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.

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.

The nonsense of following your passion exposed!

(Reading time 2 minutes)

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”.

This profound and simple statement by Confucius has been misunderstood. Or perhaps misinterpreted. In any case it has evolved into something meaning “When you find your passion you will find happiness”.

Yet when most people are confronted with making a decision about their passion they freeze. Everything screeches to an uncomfortable and alarmed stop. Cold sweat streams down their backs as fear paralyzes everything from their imagination to their vocal cords. The eyes go vacant and everything goes blurry. Panic sets in.

So then they pay someone to subject them to a plethora of third-eye-opening exercises that after intensive dissection of everything from childhood dreams of space -flight and ponies to James Bond adventures, gold-plated golf clubs and endless fishing, only to confirm their confusion.

What has happened? Why is it that you can’t find your passion? In painfully slow motion, everything unravels as the future of your dreams that seemed so certain a few weeks ago slips away into the fog of confusion, almost certainly for good.

While I think almost anyone who has tried to figure out what to do next in their life as experienced this, few ever ask themselves the right question.

The question is not “What is your true passion, your calling, your purpose in life?”.

The question always must be “Which one of my passions should I invest in at this time in my life?.”

In all my coaching work I have never met a one-passion person. I doubt that such a person even exists. What I have seen however is a great deal of confusion when people try to isolate one, for no other reason that decades of self-help gurus, books and seminars have set an expectation that the focus the focus should be on one, and in doing so removing all legitimacy from all else. Sadly, nothing could be worse. No wonder then that panic sets in, followed by paralysis that often lasts a lifetime. It breaks my heart.

Ever since I was a kid, my inspiration were people like Leonardo DaVinci, Ben Franklin, Buckminster Fuller, Ray Kurzweil, Albert Einstein, Isaac Asimov, Rabindranath Tagore. What I didn’t know at the time was that they are all considered Polymaths. I just thought they were cool, they knew stuff about a lot of stuff, and did a lot of cool stuff. They made music, wrote books, invented and discovered things, all in one. It was no one thing, but a wide range of interest that made these people shine.

And this is why I believe that trying to distill a single passion in your life is nonsense.

Your life may have an overarching theme. But that is rarely tangible, and often it is so obscure that many will never really know what it is. And better still, it does not matter.

What matters instead is to acknowledge that you have a rich, very unique and intimately personal palette of passions.

Instead of culling, invite them.

There will be many things that may take weeks and months to emerge, they are often so deeply buried in our psyche because we have had to suppress them for long periods of time, often since childhood. Delight in that richness and variety, it is the fingerprint of your soul. If you need to get practical about them, lay them all out, cluster them and look for those things that are relevant and accessible at this moment in time.

Your palette will change over time. Acknowledge that too. This way your decisions of what cluster you will focus on now, where you will create a project,  business venture or a creative career, will cease to imprison you in a cage of failure and regret, and instead can become a wonderful and fulfilling adventure.

Best of all, if you do fail, you will still have so many other wonderful places where you can start a new adventure…

How to stop the Affirmation-Killer Death-Ray from zapping your Mojo.

(Reading time 2 minutes)

It is in neat handwriting on the inside cover of your favourite notebook, right by your bedside. It is by far the most precious page in the book, and the most read. It is the page that will transform your life.

It is your daily affirmation.
Version 5.1

Colourful phrases that describe a irresistible and magnetic new you.

Declarations of invincibility, of fearlessness, of endless energy.

The new you with a mindset that does not see the glass half empty, or half full, but overflowing.

A new you in total control, marinating in the law of attraction, and inviting abundance and success beyond measure and imagination.

In a few weeks you will probably re-write them.

It does not seem to be working, perhaps something about the wording must not be quite right. You research every single post on NLP and reword it to version 5.2. And so it goes, and meanwhile that life that you are trying to escape from goes on.

We know from studies that affirmations are powerful tools to enhance performance, sustain focus, and increase resilience. Almost every high-performing human being on the planet uses them in some form or another. But why isn’t it working for you?

Because you are shooting yourself with the powerful Affirmation-Killer Ray. and it is coming at you from the nearest glowing screen: from your twitter feed to CSI, from Struggle Street to Eurovision. From ISIL to the Indian killer heatwave.

The problem is simply one of exposure.

