I’m 23

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This is me. Photo by George Lucian Rusu on Unsplash

Every year, I publish a post on my birthday looking back on the year and asking myself whether I’ve lived in accordance with my values.

This year, I want to keep it short and ask two questions:

  1. Do I love myself?
  2. What am I grateful for?

Hopefully, there’s loads of life ahead, more people to meet and great food to eat. Let’s begin.


Lovely love

So, I love a lot of people. I’m quite generous with my love. I try to value my friendships with relationships with people because they’re often what makes life worth living.

Seeing my girlfriend laugh at my amazing jokes (if you ask her she’ll say something like “no, he’s not funny… ah his jokes are terrible” then roll her eyes and laugh at the idea that I was ever considered funny, but really, that’s just her way of saying “He really is the funniest guy I’ve ever been around”).

Knowing my friends can rely on me to listen to them in times of need but not get to a restaurant on time. Or getting positive feedback from people on my writing (but only rarely because I rarely write) is all beautiful.

Do I extend that same courtesy to myself? No.

Maybe “self-love” doesn’t need to be as intense as the love we have for other people, but I think it would be helpful to be more compassionate towards myself.

Perhaps I can try being compassionate towards myself with regard to my actions rather than thoughts.

Thoughts come and go. Negative or positive. Actions can be slightly more long-lasting – like eating well and exercising.

By the time I’m 24, perhaps I’ll love myself a bit more.


I am grateful for…

Friends and family

I’ve surrounded myself with a bunch of really dope people and I don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t without them. Even those I’ve lost contact with.

Charity

I never posted it here but I recently raised £480 for Cancer Research UK, Marie Curie UK and Diabetes UK.

It involved a lot of swimming (about 25 miles over 3 months) but I was going to do that anyway so why not raise money will doing it?

We (the donors and I) were successful in the end. We helped a great cause and I got fitter in the mean time.

Exercise

I’m always grateful that I simply have the ability to exercise. If my back had been slightly worse, I may not have had proper use of my legs! Even if that happened, I still would have found a way to exercise.

It’s great. It’s like a free way to feel accomplished and non-sluggish.

I recommend you appreciate your body, regardless of its flaws and try some light exercise. When you get into the groove of it – I demand an ultra-marathon.

Vegetables

Ok, I’ll explain.

In short, I’ve been eating more vegetables and they’re bloody great. It’s like free food that makes your plate look like a rainbow.

Vegetables are just dope, man. I feel sorry for those who still say things like “I don’t eat vegetables” because they just remember those sad what-even-is-flavour, I’ve-been-steamed-for-too-long, I-am-pure-trash looking veggies they had in primary school.

Books

Books are the best investment possible. Unless you’re an American college student.

I can read words. That’s really great.

There are millions of really good words in a beautiful order out there and it’s a pleasure to be able to experience the worlds other people create.


There’s probably more but I was meant to keep this short.

For everyone that’s read my work over the past year or longer, thank you. I love you too.

@ImprovingSlowly


I used to be younger:

I’m 22

I’m 21

I’m 20

I’m 19

Sadness | The Sunday Monday Post

If you’d give me the chance, I’d like to talk about being sad. Lost. Frustrated. Depressed.

But first, I want to celebrate a few things.

I have a friend who is currently transitioning (or “transforming” as she now says) and says she’s the happiest she’s ever been. I’m happy for her.

I have a friend who, after a year of multiple applications, crude bosses and near overwhelming responsibility, managed to get a job directly related to her field. I was there when she got the job offer and believe me, her smile was as big as the sun. I’m happy for her too.

Ms Improving Slowly (or Arguably Honest) had a mighty relaxing holiday and a break from all of my terrible jokes. I’m happy for her too.

My dad got a job rather quickly after his previous position ended and I can always see a small pep in his step after things like this happen. I’m happy for him too (although, it hasn’t motivated him enough to use the exercise bike we have!)

There’s a lot to be happy about when I really attempt to practice appreciative joy. That is, taking yourself out of the equation and simply enjoying the happiness that other people are experiencing. To me, that is one of the greatest upside of empathy. While it is often used in the context of trying to help people who aren’t in a good position, it can also be used to celebrate the positive!

I find, when you care about the important intensely, you begin to share the moments of happiness as you do the moments of sadness. And that is OK. In fact, I think that makes relationships that much richer. So much more valuable. 

When you’re around, regardless of the highs and lows, you’ll experience some good moments. Happiness comes along and it feels good.


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LoboStudio Hamburg

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned publicly, but I’ve dealt with depression for about three years now. In that time, there have been many many low moments. Currently, I think I’m in one of those spirals where everything you hold onto seems slippery and you retreat into yourself.

