Who Killed “Time Is Money” – Part 3

Reading time 4 minutes

As we continue our journey into the future and look at what is happening in a decade or two from now, the time around 2025-2035. We are surrounded by people who are working on passion-projects and moving around in self-driving smart vehicles. Even smarter devices that make your iWatch look like a stone-axe are keeping you connected to the internet of things, enabling communication with with your home, your transport devices, collaborators and retailers, enabling making payments and other transactions.

But while robots and smart devices don’t take lunch breaks, we will.

The challenge we face today is that food production in its current form is not able to be increased at the same rate as the world’s population with our current agricultural methods.

One of the first things that we will be confronted with is a very significant decrease in meat consumption.

Meat is by far the most resource-intensive and ecologically “expensive” food to produce.
Combined with the fact that the current consumption levels in the western diet are actually causing an increased in colon cancer and other ailments, and being a contributor towards obesity epidemic. This is not as a result of the meat itself, but as a result of the habitual over-eating and unnaturally large servings of food that are common today.

The second – and far more sinister problem with meats is that the antibiotics required to maintain the health of industrially farmed animals cycle through the food chain, primarily via water. It means we are eating – and accumulating vast uncontrolled quantities of antibiotics that not only mess with our immunity, but cause resistant mutations in pathogens. To make matters worse, the livestock industry requires 6 kg of plant protein to produce 1 kg of meat protein and as a result consumes about seven times as much plant based food than what humans consume (based on US figures – these vary between countries depending on the region’s respective primary source of food).

It is highly likely that plant based foods will form the most significant part of our food intake.

But before you decide to jump the curve and become a vegetarian, it is important to aknowledge that a very similar problem exists with our current methods of industrial agriculture.

While antibiotics are the trojan horse of meat and dairy, pesticides are the equivalent problem in the plant-foods. Our current industrial agriculture methods for plant-based foods are as unsustainable as the ones for animal products. While GMO’s are contentious and are blamed for all sorts of ailments, the reality is that all food we eat today is GMO. The fashionable idea of Paleo diets (derived from “Paleolithic”, the period of very early human life from about 2.6 million years to approximately 10,000 years ago) ignore two important factors: none of the foods that have been agriculturally developed (through selective breeding and domestication, and blending of plant varieties) existed in the paleolithic. Secondly their diets varied greatly between regions and seasons. The early humans were hunter-gatherers, and significant agriculture did not emerge until the very end of the paleolithic. Today we do not (and would not) eat any of the foods they ate, most of those pre-agricultural varietes no longer exist.

One of the greatest indicators is a resurgence of lower-yield organic farming. And while these are producing smaller crop volumes, peripheral problems such as soil depletion and water-table problems are also significantly reduced. One of the most successful technological innovations of recent years is salt-water farming. This is industrial scale greenhouse farming for vegetables that is extraordinarily water-efficient. Already a commercial reality in arid countries including UAE and Australia, methods like these show tremendous promise for sustainable food production.

But besides organic grains, fruit and veggies, what will be on your plate?

Chances are that a significant part of your animal protein intake will come from farmed fish, seaweed, algae- and mushroom-derived “vege-meat” products, and “grown meat”. While still in early development, growing meat in the lab is a reality, and one that holds promise to provide meat proteins and nutrients without the enormous overhead of farming animals. But as mentioned earlier, it is likely that those will be a significantly smaller share of you overall food intake, which will be primarily plant-based, using moderate-yield organic methods. Given that a significant portion of the population will have a far greater availability of free time while robots do the boring, dangerous and repetitive work, it is not unimaginable that seasonal community and home gardens will make an important and sustainable contribution to the food mix.

Another area that will change profoundly is food-related waste, and food waste.

Disposable protective packaging will no longer be polluting – as Architect William McDonough proposed in 2002 in his book “Cradle to Cradle”, it will serve secondary purposes such as decompose an release nutrients or act as a composting enhancer. All food waste will be collected for composting either by local or by community level collection, and utilised to regenerate and enhance the soil for agriculture.

Overall food will simply become healthier again, by the simple necessity of an ecologically sustainable and sufficient supply.

This has a profound effect on health and leisure industries. Not only does healthier food mean generally less lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes, it means longer active lifespans, more energetic people with lots of free time eager to engage in meaningful experiences. The demand for experience-based entertainment will be a significant industry, that will in turn require salvaging, restoring and protecting many endangered natural ecosystems. And again, with that comes yet another industry: ecological regeneration and ecosystem restoration, this time driven by a strong economic motivator.

