Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Initial Hurdles: Get Someone To Carry You Over

As a toddler, you were still new to the whole walking business. The standing up on your own business was still pretty fresh in your still forming infant mind. But you stumbled along, occasionally falling down and getting up again (or lying on the floor bawling - you had simple choices back then). Until, that is, you came to some stairs. Now, you might have wanted to attempt the climb the stairs... you had seen the other, bigger, people overcome the fitted carpet Everest. But all you could do was stand there, hands atop the first step, wondering what exactly it was you were meant to do next.

And then you felt the clutch of hands on your tiny midriff, and felt the ground fall away from under you. Your feet touched the first step. Then the second. Then the third. "well, done!" you heard the voice say. It was mummy. She had given you the lift up you need.

Sometimes we still need helping hands when we face hurdles. We're not going to jump them on our own, but with the aid of another, we'll get across easily. Some people I know - extroverts - find almost anything easier if someone is working with them to keep them company. By fulfilling their need for company they are masking the pain of the job they're undertaking. But other people can serve other purposes: I have failed at dieting in the past because I was living with people who weren't dieting - but I have succeeded at exercising when I went swimming with a friend: not only had we scheduled a time,m knowing that the other person was going to be at the pool at that time meant we had to make an extra effort to be there.

But the best use of other people is to give you ideas. As you talk to them - or read their blogs - you can find out what has worked for them in similar situations. Everyone is good at overcoming hurdles - indeed modelling how other people overcome hurdles without even thinking about them is the best way for you to do the same.

Its like a giant giving you a lift with two metaphorical hands

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Getting your groove back

Some ruts are nice. They work. We tend to call them good habits - noone minds being stuck in that sort of rut. It isn't really a rut at all, its a groove.

But sometimes you get out of your groove, and its hard to find your way back.

This happened to me recently.

I was writing on this blog... and then I stopped. For a couple of months. Now, I had an excuse. I was ill. The whole gluten thing. I had no energy. Which meant I hads no time. So I called it a day, stopped blogging and started just coping.

But then I stopped eating gluten, and got my energy back.

But I was out of my groove.

And I still didn't blog.

Because... well, because I had left it. I had failed. I hadn't kept up with my goal of writing for it. It was another dead project. I was a failure. And I was guilty and didn't want to have to admit to being a failure. Best to just mysteriously vanish.

So why did I come back?

Because I remembered that blogging gave me something.

It took a long time to remember this. I was thinking to myself "You know, I ought to have a reason for all this learning I do. I ought to have a place I can put the results" I was thinking about buying lots of journals and log books. Maybe writing a book. It took me hours to recall that I had a blog. and that by writing here I was achieving exactly the things I wanted to achieve.

If you had a groove, you had it for a reason.

It isn't just the groove thats missing from your life - its all the things yiou gained from the groove and all the things that motivated you to throw yourself into it in the first place.

And you've probably forgotten them.

But they won't have forgotten you.

They're probably still sitting around going unfulfilled int he back of your head.

And the groove is still there, waiting for you to jump back in.

So just becuase circumstances took you way from your groove, it doesn't mean you can't go back.

Dive back in. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Initial Hurdles: Run around the side

Hurdling is hard. All that jumping.

Or you can run around the side of the hurdle.

By which, I mean, why do something the hard way, if there is an easy way of achieving the same goal.

Sure - you might have to put up with running more - if you run around every hurdle you face, you'll be running twice the distance of everyone else. But you won't be jumping. And you'll still get to the finish.

So exercise isn't fun? Try dancing. Or Wii-Fit. Or anything that is fun which might involve a bit of exercise.

Cleaning might not be fun - but can you resist waiting until everyone is out of the house, tying some clothes to your feet, and polishing the floor while pretending to be a world champion figure skater? You can? Really? Deep down?

Sometimes fun doesn't last - it becomes a chore - but its a way of helping you move things on.

And if all else fails - you've had fun. And maybe won a set of perfect 10s for your attempt at the bolero.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

100% Genuine Authentic

I've been thinking baout authenticity. Because being authentic is being happy in your skin. If you're authentic, then you are happy, and getting in flow is easier, faster, simpler.

Being authentic means being honest with youself. And being honest with others.

Honesty to others is easy. More or less. You just have to be straightforward, and tell people how you feel.

Honesty to youself is harder.

And if you're not honest to yourself, you won't be honest to others - because you won't know what the truths really are

All my life, I've believed I wanted things - money, wealth, fame, success. But I'va also believed I wanted to please others, to stand in line, to be a good boy. In fact none of this is quite true. I want some of these things - and I want some of the things these activities can give me. But I don't want them. They are not who I am inside - they are just how I act.

So let me introduce myself.

I'm a paradox. 'sokay, so is everyone else I've met. One thing I've learned is that so long as people admit they are a mass of contradictions, then they are some of the best - and most consitent people you meet. Be consitently contradictory, and you're alright by me.

I'mn a scientist and an engineer. I love to play with things and see how they work. I love to take things apart. I love to make predictions and be proven right - or - even better - be proven wrong and laern something in the process. I'm good at it. Cambridge degree, all that sort of thing. But I'm not like lots of scientists.

Because I like to think out of the box.

Now lots of scientists do this, but they stay inside the box called 'what is acceptable for a scientist to talk about'. I'm different - at least on the inside. I love to learn about heretical theories and beliefs. And I love to see what I can synthesize into my own worldview. Itsa all part odf the engineer in me. I'm like any true engineer: If I see a big red button maked 'Danger, do not touch', I'm bloody well going to pressit, firmly and with relish, if I think it will teach me something about the world.