Just waiting for it to pass.

Of course, it’s difficult to imagine that it ever will! Even with the evidence that happiness has come about before, the hill always seems difficult and impossible to climb. Especially with the fact that a lot of my mood is tied to my pain. And that doesn’t want to leave me in a hurry.

In a “recent” post, I asked myself what the purpose of this blog is. What does Improving Slowly mean? The first principle was to accept that we’re all working drafts. That also means we’re far from perfect. And most definitely our thoughts aren’t always perfect, true, helpful or even valuable.

You may have these moments of extreme self-doubt – the same way I do. Doubting your skill set, what you add to the world, wondering who cares about you and asking yourself whether you should even take another step.

It would be best if you do take the next step. Even if it’s the tiniest step possible. Towards a small moment of peace where you are free of continuous self-judgement and vitriol.

I always say when I’m stressed that there’s always time to take two breaths to yourself. While this doesn’t solve my sadness, it helps me slow down and return to the present instead of dancing in the frenzy of the future.

One.

Two.

With time, even if it takes weeks, I begin to remember that sadness does pass.

The depression may stay around but that’s a much larger battle to tackle one step at a time.

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Jake Thacker


Relationships are important. I’m appreciating that more and more.

It gives me the opportunity to remember there’s more than myself in the world. I don’t need to get lost in my own thoughts all the time. I can enjoy the experiences of others.

Or I can help and be helped.

Being lonely is difficult and stigmatising. It’s something I want to explore in more detail so I won’t do it here. However, if there’s one thing to take from this post, I ask that you tell your friends and family that you appreciate them.

If there’s someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, maybe say hello again (you can probably skip the small talk and just ask something interesting – everyone is “good” or “fine”).

And that’s about it. Sadness happens. It also stops at times. Being sad isn’t a defect – it’s just an emotion.

And they pass.


As always, thank you for reading!

If anyone asks, I’ll be alright. I’m just trying to be more honest and show I’m not perfect but making steps to improve myself.

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If you are depressed or anything of the sort, here are some resources (for the UK):

NHS DIRECT
Provides 24 hour access to nurse advice, information about healthcare and about local health services. Contact NHS Direct for help with a current health concern, to ask about out of hours doctors’ services and for emergency health advice.

Helpline: 0845 46 47, every day, 24 hours a day
Websitewww.nhsdirect.nhs.uk

SAMARITANS
Samaritans provides confidential non-judgemental support, 24 hours a day for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide.

Telephone: 0845 7 90 90 90, every day, 24 hours a day
Emailjo@samaritans.org
Websitewww.samaritans.org
SANE
SANE is one of the UK’s leading charities concerned with improving the lives of everyone affected by mental illness.

Helpline: 0845 767 8000, every day, 1:00pm-11:00pm
Emailsanemail@sane.org.uk
Websitewww.sane.org.uk

ACTION ON DEPRESSION
Supports the running of self help support groups in various parts of Scotland which offer the opportunity for confidential local support and contact with others in a similar situation.
Provides an information service offering support and information on depression to individuals, their families and friends and professionals working with people who have depression; a quarterly members newsletter and a range of helpful publications.

Telephone: 0808 802 2020 Information Service, Wednesdays, 2:00pm-4:00pm
Emailinfo@actionondepression.org
Websitewww.actionondepression.org

Please go to Depression UK for more detailed links.

Here is why productivity doesn’t matter

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Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

One question that has, for some reason, bothered me quite a lot is: what is productivity?

Throughout all the different personal development and productivity blogs I’ve read, I’ve learned a number of ways to be more productive. Eliminate distractions, exercise, don’t have long meetings and so on and so on.

However, I never really took time to understand what productivity is.

Perhaps this is because the first answer is quite mundane.

The ability to produce stuff.

It’s a keystone behind David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” system which has sold millions of copies and inspired a host of productivity blogs out there.

The more productive you are, the more stuff you produce or complete.

Is this helpful? Anyone can be extremely productive if you take this definition because you can complete a lot of small, relatively meaningless tasks and say you’ve had an extremely productive day every day. This is why answering a bunch of emails or cleaning the house might feel productive even though you’ve put off something more important.

Simply producing more stuff isn’t a helpful definition in a lot of contexts we’re now in. What about…

The ability to produce important stuff.

This is a bit more focused. If complete more important stuff you’re going to be more productive than the person who just completes a bunch of meaningless tasks, right? For example, if you decide not to answer a bunch of emails and instead write the important report or calculate the important calculation, then you’re producing more valuable stuff.

While we’re getting closer to a more usable definition, we’re not there yet. What happens if the tasks you’re working on aren’t important to you but rather someone else? Am I being unproductive because the ‘important’ goals aren’t important to me?