So now we know how we are fed the humans (and started living longer, working less, travelling more, and repairing ecosystems), but what powers the machines, the internet of things?

Last week I promised you the food and the energy of the next two decades. I have decided however to keep things brief, and so I have split this episode into two. I will explore energy next week. This is another area that is overflowing with innovative changes and possibilities worthy of the best science fiction. Except that it is not sci-fi.

The purpose of these posts is to encourage you to imagine a different future.

It is to create a context for you, so that you may wake up tomorrow exited about the future, and eager to be a part of it instead of afraid of it, to contribute and help shape it rather than to be unexpectedly derailed by it.

It’s purpose is to fight the dark and distorted reality portrayed by mainstream media, and reveal one far more certain, and far more exciting: the future as is being created right under our noses, sometimes quietly and sometimes with great fanfare, by innovators, visionaries and entrepreneurs.

Here is a link to Saltwater Farming.

Cradle to Cradle Book, Amazon (no, I am not affiliated in any way – it is still a great book!)

Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Please share your thoughts. Agree, add to, disagree or challenge. The share and comments links below are yours to use… I look forward to hearing from you.

Who Killed “Time is Money?” – Part 2 (Who killed the taxi driver?)

Reading time 5 minutes

NOTE:Items underlined have links at the bottom of the article.

Last week I began this four part series by declaring the progressive demise of the “Time is Money” paradigm. As we enter an era when an increasing portion of the population will not be able to rely on a job as a source of income, we are also presented with an extraordinary opportunity: to develop a social and cultural environment where you do what matters to you, not what pays you. Although no single magical solution to how the “decoupling” of income from work has yet been defined, the momentum that automation has is such that a tipping point will force the issue, most likely sooner than people realize.

But while we envisage life in a world where work is optional, what else can we expect?

I will do my best over the remaining three episodes to put context around your future life. This context is not a pipe dream. Nor is it so far in the future that you can afford the luxury of ignoring it. This is a context of a world one or two decades into the future, and virtually everything that I put forward here is already a technical reality. What that really means is that however hard I try to make this a “big visionary thing”, the visionary element is massively undercooked. More on that later.

While I have endeavoured to keep things clustered into topics, some crossover is inevitable. Take your time to read this slowly and carefully. And above all, I’d like to invite you to join in the conversation, and encourage you upfront to share your comments by using the comments link below.

Over the last two years of working with Architecture students, their final projects are always envisioned to be delivered ten years into the future. So I will begin with the topic of transport technology, as many other things cascade from those transformations.

Earlier this year Tesla opened in Australia. Welcome to the electric car. While Elon Musk is changing the transport, portable energy and advanced battery technology around the globe (and now taking those batteries and using them on solar-powered houses), this is only a small stepping stone in our story.

The real game-change will come with self-driving cars.

While most people feel deeply uneasy about handing the steering wheel over to a web-connected and GPS-and-sensor-guided learning computer, the reality is profoundly significant. To begin with it eliminates car accidents almost completely, and the fail-safe systems will mean that even in a failure is unlikely to result in death on injury. That alone is a game-changer for insurance and health. consider that in Australia on average for the last decade, every year just under 1% of the population suffered serious injuries car accidents (and one in 20,000 died). Although this number is low compared to death rates from heart disease etc, it is also completely preventable. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Forget taxis (sorry Uber-drivers, this will affect you too!). You can have your car drop you off at the entrance of your favourite restaurant, park itself in a machines-only parking rack nearby, and come at your request (via voice request on your  smartphone) collect you and your inebriated party (it knows where you are from your phone request location) and drive you all safely back home. No driving, no taxi queue, this is your car. This also means drivers licenses will be a thing of the past: your teenage kids may have access to safe and reliable transport with tracking and restrictions as may be necessary for personal safety.