And so, yeah, I have self help books. And new age books. I meditate. And I care about my dreams. I practice the law of attraction. But I don't belive any of it. I use what works. The law of attraction - well, books on that subject might as well be called 'a system for integrating all the really useful things positve psychology has discovered into your life'. You don't need to belive it. Somewhere in the process, I find things that work. Some of these things need thr trappings - there is obviously something in the weird and wonderful trappings that make them work better - others just work on their own. Either way, they're fun. They keep me occupied. And, I think, they make me a better person.

I love to learn. But I lack focus. So my areas of interest are wide and shallow. This isn't a problem, because I'm good at learning, and good at joining the depths - you find things in my shallows which you'll never see in the deepest trenches of some more focused peoples oceans. My interests, as of today are various things computer related (languages, pattern recognition, embedded programming), business systems, financial trading, self improvement, physics - and what I can only describe as 'alternative physics', writing, reading, mysticism, meditation and positive psychology. There is probably more... but this is todays choice.

I hate people. People annoy me. Its amazing I'm married. People are these horrible, changable, uncontrolable things that seem to care more about their own problems than they do about mine. Actually, thats a lie. I care too much about people. I care about what they think abouot me -0 about how much I embarrass myself in front of them, about how much better they are than me... and about how unworthy I am. You see, I'm conflicted. What I know is that I'm an introvert. I get engergised on my own, and tired by people. I do need people -but people I trust, in small doses. And I'm shy. Because thats a defence against being hurt. Hurt by other people. Its a battle I face. Work - where I'm surrounded by people - hurts. Its tiring. More tiring than it would be if I was entraverted.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a fantastic actor and a great public speaker - these are skills I've picked up in the process of fighting against the shy. I enjoy them (in the right sized doses) and they pick me up, and send me on endorphin highs. But I still havn't learned how to cold call, or how to do that mingling with a room full of people I don't know at a conference thing.

And I'm writing this - because it gets me over some of these things. I get to use what I learn - and to put it into shapes that work for me. I get to talk about it - breaking down some of my barriers of shyness. I get to play with writing wonderful, witty, whirly, words. And I'm doing something. Creating something. Making a mark on a map that is mine and mine alone.

I need to make this mark.

Thats me.

Actually, I havn't got started yet. I'm disorganised - but need things to go exactly to plan. I'm scared, yet sometimes hugely confident. I could rule the world - but have trouble getting promoted at work. I have delusions of grandure somedays and adequacy the others.

I'm not authentic. But I'm becoming moreso.

And now you know me better.

ANd I hope to lie to you less in the future.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Initial Hurdles: Make the initial reward greater

So you don't want to jump the hurdle? And winning the race isn't every going to be enough to get you started?

What if there was a prize for being first across the hurdle?

Thats it.

Thats all you have to do.

Just the hurdle. And then you get a break. Then you get to do whatever you want.

Then you get to feel satisfied with yourself.

And... after you've had your reward... look at the problem again. Is there another hurdle you have to attack, or can you start running?

Friday, 2 July 2010

Initial Hurdles: Make the prize bigger

If you're not trying to jump the hurdle, then the prize on the other side isn't great enough. If all you had to do was one little thing, and you'd be awarded all the money in the world, you would make the jump.

But people get rewarded in different ways.

And the only form of reward that is right, is the reward that works for you

So, if someone says "Playing the game should be reward enough" but playing the game doesn't make you jump the hurdle. Well, then they're not worth listening to.

What would make you jump it?

A cash reward? How much? One of the things that keeps me coming into work is getting the money to pay off my house. I certainly wouldn't do exactly the same work for free if all my expenses were magically covered by an expenses fairy.

The satisfaction of crossing something off your todo list? It works for some people.

The enjoyment of spending time with others. Its unlikely to do it for me - but I i know people who are far happier starting projects if other people are involved.

Points on a wallchart?

Seeing a line of a graph go up (or down)?

Giving yourself a sweetie... or a hunk of cake? Just for getting started?

Think about your reward - and if it isn't enough, think about how you could increase it!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Take Responsibility

Take responsibility for everything that happens to you.
Everything. Everything you see, or even everything you hear on the news.
Seems a little unfair?
Maybe. But Once you've taken responsibility for everything, you've also admitted you have the power to change everything.
So unfair at first, but ultimately empowering.

And if you're ranting about how you're life is different, and its unreasonable that I don't understand your special reason why you can't take responsibility for something someone is doing to you?

Well, that's your problem. And your responsibility to do something about.

I've got my own reality to look after.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Remember how it was before

In the past, I've found magic wands and made changes. After a while I tend to accept the new improved situation as the standard. I forget about how things were. And I question if the magic wand really did anything at all.

Now, sometimes, by the time I reach this stage, the magic wand has done its job, and I don't need it any more. It is now just a dead stick. Brown and sticky...

Now I've mentioned being gluten intolerant, and the changes that made to how I feel. It was a shock how quickly I got used to being the new me. The vibrant me (in so far as I'm ever vibrant, a gluten free me... vibrated... more). A happier, more awake me. Within two months I had taken it for granted.

Then I had to start eating gluten again. So that I could be blood tested to see if it had a result.

It was hell. My stomach rumbled and my head fuzzed up. Suddenly all I wanted to do was lie in bed in the dark.

