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!

How to Love Yourself: Stay On Your Own Team

We all talk to ourselves in some form. It’s less weird than you think.

But I’m not interested in the times that we just recite a shopping list or wonder whether we’ve locked the back door properly.

What about the times you hate yourself?

The times you call yourself stupid, worthless, meaningless. The times when, if you said them to anyone on the street, you’d probably be punched in the face and the aggressor would be cheered on.

When you repeat these things to your friends, you’re probably told that you’re not stupid, worthless or whatever other mean word of choice you pick that day.

The problem is… they are just so believable in the moment.

Whatever caused these thoughts are probably still present. Negative thinking is just continuously being triggered and reinforced.

I didn’t go to the gym so I’m fat and worthless -> I’m still not going to the gym -> I’m even more fat and worthless.

Now, these thoughts are often completely untrue if you give yourself the chance to challenge them in a meaningful way.

Does missing a workout suck? Of course! Does it completely shatter your self-worth? No – the same way one workout probably doesn’t justify your whole existence.

You may be told to challenge these thoughts. It’s a valuable way to tackle negativity and if it works, keep at it. However, I’ve found something else to be useful.

papaioannou-kostas-337812.jpg
Photo by Papaioannou Kostas on Unsplash

Stay on your own team

Or “talk to yourself as you would a friend”.

If you had a team of people to help you out in life, think of how you’d assemble it.

Would you have a person who you can turn to for advice?

A person who makes you laugh?

A person who makes stellar banana and chocolate chip cake?

Even a person with a voice that’s like audible silk?

Now, what about yourself – where would you stand?

Of course, you’re the person moving forward because you’re not being carried all the time. However, even if you stand still or move backwards, remember that you’re on your own team.

It’s the best thing you can do for yourself. A good teammate wouldn’t tell you that you’re a piece of shit if you missed a basket (and mean it) or conceded a penalty. They’ll help you get back on your feet and move on again. I’m not sure why I mixed up two sports.

They’ll be encouraging rather than demoralising and realistic rather than endlessly pessimistic (there’s a difference).

This is where talking to yourself helps. You can imagine yourself as a separate member of the team you’ve assembled and help yourself with a reminder that the hateful things you’re saying about yourself aren’t true.

Even if you really believe it, you can use that as a way to improve your life regardless. As Ryan Holiday says – The Obstacle is the Way.

When you begin, it won’t be believable. With practise however, you’ll slowly begin to correct your outlook on your own self-worth and reduce the negative self-talk that doesn’t inspire helpful self-improvement.

daniel-mccullough-348488.jpg
Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

How stay on your own team

A thought that flies in my head when I think of advice like this is that I don’t deserve to speak to myself so kindly. Because the things I say are true.

Well, that’s not true. They just often feel true. And feelings aren’t facts.

Do you need to deserve a helping hand to have one? Maybe not. If you can offer yourself that helping hand, it may be the most useful thing you do for your own mental health.

I’m not asking you to lie about yourself – that’s simply not believable. I’m not the greatest writer in the world so I won’t tell myself that. However what I can do is tell myself but I can improveFor example:

  • I’m a terrible swimmer … but I can get better with consistent practice.
  • I’m not a kind person… but I can do one kind thing a day to learn how to treat others better.
  • I’m not good at studying… but I can ask for help.
  • I’m worthless… but I can find or create my self-worth with time and patience.

I try to use the “But I can improve” correction because I find telling myself “no I’m a perfect swimmer!” empty. It doesn’t mean anything to me.

Reminding yourself that you’re a draft in progress is a smaller and more realistic step to take. And it’s possible to prove it to yourself!

  • Swimming: after not being able to swim a length without getting tired, I practised consistently and now can swim 1.5km without hating myself.
  • Kindness: years ago, I challenged myself to point out good things about people and now it’s a habit.
  • Studying: I took the time to ask for help and learn about better studying techniques, now I’ve done well academically throughout university.

Give yourself a chance

Really, this is all about giving yourself a chance. You’re a draft in progress and we all are. Sometimes your brain malfunctions and tells you falsehoods that you want to believe. Like any part of your body, it can just be faulty.

So remember, you’re on your own team. Try not to join the opposition – they aren’t as good-looking as you and don’t have nice cakes.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

What stops you from treating yourself with compassion?

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

It’s Important To Do the Things You Enjoy

It’s obvious. But it’s really important

You’re not bored, you’re not happy – you’re mindless.

