Physics of your soul: why your two types of gravity matter.

(Reading time 4 minutes)

There is that something you ought to be doing. In fact its something you should have done yesterday, but you put it in the “I’ll sort it out tomorrow” basket.

It’s that call to someone you rather not have to speak with.

It’s that email that you need to reply to and you know it will take out most of your morning to either find all the annoying but necessary bits of info that you need for the response, or you haven’t yet thought of how you going to deal with that particular problem.

But I don’t want to draw your attention to the activity that causes you to commit to masterful procrastination.

I want to draw your attention to the activity that IS your procrastination of choice. That thing that you naturally gravitate to. Your escape activity. Your default want-to-rather-be-doing.

We all have a natural gravity towards a cluster of activities that we find extremely difficult to resist, or that when we do resist them, we feel disconnected, unsatisfied, tense, anxious, agitated. The longer we go without doing that thing, whatever it may be, the more agitated we become. Over time it drains you, a kind of fatigue sets in that will eventually end in your resignation that this activity will not find space in your life. Or perhaps a secret part of you keeps looking for moments to steal from that what you devote most of your time to – that what you do to earn a living. You may be earning a fabulous living, and still have that other thing sneaking what-ifs into your consciousness by stealth and the occasional random and inopportunely timed association.

My gravity always draws me most strongly towards creative activities. From writing and thinking up stories (yes, they are being worked on for publication), anything to do with making music (some stuff is already out there, more coming…), and visual art stuff, real or digital in two or three dimensions (most of this supports the first two). But like most clusters, this is complex and somehow self-development is and always has been a big part of it. The point I am making here is not about the what it is, but that there is such a thing, and it is big enough to carry you through life. You may have killed and buried yours a long time ago, or may be in the process of doing so. Stop now!.

Stop now and put that axe down. Look at your gravity cluster. Take your time.
You need to reacquaint yourself with it.
It may have become somewhat foreign, insubstantial, ghostlike.

Within that cluster are two kinds of obsessions.

The first kind is the stuff that you are passionate about as an interest. These are things that we have a profound appreciation for but are at a distance in some way. We love it, can live without it, but we are simply recipients of someone else’s craft. Appreciating and enjoying the mastery of others in this is sufficiently gratifying. We can marinate in it and feel awesome, we can’t get enough of it sometimes, but that is also where it stops. This is “incoming” stuff, it is richness that you experience.

Then there is the second kind, the stuff that you are passionate about that consumes you. You feel a deep need to do it, to master it, to not just be a receptor but also to be a broadcaster. This is stuff that you have a deep compulsion to do, and can do for hours on end. This is the outgoing stuff. It is richness that you create, that you want others to experience.

In my personal gravity cluster, wanting to play and master guitar in order to play pieces that I love is something that has been with me as far back as I have any memory of myself. It is always urgent, visceral, ingrained. I have to fight it to stop myself from doing it. But while I have am obsessive about music, there are other instruments and skills that although I adore them and aspire to, like playing cello like Yo Yo Ma or the poetic songwriting of the likes of Waits, Cave, Yorke, Kilbey or Amos to name a few, these are things that I love and appreciate deeply, but don’t have the same urge to master myself.

The reason for this distinction is important. There are things we worship in others, and then there are the things that we -although we may never state so publicly, and for lack of a better way to describe it- wish to be worshiped for.

Someday you will arrive at your last day, your last moment as a living being. You may know it is your last day, or the moment may come as a surprise. Rarely does it come later than expected. But assuming you have the time to look back and reflect, as many have done publicly, the regret of not having spent their life doing what mattered most to them is second only to spending more time with the people that mattered to them.

The most common conversation I have with people in coaching is that they don’t know what they should do. I can say with certainty that the wider the gap and the disconnect of your life from your natural gravity is, the greater the frustration, poor health, disillusion, unhappiness will be.

Go with your gravity.

The rest is technical.

Most of us declare financial motives for dismissing that particular cluster of obsessions. Perhaps because most of these tend to fall into either creative endeavours, learning/research and analytical fields, or social good. Somehow we have bought into this absurd notion that these things have no real value, yet we all hang art on our walls (and always wish we could afford THAT particular piece), listen to music or willingly pay a premium for great design. Ironically any person that is worthy of our admiration has defied that perception, owned their cluster and generally done OK with it financially. If it has not succeeded then it is rarely a question of quality, but a question of exposure. The dark side of doing what you care about is that you have to share it, and be willing to accept remuneration for it, you have to sell it. And most of us have a problem with either one, or most often both. I know I still do, and most likely will always be a work in progress.