I had forgotten that not eating gluten was a magic wand for me. I thought it was just some sort of punishment I had accepted.

I have another month of gluten to go. I get to have a final requiem for many of my favourite foods. And to suffer through every tediously long painful day at work, feeling like I should be anywhere else but there.

But I know where my magic wand is, and come May, I'll be digging it out again, and once more turning myself from a frog into a prince.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Initial Hurdles: Use softer wood

Sometimes you're going to hit into a hurdle, whatever you do. It can't be avoided. So you might as well cover the hurdle with some padding.

In the metaphor, hitting the hurdle is failing - specifically its failing to even get started. So how can you lessen the pain of this happening?

First: You can realise that failing on day 1 doesn't mean you have failed forever, or have even had a set back - just come at the hurdle again tomorrow

Second: You can choose to take on a smaller job - you may not have hurdled a high hurdle, but you have still made some forward progress

Finally: You can try to turn your failure into a success. What was it about the failure you learned about yourself - think hard: can knowing that help you come up with a way that will get you over the hurdles more often in the future? If so, on days setback is actually going to push you further forward in the future - a net win.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Initial Hurdles: Start on the other side of the hurdle

A technique I have kept hearing from writers is 'never finish your last paragraph, leave it half written'.

The reason this works, is that when you start writing, a blank page can be an insurmountable hurdle to jump. But if you have half a sentence, half a paragraph already written, then you know where to start. You already have a plan for where to go... and by the time you get to the end of the paragraph, and into the blank void that lies beyond, you're writing, you're going, you've tapped into that bit of you which knows how to carry on.

The only hurdle you have to jump is overcoming your urge for completion.

You can do the same with many other problems : when cleaning a room, leave one shelf untidied so that you know where to start tidying... or when you finish one room move all your cleaning equipment to the next, so that its already there when you want to get started.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Initial Hurdles: Raise Yourself

If lowering the bar to overcome a hurdle doesn't help or isn't possible (damn athletic federations and their rules), then why not raise yourself.

On a normal day, I can be slow and lethargic. But I know lots of ways to become happy and energetic. I can meditate. I can buzz. I can look in the mirror and say good things to the handsome handsome face I see staring back at me.

And there are other ways I can raise my game. I can talk to people and get enthusiastic. Or I can read a book on the subject and get enthusiastic.

Or I can find a stepladder. The flylady encourages you to put on your shoes before you start cleaning, because that way you'll be prepared to go outside when you have to. Similarly, if you move your bin bags from that dark damp corner under your sink, to a convenient place in the room which always gets messiest -when you need them, you are halfway over the hurdle.

Now, this enthusiasm doesn't have to last. Generally, it won't. Its a one shot deal every time... certainly it won't go beyond the second or third time you need to do something which looks to hard to begin. But by then, there is a chance you'll be used to jumping the hurdle.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

How do you feel right now?

I've heard about experiments where people carry around little buzzers which fire randomly thoughout the day, and ask their wearer to record their mood. It has always sounded to me like you might collect an interesting dataset (and one of the keys to finding a magic wand is to look at the data)

I've also wondered about the level of research that goes into self-help in general. Sure, there sum total of things in the book may have been helpful for the author - maybe even for their clients (on average). But are they right for everyone? Magic Wand's is about finding what works for you in particular.

I'm very keen on mindfulness. Particularly on being aware of your own emotions and how they change.

So when my wife made a suggestion, I was intrigued:

"Wouldn't it be good" she asked "if there was a little device which asked you how you were feeling, every so often. Randomly. Then suggested something you could do to feel better?"

Yes. Yes it would. And wouldn't it be good if it could look at how you felt the next time it asked you, and was possibly able to tell if a particular improvement activity had any impact on your mood?

We already have the device. Its called a mobile phone. They interrupt you all the time and nobody bats an eyelid. Noone need know what you were doing.

So I thought about implementing this. And, over a few days, I figured out how to do it. The end result was


All you have to do is go to the website, and enter your email address. Straight away the site will send you an email asking how you feel. To reply, you just click on one of the links, and you'll get a simple self help solution. The sort of magic wand type suggestions which appear in this blog.

And then, a few hours later, you'll get another email. And you'll keep getting emails, at random times, asking you how you feel - then giving you a suggestion. In time the site will elarn which suggestions work, and which don't. At least, thats the plan.

Its all very much in early, beta, stages, right now. We have a limited number of places for sign-ups (although I'm trying to cope with as many people as possible... and we should always be able to accept your email address and tell you when we have space to start accepting new users).

There are lots of features I'm still looking to add (including one which will let you look at all your data) - but for the most part, I'm going to focus on adding new suggestions - because to see what works, we're going to have to try everything once.

Why not give it a go: this might be your magic wand.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Initial Hurdles: Lower the Bar

Sometimes a hurdle is just to high to face jumping it. And if you can't face jumping it, you won't even try to get to the other side. Sometimes the problem you're facing is so big and so daunting, that you don't know where to begin, because you certainly don't have what it takes to do it all... and certainly not every day.

The answer is not to try to jump the hurdle (that way lies willpower). The answer is to see if there is a lower hurdle you could face instead.

Perhaps you can't face writing 3000 words in a day. I know I can't keep up with writing 1500 words a day (on a particular subject) for more than about a month at a time. But I can face writing 100 every day. And you ought to be able to face writing 10 words a day... or just one sentence.

