Mind the morsel: food, mindfulness and death.

(Reading time 8 minutes)

The repeated dry thud of the hammer striking the wooden block announces the meal time. The monks seat themselves upon their platforms, facing their bowls which are carefully wrapped in cloth. In a precise choreography of movements, they untie the knot, lift out the utensils and napkins, then the bowls, and calmly place these in front of them. The cloth is carefully folded and placed next to them. Then they wait in meditative silence. One by one, monks assigned to cooking duties move by them pouring and placing foods into the bowls, them move onto the next seated monk, raising a trail of fragrances and steam. A bell rings, and the monks begin a ritualised engagement with the food, inviting  all their senses to participate. They smell , the look, they savour. Sometimes all food is served at once, sometimes many different dishes are served after one another. When the last morsel has been eaten, the monks clean their bowls with a napkin and hot water, and then arrange all items on the wrapping, and tie up the knot. They lift the bundle up again and return it to their respective storage compartment.

During all this time not a single word is spoken. The meal was entirely made from donated/gifted ingredients, and food grown on the temple grounds by the monks. This is meal-time at a zen monastery.

elsewhere, Mindless Morsels.

Food is socializing.
Food is pleasure.
Food is communion.
Food is nourishment.
Food is social status.
Food is medicine.
Food is control.
Food is religious.
Food is priceless.

More often than not however, for most people in what is often referred to as the deloped world, food just happens.

It happens in between loud conversations both friendly and hostile. It is rushed in mouthfuls in between words in a meeting, or while getting children ready for school. It is consumed voraciously and washed down with drinks on a Friday evening. It is snacked obliviously while the eyes are entranced by the intense drama unfolding on a screen. It is mechanically ingested while your team forges ahead to score that decisive goal, the entertainment demanding our fullest attention. It is taken discretely in scoops and handfuls from the buffet for fear of missing out. It is piled down round after round in reply to a persistent craving. Thirst and hunger, fatigue, fragrances and aromas, the rustling of someone else’s sandwich bag, and virtually anywhere you look there is something that reminds us about food.

But can you actually remember subtle nuances of fragrance and flavour, aroma, even temperature of your last cup of coffee? Or what particular flavours and aromas were present this morning in your breakfast, or last night’s dinner?. That is, without checking Instagram to remind yourself what you ate.

Besides a general and obvious description, don’t be surprised if you struggle. You are not alone.

With the technological advancements of food production and distribution we have massively improved access to food and disperesd regional variety of ingredients across the globe, while on a local scale we have lost  over 80% of our agricultural diversity including many native and indigenous food stocks, and with that we have also lost the knowledge about their cultivation and preparation.

As a byproduct of this convenience we have also lost our ability to comprehend the true significance of every morsel of food that we place in our mouths. And we paying for it dearly. Modern food production (both plant and animal based foods) make up over a third of all green-house-gas emissions, and the scale of soil degradation, and land and ecosystem destruction is threatening its very production. We also have a grave (and growing) health epidemic that is firmly founded on how and what we eat.

Mindful Eating.

While the deeply considered and ritualized meals of a zen monk are perhaps an extreme manifestation that is neither practical nor necessary for most, it provides a useful framework towards grasping the true meaning of food.

The general perception of mindfulness is often misunderstoood as a passive thing, implying non-action. Mindfulness is not an action, it is a way to act. It is not constrained by what the activity is. It may be as fundamental and simple as simple breathing, or as laborious and physical as sowing crops.

And if we take this idea toward its most extreme application, it is also possible to kill mindfully.

The first of the ten grave precepts of Buddhism (and parallel principles exist in nearly every other faith or philosophical framework) proposes that we should endeavor to avoid or abstain from killing any other living being. Yet while the natural order may appear in direct conflict with this principle, it is actually a profoundly important – and evolutionarily essential – foundation to the propagation of life. The conflict is not in between nature and this foundational philosophical value, but in our understanding and our western relationship with life and death. Virtually every religious and spiritual teaching has undergone millennia of repeated translations and cultural shifts, and the languages and the concepts embodied within specific words can today only be assumed from what we know about their cultural context.

The teh common and underling fundamental premise is less about killing than it is about preserving and protecting life.