You are -sometimes casually, but most often deliberately- exposing yourself to the affirmation-killer death-ray. And while you ride the affirmation high for 5 minutes in the morning and evening of every day, for a substantial chunk of the remaining 23 hours and 50 minutes, your briefly charged mojo is getting zapped, big time. Be realistic, no matter how awesome your affirmation is, it constitutes such an insignificantly small portion of your attention that it does not get a chance to work its magic.

We are fortunate to live in the safest periods in all human history, living longer and having access to information like no other generation before us. One look at your facebook feed and it is easy to forget what our reality is really like. While we live in an age where information is accessible to anyone, the small percentage of stuff that is popular is not an accurate reflection of what is actually happening. Let’s face it, a story about a new vaccine not nearly as exciting as a one-legged acrobat on a Russian talent quest, or perhaps a security camera footage of a horrid armed robbery fail. Pretty much anything with a glowing screen (besides your cashflow spreadsheets and your kindle) is going to feed a potent stream of anti-affirmation to you, and with it comes an inherent pessimism that not only zapps your precious time, it also bleeds your mojo. So your beautifully crafted affirmation repeated twice daily is left with 5 minutes to do the onerous task of resuscitation.

So here is the deal: balance the input. Balance it in your favour.

Turn off the affirmation-killer death-ray. Turn off the facebook feed. Turn off the news. (I promise you if something important happens that is likely to affect you , you will find out!). Reduce your exposure to it in public places.
Instead get a reading list happening. Pick stuff that augments your affirmation, not stuff that neutralises it. Listen to interviews with people that are doing good, meaningful things. You will notice that over and over, central to any conversation with any successful person is a bunch of books that they are being inspired by and learning from. Leaders are readers is not a cliche. Find blogs that inspire you, that give you good news, hope and optimism. It is only when you begin to protect yourself from the affirmation-killer death-ray and replace its insidious power with things that really matter to you at that moment in time, that your affirmation will grant its transformative magic to you.

Take your affirmation book. Tell it (its ok, nobody is watching you do this) that it you who is failing, not the affirmation. Reassure it that from now on you will guard and protect its power from the affirmation-killer death ray, so that you may indeed receive its transformative magic.

And then, give it time to heal you.

The only thing that actually matters when you are stuck.

(Reading time 3 minutes)

If there is one thing that I hear more than any other in my coaching work, it would have to be “I am stuck!”.

The only think that differs is the place, some people are stuck in better places than others.

Some are stuck in un-fulfillment,uncertain where they may find it.
Some are stuck in a career, moving fast or slow towards nowhere meaningful.
Some are stuck in a job that is disappointing, exhausting or outright toxic.
Some are stuck with people who have not grown along with them. Ouch!
Some are stuck in a financial swamp, neither sinking nor swimming, and unable to move in any direction.
Some people are stuck in slow gear, and although they feel they are heading in the right direction, progress is painfully slow, exhausting, depressing.

While each person and situation requires a completely different set of tactics, a different set of different intervention that help them to join the dots and create the escape plan, one thing is always true for all. It does not matter what kind of stuck you are or where you are stuck.

The universal truth of stuck is simply this: Your first choice of “direction”, “mojo”, “life purpose” or “passion”, or whatever you want to call it, is invariably going to be wrong.

Not catastrophically wrong, but wrong enough that your first step does not matter.

While that may sound like a lot of bad news at once, it is actually a good thing.
Better than good in fact, it is great, and it works in your favour a lot!.

First of all, it relieves you of the burden of getting too serious about the detail of the decision. Close enough is good enough. It means that if you have some idea – even if you feel it is not quite right, you are good to go, to start, to make your first move.

So go. Start. Make your first move. Even if you are unsure how it is going to generate income, or improve your relationship, or how the dots join towards that extraordinary life image you aspire, make it your goal for now and get started.

The reason why people stay stuck is not because they are not eager or motivated to start, it is because they can’t decide where or what to start with. They want to know which way they ought to be moving once they become unstuck. Once that decision is made, people are usually hard to stop. Motivation, resources, know-how and any other things that are often the perceived hurdles suddenly fizzle, dissolve, shrink into minor technicalities.

The problem is that while they are still stuck, it really does not matter which way they should be moving.

The one and only, the single and absolutely most important thing you can do is start something. Get unstuck first!

Failing to start is far worse than making a not-quite-right-choice which way to start. Not until you start on that not-entirely-right-path that you will come across the-right-path. You will have to make a false start to find it. You will have to screw up a couple of times to find it. There is no way around that.