Possibly. But many of us will work for other people and on important tasks that do not completely align with our personal passions. It’s a normal part of a working life in whatever capacity. The importance of the task depends on the context but then we may want to think in more depth about the kind of context we find ourselves in the majority of the time.

We may think about productivity in personal terms – getting stuff done that’s important to you. Doing this might be quite drastic because we could find that we’re largely unproductive despite doing brilliantly at your job or studies. We do want to make distinction between business and personal productivity because not everyone is at the luxury of being able to quit their jobs and focus on things that are only important to them. But it’s a helpful tool when coming to think about your priorities and how you can ensure you’re focusing on them as much as you can.

However, I don’t want to keep on twisting and contorting the definition of productivity. Working on and creating things that are important to you whether that is in a personal or business sense. This discussion leaves us a more important question.

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Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

Does your productivity matter?

The simple definition of productivity – getting stuff done – is unhelpful. Thinking about getting stuff done in terms of their importance is much more helpful. Yet, the more I think about it, the less I think it actually matters.

In the short term, of course it matters. You don’t want to lose your job or fail university because you’re too busy watching videos on things that barely interest you. In the long term, I think the value of an action might be better judged by its ability to help you live with integrity or overall satisfaction.

Focusing on things that are important to you isn’t good simply because they are productive. Instead, it results in matching the things that matter to you and the actions you complete every day. In doing that, we live with greater presence and a movement away from chastising yourself for “not being productive enough” or “lazy” or “wasting time”.

If we judge something as a waste of time because it doesn’t help us live in line with our values instead of whether it is helping us be productive enough, it helps us do a few things.

First, we stop micro managing our time. Doing this helps us stray away from being overly critical of how we spend our time.

Second, it gets to the deeper cause of our disappointment. We can spend a day with a very difficult problem and not write a single word yet still feel like we’ve done something useful. We can spend a day writing rubbish all day, and feel remarkably unsatisfied with everything. It’s the lack of personal importance that seems to drive this disappointment.

Third, we think honestly about the bigger picture – and make steps towards them. My yearly integrity posts are an attempt to slow down and reassess what is really important to me and how I can mould my life and my days in that direction. Doing this places a useful urgency into my days.

So, if not productivity, what is important?

Seneca complains that

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it. Life is long if you know how to use it.

we say life is short yet treat it as though we will live forever. Regularly returning to important values instead of getting lost in thoughts about what is productive and what isn’t, I think, is more helpful overall.

Thinking about productivity is useful but should only come second to thinking about actions that help us live in accordance with our values.

To do this, we have to slow down and remember what is actually important rather than going so fast you’ve been running in the wrong direction for ages.

As always, thank you for reading.


 

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I’m 22

It’s been a while since I last posted. I have reasons, many of them are bad. But I’m here now, and that’s what matters.

I’m also a month late (again) for my own birthday post. Some things just don’t change.

As usual, this is an integrity report. What do I care about and have I been living towards those values?

I started doing this after seeing Scott H Young write birthday posts and James Clear write integrity reports and combined them. I’m not creative, I just borrow a lot.

Living a life of integrity is incredibly important to me. One of the greatest sources of unhappiness I’ve found in my days is where my expectations and actions don’t match. Of course, expectations can and should be managed to be reasonable so you’re not perpetually unhappy. Perhaps then, it was a problem of expectations. Instead, living in line with values is important because they determine your actions and your expectations.

Living in accordance with my values is satisfying because they ask me how I can improve myself and contribute to the world positively. This doesn’t need to be through large political rallies – it can be something as simple as letting someone know they look nice in their shirt.

So I will ask:

  1. What are my values? Has anything changed?
  2. How am I living towards them?
  3. What can I do better?

create more consume less

What are my values? Has anything changed? 

Last year, I explained all of them in a bit of detail. If you’d like to read that, you can find it here.

Growth

  • Anything worth doing is worth doing well
  • Improve slowly with compassion
  • Exude grit in the face of adversity
  • Examine the world honestly

Well-being

  • Give myself permission to be content
  • Eat healthily and exercise
  • Take time to slow down, often
  • Make steps to becoming the person  I want to be

Compassion and Contribution

  • Make the world better for others
  • Contribute to the world rather than simply consume it
  • Speak with kindness and leave negative judgement behind

To summarise: Create more. Consume less. Add value.

I haven’t had much reason to make drastic changes to the values that I want to live by. However, there is something I’d like to add under the “compassion” category.

Forgive myself.

We have thousands of thoughts flying through our heads all the time. Unfortunately, many of them negative and those thoughts are the easiest to latch onto. They seem to identify us because they appear permanent and personal.