Vegan eating has long been associated and represented by many religions as the embodiment of this idea of not killing. While on the surface it may appear like a credible argument, the simple fact is that all complex living organisms exclusively rely on other living organisms for sustenance, either plant or animal. Besides certain bacteria, every living organism needs to eat other living-origin matter to stay alive. Humans are no exception. In order to eat the leaf of a cabbage we must dismember it, – remove it from its life-support system- to take advantage of its medicinal and nutritional potency. Even the most staunch vegetarian is inflicting death upon a living organism with every mouthful.

We can not survive without consuming – and thereby transforming – another living organism or a part of it into nutrients that we ourselves need to live. There seemingly is simply no way to escape the life-and-death duality. We either kill in order to eat and maintain ourselves alive, or we abstain from killing, and die of hunger, thus intentionally bringing about our own death.

Life and death.

Linguistically, we define death as the opposite of life.  Other definitions include the absence of conscious self-awareness, or even absence of self-regulating biological processes. We have no difficulty in recognising life and death, even a child has an intuitive understanding of these modes of existence. And while science accurately predict and define the presence of life  through specific measures and observable processes, a comprehensive definition of what it is remains elusive.

The concept becomes even more intimidating if we take the definition beyond the individual organism. Think ant vs ant colony.

If we consider life as a function that is not intrinsically tied to single individual organisms, but that the organism is part of a larger living system, the the “transfer” of life-supporting matter for one organism to another acquires a whole new level of meaning: we are now ensuring that life is sustained, that such matter (i.e. the nutrients) are being utilised to nourish, heal and sustain another living organism. Life and death are evolutionary pre-requisites, and at this level, both have essential life-preserving purposes. In the concept of killing is no longer true in the strictest sense of the word, eating and all activities invested in the harvesting of food -be it animal or plant origin- becomes an act of transfer of life, of transformation. And transformation underpins all forms of existence.

Let us return again to the very ritualized meal of a Zen monk.

Before the food is eaten, it, and its origins, are acknowledged.
This simple recognition places a whole new level of understanding upon what is served to us (or what we may have prepared ourselves for others) It raises our consciousness towards deep respect to what it is we are eating. We embody and feel gratitude towards the source of the food itself. This is no longer just consuming, it is mindfully recognizing and cherishing the life that transformed will become a part of ourselves.

It rises our conciseness towards the healing and nourishing power of the dish. It is also useful in bringing to our attention when such food may be unhealthy, reducing our wellness, robbing us of vitality, or simply being sourced from a nearly endless chain of processing that leaves little or no trace of its true origin.

Then we see the dish, we contemplate it. We rise our conciseness yet again to the presentation. The colors, the size and form of the ingredients. Our attention now centers our respect on the cook, of the offering itself, and the effort made by either ourselves or so someone else in bringing that regenerating nourishment and healing to us. We recognize the offering as a a gesture of generosity, and we can delight in the craftsmanship and be thankful for it.

Then we allow ourselves to inhale the aromas. As before, our conscious appreciation continues to be elevated – and yet we have not had a single mouthful of it! It is impossible at this point not to sense a profound reverence and gratitude for what we are about to eat. Our show of such respect is to do justice to the offering, by devoting our full attention to the meal, taking the time to appreciate and recognize the subtle and the bold flavours, the fragrances and the textures that constitue our meal.

Most good foods are full of lush and complex favors. From a simple piece of apple to a mouthful of plain steamed rice, all have layers of delight that are only revealed to us whe we allow ourselves to be fully present, to mindfully eat. And while it is not necessary to eat austere and minimalistic dishes, doing so from time to time will only help you have an even more fulfilling experience when you eat a complex dish.

All along this process our awareness to how this food makes us feel naturally also increases, resulting in a very clear sense of when we have had enough to eat. It is impossible to over-eat when we are eating mindfully, even if our plate is stashed high. A well known Japanese saying sums this up: “Hara Hachi Bu” or “eat until you are eight parts (or eighty percent) full”. Only when you are fully aware and present while eating is it possible to sense when’s our have eaten just enough.

I invite you to apply this level of attention to your next meal, regardless of where or what it is. Leave your desk if you can. Stop and sit down, somewhere you can calmly eat. Away from screens, magazines, book and mobile devices, including your mobile phone.