Starting on not quite the right path is actually easy, precisely because it does not have to be absolutely right, only sort-of, kinda, roughly about right. That means you can screw it up, make mistakes, try things and even break things (preferably not teeth or bones!), even embarrass yourself, be truly cringe-worthy, and it will not really matter in the end.

So if you are stuck here is my recommendation: pick something that matters to you. Acknowledge that it may not be absolutely right, and give yourself permission to mess it up. Don’t worry if you can’t think of a way to make it work, or make it pay, or whatever, as long as you care to do it and it gives you a greater joy than whatever is occupying you now. It could be joining a martial arts class, or picking up that old dusty guitar again and putting new strings on it. Sometimes it may involve some kind of learning activity, but sometimes it is stuff that you already have a strong foundation in simply because it is important to you.

If you think this proposition is daunting, possibly even risky, then consider this: you will absolutely not find deeper and true “direction”, “mojo”, “life purpose” or “passion”, unless you make a start.

You can do it alone, or with a friend, or a book*, or get help. It may be a teacher, a mentor, or if you want to make quick progress then get a coach. The better ones are not cheap but worth every cent, they have helped many many people with this process before, and know just the right tricks, hacks, resources and strategies you need, and most importantly, they will help you stay on track.

Start with anything that is meaningful to you. It is the only thing that matters, and it is the only way that you will find out your true path.

* I mentioned book. One of my all time favourite “get-over-yourself-and-do-it-now” books is Julien Smith’s FREE little book “The Flinch”, which I go back to every once in a while. You can get it here. If you having a hard time figuring out where to start, start by reading that.

How the Motivation Candy Epidemic it is making you fat!

(Reading time 3 minutes)
Picture a beautiful sunset, golden clouds reflecting on the ocean. Or waterfall photographed with a wide angle lens through the mist. Or a climber contemplating the view from mountaintop. Or crystal clear waters washing onto a white sandy beach, complete with a near-cloudless blue sky and leaning palm trees.

In bold, or thin, or delightful cursive writing is a famous motivational quote.

 And right now there are a few hundred, if not thousands of these every two or three posts apart on virtually all of your social media feeds!
Let’s face it, we all feel warm and fuzzy and uplifted when we read these.

Or perhaps not?

Motivational quotes are useful. But like most things, they become extremely harmful when consumed in excess.

And right now I believe we have a motivational quote obesity crisis.
As people go on with their every-day life struggles seeking to gain some reprieve, brightening an otherwise dull day with a inspiring quote or two, the gap between the message and the real-life circumstances progressively widens. The quote looses its potency, its message becomes diluted, and its payload is delivered to a mind that is not ready to act. Instead of becoming high-performance fuel, it is a sugary candy that does little more than mess with their spiritual insulin: their self-confidence.
As the gap widens, a person’s ability to believe the quote, to feel its true power and meaning, becomes eroded. Instead, self-doubt increases, and a lengthy downward spiral of questioning their own ability to convert such a simple truth into a result in their life. They increasingly begin to ask themselves what may be wrong with them, as any wins and accomplishments if any, have been modest. Victories, accomplishments and success becomes something reserved for others better than them. And so the cycle repeats and they sink a little lower.
So what is missing? What is needed to turn that quote from sugary candy to a green-energy smoothie?
I believe that two things are needed.

The first one is a motive. The second is validation.

Most life and success coaching is based on the assumption that these are already known, but in my experience this is precisely the part that keeps people from beginning, let alone achieving. Finding your motive is not easy. Having it validated by peers who are equally unsuccessful is even more difficult. This is affects not just low achievers or high achievers only, in fact great for high achievers the frustration and pain of un-fulfilling and misplaced success is all too common. In fact with that great success also comes a profound and often inescapable dependence on that very thing that has been a success. A change at that level often demands an extraordinary price.
Knowing your life’s purpose is made extraordinarily difficult in our society as the expectation to follow and comply with a social framework is embedded in our thinking from an early age. While those frameworks themselves do not necessarily restrict us from following our passion, the demands of time and energy that tend to envelop us generally overwhelm us, and result in our passion being put in the too hard basket, and eventually promoted to the impossible basket. The tragic consequence of this is that most people end up dis-associating from their real passions, until it becomes a deep sad ache, a frustrated and sorrowful festering memory of a parallel universe that they believe they were never meant to be in.