Can't face exercise? Would you be happy just walking down the road for 10 minutes each day? Too long? how about 5?

Don't want to start cleaning? Can you just plug the hoover in to the socket in the room that needs cleaning and turn the hoover on? Because that's all you need to do.

None of these challenges are particularly hard. Their not particularly challenging. You can certainly do them every day. And once you've done them, you can see if you've overcome the hurdle to get into the work you've been avoiding. If you have, great. If you haven't - well, there is probably another hurdle to leap. Maybe in a different way. But that doesn't mean you should stop leaping this one, because it brings you nearer to your goal - and every day you do it, you're succeeding.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Initial Hurdles : Willpower (won't work)

The way many of us try to overcome an initial hurdle is by using willpower, figuring that if we can just get through it, we'll get on with what we really want to do.

I'm here to tell you that Willpower won't work - at least not for everybody, and certainly not in the long run.

Willpower can be good. Everyone can summon willpower some of the time. And we can use it to get us to do things we don't want. Sometimes when we use willpower we find things are not as bad as we thought they were. And if you keep using willpower, sometimes what once took will has become a habit.

But. If after a while of using willpower, you find you still have to use willpower : that is you find yourself still wishing you didn't have to jump the hurdle - then its time to try something else.

Because eventually willpower runs out. One morning you wake up tired. Or in a bad mood. Or something else is sapping your willpower. You don't have the energy to get over the hurdle. And frankly you have never really had the desire... not the deep down desire. And so you don't do it.
And if your willpower is directed somewhere else for several days, that's several failures. Several things reinforcing the fact you don't have the willpower to keep at whatever you're doing.

Our culture has a long tradition of saying "Stick with it". But almost every time someone says "Stick with it" to me, I notice that they love and enjoy the thing they are sticking with... and that those who don't love and enjoying eventually stop sticking with it themselves.

There are lots of things out there you love and enjoy... and you can use these to get to your goals. "Sticking with it" and using willpower as the way to do so only causes you the pain of having to keep sticking with it every day. And that is no way to get the life you want - because in order to get freedom, you're putting yourself in the chains of pain.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Making Magic Wands From Hurdles

I was thinking about my problem of overcoming an initial hurdle in order to do something that I know I benefit from - especially when I'm in a bad mood - and it occurred to me that this is a good source of magic wands.

Think of a problem, something you can't keep up: writing each day, exercising each day, keeping the house clean, whatever. All of these a problems. And in my case, I can blame each and every one of these problems not on the actual activity, but on getting started with the activity. I have no major problem with writing (I love it) but I start off blocked and unwilling. No problem with exercise (it makes me feel great when I'm doing it) but I prefer to stay sat on my couch. No problem with cleaning either (it can be rather satisfying as it often shows very visible progress), but 101 things (including reruns of Friends on TV) seem preferable to starting.

In each case, if I remove the initial obstacle, the initial hurdle, the problem will go away. The solution is to solve something small (the hurdle) not something big (the entire problem). In short, removing a hurdle is like a magic wand... moreover knowing that, and knowing that when you're faced with a challenge, you can look for a hurdle, then try to solve that, rather than running head on at the entirety of the problem - that is a magic wand too.

I'm going to write a series of posts on ways to overcome hurdles - some of which are more useful than others... and some of which are almost certain to cause as many problems as they solve. I hope you find your magic wands amongst them

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Creativity, Flow, Mood

Here is a conundrum that I haven't solved yet:

Writing improves my mood. I very easily get into flow and am able to distract my mind from the emotions it would otherwise hang onto and obsess about. Creativity kickstarts flow for me.

But writing is also something I put off when I'm feeling low. It has a high mental barrier I have to overcome before I start. I can force myself to write (and that works), but it takes willpower... and willpower (as we know isn't a magic wand)

The more I think about this, another enemy of mine - exercise - is exactly the same. I can do it regularly, and I have to use the same tricks. And eventually I stop.

There is a magic wand I need to find to overcome the initial block. It shouldn't be hard. Maybe this blog is a first step towards it - a publish or be damned attitude which goes against my nature (of don't publish and hide behind the knowledge that I could do this brilliantly, if I wanted).

But this is exactly what magic wands are about: if I can overcome one small block (using something other than willpower) my quality of life will improve dramatically, because I'll be able to shift my mood whenever I'm in the doldrums - and have something to show for it at the end. And if I find a trick that does work for writing, hopefully it will point the way to similar ticks I can use to get over the initial emotional hurdle in other activities

Friday, 7 May 2010

Trust me, I'm a blogger

I think the opposite of worry is trust.

Ponder on that for a fleeting second.

We worry when we don't know what the result is, but suspect it is going to be bad. When we know that whatever we are doing is taken care of, we don't worry. Because its just going to happen.

So to eliminate worry from your life, you have to introduce more trusted systems.

This is what David Allen is talking about in his popular "Getting Things DOne" organisational system. All the stuff about 43 folders and and obsessive compulsive dymo labling - all the productivity porn associated with GTD - is "How to build a trusted system". But the key secret behind GTD is that if you can get it to work, then everything is taken care of - you have no more worries, and you have more time to do things rather than work out what it is you have to do (and cope with all those things you've missed doing). The productivity porn isn't important - there are probably other ways to acheive a trusted system - what matters is that the system is trusted.