One thing that I’ve said about being addicted to your phone is that it’s just a really bad habit but unfortunately, a really effective one.

A basic model of how habits are formed are the three Rs – Reminder, Routine, Reward. (I didn’t come up with this myself – Charles Duhigg is my best source). The easier these are to come about, the habit is much more likely to stick.

For our phones it’s this:

  • Reminder(s): notifications, the phone always being in arms reach, needing it for certain tasks (like alarms)
  • Routine(s): scrolling through social media, texting a friend, watching a video
  • Reward: The small pleasure centre in our brains reacting to some kind of approval.

The problem is that these rewards you gain from social media and watching videos may not be deeply satisfying. Instead, it’s just enough to stop you from getting extremely bored but not enough to entertain you significantly.

You’re hovering just above boredom but nowhere near happiness.

I fall victim to this all the time. I spend time doing things that don’t really interest me. They entertain me in the short-term but leave me feeling like rubbish quickly afterwards.

Given that I’m in pain a lot of the time and that impacts my concentration, I want to fill the time that I have with more enjoyment than superficial rubbish.

mohamed-nohassi-223475
Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

What do you really enjoy? 

All of this seems mighty obvious. To be happy, do things that make you happy.

However, it serves us well to actually think about what makes us happy then think about whether we actually follow through with that.

For example, we might want to think more often:

  • What are the things that make me happy in the short-term but guilty in the long-term?
  • What leaves me feeling really satisfied with myself?
  • Do I spend more time on things that are simply easy or do I challenge myself?
  • Am I doing the same thing over and over again?
  • How often do I end the day feeling satisfied?
  • How often do I start the day feeling encouraged by the plan I have set out?

These questions have helped me better understand what I actually enjoy rather than those activities that are simply easy to do. Rather than going to the path of least resistance, you spend more time carving out a life that you really want to live.

As a result, you may find that after answering these questions that finding happiness in your day requires a bit more self-discipline than you may have expected!

Being satisfied and happy isn’t simply a case of doing “whatever you want” because that can be quite difficult to judge. Rather, we need to think more deeply about the things that we enjoy, then experiment with ways to fill our time with more of it.

The benefit of this approach I’ve found is that it stops everything turning into an obligation. Rather, you want to do certain things because you’re confident that they’ll do good things for your mental health. For example, why would you miss a workout if you know you’ll feel good after and during it?

You wouldn’t. Exercising is something that has a much greater potential to make you happy than sitting down and eating Pringles like they’re going out of fashion. (I promise this does not come from personal experience…)

chris-brignola-7766.jpg
Photo by Chris Brignola on Unsplash

Seneca writes that one of our biggest problems is that we “live as though we’ll live forever”, waste it on meaningless things then complain that life is too short.

Ok, but what if I don’t have the energy? 

What do you do when you want to do something you’ll enjoy but simply can’t because of something like chronic pain?

It’s easy to do the easiest thing (like watch videos mindlessly for hours) because you lack energy. So for me, all of these mindless activities tend to come in the evening after a day of being active in some way.

Here are two things I’ve found help:

  1. High energy and Low energy activities

Split the things you enjoy into high energy and low energy activities. For me, it goes like this:

High energy: Writing, reading non-fiction, exercising

Low energy: Reading fiction, calming yoga, Netflix

2. Don’t worry about it

Worrying about how you spend your time is likely to tire you out even more and make you feel extremely guilty. Sometimes, you just don’t have a lot of energy and you just want to watch videos for a while.

Set a good intention for yourself and enjoy the time you have.

It’s important but think about it, don’t worry about it.

When I was reminded of this concept, I began to feel guilty about how I spend my time (I’ve been like this for years). It’s because I turned the things I want to do into things I have to do.

If you don’t reach an obligation you feel bad.

If you make everything an obligation, you’re likely to feel bad because you can’t do everything.

Not everything is an obligation. Remind yourself of that when you find yourself saying “I should do this and should do that”.

So set out to fill more of your time with the things you enjoy doing. Be mindful of this intention because it is a helpful reminder that our time is often limited by things out of our control.

It sounds ominous but it’s true. Seneca writes that one of our biggest problems is that we “live as though we’ll live forever”, waste it on meaningless things then complain that life is too short.

Perhaps life isn’t too short. Regardless, let’s take the time to do things we enjoy.

If anything, we deserve it.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

What do you enjoy and what do you want to do more of?

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

(Happy 100th post to meeee!)