If you have read this far, congratulations. You already know the answer to your question. You already know where to look. You now just need to take the time to explore your cluster. The only thing that stands in your way is technicalities, and if you are not able to figure them out, you most certainly can get help from someone who can.

Know your gravity.

Go with your gravity.

Why is it so difficult to embody love?

(Reading time 3 minutes)

I have a great friend whom I often have profoundly esoteric discussions with. Almost every conversation leads to a realisation of some sort, or at the very least leaves an unanswered question that simmers quietly in some obscure side-alley of the mind, until one day it emerges transformed, radiant, ready to shed light upon something else.

While I have always held that love (or some variant of it) is central to human existence, I have also always white-washed it somehow.

Let’s face it, love is not a “manly” term.

I don’t mean to suggest that it something that can not be related to, but rather that its full significance is elusive. I became aware of this after several conversations about the nature of the highest form of spiritual existence, which he always summarised as love, as does most of the literature on this subject. It noticed that this made me uncomfortable somehow, but I could never clearly work out why. It was as if that word was not the right descriptor, and in my mind I always sought to replace it with other words.

I have always been fascinated by the endless mutations of self-image and in particular self-doubt, and have always held this as one of the most fundamental areas where meaningful personal transformation begins. For a very large part of my life it is something that I didn’t even know was a problem, and it quietly left its trail of damage that I could attribute to so many other shortcomings. Once I figured it out, the only thing that changed was that I could attribute the damage to my self-image. The problem did not just go away, instead it revealed its true complexity. And this brings me back to the subject of love.

If you have any kind of trepidation about the word love – whatever your interpretation may be – and you begin to impose conditions and limitations to what and who it may or may not apply, I propose to you that you do not fully love yourself. By that I mean that we have gone beyond just accepting and forgiving whatever it is that needs to be accepted and forgiven about ourselves, and we actually have declared full and unconditional love for ourselves. We have signed that inner contract that formalises our irrefutable like-worthiness, our awesomeness and our flaws. We have vowed to care and nurture ourselves, to commit to doing what we love, enjoy, value and believe in, to put ourselves first. Above all, we have committed to treating ourselves as good and better than what we like others to treat us.

The reason for this is as simple as it is difficult. Before we can love ourselves fully, we have to confront and overcome a rather ominous entourage of demons. We have to address each of them, and defeat each of them. There is no way to your destination until every single one has been defeated, or perhaps the better term would be dissolved. And who are these demons? They are manifestation of our fears, our attachments, our guilts, our opinions, our vanities, the guardians of our comfort zone, and also the agents of suspicion, distrust, self-doubt, frustration and resentment. Sure we can claim that we do not hold a grudge, or that we are not materialistic, but somewhere deep within we know the truth. We are sh!tscared of loosing what we have, from our jobs to our loved ones. We buckle at the thought of forgiving someone we deem unworthy of forgiving. We mask intolerance with proclamations of personal values and principles that we know full-well we do not fully adhere to. We are daunted by social conventions that we neither fully understand nor agree with, and yet we comply. In that state it is hardly surprising that we can not fully love ourselves.

That last paragraph alone may raises the question – why bother?

The answer to this is personal.

Some may not think they should, or at least not at this time. You need to answer this for you only. But know that when we have faced and defeated each of these demons ourselves, the world appears different. Everything changes, in a good way. We can understand stuff. First of all, we can suddenly appreciate fully the severity and difficulty of the battles that others may be fighting, and the circle of what we consider worthy of love expands. We can recognise their journey in ours, and compassion becomes normality. When we finally reach that point where we love ourselves fully, the circle is infinitely large, dissolved, and we become also an infinite source of love. Sounds esoteric, perhaps you may even think it sounds un-manly. Loving yourself may seem difficult, but it is the foundation to truly love someone else. It is the foundation to forgiveness. It is the foundation to compassion. It is the foundation to tolerance. But most perhaps most powerful of all, loving oneself fully removes all fear, all self doubt. That is true freedom.