Now, as it happens, I've never made GTD work for me, because I can't fit the "how to" into my way of working... but getting a trusted system that I can rely on - that has to be a goal. I'm going to need to manipulate some of the ideas of GTD into something that fits my particular approach to life.

Trust comes from reliability and understanding. Reliability implies predictability - the system needs to give you the same results every time, and they need to be the results you want. Understanding means that you know why the system works, and you know what its limits are so you don't try to do something with it that it can't cope with.

Now, not all trusted systems are about automatability. It isn't all about lists and notebooks.

Some come from knowing your capabilities under fire ("if I do have to write this paper in one night, I can. I've pulled all-nighters before and I know I'm free the night before the deadline"), some come from having a safety net in place ("I know that if I lose my job, I have three months of savings to tide me over until I find another one - and Carl is always begging me to go and work for him") and some come from distancing yourself from identifying with things ("I lived without one of those for twenty years, I can live without this one if it happens to break")

So if you worry, its because you're missing some element of trust somewhere in your life. And that is because whatever you have in place either doesn't behave reliably where it counts, or because you don't understand the limits it works under.

Incidentally, this is as true with relationship worries (is my partner reliable, inso far as my needs are concerned? Do I undersatnd the needs and stresses that my partner is experiencing at the moment, that could limit her reliability?) as it is with worrying if you have enough milk in the fridge for breakfast (does my shopping system reliablymake sure I always buy milk before I run out? How does my system cope with unusual events like when I am sick? Do I have a safety net box of UHT to cope with the unexpected?)

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

A problem internalised is a problem doubled

So you're worried about something? Does it seem terrible? Are you worried about all the horrible outcomes?

You've probably felt like this before? Bad, isn't it?

Do you remember what it was you were worried abot then? And all the terrible outcomes that could have happened?

But they didn't, did they? And even if they did, I bet they were not as bad as you imagined.

When you worry, you think about the worst case. And you usually forget that most things just sort of seem to work out. A year later they can even turn out to have been for the best.

So the worst part about all those terrible consequences you're imagining isn't that they might happen: its that you're experiencing them now, rather than waiting to see what actually happens.

You're treating yourself worse than any consequences ever will.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Just be OK with it

There is a technique I keep reading about - in pop psychology, new-agey weirdness and serious books about CBT. So someone somewhere thinks it must work.

Sometimes I over think things. I worry. I pick up on every little detail, every little issue and I allow it to grow in my head. It can stop me from sleeping. It can change my mood from bright and sunny to dark and stormy. It is a curse.

And it is a curse which can, apparently be avoided.

"You must face your fear, my child"

That's what the ancient enlightened master would say. And he would be right. Sort of.

When I get these thoughts in my mind, I generally try one of two tactics

Tactic 1: Solve the problem. Which is OK if the problem can be solved straight away, right there, right then. Otherwise you've just moved the issue on from "I have a problem" to "I wonder if I've solved thew problem". More likely, I just spend my time thinking of ways to solve the problem - and if this is the sort of issue, I'm tossing around inside my head, then either the solution is impossible, or it involves me doing something I genuinely don't want to do.

Tactic 1 Sucks.

Tactic 2: Push the problem out of my head. Because frankly I can't do anything about it right now, and I'll be just as unable to deal with it tomorrow as I am now. So why worry? I could be doing more important things like sleeping. So I just close my eyes and... Wham, problem in my face... must avoid problem... pushing to the back of my mind. but its growing. Must shrink problem... but problem is skirting around the edges of my consciousness. Must get rid of it... ahhh. Problem hidden.

Oh wait. I've just thought about it again. Not good.

Tactic 2 sucks big devilled eggs.

But this is what the books say - and this is what worked for me last night:

You may or may not get rid of your problem. But that's the state anyway. Sometimes your problem will stay sometimes it'll go. So you don't want to spend time worrying that you can't make it go - that's just giving yourself another problem.

Its okay to have a problem. The problem might mot be okay, but the fact that you have it is absolutely fine.

Examine the problem... don't try to solve it, just look at it. Bring it to the forefront of your mind. Play with it. How does it feel physically? How does it sound. What colour is it. Is it warm or cold? hard or soft?

Keep examining it.

That is all.

Now lots of the books say that the problem will go away. But the problem going away isn't the point. If you want the problem to go away from your mind, then you mind having the problem. And the secret is not to mind. Because that is when you are at peace.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

How much like a broom are you?

You've heard the story. A roadsweeper retires, and in his retirement speech he tells the story of how, thoughout his career he has always used the same broom. A listener is sceptical about this and comes up to him after the dinner to ask him about it

"Its true" the roadsweeper says "the same broom. Though I had to change the head ten times and the handle twelve"

Now think back 10 years. Are you the same person. Would you act exactly the way you acted back then with the knowledge you have now? Do you really have the same values, the same responsibilities, the same skills and the same desires. My bet is you don't. While you might have a continuous memory of experience - just like the roadsweepers broom had a continuous pattern of use, you're only as much the same person as the broom is the same broom.

("But I have many things the same. I have the same parents or the same spouse." Yes you do, but my sister has the same parents as me, and she isn't the same person)

I said that you had a continuous memory of existing. But you don't. The likelyhood is that sometime in the last 24 hours, you have a mysterious gap in your memory... it probably happened sometime between when you lay your head down on the pillow last night and when the alarm clock rang this morning.

So are you the same person you were yesterday?

Not quite. Yesterday, before I fell asleep, I was tired. Today I'm awake and energetic. Different day, different person. Similar person, but not the same.