“I’m an idiot” “I’ll never be able to produce good work” “My body hates me so I hate my body”

While I try to be a good friend to others, I can’t say I do the same for myself. If my negative thoughts were said by a separate person, I’d think they were terrible. Why must I do it to myself?

So I want to exercise a bit more self-compassion. Forgive myself for mistakes, bad working days, displays of rudeness, whatever it is. If I want to care about the important, I think I would like to regard myself important. At least to me.

Am I living with integrity?

I’ve learned a significant amount from over the course of the past year.

How have I grown as a person?

From the time between 21 to 22, I have finished a Philosophy degree and started a Master’s degree.

The pain is still a big problem so when I think of being more “gritty” I suppose I can point to that. I’ve pushed through, reminded myself that I’m capable and continued. This isn’t to say that I just grit my teeth and endure the pain. That would be dishonest. Rather, I’ve taken it upon myself to learn more coping mechanisms to help me get through it. They aren’t all perfect (or positive) but it’s a useful step that I’m happy I’ve taken.

I’m most proud of learning how to swim. For the longest time, I was petrified of swimming. I was certain that I could drown even if my face was completely above water. The water was lava. Everything was lava.

And I looked stupid in speedos.

fishes drown

I ditched the speedos and picked up adult swimming lessons. I think, in part because I was truly determined to learn how to swim, I overcame my initial fears quite quickly. The water wasn’t lava, it just stung when you forgot to put goggles on. To my surprise, you don’t float as easily as instructors sometimes say but that’s the point of swimming, I suppose.

After many weeks of flailing around in the water, I swam a length (then told everyone about it) swam another two (and shouted it at anyone who would listen) and determined that I could finally swim.

I enjoy swimming a lot now and go regularly. I’m currently trying to swim a mile. But the real victory for me was taking a fear and figuring out how to get through it rather than ignoring it because I could.

I’m not even good. I’m just glad I can swim. We’re all capable of improvement in one way or another. I’ll be faster than Michael Phelps one day.

I can say I’ve been eating healthily and exercising. I’ve lost over 20kg, slipped up many times but improved slowly with compassion and appreciating that I’m a work in progress rather than the finished product. Believing otherwise will always create disappointment. I prefer to think of myself as a person capable of improving rather than a perfect human.

I’ve been growing in many ways. I’ve grown academically and in fitness. As a result, my well-being has generally improved in the long-term.

Compassion and contribution may be the most important set of values for me. If there’s anything for me to be remembered by, I’d rather it was a memory of helping others rather than “wow he could swim 5 miles”. Life’s too important to ignore others completely or make it harder for others.

One of my ways of contributing to others has been through my writing. This blog. My aim is to now write about ideas of practical significance, and thought-provoking but useful pieces. Despite my perpetual doubt in this area, a surprising number of people exclaim their enjoyment of my work and that it proves helpful. I have written some important pieces such as: Care About The Important, Intensely, You Are Stronger Than Your Pain, and Sisu – Developing mental toughness in the face of adversity.

I started meditating consistently again to enjoy some moments of peace and to help manage my pain. I volunteered briefly for Certitude – a charity helping people with learning disabilities. I have cut back drastically on negative judgement and definitely refrained from negative gossip as much as I can (even though it is wildly addictive). Instead, it’s lovely to praise people behind their backs – it always raises the mood of conversations.

What can I do better?

In the spirit of being kinder to myself, I will try not to be too harsh.

Last year, I said I want to write regularly, stay in for the long haul, be more proactive and continue meditating.

I haven’t written regularly. There have been far too many gaps in content because I spend too much time in my head expecting perfect posts then not posting at all. Or simply not writing for the blog.

It’s disappointing because I enjoy writing this blog and the content. It makes me even happier when I notice that my friends and readers enjoy the work too. The kind words are often etched into my mind because I’m so grateful for them. I’m not simply chasing more praise. I hope to create more consistently because it is much more satisfying than binging YouTube videos.

To achieve this, I think I need to stop expecting perfection or fearing the worst from readers. Some posts may miss the mark. Others may do extremely well. I’m not the best at judging that I’ve realised. I should heed my own advice and create without expectation.

On a slightly different note, there is definitely more space to make life better for other people. Whether that is participating in more charity events, donating to charity, offering help without being asked first, whatever it may be, there often is still a way to improve someone’s day.

Since I’ll be taking a leaving academia (without any intention of returning to do a PhD), I suppose I’ll be forced to be more proactive and stick to things for longer.

And that brings me to the end. I’m 22. I’ve grown in different ways and stalled in others. Reflecting on this has helped because it’s reminded me that I, along with everyone else, will keep on improving slowly.

As always, thanks for reading.


 

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