When we begin to truly love ourselves, we become the real deal, we are authentic and true to ourselves. We believe in the worthiness of our offering and contribution to the world, and are able to engage with that intention without hesitation, without apology. While our life’s circumstances may not start out as we wish for it is inevitable that they eventually become that. We are able to put one step calmly and confidently in front of the other, neither rushed nor hesitant. We may not know our life’s purpose, but we have a deep sence of confidence in our direction.

When I finally reached that point where I sighend that contract with myself, and declared this love fully, I understood, and the word made sense. And everything changed. While nothng around me physically changed, what I was able to see and recognise from thereon changed. Everyone is worthy of love, and no judgement, no opinion, no perception and no value can possibly challenge that.

What is beyond Humility?

(Reading time 1 minute)

Humility.

Every major religion promotes it as one of the highest virtues.
In executive-land it is deemed a highly desirable attribute of a great leader.
It is symbolic of sanctity, something that even a intensely materialistic person somehow aspires to master.

But what if it was not actually true? What if humility was in fact a symptom of an inflated ego?

One of the great rewards of coaching is that one continues a journey of learning that can digress into some unexpected and amazing “places”. I am privileged to coach some extraordinarily aware people, and recently this very question emerged.

Ultimately, all virtues are manifestations of the ego.

They are manifestation of the ego, because they are polar opposites of a less desirable trait. Humility is no more than the opposite to vanity and arrogance.

The act of recognising a virtue engages the ego. This very recognition is inevitably a public gesture of receiving veneration, of receiving admiration., perhaps even being an object of worship. This is not inherently a bad thing. Let’s face it, a person who considers humility a worthy trait is almost certainly likely to behave with compassion, respect and a sense of contribution towards others. But along our journey of spiritual development, it is necessary to also acknowledge that humility is only a step on the path to a higher fulfillment, and one that still demands of us to divide, to categorise, to judge. It is a virtue that is only possible within a dualistic mind.

How do we get past this?

The finger points squarely at the essence of mindfulness, at the essence of Zen: Be.

To simply allow oneself to be as one is implies full respect for oneself, a full unconditional self-acceptance, devoid of judgment. It is embodying fearlessness and true detatchment. It is a pure manifestation of love and of gratitude, neither directed at ourselves, nor away, but in all directions equally. The next higher state of being is simply this: to do what is necessary because it is necessary, not because it is good. It does not mean doing away with discernment, but does away with the need to be rewarded and recognised for what we do. It is being able to delight in the consequences of our actions not because they are our actions, but because they have brought joy to someone. And when gratitude is expressed in return, to be fully able to receive it without a sense of guilt, unworthiness or pride.

I am not sure that we have a word for this. But seek to practice this anyway…

10 Awesomely Simple Brain-Hacks That Will Give You An Unfair Advantage. Really!

(Reading time 5 minutes)

While people like Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis, Elon Musk and a group of other visionaries are developing AI (artificial Intelligence) to extraordinary levels, most of us fail to materialise even the basic capabilities that we are already endowed with. We are not applying the latest science to our education ad self development, and missing out on some serious goodness, both in terms of our own capacity to do amazing stuff, as well as the intensity and quality of our experience of life.

Fortunately, most of it is actually surprisingly simple. You don’t have to go to the extremes that Tim Ferris has experimented on himself in order to get more mileage out of what you do. And it is not about efficiency, productivity, paleo-diets or fitbit apps. Instead change a few simple things in your daily routine.

1. First of all, get smart about learning.
Before anything meaningful can improve you need to improve your ability to learn – and retain information. And since our information comes primarily from written and spoken sources, reading speeds and listening are essential.
Learning hack # 1: Do this simple 10 minute exercise 3 or 4 times over the same number of weeks and you will see your reading speed increase from 250 words per minute to 600 and higher (we know that comprehension begins to fall apart at about 900 words). If you double or triple your reading speed – will that have an impact on your life? I am assuming that you are not just reading pulp fiction but meaningful stuff that will refine and develop you.
Learning Hack # 2: Listen to podcasts at 1.5 speed. Again this does not affect comprehension – although it may take a little getting used to listening to what sounds like over-caffeinated speakers on helium, you will be able to either listen to a podcast repeatedly (and increase retention) or simply be able to listen to more of them. 1.5 times is .5 more than what other listeners are getting through.
Learning Hack #3: Do all your learning activities within 2 hours of going to sleep. In 2009 a study at Berkley University conclusively established the relationship between learning and sleep. Motor skills and cognitive skills are processed separately in different stages of sleep, but in any case, having a decent sleep after studying or practicing a physical skill will help you get better at it faster. If you want the condensed version watch this interview with author Josh Kaufman.