So why spend quite so much time worrying about what someone else did yesterday? Or last week. Or twenty years ago?

If you were a time traveller who had just jumpped into your body (and at this point I have to acknowledge that I get all my self help tips from Quantum Leap... except for when I'm getting them from Blake's 7) you wouldn't obsess about what you might have done differently. You would just get on with making the best of what you've got from where you are now.

Come to think of it, are you the same person you were when you started reading this?

Friday, 23 April 2010

Let the meditation flow

Meditation is the art of stoping the mind from analyzing, and just experiencing what is. Most people are used to meditating in quiet, perhaps in a darkened room, maybe with a nice new-agey pan-pipe classicsy CD playing.

But meditation can be more than this.

Most people say, that you probably shouldn't meditate when driving.

But when you're driving, what are you doing: well, you're probably worrying about the day ahead, fuming about the driver who cut you up at the lights and listening to the music on the radio. The one thing you're not doing is actually experiencing the driving.

So today I tried an experiment. I decided just to drive. I decided to only pay attention to what was currently going on while I was driving. And it was an interesting experience.

Because it was much like meditation.

As I drove, I paid attention to the road. To the feeling of bumps, to what the other cars were doing around me. To everything I could experience about the present. I didn't worry about whether there might be a traffic jam in 10 minutes time, nor did I pay any attention to any driver who was no longer near me. There was just the driving. And the not driving (which is what happened at traffic lights).

And, while I was doing this, non-driving thoughts came into my head, and I let them go away (without much judgement), just like I do when I meditate. And then thoughts about the process of "there just being the driving" came into my head. And it took me a little more time to notice them, and a little more effort to let go of them - just like it does when I meditate.

The processes were the same. The behaviours were the same. It wasn't dangerous, because I was all about the driving - I was more aware and more able to react than usual.

And it was more fun than driving usually is, because I was all there. It was similar to how I feel when I get into the zone writing, or computer programming, or talking with friends. I was wholely there, in the present, doing one thing and one thing only with my mind.

This is what psychologists call flow.

But it was more than flow. It was meditation.

What parts of your life can you meditate on? Can you turn something boring into something all-absorbing because you put your complete attention onto it - after all, in meditation you put your attention onto breathing and repetative mantras, why shouldn't filling in a payroll or hoovering the carpet be just as valuable and flow just as well?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

I Don't Believe It!

There are ideas out there that sound crazy. Maybe you've heard that one about people evolving from fish, or that markets are guided by an invisible hand. Possibly you've heard the world was created in seven days. Maybe someone once told you that Microsoft make good software. So you ignore the ideas that don't fit into your mental model, right, and move on?


Or it can be.

Have you ever tried imagining six impossible things before breakfast?

You see, all these beliefs you hear about - people hold them. Some people find them terribly important. Some people base their lives on their beliefs. In some way, their beliefs, however mad and crazy sounding, work for them.

Wouldn't it be interesting to try to hold their belief for a short while, and see how it works for you?

An interesting characteristic of holding some of these beliefs is that the belief may well be wrong, weird and frankly about as likely as me winning Miss World, but the side effects of the belief can be interesting. Believing in an all loving god not only gets you a get into heaven free pass (allegedly), but also gets you a community who will support you, a free (and well organised) psychological support service, and a shot of confidence when you know that there is a supernatural big brother looking out for you. It almost makes holding one crazy belief worthwhile, doesn't it?

Friday, 16 April 2010

My Most Recent Magic Wand

For the past few years I've been feeling ill. Or at least sometimes I've been feeling ill (I was rushed to hospital at one point) and at other times I've just been feeling run down. Tired and foggy minded was my usual state. I had forgotten it could be any different - sure I remembered not feeling that way, but I thought "Well, I'm thirty. This must be what being old feels like. I wonder if they do special offers at the crematorium..."

Every so often I've asked my doctor about this. And I've seen specialists. And alternative health professionals. But none of them seem to have come up with a particularly convincing answer.

Until a month or two ago I went back to my doctor

"Look" I said, "I still have lots of symptoms, and while none of them are destroying my life, adding up they are causing me quite a bit of irritation"

My doctor thought about it. And he happened upon an idea he had missed previously. That experts in the field had missed - or been distracted from

"Has it occured to you that you might be gluten intollerant?"

It hadn't. I know one gluten intolerant persona while back, and half thought she was faking it to get attention. It was another thing for a doctor to tell me to try to get me out of his office for a month, wasn't it.

Well... apparently not. I tried my best to stop eating gluten and bam! out of nowhere I began to feel less foggy headed, and the other symptoms of my illnesses began to vanish.

One change - not eating gluten - seems to cure a whole number of ailments: some of which I wondered if I was imagining, and some of which I had never even thought to ask to be cured.

Now I'm not suggesting you stop eating gluten (your body can probably handle it better than mine), but I will suggest keeping looking for answers - and don't be afraid to give suggestions a go - even if you think they sound like poppycock.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A Tale of Two Artists

There were two brothers (I'm making this up. Maybe they had a sister. Maybe they were cats. Its an allegory, not a special from the Biography Channel.). Both brothers wanted to be artists. The first was talented, and full of great ideas. he was dedicated and hard working. Each night he would go to hist study and look at his works. Adding to them, improving them, getting them to be perfect. His ideas never stopped flowing, and he never stopped working.