It is clear that even before we delve too deeply into the subject, transportation gets a pretty severe upgrade. And it does not stop at personal transportation. Your food gets to the supermarket with self-driving electric – possibly even solar-powered (we’ll come back to this) trucks without drivers that fall asleep at the wheel or are kept awake with a chemical cocktail that makes the most hardened junkie jealous. The trucks go 24-7, day and night, no rest stops needed. Goodbye truckie – a whole industry rendered obsolete. Plug in some automatic inventory tracking, automatic maintenance scheduling etc. and the whole thing starts to look  pretty clever without a human in sight. We can keep digging deeper, but you get the picture. This is significant. This is not sci-fi, it’s here and you can find out more in this Ted talk from Google’s Sebastian Thrun. (link below)

So what else does this self-driving car change? For the first time since the horse-drawn cart we can have cars and people share transit spaces in urban centres. Sensor technology on a car does not just see what a driver sees, it can see 360 degrees without ever blinking. It knows exactly who and what is in front, beside and behind the vehicle, which way and how fast it is moving, and what it is. It can see in the blackest darkness, blizzard, rain or fog. And because it knows where every other car nearby is, it does not need traffic lights. Automated flow controllers (where cars share info with each other) ensure that movement is smooth, steady, efficient, and optimised. Wooha! Optimized? What on earth does that mean? It means that through predictive positioning algorithms cars can cross intersections, move safely through crowded pedestrian spaces, merge with other traffic etc. without stopping. It all happens in a smooth, fluid motion. You could sip your latte in the car and not spill a drop on the moisture-repellent self-cleaning upholstery. Good Bye traffic lights, and Good Bye traffic jams!. This is fun so lets keep going: no speeding tickets as cars behave to location specific restrictions. No more carparks as we know them, you get dropped off and call your car when and where you need it. Even halfway across town if necessary (although you may wish to tell it to meet you at your destination at a set time) I can see this being really handy when doing cross-country bush-walks.

Of course this technology has a profound effect on public transport as well. But by far the most profound impact will be on the shapes of our cities, our road network and supporting infrastructure. Your suburban street could look very different, and as a result new social interaction behaviours become possible.  No designated pedestrian crossings, no traffic lights. Footpaths can have fruit trees where directional signs once stood. Imagine car-sharing and pooling made possible through a simple request on your smartphone “I need to be at the golf club by 3pm” could cue up a selection of available cars, Uber-style. But being driverless means that cars that are passing you on the way to picking up someone from the golf club at 3:15 don’t make an empty journey.

This is just one thread of a whole complex web of possibility. I said earlier that this vision is “undercooked”. As outrageous and over the top you may think it is, it pales in comparison to what will actually be. That is because every single thing I have listed here is already a technological reality, although notnecessarily a commercial one – yet.

What this vision does not include is the stuff that has not been invented yet, or that has not reached a sufficient level of technical viability.

But rest assured, that many of those things that are currently facing hurdles will be resolved. Some game-changers will come from problems being solved in unrelated areas. In the same way as car-battery technology is being used to store your domestic solar charge for night-time use, other things will have a crossover effect, unlocking that which was previously unachievable. Challenges that crowd-source knowledge such as the X-prize are accelerating both the rate of innovations, as well as the nature of them.

It would be extraordinarily naive not to expect other game-changers to turn entire industries on their head, wipe them out and create new opportunities within the next decade. What those industries are and how they will change is up to us to imagine today.

Here are some fun links:

Video of a moving sidewalk at the Paris Exhibition 1900.

Sebastian Thrun TED Talk showing off Google’s driverless car. Hold on to your hat!

 The X-Prize website – lots of cool stuff here!.

Last weeks Post – Part 1.

Next week we will look at food and energy – two closely related areas that are fundamental to an enduring human future.

Please share your thoughts. Agree, add to, disagree or challenge. The share and comments links below are yours to use… I look forward to hearing from you.

Mindfulness is hip! How science, social media and the GFC triggered the mindful leadership revolution.

(Reading time 5 minutes)

Mindfulness is hip!

Mindfulness is trending in all channels of social media. In 2014 mindfulness was the new buzzword among celebrities from Katy Perry to Sir Richard Branson, from Will Smith’s kids to media magnate Arianna Huffington. And by all signs that was just the beginning. 2015 is the year that will see mindfulness practice become embedded as a fundamental leadership trait in the boardrooms of the early adopters.

So why has this esoteric practice formerly reserved to monastic lifestyles suddenly entered our collective consciousness and infiltrated the hard and serious world of big business?

Enter science, Social Media and the GFC.