One by one invite every one of your senses to participate and share the meal with you. Even the simplest food will appear sublime, extraordinary. It is not something that anyone can describe for you, as that can not easily be put into words. I can only encourage you to practice it, and feel it. A deep sense of fulfillment from a meal is only possible when we have appreciated in full all its qualities, experienced the flavours and aromas, and reached the point where we have eaten enough to feel contented and satisfied, but not so much that later on our satisfaction is diminished by a feeling of bloated fullness.

This is a simple practice that when cultivated will change your life.

Receive your meal with genuine gratitude, and consume it with respect and your full attention, embodying such gratitude, honouring all the life that now becomes part of you. Not only will your enjoyment of food increase, but your will naturally be drawn to the pleasure of wholesome foods. And just imagine what powerful effect this will have on your overall health, your stamina, your mental clarity and ultimately your life-expectancy. Teach this to your fiends, your spouse, your children no matter what their age, perhaps even teach it to your parents.

Over-consumption and mindless eating are becoming a tragic generation-defining habit, augmented by the disastrous  medical and the social ailments that these foster. Meals are consumed from disposable containers while reading social media feeds. The food itself has become secondary – a nearly forgotten mechanic activity, devoid of purpose, and devoid of the profound delight and communion that is inherently and naturally part of it. While there is a trend emerging in reclaiming our knowledge of not just preparing foods, but also understanding and mastering its production, for most people simply giving each meal the attention it deserves is all that is needed.

Food, besides your breath, it is the only other substance that ever becomes a part of you.

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

(Reading time 4 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Within that cluster are two kinds of obsessions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go with your gravity.

The rest is technical.

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

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

Know your gravity.

Go with your gravity.

Why is it so difficult to embody love?

(Reading time 3 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer to this is personal.

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

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

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

What is beyond Humility?

(Reading time 1 minute)

Humility.

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

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

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

Ultimately, all virtues are manifestations of the ego.

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

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

How do we get past this?

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

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

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

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

(Reading time 5 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

The Secret to a Fearless and Compassionate Life

(Reading time 3 minutes)

From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep we are bombarded with reasons to worry.

We worry that the kids will dawdle and we may be late for that important-yet-earlier-that-desirable work meeting.

Worry that we won’t have enough food for our diner guests, or that they may not like coriander.

Worry that the pay will not go in on time to cover that pesky overdue bill in time.

Worry that our wardrobe choice may be an unpleasant mismatch.

Worry that our partner may not love us as much as we like to.

Worry that the annoying ache in our back may be getting worse.

Worry that we cant find our car keys.

Worry that we will not meet that work deadline.

Worry that we haven’t studied enough for that exam.

Worried that we may not secure that next all-important lifeline client.

Worried that the backers will withdraw funding if our venture does not proceed fast enough.

Worry what our colleagues may think of our demeanour, or our last crazy proposition.

Fear gets in the way of nearly everything we do in life. It stops us from picking up telephones, from voicing our views, of unleashing our imagination, of being authentic. Fear of something is without a doubt the reason why your life isn’t quite what you expected. And it is also the thing that will continue to stop you from getting that life.

Nearly all religions declare in some form or other that we should practice detachment, and that it is necessary to attain whatever state of enlightenment, grace or wholeness that one may aspire to.
And for good reason.

Detachment kills fear.

And the irony is, we are inherently fearful of this idea of detachment. There is this sense that it means not caring, it means becoming disengaged and unemotional, it means becoming heartless.

The truth is precisely the opposite.

Not only does detachment kill our fear, it also fills us with gratitude and allows us to fully experience the present moment.

The thing about detachment is that it takes our attention away from what is not yet – and may never eventuate. It means removing the fairy-tale that is continuously forming in our mind, evaluating risks, anticipating wins or losses that may never materialise, or create judgements about what may be be going on in the minds of others. While this may be important and relevant when you are planning something, it gets in the way any other time. And so our attention is inevitably on what is instead of what may -or should- be.