Before you can be motivated, you must know you true burning deeper purpose. And you must believe it is an absolutely worthy pursuit.

If you have been able to figure it out on your own, you are in an extremely rare minority.
If this still eludes you, know first of all that you are normal! Next, have the courage to ask for help. Most never will, and that act alone sentences them to a life of disappointment, mostly in themselves. No amount of motivational quotes will ever fix that. The motivational quote becomes the sugary candy that only fattens their self-doubt.
You will need to invest time and effort, and possibly even money to get help in discovering your big motive. You may need to get uncomfortable and surround yourself with people who will validate rather than weaken your true vision. Be mindful here that I am not referring to people who have a vested interest in your success in a venture that is not your “own”, but instead the people who will selflessly instill faith, credibility and confidence in you and your aspirations when they have nothing to gain from your success.
As you real motivation takes form, know that almost certainly you will get it completely wrong, several times. You will have false starts. You will make mistakes and it will take some fine-tuning. And once you get going with it, you will face hurdles. Only this time your mind is ready to act, the mix of ingredients is right, and those motivational quotes will truly be your green-energy smoothie.

This time they will all makes sense, and infuse you with strength, belief and confidence, because you know where you are going, and why.

The freak that is stopping you from having a great life!

Few people would ever reject the idea that that there is something odd, unconventional or unique about them. It is the pedestal upon which a sense of self-identity is built, and we go to great lengths to defend it, we believe in it, and we know it as our own, in all its weirdness and flaws.

But what if we have made our own pedestal too low?

Few people would ever reject the idea that that there is something odd, unconventional or unique about them. It is the pedestal upon which a sense of self-identity is built, and we go to great lengths to defend it, we believe in it, and we know it as our own, in all its weirdness and flaws.

But what if we have made our own pedestal too low?

What if we have made it just high enough so that we can indulge ourselves in our uniqueness, but low enough to prevent exposure to judgement?.

As teenagers go through their process of self discovery, for a brief time they are not afraid of making those pedestals as high as they can, but the onslaught of public -and often parental- opinion, the requirements to conform to ideals in order to allow career opportunities to flourish, media imagery and peer pressures generally mean that in most cases the level is rapidly reduced to a safe, comfortable height. It is lowered to the level at which you feel you are able to avoid any dangerous exposure, criticism and judgement.

But this comes with a huge price: we launch into life with every intention to remain ordinary.

Quite literally, we disappear into the vast ocean of average, where there is little judgement, criticism and opinion.

We hear story after story of regret from those around us who have abandoned their vision to instead live normal lives. We never hear regrets from those who dared to stand out.

Perhaps the music and entertainment industry is one place where the evidence of this is most visible, but it spans into every human endeavour.
Just imagine for a moment that in 1973 Paul, Gene, Ace and Peter stepped onto the stage without the makeup and outrageous costumes, the pyrotechnics. KISS found out very quickly in the late 90’s that the thing that made them special were their make-up, the outrageous costumes and the huge shows, not just the music. Not only do they love doing their thing 40 years on, today they are worth nearly half a billion dollars US.

Imagine Dr Spock without his unusual haircut, ears and dry logic. Imagine if Master Yoda spoke and looked like you or I, we would not buy into his mysticism, jedi wisdom and magnitude.

Imagine Ghandi without his ascetic lifestle and traditional garb. Imagine Jacques Custeau without his red beret, Sir David Attenborough without the raspy whispering narration, or Russell Brand without his irreverence.

But don’t mistake it for an appearance thing.

Its a being thing.

It’s how you are, how you do what you do.

You have a something inside you that you think of as freakish, odd, perhaps a little undesirable, and you are also completely attached to. Something that even though you have relinquished it publicly, it still defines your identity in some secret way. It is something that you will never relinquish within.

I encourage you to reclaim that inner outcast, to re-acquaint yourself with its weirdness, and to allow it once again to define you. Take that idea, possibly weakened by its time in exile, bathe it, feed it, and give it new clothes.

Allow it to speak, listen carefully to it, and side with it. Side with it in defiance of opinions, of criticism, of attacks no matter how vicious. Defend it with great self belief, not with malice or arrogance, and it will take you towards authenticity, towards integrity, towards living your life’s true purpose. Side with it as your pedestal rises above the average, and wear it with pride and dignity, it is your armour against mediocrity, it is your true self, it is you being someone’s hero.