While for centuries meditation was exclusively the domain of spiritual practice, often in faraway temples atop misty mountains, and of purple-crystal-worshipping-new-age-hippies, it was not until the last decade that medical imaging technology, in particular MRI’s, has made it possible to study meditation in a controlled scientific context. While the likes of Jon-Kabat Zinn have been promoting the virtues of mindfulness to professionals before then, there was no fully validated evidence that any of this was more than anecdotal. But a series of recent published and ongoing studies conducted in the likes of Harvard University Medical School have not only validated and reinforced the anecdotes of the mystics, but revealed a raft of other remarkable and highly beneficial phenomena.

So far the science has revealed this:

  • Meditation practice turns down the “inner voice” in our mind (a function of our language centre) and reduces self talk, which is overwhelmingly imaginary stuff constructed out of fragments of past experience. Why is this good? Because while pre-emptying dangerous situations is an evolutionary important trait, it has “overstepped” its bounds in our technologically and socially advanced world. By reducing this mental chatter we become more aware of the true context of an experience. Information is not pre-filtered by our emotions, and as a result of this clarity we are able to make better decisions.
  • Meditation increases creativity. This means that as we are able to see problems with more clarity, we are also able to imagine a wider range of possible solutions.
  • Meditation reduces stress. This happens both directly as a result of chemical activity in the brain, but also on a meta level: as we are better able to comprehend, evaluate and engage with a situation, we are also less emotional and more in control, which in turn increases our confidence and unleashes all kind of positive metabolic responses. Which leads to the next point: Health.
  • Meditation makes you healthier. As we become less inclined to emotional responses to stimuli for food, alcohol, drugs and toxic behavioural traits, we are less likely to succumb to those. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Meditation releases happy hormones in your body, which in turn invigorate your immune system making you less succeptible to illness, and more likely to recover quickly. Never mind the fact that feeling good will also benefit how you engage with others. And that brings us to the next benefit: Empathy.
  • Meditation increases your empathy and compassion. While this may sounds like a Buddhist quote, it is actually happens at a chemical neurological level. We become more connected to our sense of life and that of other beings. In simple terms it means you will have much better relationships with people because you will behave kindly towards them. You become more trustworthy and you will be more trustworthy.

While all this may once have sounded too good to be true, it is now understood on a neuro-scientific level to be true. And I have left our a lot, this iss really just the tip of the iceberg. Meditation re-wires and physically reshapes our brain for mindfulness, and physically alters not only how we perceive the world, but how we engage with it. It also alters (and improves) how our bodies function.

So far so good. So how does Social Media fit into the story?

Social media plays two key roles in the mindfulness revolution: The more obvious one is the dispersion of information. As twitter and other platforms shifted from text to images, tiles with happy quotes proliferated and got shared. The second one is curated feeds. Stuff that got shared got seen, the rest of the stuff disappeared from our collective consciousness. Two things got shared frequently: the happy quote and the videos of dramatic incidents (from rescues to beheadings, from extraordinary feats to epic fails). People’s lunch postings faded from view, making many social media channels less personal and more about entretainment. While many demographics have swarmed to new apps that look to overcome that, the general sense of loneliness, meaninglessness and alienation has hit hard across right the connected generations.

Add to this the GFC.

While the glitter of the virtual world of imaginary stardom faded (and still continues to fade) slowly, the discontent, distrust in “the system”, fear and sense of personal failure brought about by the global financial crisis that began in late 2008 was somewhat more sudden, less visible and far more personal. It affected people from all social strata, and continues to do so as its effects are slowly displaced by tectonic shifts in industry and the exponential increase in labour automation.

These three factors were catalysts that made it acceptable for the profound social discontent to become a public conversation.

The secret reality of the 90-plus hour work week and the stratospheric career ladders as being inwardly un-fulfilling is no longer a secret.

The overarching question has now shifted from “How can I get to the top of the career ladder” to “How can I get to the top of my personal fulfillment ladder?” (or in most cases – “Which one is my ladder?”)

Social media has aided the spread of this idea, combined with some timely “seeds” like books such as Tim Ferriss’ disruptively titled “4-hour Work Week”, more recently Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive” written following her sudden and personal crash from corporate life burnout, or one of the most read blogs in the world, Leo Babuta’s “Zen habits”. A plethora of “off-line” and “minimalist living” movements have spawned further legitimising the mindful lifestyle as the logical progression from a high consumption, high demand and high delusion life.