Am I a Fraud? | The Sunday Monday Post

Last year I wrote this:

“I thought I’d start the Sunday Monday Post so I can to talk more loosely about the things I’ve enjoyed within the self-improvement sphere and how I think I’ve improved in the past week (or since the time of the last edition).”

I’m not very good at this whole “writing weekly” thing. I live on a wheneverly schedule, I suppose.

To summarise, this is a far less structured post than normal and a chance to talk about what I’ve found interesting in the past week with regards to self-improvement.


The titular question – am I a fraud? – is a bit unfair because I’ve already answered it. I often believe that I am.

Writing about self-improvement, overcoming adversity (and daily mindfulness tips over on my Facebook page), seems to put me in a position of authority. If I write as if I know what I’m talking about, then I ask, do people believe that have everything under control?

I certainly hope not.

Sometimes I’m like the little kid, who has no sense of direction, crying for my parents in a grocery store. Other times, I surrender myself to death by Pringles overdose or drown in crunchy M&Ms .

One of the reasons why I am hesitant to post is that I feel like my posts … lack sincerity? Aren’t true?  I can’t find the right word. If I don’t always live the advice that I give, is it good advice? Am I ever in the position to give advice about anything at 22?

To tackle this, I try to remind myself of the highlight/blooper reel problem. We compare our bloopers to the highlights of other people. If I fear that other people would think I’m a fraud if they found out my bloopers, what does that mean?

It means that, because I write about self improvement, I have to not only present myself as a person who follows all of their advice but I have to be perfect. Which goes completely against the idea of improving slowly and self-compassion!

I don’t have to be perfect. I’m not perfect. I do not want to be perfect. But it’s OK to give recommendations on how to live better because I’m just here figuring it all out along with everyone who reads. You probably have a personal problem that other people do not know about. I do too. And that’s alright – you can still help others.


Even though the fear that other people think I’m better than I actually am is based on nothing factual, I’d like to break that down a bit. I’m going to share some of the positives and negatives I’ve had in the past month:

The good: 

  • I swam 1.5km quite a few times and it felt good.
  • I finished the first draft of my dissertation.
  • I worked on a summer school and seemed to make a positive impact on some of the students.

The bad: 

  • I didn’t write for the blog as consistently as I would have liked.
  • I also struggled to swim 700m multiple times throughout the month.
  • I broke promises to call friends to catch up.

The ugly: 

  • I’ve been in a lot of pain, nearly every day.
  • I’ve polished off 3 packets of Pringles in a week (and m&ms … I told you.) as a result. Stress eating is something I’ve tried to avoid but it sometimes catches up with me.
  • I’ve been overwhelmed with negative emotions that make me withdraw from other people quite quickly.

Despite all of the articles on self-improvement I’ve written, I still make a lot of mistakes. It’s just part of the process. Social media makes it really easy for us to believe that things are smoother than they really are.

So I’ll try to worry less about whether I have the “authority” to help people. A lot of these articles are also reminders to myself.

I hope you find them helpful too!


Here are a few articles I’ve found interesting in the past week:

And that brings me to the end of the Sunday Monday Post.

How do you manage the feelings of insecurity and helping other people? Does it bother you at all?

As always, thanks for reading.

For more updates, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter!

Here is why productivity doesn’t matter

neven-krcmarek-246988
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.

bram-naus-200967
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.


 

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more updates!

twitter and facebook mascots :D

What Does ‘Improving Slowly’ Mean?

In the time that I’ve spent writing about various elements of improving slowly, I haven’t sat down with you and spoken about what it means. I hear the cries already.

“It’s bloody obvious! Rather than improve quickly – improve slowly!”

But I promise, there is more to it. I want to talk about the values of improving slowly and why they’re important.

cameron-kirby-135929.jpg
Photo by Cameron Kirby on Unsplash

The principles of slow self-improvement

Self-improvement is important to a lot of people. Especially to those who feel bad about their skill set and general abilities. Or to those who want to live happier and more fulfilling lives.

The literature is broad – much of it very good (and terrible, but we can ignore that for now). The experience of self-improvement is not spoken about as often as it could be. Largely because blogs and books tend to give advice (as my blog does too) without talking about what it’s like to actually live that advice.

I started my blog so I could do that but I feel that I’ve strayed from that (or never really started). So I’ve been thinking:

What are the principles of slow self-improvement?

When we challenge ourselves to go as quickly as possible (for whatever reason) it’s easy for that doubt to become more and more intense. It’s helpful to slow down, be mindful and enjoy the process of improving as much as we can.