Go on. You know you want to…!

24 ridiculously simple things anyone can start today that will make this year extraordinary!.

Happy new Year 2015! 

As the smoke from the fireworks has dispersed, the ink on your New-Years-resolutions has dried, and you have already written off at least 8 items as unachievable, I would like to suggest a completely different way of launching into the new year. Remove yourself from those highly desirable, highly improbably and ultimately pesky resolutions. Instead start by reading this list of 24 ridiculously simple things which – if done, will transform your life.

But there is a catch. So read on…

  1. Eat leafy greens every day. Have a side salad (dress with olive oil and vinegar, not the bottled dressing stuff), put them in your sandwich, steam or stir-fry them into your dinner, or sautee them for your poached egg breakfast…
  2. Use butter and ghee instead of margarine and processed solidified oil-based spreads. Avoid anything that simply has the term vegetable oils on the label – its most likely palm oil.
  3. Have more sex. Be more physically affectionate in general. Hug your family members and close friends as often as possible. Physical contact is one of the most powerful “anti-depressants”.
  4. Stop criticising others. When you think of something you’d like to comment on, find something about that person that you can compliment them on instead. Say that instead.
  5. Smile at strangers, perhaps even go all out and say “Hi”. You will be an angel in their day.
  6. Stop drinking carbonated drinks, and instead drink more pure water and green teas – hot or cold but without the sugar. Stop doing all other things while you drink it. Don’t just guzzle it or let it go cold/warm, give yourself time to savour it.
  7. Only eat premium chocolates. Cocoa is a natural stimulant. It makes you feel happy and alert. Generally better quality chocolate has less sugar and more cocoa content, but like all things, don’t go overboard.
  8. Use stairs instead of lifts or escalators wherever you can.
  9. Cut down your TV time… or keep it turned off altogether. If that is too much then start by making a select list of programs to watch and turn off at the end – (don’t channel surf). You will have more time for items 3, 10, 16 and 17! Above all, don’t eat dinner or fall asleep in front of the TV.
  10. …and read good books instead.  To help you get started here is INC.’s list of 7 most thought-provoking books form 2014. If you also want to pay the benefit of this forward, read to your kids every day. Not only will  you quickly become their biggest hero and friend, you are helping their young brains develop in ways that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
  11. Draw out a time-line for your future: go back 3 years (it may look frighteningly similar to today), go forward 5 years, then stop doing anything that does not help you with or is not a part of your 5 year plan. You will almost certainly find that you have less time than you thought you had, and that you absolutely can’t put it off to start sometime later! Do this soon!
  12. Work less hours. This will reveal many things, such as whether you are prioritizing effectively, delegating tasks when you should, taking on more than you can handle, simply doing busy stuff for the sake of it, or not being honest (with yourself) about your capacity to deliver. Putting a time limit on your work is the single best productivity hack bar none.
  13. Don’t take work home. Few other practices have the capacity to rapidly become as damaging a habit as this, wreaking havoc with your health, your family relationships, your self-esteem and your mojo. If this is expected in your job, then perhaps it is time to reconsider carefully if it is part of your long term plan as you mapped out in item 11.
  14. Only answer your mobile phone when you really need to. Keep work calls to work hours. Avoid taking calls when you are in a conversation (with only  a few exceptions) – it is the equivalent of saying to your friend that they what they are saying is not important enough to you. And the reverse applies, respect your colleagues personal time outside of work. If you want to go the extra mile, leave your mobile phone off for a day each week.
  15. Delete all social media apps from your smartphone. You will miss nothing, and live more. If you rely on social media feeds such as twitter, prune your “following” list to the ones that really matter, and allocate set time-slots to check it using hash-tag searches. For the ultimate selective info hack check out Tim Ferris’s post on using RSS feeds here.
  16. Meet new linked-in connections in person, – if geographically possible. Don’t do it to sell yourself to them, but to get to know them as people, not as an online profile. A huge virtual contact list is not a network.
  17. Learn something new that you have always wanted to learn. It may be a language, a musical instrument, an artistic or a technical skill, public speaking, rock-climbing…. Pick just one thing, and stick to it for the entire year.  30 minutes for 5 days each week will put you above average by the end of the year – Seriously! And if you are into meta-learning – check out Tim-Ferris’ website for all sorts of super-fast learning hacks – they work!.
  18. Drink less, drink better. Limit alcoholic drinks to one or two days per week, and for truly special occasions. And have nice stuff. Alcohol (together with sugary foods) are the one of the biggest contributors to weight gain that is never spoken about.
  19. Do something you absolutely love to do for at least 15 minutes every day (or longer if that is appropriate). I don’t mean zoning out on the x-box or watching an entire season box set of Glee, but actively engage in a constructive activity. It may be something that you have chosen to learn in item 17.
  20. Devote some time to help in your community once a month. It can be part of a formal activity, or just simply picking up litter you may find when walking at your local park. Your local council website is a good place to find out what you can get involved with.
  21. Don’t eat lunch at your work desk. Stop, go outside if you can, find a park or a place where you can be removed from your work environment.  Perhaps you may even start a group of people who go an sit somewhere together at lunch (and don’t talk about work!). You will return to work refreshed and more productive.
  22. Talk less, listen more. We learn little while speaking (except when we are practicing a new language).
  23. Be on time, even a little early. Few things show respect to others as much as the simple gesture of not leaving people waiting, and it also shows that you are a master of your time. This can be a real challenge and it is a difficult habit to master, but it pays big dividends.
  24. Meditate every day. Research in this area has already uncovered a profound benefits, but if this is a stretch for you, then just find a place and time each day when you can be by yourself in a quiet place. It can be a simple as sitting quietly in a park for 5 or so minutes, listening to the wind or birds, before eating your lunch, or perhaps after dinner.
Ok. You go this far, but seroiusly 24 things to change? Hard enough to stick to one or two!