Most principles around mindfulness and meditation are simple. The “practice” in the form of meditation does the “hard rewiring” and makes the process of implementing constructive habits much easier, there is still an perception amongst business leaders and self-declared high performers that sitting still is bad for business, science has now joined the chorus and thoroughly validated the once esoteric claims of meditation and mindful living. Like all things, mindfulness and meditation takes practice and a willingness to learn a few new things.

The innovators have been mindful for a long time. Now the early adopters are jumping on board. There is no question that business leadership is facing a structural transformation. Coupled with the deep shifts underway in global work-culture, automation and mechanisation of tasks, leadership is becoming centered on meaning, on significance, on experience and on adherence to its altruistic foundational values. Mindful Leadership is not a fad, it is the next step in the evolution of leadership. Soon mindless leaders will become irrelevant, and eventually become extinct together with the business they once lead.

Mindfulness has been around for centuries, with the help of science and inevitable social tipping points is now becoming mainstream.

Mindfulness is hip.  But don’t mistake it for a fad.

The future of leadership is mindful, founded on bettering the human condition, including that of the leaders themselves.

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!

Stop impressing your boss (do this instead!)

For the larger part of the adult population, the single biggest share of time is spent almost exclusively in the company of work colleagues, clients, and bosses. And because of this idea that our relationship with them is pivotal to our life, these are the people who we are most likely to make efforts to impress, or at least, not get unnecessarily off-side. The majority of them are people who we have never deliberately sought to share time with, they come into our life as part of a career (and usually leave with it when we change direction). In many cases they may even people who we are in direct competition with, who perhaps may even be a threat, requiring us to be even more impressive.

The relevance or lack of relevance of these relationships has a profound effect on our lives, but even more so on the lives of the next generation. When they look at you do they see substance in your purpose, in your relationships and your actions?

It is easy to jump to answer this and say “Of course!” – but the perspective from which this must be answered is not our own, it is from theirs.

That changes everything.

One very current example is this: As parents we naturally expose kids at an early age to natural icons. Rhinos, Giraffes, Elephants, Gorillas, Polar Bears, Whales. Bees. There are adventures of journeys through untouched wilderness. For most kids in primary school now, these icons are becoming increasingly likely to be extinct when they become adults. And they know that. They also know that we are somehow responsible. Perhaps not directly, but indirectly the finger points squarely at us.

This is why it changes everything:

We have inadvertently sent a very clear warning to the next generation to not follow us, to ignore our advice. We have inadvertently sent a clear message to the next generation that we don’t really care what happens to them. We have created a role-model vacuum. We have created an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, of defeat before they even begin their race. We have created a toxic environment (real and figuratively) into which they have no choice but to walk into.

But we can also change everything.

While the role-model vacuum is being filled by escapes into digital worlds where battles can still be won and where heroes still exist (for better or worse) I believe we have a moral obligation to reclaim this space. It is simpler than you think, although it requires some work – possibly difficult work because it is mostly work within ourselves.

It is simply this: Begin to shift your focus away from trying to impress your colleagues, and towards impressing your kids, whatever their age. It does not mean that you take up extreme downhill cycling, or mask up at night to become a vigilante. Here are some suggestions that won’t put you in hospital or jail.

  • Do stuff that matters. Not just to them but also to you. By spending every “free” hour entranced by a TV with a drink in hand you are declaring that you have given up yourself. Failure and defeat does not inspire, it robs others of hope, it kills possibility.
  • Show the value of life by valuing yours, and everyone else’s that you come in contact with.
  • Show respect for the natural world that they are heirs to by treating it as if it was theirs.
  • Invest ethically, into ventures that are not in conflict with their inheritance.
  • Consider who you work for. Perhaps it is time to work in an industry that is not engaged in socially or ecologically destructive practice.
  • Be kind and compassionate, not just in their presence.

There is no measure to the respect that these simple things will earn you.
There is no measure to the outlook and hope you will give them.
There is no measure to how much greater your life will become as a result.
There is no measure of how great a change is possible when many people do simple little things that matter.

And that will change everything.

The fights we do not have to fight.

Gratitude.

Its a big word, and like many big words, it has become diluted through mis-use by all kinds of motivational and spiritual experts. so perhaps it is appropriate to attempt to reclaim it’s true potency.