His brother was lazy and untalented. He only had one idea. And it wasn't a very good idea. But it was his. He dashed it off. Didn't take too much care. And when it was finished, he tried to sell it.

For years the second brother tried to tell his piece of poor artwork. Eventually, someone paid him a fiver... maybe for the artwork, maybe just to get the brother to stop bothering him.

Meanwhile the first brother continued perfecting his art in the study. Which no one could see.

Perhaps his art was fantastic. But it had never been seen by anyone except for the first brother.

And as such, despite its perfection, it wasn't art.

It was just busywork, which kept the first brother from ever achieving greatness.

As for the second brother? Well, he probably used the fiver to buy a big mac, and, while sitting in McDonald's eating it, he probably met a princess or some such and got married to her.

Yeah. That's probably what happened.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Waving your wand with your will

If something takes willpower, then you're not going to be able to keep it up for life. You only have so much willpower, and inevitably more important things crop up in your life - things that demand all of your willpower right now.

So either it becomes a habit (and stops requiring willpower), or you need to find another magic wand

By all means commit to try to use your willpower to try to make a change in your life for a set period. But, if during that time you fail to keep to your commitment - or if at the end of the period youi feel proud of yourself, but the idea of another period just as long fills you with dread - then give up using that approach.

For now.

If it still takes willpower, it isn't a habit.

But just because it doesn't work now, doesn't mean it won't work in the future. You change, your environment changes, your options expand and you learn new tricks, new ways of doing things, special sauces you can use to make your challenges super tasty. Now you have two magic wands to search for

A wand which will solve the original problem without requiring so much willpower
A wand which will make using the wand that didn't work last time work better this time

Thats twice as many possibilities - you've doubled your chances of solving the problem

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Feeling helpless?

In an experiment dogs were taken, and given electric shocks. Some could turn off the shocks if they pressed a button. But others had no way to control the shocks. The dogs that could turn off the shocks learned to do it, and were able to avoid being shocked, whereas the dogs with no control just lay down and whimpered.

Later all the dogs were placed into a pen and given electric shocks. The dogs could stop these shocks by jumping into another part of the pen. The dogs who had been able to turn off the shocks with the button, learned to jump to the shock-free part of the pen. The dogs who had been unable to control the shocks previously just lay down and whimpered.

The whimpering dogs had learned there was nothing they could do to stop the shocks, so they didn't even try.

The modern corporate environment is a similar situation: you may get promoted not because you are good, but because someone else resigns. You may get pay rises not because your work improves, but because the economy is doing better - and as a result your firm is doing better. You may be sacked, not because you are bad at your job, but because the company is moving in a different direction. The rewards and penalties don't relate you your performance, they are out of your control. When things get bad, the best you can do is lie on the floor and whimper.

Corporations create helplessness in their employees.

If you want to avoid helplessness, it is up to you to find out what it is that you do control.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Regifting your life

We all like to get gifts, and we all like to give them.

The thing that differentiates an artist from a freelancer is that an artist creates a gift and offers it to the world, whereas a freelancer performs work in order to be paid

What would happen if you turned all of your interactions with other people into gift giving possibilities?

What would happen if you stopped looking for what you would get out af a deal and just started trying to give the best gifts you can?

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Six tricks to help you meditate

All my reading seems to indicate that people think meditation is important and good for you. And for many years I've tried various forms of meditation, but none of them have stuck. Until I discovered a few tricks

1: You want to clear your mind: the easiest way to do this is to pay attention to your body: Your mind can only hold between 5 and 7 ideas at the same time - if one of them is your breathing, and another four are the feelings in your hands and feet, then you are well on your way to not having space to be distracted by other thoughts

2: John Gray suggests lying down and holding your hands above shoulder height. This absolutely helps you pay attention to them

3: A mantra is another thing you can pay attention to. Frankly a mantra can be anything, but I'm quite keep on John Grays "Oh Great Universe, my heart is open, please come into it and sit in it

4: When you have a thought that distracts you from the meditation, that isn't bad. Its natural. Just notice that you're thinking about it, and let it go away.

5: Sometimes thoughts come back again and again: did you leave the gas on? How long have you been at this now? Was that a noise downstairs? if this happens, stop meditating and go and have a look. These thoughts will only keep distracting you if you don't. There is no law that says how long you have to meditate for, or that you can't take a break in the middle.

6: Try buzzing while meditating. Its fun.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Free Legal Buzz!

You often don't know you're happy until it stops. But this can be overcome. By buzzing, you can enjoy those times when you are happy, and (with practise) edge yourself out of darker moods.

Start on a day when you're feeling OK. You don't have to feel great, just wait until you're not down or stressed or tired. Sit down somewhere comfortable and relax

Smile. Just a small smile. And imagine something that makes you happy. Something cute - a favourite small child or a basket of puppies. Feel the smile it brings to your lips. And pay attention to the rest of your body: what does that feel like? Do you feel a tingling sensation anywhere: perhaps in your finger or toes, or maybe in your cheeks? Pay attention to that feeling. Enjoy it. And begin to smile more. Paying more and more attention to the buzzing, tingling feeling. Feel that feeling move and grow.

Now smile even more. A big smile - a smile anyone looking at you would find ridiculous. Have fun with it - gurn with all your heart. All the time, pay attention to your body - pay attention to haw smiling and feeling happy feels.

Now hold onto it, and enjoy it for as long as you can.