This brings us to the first principle – We are working drafts

I explored this briefly in the last post on self-forgiveness. When we decide to improve certain things, we do so because we believe it could be better. However, it’s easy to slip into perfectionism without noticing. As a result, we might see how quickly we can learn something (in order to get rid of the deficiency quicker) or become overwhelmed by the task and never start.

There’s nothing wrong with learning quickly if we have the right foundation. If we start with the belief that we aren’t perfect and need to be, learning quickly will not solve that.

We take a mindful breath, assess our intentions and remember that we’re a work in progress. We always will be.

And that’s OK.

With this in mind, it becomes much easier to catch those harmful storylines which can often plague our thoughts.

“I’m not moving fast enough!”

“I’m not smart enough to learn this so quickly”

“I’m falling behind!”

And instead of focusing more on the improvement and being kind to ourselves in the process, it becomes much easier to lose ourselves in the storyline or give up when we realise that learning a language or writing a book isn’t as sexy as we first imagined.

Improving slowly is about improving with compassion.

Self-forgiveness is one facet of self-compassion. There are a many others. Small things such as:

  • Cultivating kinder thoughts towards yourself
  • Allowing yourself to relax
  • Appreciating how far you’ve come and your courage to keep going

In the journey of self-improvement and as a result improving the world, it helps to start from a foundation which isn’t infected with hate. Of course, this takes time – I struggle with it every day. But it’s a worthwhile struggle.

One day I’ll see myself in the same positive light that I see my friends and family. I hope the same for you.

Another important principle of slow self-improvement is a deeper adoption of helpful habits.

When we improve slowly, we spend more time with the habits we want to adopt. As a result, we’re far more likely to keep the habit than for it to be a fad.

For example, a study from University College London showed that it can take an average of to 66 days to form a habit rather than the conventional “21 day challenges”.

Next, we resist apathy and cynicism – and fight against it.

Apathy and cynicism are only around the corner and come knocking when we experience multiple setbacks. We must remember that we cannot give up on ourselves. Especially when it is most tempting. Simply remembering that we can be champions for ourselves is a helpful reminder to remain engaged with the world.

Even in the simplest form. There have been times when all I’ve done is reminded myself “I want to be engaged in my own story”. Then gone back to bed.

It can be difficult, but on reflection I’ve understood it as an act of compassion.

austin-neill-160132.jpg
Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

Lastly, we become better one step at a time.

It is better to work with focus instead of attempting everything at once. To do this, we slow down, take a mindful breath, and take it step by step.

Conclusion

This journey of improving ourselves and adding value to the world is a life-long one. Our time is valuable but this doesn’t mean we try to complete things as fast as humanely possible.

I ask that we slow down. Savour our improvement and as a result develop a healthier relationship with setbacks and disappointments.

While we improve, we’ll experience many of our ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows.

And that’s more than OK.

Onward we go to improve ourselves and improve the world. With presence and mindfulness.

We improve slowly.

Here are the principles again:

  • We are working drafts
  • We improve with compassion
  • We spend a lot of time with positive habits
  • We resist apathy and cynicism – and fight against it
  • We become better one step at a time

As always, thank you for reading. If you found these principles helpful, please share! Let me know what you think of them below :)


Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more updates!

twitter and facebook mascots :D

Simply Be.

This is my birds and the b talk

We sit, stand, lie and stay still. We close our eyes, relax our face and breathe in deeply to the slow count of three. Hold it and notice how everything stopped, if only for this moment, for you to focus on this one breath.

Now the time to breathe out begins. Again to the count of three.

We notice how the calm air feels on our upper lip or how our chest falls as our lungs slowly empty.

The world has slowed to the beat of One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three.

That’s what it means to simply be.

Taking the time to find pockets of stillness in your day is important for it is one of the few times where we cannot be consumed by the anxiety of the future or beaten up by regrets of the past. No longer living at the pace of other people’s agendas or taking the frequent journey into our negative thoughts.

The thoughts that bombard us and attempt to dictate how we feel are allowed to pass for what they are. Unimportant.

As with many people, I’ve had multiple moments when I begin to worry nearly endlessly about what the future holds and my inability to control what’s ahead of me. It drags me away from the good things that I’m probably experiencing right now, no matter how small. But sitting down to meditate reminds me to notice the present. To enjoy it for what it is.