The reading exercise alone will be enough to get you fired up about consuming books, so start with stuff you always wanted to read but never have time for, or finish that book that has been collecting dust for the last six months on your bedside table. If you are studying this will change your life, and your results.

Before we move onto items 2 and beyond, the first question will possibly be “What should I learn/read/practice?”

I suggest keep it simple. Don’t try to over-reach, pick one thing that you always wanted to learn or get better at, and commit to that one thing for a couple of months, longer if necessary. Why? Because the most difficult thing will not be the learning part, but developing enough discipline to do it regularly. Your practice needs to become habitual. If you don’t get to that then most things will not get past the attempt.

Besides learning to learn, here are a few more proven brain-enhancing hacks.

2. Add a musical instrument to your learning palette. Music is by far the greatest brain-enhancing activity. It improves all sorts of things from spatial awareness to self-awareness, from the the ability to stay calm to becoming better at maths, puzzles and geometry. Above all, you will suddenly comprehend jokes and the universe in a way that can only understood by other musicians.
3. Reduce your screen time to the absolute minimum necessary, and have one, two or even 3 screen free days every week. Seriously, I dare you. If the world ends on day 3 we’ll all know, otherwise let us all know how you did via the comments below. Screens are the antithesis to a brain-hack (with the exception of your kindle and reading important posts like this one)
4. Meditate daily. Start with 10 minute breathing exercises, and if you really want to alter your brain physically (all good ones) then work towards 20 minutes or longer in a single session every day. There is that famous Zen poverb: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
5. Put your to-do list in your diary. To-do’s take time, so if you are not scheduling some time for it, it is unlikely to ever happen! Besides you will learn really quickly to prioritise when you begin to run out of time-slots in your agenda. I could go on here about the power of saying no, but that’s best left for another post.
6. Write important stuff by hand. It has been verified over and over again that writing stuff by hand goes into your brain and stays there, in other words handwriting has a much higher rate of retention than typing. It is probably no big deal that the appointment you typed into Sunrise Calendar on your iPhone is forgotten until the reminder pops up, but it matters when you are taking notes at a meeting. Having important information stored in your brain will ensure that you solve complex problems more effectively. And don’t worry – it is extremely unlikely that you will ever get a notification from your brain saying “Brain full. Would you like to archive old files now?”
7. Dictate to your devices instead of typing. Not really a brain hack, but yeah, why not use technology to your advantage. Typing is slow, speaking and listening back will actually help with retention when your favourite notebook and pencil are not at hand. Besides, its the way of the future (for now). Most devices now do a pretty good job at this, and many of them learn to recognise your way of speaking. Spooky, but very very cool.
8. Get/keep fit with a 10 or 15-minute daily regime. No excuses here, there is a plethora of decent programs out there, find one and refine it as you get a routine going. The simple fact is that your brain works way better if it is carried around by a fit and healthy body. Slouching in a chair, mouse in hand for 8 -15 hours a day staring at a screen is not just destroying your body, it is also destroying your mind, which brings me to the next point.
9. Take breaks. Your thinking ability begins to decline rapidly after 45 minutes at the same task, and is totally zapped, zero, nil, at around 90 minutes. My personal favourite is the Pomodoro Method, where you work for 25 and take a 5 minute break, meaning 5 minutes of doing something away from the desk that has absolutely nothing to do with what you were doing before. If you can go outside, breathe some fresh green air, stare at the clouds and hear cows and birds in some kind of vegetated space even better. But beware – use a timer for this. Time flies when you are getting stuff done!.
10. Eat and drink well and regularly. Up the leafy greens and veg big time, more whole foods and less processed, ditch the sugars where you can, and don’t be afraid of oils and fats. your brain needs them! And of course keep up the water (or green tea).

That book you always wanted to write? A language you wanted to learn? Whatever it is that you have parked because it is to difficult to learn, you now have no reason not to start. It may not make you rich overnight, but I am certain that it will make you happier.

In closing, if you are a parent teach this stuff to your kids. I hope this helps look at your life and theirs in a different way.

You don’t need to be Lucy on performance enhancing drugs to overclock your brain, most of it is simple science, a little discipline and a lot of fun.