This is buzzing. With practise you can do it, not only in a comfortable chair, but while waiting for a bus, or while walking along the road. Buzzing can even lift you out of a bad mood (sometimes), and when you're in a good mood, boy do you notice it more.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Not got the time?

I don't have time to improve myself

But you watch TV

But I need to relax somehow

Can you find a way to relax which is improving?

But I like to shut off

Isn't meditating shutting off?

But I can't meditate

Why not?

I can't shut off fully

Not even for 10 minutes?


Not event for 1 minute?


Well try for one minute today. and every day... that's just one commercial break of your time. And tomorrow we'll think about how to improve another minute. In 3600 days every minute of your life - waking and sleeping - will be amazing!

Friday, 19 March 2010

What do you want?

What I want from life is to be happy with what I've got. This doesn't mean I won't want anything more -but it will mean I don't yearn for those things, and I will not be dissatisfied if they elude me. It also doesn't mean that I have to be happy with what I have now, but neither does it mean I necessarily have to be a billionaire. I'm sure you can be happy with any amount of stuff - but I don't seem to be happy with where I am now - with he responsibilities I've taken on, and the requirements put on me day to day. So that's why I'm writing this blog - I want to get to the stage where I have everything I want - however much or little that turns out to be.

There is only one thing I truly want: Freedom.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

10 Places To Look For Magic Wands

The key is to find wands that work for you. I've found a number of places where I can find magic wands - the little tricks and changes you can make to your life with almost no effort and bring about big results. Below are the ten best places I've found for looking for new ideas

1: The Internet - the net is full of self help blogs, life hack blogs, motivational and advice blogs. Find someone whose ideas you like, then see who they link to

2: Bookshops - I'm a self help junkie - most of what I write here has been gained from years and years of reading self help books, and trying to extract the little bits which actually work

3: Toastmasters - Toastmasters isn't just about learning to speak - its about learning to lead, learning to have confidence, and finally, it is a remarkably clever education system - an alternative to the school system we are taught to think of as the best way to learn

4: doctors: Doctors can give you bad advice, and they can give you answers which act as brush offs, but if you approach doctors on their level, and explain to them calmly and intelligently why their standard advice doesn't work, then they begin to think about real cases where real patients made real changes. Doctors see lots of people, and have come across some truly amazing ideas.

5: Teachers: Like doctors, teachers spend their time working with people. they have the public speaking skills of toastmasters, and the inspirational skills of some of the best public speakers - as well as lots and lots of life experience. Ask a teacher about handling a problem, and they can give you many sided views

6: Your spouse, or partner, or family: My wife, every so often, just drops new ideas onto my lap. She doesn't always realise it - she just thinks shes telling me about her day, or about how something happened - or perhaps asking me for advise. By listening to my wife, and trying to help her with her problems, I learn new things

7: Your friends - how often have you been in a pub, chewing the fat and putting the world to rights when a friend says something that makes you stop and listen - a different view of a subject you've become too familiar wit, or their love for an activity you would otherwise have no interest in. Friends can spark ideas - never be afraid to let them challenge you

8: Strangers. Very occasionally I find myself taking to a stranger. And because strangers come from outside your world, outside your comfort zone, they can seem less like random occurrences and more like a meeting with a guru. Listen to the bites of zen they offer you, and see if, perhaps, they are giving you a key.

9: The radio. NPR or Radio 4 in the UK. How often it is i turn on the radio and listen to a program the subject of which I have no interest in, but because I'm doing something else, perhaps driving or doing some sort of mindless work, the chatter keeps my mind occupied. And as I listen to it, it begins to absorb me, throwing e into places I would otherwise not venture. The discovery channel is a bit like this, but TV is too absorbing. Radio seems to hold my attention in exactly the right way

10: Yourself. Because deep down, your a freak - everything you do is just a series of random actions. This is good - because we can watch those actions and see which ones work - and how they feel. We can tweak things and try them again and again and again. We are out best teacher, and the only subject we get to play with int he great experiment of life. Don't be afraid to play with your ideas. Write them down, expand on them when you're bored. And turn them into something beautiful.

Friday, 12 March 2010

About Magic Wands

When I was sixteen, half my life ago now, I was a mess. An emotional mess. Far more so that your average sixteen year old: I was depressed, and spent a month in a psychiatric hospital. Five years later, and I graduated with a good degree from one of the best universities in the world: Cambridge. I'm not going to pretend I found some secret, and managed to fix myself - some of the same things that made me depressed led me to get a fantastic degree - and some of the things that helped me get a degree were things that caused me to be taken out of the world and put into an institution.

I still don't have all the answers - but since those days in the hospital, I've made it my life's quest to learn some of them - taking each discovery as it comes and trying to put it together into some sort of a system. Something that works.

Back when I was in the hospital I told my doctor "I want to feel better. But I know you can't just wave a magic wand and make all my troubles go away". That was how the world seemed to me: everything of value had to be worked for. Everything took time and pain and willpower or it wasn't worth it. - and it wouldn't do me any good.

A year later I found my first magic wand: Prozac.

Overnight (well, over a few weeks), Prozac was the answer to my depression. Prozac gave me just the stability and control of my emotions I needed to be able to take charge of my life and begin to turn it around. urning my life around wasn't hard, once I had a little help.

Since then I've found lots of magic wands - quick fixes which solve major issues in my life, where previously I struggled to make any changes.

I've begun to realise that, actually, there is a magic wand for every situation: but that the same wands don't work for everybody, and there is a lot of experimentation needed to find the wand that works for me.