It does not force calmness onto any person but it begins to cultivate a habit of staying calm in the face of stressful moments. The act of remembering to appreciate the present instead of getting lost in the future. Taking time to be instead of imagining the worst.

The worrying slows because we don’t attach judgements to the thoughts that fly through our heads, nor do we linger and follow them. When we are still, the thoughts leave our minds with the same speed they joined us with.

Observing this is remarkable. It separates us from the thoughts we have about ourselves and the other things out there in the world. Ever so slowly I begin to understand why there’s so much joy in being as still as possible. There are many really convincing thoughts that fly through our heads – usually about how bad we are at something or a flaw that’s “obviously” irreparable. Spending more time building pockets of stillness into our day forces us to slow down. And more importantly, it doesn’t mean that we analyse the thought in order to determine whether the thought it true for that is a battle easily lost.

We can let it pass. Attach nothing to it. No judgement, no reaction just acknowledgement.

By doing this, we come to better understand that so many of the thoughts which plague us leave our heads then join us again. Then leave again. They aren’t stitched into the fabric of our minds.

This isn’t easy. Stillness doesn’t cure depression or anxiety. It builds appreciation of slowing down and experiencing the day more on our own terms.

We Simply Be. We do not live for the future nor dwell in the past. We experience how we are at the present moment.

simply-be-web

Pockets of stillness can be difficult to make and difficult to sustain. Especially if you can’t find an immediate reward to the practice. To that I say, simply keep trying – it’s worthwhile.

Meditation is a practice not a solution. It’s something you do and keep doing. In the process, you appreciate its rewards. The journey doesn’t end when you’ve reached your first “moment of stillness” – these pass too. With stillness, you won’t find perfection every day. What you can find is a separation from hectic thoughts and negative judgements. For all you do is be.

How can you build more pockets of stillness in your day?

  • Meditate for 2 minutes in the morning.
  • Slow down when you eat, appreciate the flavours and smells of your food.
  • Take 15 minutes of your morning and make it yours. No time for emails, messages, or mindless web browsing.

And so on.

Remember, to simply be, we…

…sit, stand, lie and stay still. We close our eyes, relax our face and breathe in deeply to the slow count of three. Hold it and notice how everything stops, if only for this moment, for you to focus on this one breath.

Now we breathe out. Again to the count of three.

We notice how the calm air feels on our upper lip or how our chest falls as our lungs slowly empty.

The world slows to the beat of One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three.


As always, thanks for reading :)

I have Facebook and Twitter if you want to follow those.

I’ve written more on this topic:

Have the most wonderful day! If you enjoyed the post, please share!

You Are Stronger Than Your Pain

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition”

Adversity is a reasonably simple concept. It’s an event, situation or thing that challenges you and makes life more difficult. It can vary in length, intensity or unpleasantness.

For some, it’s losing a parent. For others, it’s struggling with maths. Whatever it is, let’s start off by refusing to compare our situations to other people’s. It’s a pointless exercise. 

I want to show you that you are stronger than your pain. You are greater than it. For two main reasons.

  1. You are more than your pain.
  2. You can become better because of your pain.

My goal is to show you that this needn’t be a silly platitude. It is not about reading a quote about overcoming adversity, feel invigorated for a fleeting moment, then continue to feel defeated by the misfortune life has offered.

I want you to believe this because it’s true.

I

First, let’s admit that painful challenges life throws at us can really really suck. Ignoring that fact would be stupid. Yes, some things “aren’t that bad” when you put them into the perspective of other people or place them into the grandness of the universe. However, this misses an important point.

Some events are challenges and important ones because you’re experiencing them. Adversity might be the villain in your personal story. Does the existence of millions of other stories invalidate your own? Of course not. Continually dismissing problems as insignificant just prevents us from approaching them head on.

Adversity can not only feel like they’ve consumed you completely but actually consume you. They can be the only things on your mind for hours, days and weeks on end. Anyone who has faced a significant challenge knows exactly what this is like. Everything you do in your life comes back to this pain.

The pain just seems to last forever.

However, the first step to understanding why you are stronger than your pain is to understand that you are more than your pain.

What does this mean?

Pain is not the only part of our lives. Our pain plays a marvelous trick on all of us – it convinces us that the good in our day does not matter. Or worse yet, that good doesn’t exist at all.

This forces us to create unhelpful thinking habits which skew our ideas of reality negatively and create a vicious cycle of catastrophic thinking. An example of this is disqualifying the positive and over-generalising.