So here is my challenge:

Pick two.

Just two that you will commit to doing throughout January.
You will have good days and not so good ones, you may falter here or there. Keep going!.
Oh, and don’t be clever and try 3, in February you get to choose two more and so on.

Hit like if you are up for the challenge, and post in the comments to declare yourself in the game. And since it is always easier to do this with someone else, share this and get a friend to participate along with you. No prizes for keeping it up, you will find that the results in 12 months wil be worth far more amazing and personal than any prize I could offer!

10 Ways to Win Back Your Mind.

This is the conclusion to this 4-part series on mindfulness. If you have missed any of the preceding posts, you can read them by clicking on the links at the end of this post.

So, now that you know that mindfulness is a powerfully good thing to practice, let’s get to it.

I have compiled a list of ten simple things that you can do starting at this very moment to begin developing a habit of mindfulness. Pick just one or two and DO IT at least once every day!

Like most things, these are simple enough, but few people will actually do them consistently.

I challenge you to be one of those few, and perhaps to share with me in a month or to me in a month or two if you have experienced any significant improvements in your life.

Before we dive right into mindfulness, I’d like to talk briefly about distractions. Many productivity gurus talk about removing distractions. Sure, it is helpful, but life is full of distractions that are outside of our control, so the only thing we can do about those is to learn to deliberately filter them out. If you can only focus when you are in a perfectly ordered and controlled environment, you have not mastered mindfulness, you have simply created a situation where distractions no longer exist, an environment in which mindlessness becomes difficult. But unfortunately the world in which we live is no such place. So we need to learn to master distractions, not avoid them. The first four items are all about mastering distractions and help you own your space. The rest actively engage a state of mindfulness.

1. Set task timers.

That sounds more like a productivity hack, but what I mean by that is that you set a three, five, or maximum fifteen minute timer in order to do an activity, and during that time your goal is to not allow any other activity to interfere. You are just doing that one thing, nothing else. For a brief period of time (keep it short – match it to the task if possible) give yourself permission to ignore everything else – the phone, email, anything that is not part of your immediate activity. Don’t make it an hour long, just enough to do a meaningful chunk of what needs to be done. If you finish sooner, great. If you go over time, so what, go until you reach the natural stop. The key here is brevity, and trying throughout that time to maintain deliberate awareness about what you are doing, and stop yourself from drifting into autopilot (aka mindlessness!)

2. Turn off all social meadia, TV and news.

Harsh? These rarely contribute something useful to our lives, and they are the ultimate weapon of mindlessness. Set times of the day that are specifically devoted to attending to those if you can’t live without them. Think about this: advertising works. Advertisers know exactly why it works: the moment that the subject matter of your thoughts is determined by someone else, you have “lost” your mind – quite literally –  they own your decision-making process because your story-telling part of the brain has been handed a script. Perhaps somewhat Orwellian, but a fact worth trillions of dollars in sales. Claim some ownership back, give yourself a little space to have your own real experience.