When we allow ourselves to not get attached to the outcome of an activity, we can act with absolute clarity and good judgement.
When we allow ourselves to not be attached to the idea of needing to be loved or even acknowledged by someone, we are able to recognise and accept the love that comes our way with complete gratitude.
When we are not attached to the need for a partner or child, we may cease to fear loosing them, and instead it is possible to completely immerse ourselves in the experience of their company at the present moment. It becomes impossible not to act with complete and selfless compassion and overwhelming respect for them.
When we are not attached to the accolades, promotions or recognition, we can serve our intended purpose without limitations or restrictions (which are almost always self-imposed).

Next time that you sense any kind of anxiety, change the question. Don’t ask what it is that you are worried about, or what you fear.

Look instead for what it is that you are attached to.

Then, when you make the connection, release it. Let it go. Allow it to take its course, give permission. It is a form of respect and complete engagement with what is.

What you may experience can not be described in words. It must be felt. Elan, joy, liberation, grace. But above all, a deeply caring sense of gratitude and calm. Fearlessness. Clarity.

Of course uncovering what you are attached to may not be a simple thing, and may take some time. You may find that there are other hurdles in the way, other attchments. But as you gradually break each of them down, uncover them and cut that rope, you will get better at recognising these attachments. and some may not show up without a guru or teacher. But whatever it is that you need to do, do it.

That is the secret to a fearless and compassionate life.

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.

To Be, and not To Do

(Reading time 2 minutes)

Somewhere in the last century, as manufacturers faced increasing competition, the need to differentiate lead to increasingly preposterous claims and assertions. Slowly language has been misappropriated, words have been misused, and messages have become garbled. The payload – its’ meaning -has been diluted, taken for granted, sometimes contradicted and sometimes outright and violated.

Think about the contents of your refrigerator…

From pasteurised milk and packaged salad mix to frozen vegetable packs and tv-dinners, the word “fresh” is hardly a appropriate descriptor for a product that has undergone some form of industrial process. The fruit juice labeled “squeezed daily”, or the bread “baked daily in grandma’s kitchen” may sound evocative of intangible attribute, but the reality is that a large factory can ill afford idle days.

But it is not just freshness. In the same way that everyday terms have been hijacked by advertising, and in perhaps more sinister way by politicians, some big words need to be brought back to their true essence, because they are about our essence as human beings.

Three of these big words are “respect”, “honesty” and “compassion”. I have always considered these as words that embody an attribute, as adjectives that describe a timeless, immutable quality about a person. It was with some surprise when I recently heard someone use the word “compassion” to describe their actions, in this case inferring that another person had been bestowed with “enough” compassion, and therefore they felt it was appropriate to withdraw any further compassion towards that person.

In a single breath, the word had ceased to define a quality of the giver to instead become the privilege of the receiver.

Two other things also happened in that instant.

First of all I felt dissapointed. Not for the recipient, but sad for the person administering the gesture. In one sentence they had gone from being someone who I believed to be genuinely compassionate, to someone who “did compassion”. Clearly no only did they “do compassion”, they also felt they had the authority to administer compassion – and withdraw it – as they saw fit.

Secondly, their trustworthyness was suddenly compromised – it had become conditional.

In an age when words are being increasingly misused, abused, and misconstrued, sometimes by accident, but more often with the deliberate intention of forcing misleading associations with a deeply significant idea or quality where clearly there was none, it is important that we protect our clarity and understanding of the basics.

Doing something that demands wholehearted acceptance, respect and non-judging openness from time to time at our convenience and branding ourselves respectful does not make us a respectful person. Ask yourself what sort of person are you in the time when you are critical and not respectful of others?

Telling the truth from time to time at our convenience and labeling it honesty does not make us an honest person. Ask yourself, what are you in the time when you are not practicing honesty?

Doing something kind for someone from time to time at our convenience and labeling it compassion does not make us compassionate. Ask yourself, what are you in the time when you are not being compassionate?

An respectful person always respects, regardless of who or what they are dealing with. An honest person will always speak the truth, regardless of who or what they are dealing with. A compassionate person will always be compassionate regardless of who or what they are dealing with. These three qualities are attributes of the giver, not privileges of the recipient.

Don’t do respect, honesty or compassion.

BE respectful. BE honest. BE compassionate.

Embody these, make them a fundamental part of who you are, instead of just doing these as a momentary public gesture that is conditional on you assumption of the worthiness of others.

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!