Let’s say you struggle with maths. You fail a maths test, try again and fail again. When you have the habit of dishonestly assessing your own efforts, you’ll miss that trying again at something you currently suck at is a positive step. You can be proud of the things you control and your effort is one of those things.

There are also aspects of your life that aren’t related to your problem.

If you wake up and have a good breakfast or see a friend smile, that’s an example of experiencing something other than your pain. The catastrophizer in you will continue to say nothing is good in life and everything sucks without ever pausing to catch the good in the day. Of course, the good things can be so small they’re easy to miss but with practice, it becomes easier.

For me, it’s making my bed once a day. It’s a very small thing but it shows me two things.

First, I’ve experienced something other than just being in pain.

Second, it is me who has demonstrated control over something in my day. Not the pain.

Putting our days into context helps show us that there’s more to our lives than pain. This cannot be misinterpreted as purposefully ignoring pain or believing in good things just because for the sake of it.

Pain, adversity, challenges, difficulty. Many events can be tough or extremely limiting but we must remember:

We are more than our pain.

II

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition”

In the dark depths of adversity, it can almost be insulting to suggest life can improve not only despite the challenge but because of it.

To understand this, it is helpful to return to the idea of adversity. It is something that prevents us from continuing in the path we are currently walking down. Adversity makes life more difficult.

In order to move past this obstacle, we either wait for it to pass or resolve to do something about it.

Choosing to wait is the easiest option but completely removes the autonomy that we have over our own lives. It also guarantees nothing.

Resolving to do something about it is difficult but at least opens the option for having some control over the problem.

Let’s assume we’re going to take some action. We’ll return to the struggling mathematician. You want to get better but understand that you don’t currently have the skills to tackle certain maths problems. Your teacher isn’t helpful because she doesn’t care.

Struggling mathematician then decides to go online and use a large variety of resources to get better at certain problems. In the process, she begins to focus harder and with fewer distractions. She takes the test again and passes.

Did she succeed in spite of her disinterested teacher or because of her?

Both. Her rubbish teacher did nothing to help but her absence also showed the student that she is capable of getting better at maths even if it required a harder route. This route also helped her improve her focus and confidence. As a result, she has become better because of her adversity.

As Ryan Halliday says in The Obstacle is the Way:

Blessings and burdens aren’t mutually exclusive terms.

This is a very simplified example but it is meant to show that with some honest self-assessment, we can find skills that we’ve developed because of adversity. Even if that is slowly building up your mental resilience when something goes wrong.

Adversity offers us a challenge. To get past the challenge, we have to develop certain skills, mindsets or habits to get through. Without the challenge in the first place, we will be perfectly fine walking an easy but less satisfying path.

We can become better because of our pain.

III

How you can help others.

Earlier, I lied. There are three sections not two.

Adversity is also not simple. The statement “you are stronger than your pain” is, to me, true because there are many reasons to believe we are not solely defined by adversity and we can often get through it if we plan our approach, let fear pass and occasionally utilise some Sisu.

There is one thing I haven’t mentioned.

Other people.

“You” don’t have to be alone when it comes to facing pain. A lot of the time, the help of other people is much more beneficial than anything you can expect from trying to force your way through life with brute willpower.

With this in mind, you can also be the helping hand for others too.

One of the mantras I try to inject into my day is to add value to other people’s lives. Sometimes that comes from writing these blog posts. Most of the time, it comes from being absolutely hilarious.

Screenshot (30)

Whatever help you give, it will be valued. Sometimes not explicitly but that’s OK. The aim isn’t to help others in order to be congratulated.

And that brings me to the end.

I want you to sincerely believe that you are stronger than your pain because you are.

You are more than your pain.

You are not solely defined by pain.

You can become better because of your pain.

You are stronger than your pain.

I promise.


 

Are there any challenges you’re currently facing?

As always, thanks for reading.

I have social media! Follow them if you want. It’s pretty great occassionally.

Twitter Facebook

twitter and facebook mascots :D

How to Create Plans You’ll Stick To

There are two easy ways to create feasible plans:

  1. Pretend you have 30% the energy you usually have
  2. Copy a plan you’ve completed successfully before

Note that I’ve left out the most obvious way – looking at a calendar and the things you have to do then filling up the hours.

Why don’t we stick to plans?

I’m probably one of the biggest culprit of this which is what led me to figure out how to stop this from happening again as it was becoming a huge source of frustration.

