

If we’ve lost weight, it’s unlikely the only step we followed was to ‘eat less’. It probably involved reducing portion sizes, drinking more water and taking the stairs instead of the lift.

If we’ve improved our grades, it’s unlikely that we just ‘worked more’. It may have involved setting out time for the library, taking more breaks and focusing more in class.

And so on.

This just-do-it advice tends to be a label for more detailed advice that needs to be unpacked rather than the advice to be followed. It’s easy to get the two conflated because we might not even notice the small changes we make in order to achieve the bigger goal.

Not following our own advice when we think we should, helps give an insight into why other people might not either. There’s a large difference between ‘knowing’ you should do something and feeling it. It befalls many of us.

So should you follow your own advice?

Yes, if it’s good and relevant.

By asking this question we’ve discovered that good advice can be difficult to give. It requires empathy and an effort to be attentive to the problem rather than dismissive. Thankfully, asking whether we would actually follow it can be a signal towards whether it will be helpful.

It’s a good thing to try being helpful (I wouldn’t write this blog otherwise) and trying to improve how helpful you are is another goal worthy of attention.

No, if you don’t need it (or want it).

We don’t always have to follow our advice just because we’ve given it to someone else. Sometimes we don’t need it as it’s become irrelevant to our own needs or we know it’s proven to work and don’t need to apply it to our own lives.

There’s a bigger discussion about what good advice is and how to give it but I won’t start that here. I don’t know a definite answer to any of those questions.

Do you follow your own advice? Do you think you should?


 

Sign up to my fortnightly newsletter for free updates on my best posts.

Share this post on Facebook or Twitter!

Further Reading:

Why don’t we take our own advice?

Your Own Advice is the Hardest Pill to Swallow

Why Is It So Hard To Take Your Own Advice?