3. Do ONE thing at a time until done.

Nothing fosters mindlessness more than multi-tasking. If you need to interrupt, then break one activity to do another and then come back to it. Science has consistently demonstrated that doing two or more things at once is inefficient and increases the rate of errors exponentially. Finish the coffee or the sandwich, taste it, experience it. Then you can return to checking your email. whatever it is, see, feel, touch, smell, taste, engage, allow yourself to be involved.

4. Turn off your phone when attending meetings.

The fact that our phones have become our forever-ready personal assistant does no mean that we need to have them participate in every one of your human interactions. Besides being a gesture of disrespect by showing that we downgrading the importance of the person or group we are engaging with, it is also very hard to stay attentive when your phone blinks, twinkles, buzzes and fuzzes or suddenly starts singing “I was made for lovin’ you baby…” in the middle of a conversation. Give the people you are with your full undivided attention. Let your heart, your ears and your eyes be absorbed by nothing else than them and their story. Try to feel what they feel. Mindfulness causes your brain to become more empathic. Use this to your advantage, you will become more respected for it.

5. Focus on the food when eating.

We have forgotten to eat properly. This is one of those fundamental biological things that keep us alive, yet we treat it as a mechanical and indulgent anchor for other activities. When you eat, smell the aromas, feel the textures on your tongue, look at the colours on your plate, think about the ingredients, how they nourish. We forget that food is our number one medicine. Chose your foods wisely, and enjoy them, regardless of how humble and simple they are. No two foods taste and smell the same. No two foods nourish us in the same way. And besides water, virtually every mouthful that you eat whether plant or animal comes from something that was once alive. Be grateful, recognise its sacredness, and eat it with the respect it deserves.

6. Break your routine.

This is a both easy and fun way of creating a mindfulness-inducing situation. Take the opportunity to experience the difference with all your senses. Here are some ideas: take a different route to work, or perhaps public transport. Try something adventurous in your lunch-box. Buy at a different store. Set your alarm clock for a different time and get up earlier. Try a different breakfast. Dare to have a cold shower. Go for a walk in the rain. Since you have turned off  off facebook and TV, you will suddenly find time to read a book. Or chat with your family. Take your dog for a walk, and walk in the opposite direction.

7. Journal – and write by hand!.

Handwriting is a mindful activity in its own right – and one that engages our brain far more intensely than typing the same words on a keyboard – so when it comes to mindfulness, typing it does not qualify. Besides the act of writing by hand, reflecting on your day’s experiences is intensely satisfying. Once you begin, it is likely that a page or more will flow effortlessly. Other days just readying past days’ entires can be equally fulfilling. I am very passionate about my papers, pencils and fountain pen inks, but whatever you choose to use, let it be personal and special, and give yourself time and a space to make this special. Just doing this regularly will gradually raise your awareness and presence in all your life experiences.

8. Make TEA, and drink it.

Japanese have refined the act of preparing and sharing tea into one of the most iconic acts of mindfulness in its tea ceremonies. But all rituals aside, there is a simple chemical reason for this: Tea (the kind derived from the Camellia Sinensis, not herbal teas and infusions like rosehip, camomile and rooibos) contains a powerful combination of caffeine, flavonoids and antioxidants. Think this: the best medicinal properties of coffee, chocolate and red wine in that cup. Clear alertness, calm contentedness and healthy antioxidants all at once!. But rather than just jingling a bag in a cup of hot water and then tossing it in the bin, then letting your cuppa slowly go cold while you are back at your desk, take the time out to brew it, pause all things and drink it with all your senses as you would invest your senses into a glass of Penfolds Grange or your favourite single malt.

9. Listen to music  – while doing nothing else.

Really listen, not just have muzak/radio/spotify playing in the background. You don’t have to be a music expert, simply listen, observe how it makes you feel. I recommend instrumental, classical or good meditation music, mainly because music with lyrics can be a distraction. Not only does the act of listening help in clearing the mind of distracting thoughts, listening to music also wires up new connections between your left and right brain. You get smarter while relaxing!