It’s simply too difficult

For some reason, if we imagine a free day we imagine a lot of time. But we also assume our energy levels will match that. It often doesn’t.

Cramming the day with loads of activities is only going to make you tired quickly and far more likely to stop doing them even in the middle of the day. If it’s a long term plan it’s even less likely to continue.

We get distracted

Distractions are a huge problem. As research shows, after a distraction, it takes about 25 minutes to get back into work.

It makes our work far less efficient and moves everything in the plan forward. Therefore we work longer, become more tired and start putting things off.

We don’t give ourselves enough time

We might assume that we can get an essay done in 3 hours but sometimes we might get stuck which means we have to take a longer break. Or we can’t find the book we want.

Same with side projects you might want to do after work/studying. If we expect to do all of them in a minimal time then we’re either going to drop them completely or reduce them drastically and feel guilty about it.

We procrastinate

Looking at a large plan for the day can be intimidating and cause us to procrastinate. Therefore we don’t do anything we aim to. Here’s one simple way to stop it.

Making plans work

  1. Assume less energy than normal

This point relies on assuming you have less energy than your plan assumes

If we try being superhuman then get intimidated or worn out by our plan, it’s not a useful. On the other hand, if we’re more modest, we have a much easier starting point, procrastination is less likely and we will complete things.

Let’s take one of the plans I’ve had in the past (and I’ve had many):

Capture 4 Capture 3 Capture 1

This is actually a simplified version of a plan I had at one point in my first year of university.

Looking back on it, it’s surprising to think that I considered it then even more surprising is that I was annoyed when I couldn’t complete it! Nearly 9 hours of difficult (and unnecessary!) work I had planned. That’s on top of being social, dealing with chronic pain and you know, trying to not hate books after my first week.

The plan didn’t work for a variety of reasons:

  • I didn’t have the energy to complete them
  • I ignored other factors (like having friends and going outside)
  • It was boring
  • It wasn’t flexible

Creating the plan with the mind that you’ll have less energy means you plan to do fewer things, increase flexibility and still complete things. So the plan above might turn into this (assuming there’s a 9am start):

Capture 2

And that’d be it.

The first plan has nearly 9 hours of mentally tasking work while the second has 4 hours with large breaks in between. It’s much easier to start and I found I got more work done with the second plan overall.

  1. Copy a previous plan.

The second condition is easier to implement. If you’ve successfully created and completed a plan before, copy it and use it again.

However, it’s important to take into account new factors when doing this because your past plan might have been completed under much different conditions. For example, if you’ve caught a cold, your energy is going to be lower than it would be normally so you’ll complete less work or it’ll take longer to complete the same amount.

But remember to be reasonable. If you’ve planned an overnight stay at your library or a general rush till exams, you won’t be able to sustain it for a long period. To combat that, refer to point one.

An impromptu Q&A session

“But you’re doing so little work – you’re obviously doing a Philosophy degree this doesn’t apply to me!”

Fortunately, it still does. If you’ve ever planned anything and never completed it (although you feel you should have) then it applies. Creating unrealistic plans is normal and unless you actually have unlimited energy, it’s fine to plan less and complete more.

Dealing with chronic pain means I’ve had to change how I view plans and making my time more efficient. This is one way I’ve managed to stay with the crowd despite being in pain all the time.

“But what if I can’t plan less! I have so much more work to do than you”

That’s where the second condition comes into place.

Not every plan can work on such little energy. Deadlines and loads of work exist. If you’ve actually completed a plan that meets the demands of your current situation, mould it around that. As Scott Young says, you’re allowed to experiment.

If not, continue to assume you’ll have less energy when creating it. And stop procrastinating.

“What if I have scheduled commitments?”

If you have a variety of things you want to do (clubs, learning new things, blogging etc), reducing the amount of energy you’ll have to complete it seems ridiculous. It isn’t.

In this scenario, you have to exercise prioritising and say no to some commitments. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you won’t do them, get frustrated at the ‘little free time’ you have or burn out very quickly and blame yourself.

Admittedly, it is difficult saying no to things especially when you seem to have a lot of time for trying new things. Those things won’t disappear straight away and there’s no point in planning them if you’re too tired to complete them.

It’s alright to say no.

“Am I allowed to continue working past my smaller plan?”

Yes. A minimal plan makes it easier to start working. It doesn’t necessarily put a limit on how much you should continue working. Though, it should make you more efficient with the hours planned – reducing the need to continue working much more.