It is often said that the character of a person is shaped defined by the challenges he or she has faced. But that is only half the story. The other half is the things that they do not have to face.

I am reminded constantly of this, and you can too. It is simple, just pay attention to those around you.

For example the semi-trailer rig that stood near stood near a local shop this morning: it had a spoiler engraved with white calligraphy words “RIP ZAC” followed by dates. Those dates told me that Zac was 16 when he died. Perhaps this was his father’s truck.
Or a conversation I had yesterday afternoon with a good friend who some years ago was hit by a car and knocked off his bicycle, sustaining nearly fatal physical and some brain injuries. When we talk, I can sense that his world has different limits to mine, and the challenges that I take for granted are sometimes mountains for him.
Or closer to home, our hot-water unit broke, and for a few days we were inconvenienced with hot water rations until it was replaced. This may sound trivial, but we must not take for granted the privileged circumstances that we live in. I mean we as inclusive of you, reading this, and I, writing this.
Every day we wake up in a world where we are faced with challenges. But we also awake into a world where we are spared some pretty severe challenges. Here are some of them:
  • We do not walk two or more hours to collect a drum of water and then walk for two more hours to cook, or perhaps wash ourselves or our baby.
  • We do not wash our only items of clothing by hand every few days.
  • We do not go hungry simply because we have no access to enough food.
  • We do not require (at least not yet) someone to assist us to move around, or perhaps are dependent on a machine in order to stay alive.
  • We do not need to constantly flee from frequent violent attacks, and have to hide to stay safe, or keep ourselves and our families alive.
  • We may not need to mind what is in our food, least we have an allergic reaction that could kill us.
The reason I have made this list, is because I know people whom I respect and admire who have fought or are fighting some of these battles. But the point I wish to make is simple: the list of things that you do not have to deal with is far longer than the troubles that you do have to deal with. And with absolute certainty someone you know is dealing with something that if it were on your list of challenges would crush you.
What does this have to do with gratitude? It’s this: as we wake each day we face challenges that consume us, they are the essence of our day. We curse, we stress, we perhaps let them colour our mood, tarnish how we deal with ourselves, and how we deal with others. How often do we stop to consider what it is that we are being spared from?
Perhaps this is the question we should begin each day with. It is enough to change your perspective, enough to create a genuine deep sense of gratitude for the challenges that face you. It is this deep gratitude that makes it possible for us to take those challenges on with eagerness instead of reluctance, with energy instead of fatigue, with joy instead of resentment, and with courageous authority instead of fear.
Knowing this, and acting on this power is the true essence of gratitude. It is far to rare, but fortunately it is also highly contagious.

I’d like to invite you to become a carrier of true gratitude. What a different day you would have, and what a different day you would be creating for all those fortunate enough to come in contact with you.

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…

Rule-change! Whose game are you playing?

While playing snakes and ladders with one of our sons, he proceeded to define a set of game rules that were not striclty part of the game. So we played the game with that modified set of rules. Children master the art of imagination. Rarely do they participate in a game where they do not have a say in the rules. It is their game, and they make the rules.

As adults we become more strategic about this. We deliberately allow ourselves to comply with overarching sets of rules in business or personal life that generally position us favourably. But in doing so we also forego something, and the cost of this is not always obvious or immediately apparent. Ever so quietly compliance creates a mindset and culture of perpetuating, and eventually even protecting the status quo. Last week I explored this subject in my post “The most dangerous assumption ever”.

What we forego is a degree of control. Specifically, we forego that level of control which allows new possible outcomes to emerge.

As a design professional I was trained to question pretty well everything, but even that is no safeguard. After a while we become accustomed to challenging ourselves with the same questions.

So how we reclaim that imaginative rule inventing capacity that we had at age 5?

Begin by observing…

What is the underlying “game” in a particular transaction, interaction or relationship?

When we understand the game, the rules will gradually become apparent. And when we know them, we can literally begin to mess around with them, create new possibilities, and have fun doing it!

  • What are the rules that you have sub-conciously agreed to play by?
  • What other moves would be possible if you ignored those rules?
  • What happens if you took the rule and reversed it, or made it the opposite?
  • How are the rules impeding of helping your intentions?
  • And finally, what is possible you take a rule from another game and apply it here?

 

Cultivate this this skill, and in time you will inevitably find yourself ahead of the game…