10. Meditate.

This merits a post in its own right. But here is the really simple version: sit quietly, get comfortable. Observe your breath – don’t force it, simply observe. Feel the air entering your lungs, then pausing, then the exhaling. By the time you do this for a few breaths you will have an avalanche of thoughts tumbling through your head. That is normal. The work is in not engaging those thoughts, but keeping your attention on your breathing. As soon as your mind begins to wander, pay attention to your breath again. Do this for five to ten minutes, preferably every day, and ideally not when you are tired or about to go to bed. Meditation should not send you to sleep, it invigorates the mind. In the beginning this will be hard, don’t be discouraged by the seeming difficulty of ignoring your inner voice, but with a little practice and after two or three weeks you will begin to maintain your attention on your breath for longer, and will also be able to re-focus a lot quicker as soon as the distracting thoughts make themselves known.
If you have made it to number 10, congratulations, you may even have experienced mindfulness while reading!

If you wish to know more or have a question about mindfulness practice and meditation please post it in the comments sections and I will do my best to help out.

I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts. Here are the links to the first three parts in case you missed them. Share them, and all the best as you go about reclaiming your mind!

The awesome things that mindfulness does to your brain!

“You can’t run that fast.

He/She is not going to be interested in you.

You look frumpy.

People are not going to like your haircut.

Your voice sounds funny.

OMG is that a wrinkle???

They will never accept those terms.

Blah blah blah.”

 

“Oh, hello, this is your inner voice speaking.

I am going to make sure you second guess yourself.

I will remind you of the impending dangers, and cause you anxiety about an upcoming event or meeting.

I am your personal reminder to worry, stress. assume.

I am here to tell you a story, to pre-emptively inform you of your story.”

Mindfulness.

Your inner voice is silent. Or at least out of hearing range. There is no pre-written plot here. You chose.
Ok, so what was that all about?
Last week I promised to reveal what happens in your brain when you are “mindful”. What you have just read is an example of what actually happens. Many studies have been done to find out what goes on in your brain during and after meditation. Although meditation is not the same as mindfulness, it is one of the most common – and easiest – ways to practice mindfulness, and develop it. From that practice we can then apply it anytime, anywhere. Next week I will go into more detail about how you can easily begin to develop mindfulness as a habit, but for now, lets get back to the brain.

Two important things happen in your brain during and after meditation or mindfulness practice:

First, the inner voice is muted.

Your inner voice, or story-teller uses the information it receives from your reticular activating system (see my post on this here) to develop stories that are strictly speaking fantasy. These stories are generated by our language centre based on past experiences, assumptions, live information that comes in through our senses, and “stuff” that is floating around in our subconscious.
Mindfulness separates and severs this link.
At first that may sound like a bad thing, but it is not. This severing allows the more evolved parts of our mind to engage with the information that comes in through our senses, and effectively bypasses our more primitive flight-or-fight type brain functions and stop the behavior triggers. So what that really means is that instead of second guessing, doubting or deluding ourselves by way of this creative story-telling , our awareness is actually processing the information that comes in “clean”, in other words, without emotional bias, not altered by our past experiences. It does not mean we don’t “feel” emotion, it simply means the made-up story does not undermine our perception with assumptions. Our inner voice is powerful, and our ability to silence it and bypass it means we will worry less, stress less, abstain from passing judgment preemptively, draw foregone conclusions and so on. It means that we are able to work with untampered information and as a result we will make better decisions. Its that simple, and it has a very direct effect on our body and our health.

The second thing that happens is we become more empathic.

This is not some warm-and-fuzzy theoretical thing, the areas of our brain responsible for empathy and compassion are stimulated and become more active. We are able to connect with our surroundings better (not just people) and it increases our awareness as a part of a greater whole. The benefit of this needs no explanation. Because of this, meditation is being used as a highly effective way of helping people recover from depression – meditation instead of medication!
Although significant and lasting physiological changes to the brain take some time to reach, (the first real changes begin to occur after about two months of regular daily meditation), you can quite literally change the experience of your day on the spot by either meditation or mindfulness exercises. And that does not require preparation.

So in summary, your brain will reconfigure itself to reduce stress and increase health, and you will become a nicer, kinder more authentic person.

I deliberately left the heavy science stuff out, but I will post links next week to some relevant scientific publications and media if you wish to immerse yourself the clinical and detailed explanation (no pseudoscience!). Next week I will show you simple ways to tap into this wonderful state of being, and give you a starting point towards a healthier, happier, mindful life.
Enjoy, share, comment…