The next day, return to the minimal plan. A good plan is sustainable.

“I’m rubbish with times. What if I oversleep?”

Ignore times and focus on activities. Instead of planning the hours, aim to work on a project for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening.

If that is too difficult, aim to do an hour of the project during the course of the day. The earlier the better of course as you don’t want tiredness to excuse you from working.

“Did you write these questions yourself?”

Some things are best kept secret.

Action Steps

The take away from this is to reduce the amount of energy you’ll need to finish a plan so it’s easier to start and easier to complete.

What can you do now?

  1. Create a plan for your ideal day
  2. Assume you’ll have less energy than normal
  3. Create a new plan.

A small amount of completed work is better than a large amount left wished to be completed.


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

If you found this helpful, share it on Facebook or Twitter!

When Your Confidence is Low

Currently, my confidence is low.

I use a walking stick and have been for a long time. My doctor said a large issue is lack of confidence rather than being solely a physical issue. So over the past few months, I’ve practised walking without it.

I’ve made progress and a few of my friends have seen me walking without it more often. A lovely feeling, I must admit.

However, over the past week, I developed a very bad limp. Suddenly, I’m so dependent on it hurts to use and I actively avoid walking if I can.

I spent some time thinking about whether I was being melancholic and concluded I wasn’t. Walking normally is bound to be very important to me.

I don’t want this hiccup to affect my future progress so I thought of a few things to help get back on the confidence train.

What is confidence?

I’ll save the philosophy for later and settle on this definition: ‘A justified demonstration of your ability’. It’s probably too simple but we can go into more depth another time. I want to focus on the ‘justified demonstration’ part.

This means that confidence can be gained. When you start something, the chances are that you won’t be great or even good. Practising will help you get better and because you’re better, your confidence in your ability increases. When I started writing, I started with the intention of becoming better. I’m not sure when I’ll say I’m good but at least my confidence is improving the more I practice.

When people lose confidence in the things they either used to enjoy or something they knew they were making progress in, it’s rarely because they’re suddenly terrible and will stay that way. They’ve lost their reasons in believing they’re good or can get better.

When I lost confidence in my walking, I kept on saying to myself that this is the beginning of the end and I’ll have to start all over again. More damning is that I’ve suddenly lost the ability to improve completely.

Rarely these things are so true to the point where we have to throw self-compassion completely out the window.

So what do we do?

Remember these 3 things:

Progress is rarely smooth

This is unfortunately easily forgotten.

It’s also too easy to believe the opposite.

Whether it’s writing an essay, losing weight, running faster or talking to more people, progress with such things have their ups and downs. That’s OK. It’s very normal.

Don’t con yourself into believing that everything needs to be moving perfectly in order to be right. As with my walking, there were always going to be times when I find it more difficult than others.

Fake it ‘til you become it

I’ve watched this Amy Cuddy talk on Body Language and confidence a number of times. The main take away for me was to fake it ‘til you become it.

At times, it can just feel false pretending to be a person who’s comfortable in with their abilities and so on but it is very helpful. It helps to justify being with happy your abilities and progress.

If you don’t know where to start, adopting what you think a confident person might do is helpful. And watch the TED talk by Amy Cuddy. Toe the line between arrogance and confidence carefully but being comfortable with yourself is valuable and worth the effort.

Keep being active

This is closely linked to the previous point.

The low confidence elephant will tell you to stop trying because you’re bad. You won’t do anything and have more reasons think you’re bad – precisely because you’re not doing anything.

The elephant wins but doesn’t give a victory speech due to lack of confidence.

It’s important to keep working towards your goal even if there’s a hit to your progress. Low confidence is a difficult circle to break out of. Forcing yourself to continue practising can feel fake. Almost like you’re always acting.

That feeling will subside and you’ll feel good about your efforts. You won’t be acting as a character you want to be. You’ll become that person.

I don’t have all the answers and this is a surprisingly difficult topic (e.g. when giving up, what’s the difference between having low confidence and being realistic?). I’m far from the most confident person in my friendship group let alone an authority on the topic. Sometimes, I feel like I’m still in the act of faking rather than being a confident person. Nonetheless, I found these reminders helpful and hopefully they will be for you too.

Why do you think confidence is valuable? How can you become more confident? I’d love to know what you think.

As always, thanks for reading.

Some other things to read:

  1. Let the Fear Pass
  2. The Highlight Reel
  3. Mindy Kaling On Confidence

Share on Facebook or Twitter