“A few modern philosophers assert that individual intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protect & react against this brutal pessimism… With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgement and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.” – ALFRED BINET (early 1900s)
I’d lived with a fixed mindset for years.
It was a mindset driven by a deep seated belief of not being good enough. Not being smart enough.
Simply not being enough.
I told myself all sorts of lies based off this. Lies that sounded so strongly I became crippled with depression and anxiety.
My mind tortured my heart until it shut off completely.
I’m happy to say I’m in a much better place now.
I’m more productive than I’ve ever been. I’m calmer, more confident. My thinking is clearer. I trust in my heart again.
I’m beginning to wake up to who I truly am.
One of the reasons, I believe, is an understanding that nothing is fixed. Nothing is permanent.
Through true insight gained from asking for help, I’ve been able to gradually change the harmful narrative I’d spent over a decade strengthening.
I didn’t realise it then, not in these terms at least, but one of the major reasons I managed to overcome depression was because I started to cultivate a growth mindset.
A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.
A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behaviour, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.
Through her research Dweck demonstrates just how limiting a fixed mindset can be in stalling motivation and progress, especially following failure or when facing challenges. Conversely she demonstrates that those with a growth mindset see failure not as a confirmation of being unable or unintelligent, but as something from which they can learn and improve.
At the crux of her argument is the idea that those with a growth mindset understand just how valuable effort is over any sort of innate talent.
They understand effort = intelligence, and so fall in love with the process of improvement. On the other hand those with a fixed mindset are so worried about what failure might say about them, they come to dread doing what they have to in order to succeed. In extreme cases they avoid doing all together so as to avoid the pain of failure.
“This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
When I began to think back over my own life in these terms, I began to see how damaging a fixed mindset had been throughout my life.
Failure to me was confirmation I was one.
I hated doing certain work from a young age. Languages, in particular, were difficult for me. I was led to believe, by many teachers nonetheless, I wasn’t good at English and/or Languages.
I didn’t bother putting any effort into those subjects. I remember thinking what’s the point. I’m not any good so might as well concentrate on what I am.
The trouble is it worked in reversed too!
I was regularly told how good I was at math – that it was something I should pursue because it will open many doors. This was drilled home to me.
I completely lost interest in a subject I once loved. I still managed to scrape an A during my GCSE’s, but much to my father’s disappointment, I decided not to pursue it as an A level. I didn’t want people to find out, that if I put in the effort and failed, I might not be that good after all.
My parents, who I know believed were doing the right thing, didn’t realise how harmful praising my natural abilities were. It turns out that praising a child’s natural ability, or telling them how clever they are, is extremely damaging because it fixes a child’s mindset.
As Dweck notes,
“The ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset, and they showed all the signs of it, too: When we gave them a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent… In contrast, when students were praised for effort, 90 percent of them wanted the challenging new task that they could learn from.”
I’ll tell you a story of another teacher who never made mention of my abilities in English. She had me moved into her English class for the top peers in our age group (even though I belonged in the bottom). She made sure I sat at the front and paid keen attention (she was somewhat terrifying which helped). Despite not putting much effort into my coursework during those years, because of her, because of what I learnt through the effort I was forced to put in, I achieved B’s in both English Language and Literature.
You might think so what?
Well given my coursework material, which counted for a large percentage of the final grade, averaged between a C and a D, I must have aced the final examinations. I would also point out, before I joined her class, I was far, far behind the rest of the pack. On top of which I was going through some very difficult times in my life (I’ll get to that shortly). To this day they’re my proudest grades from secondary school.
Forgetting the grade, however, what she proved was far more important, even if it didn’t fully register till years later. She proved that if I chose to apply myself I was more than capable. She helped plant the seed for developing a growth mindset that would bear fruit many years later.
‘Prolonged bullying can instil a fixed mindset. Especially if others stand by and do nothing… Victims say that when they’re tortured and demeaned and none comes to their defence, they start to believe they deserve it. They start to judge themselves and to think they’re inferior.‘
I would love to say from this point everything got better. That I understood and moved forward with a newfound belief and started to grow.
But it didn’t.
It got worse. Much worse.
My problems stemmed from many variables, but bullying played the biggest role. Those years of secondary school were brutal for me. I was bullied every day at school for years.
This was compounded by the fact my parents couldn’t see what was happening. I was at boarding school halfway across the world. They didn’t know.
The trauma of being bullied repeatedly hardwired my response to withdraw from everyone and everything. I shut down as a way to repress the overwhelming emotions I didn’t know how to process. It was depression in the making.
Ultimately this was a major problem because it prevented me for doing what I needed the most.
Ask for help.
What followed makes perfect sense to me now.
When my first love of two years broke up with me during University, I fell apart. I had no confidence I was capable of being on my own. No belief I was lovable, or that I’d be capable of finding it again.
Similarly, when I messed up a landing so badly during my early Junior First Officer training as a pilot (that the Captain had to take over and go around), it felt like my whole world had fallen apart. I put on a brave face but when I got home I broke down. The feelings of inadequacy came flooding up. It was too much for me.
(For those who don’t know in aviation, a go-around is an aborted landing of an aircraft that is on final approach.)
Carrying on afterwards, whenever I faced failure of some kind, was extremely, extremely difficult. Difficulties would often trigger a bout of depression that could last for weeks if not months at a time.
What my fixed mindset always wanted was to give up. To retreat into my shell. To shut down rather than fail and confirm what years of bullying had led me to believe.
It took everything I had to see the light at the end of the tunnel. To understand these were just lessons on the road of life which all of us go through.
Still, something in my heart kept my head above water.
The small voices of a growth mindset, planted there by various people including my parents, my high-school English teacher and my wife, to name a few, who all understood I really was capable, were enough in the end to pull me through. To all of them I am, and always will be, extremely grateful.
Yet it was all much harder than it needed to be. The major problem wasn’t my fixed mindset, but that the depression and paralysing anxiety it caused, prevented me from reaching out for help. I knew I needed it but for years I simply couldn’t find the strength.
It wasn’t until after my son was born, when I came home from work one day consumed by a regular bout of depression. As I sat with him and looked into his eyes, I realised I didn’t want to be around him.
I didn’t want to father him.
The familiar feeling of wanting to runaway and hide, to withdraw into my shell, to shirk all my responsibilities – including that as a father – broke me. The remorse and guilt was too much to bear. I left the room and the tears fell.
I let the sadness consume me.
I cried and cried. I cried until nothing was left but a strange peace. Something inside me changed. Something that said this time I couldn’t let depression win. I won’t. I didn’t think about what to do next. I simply picked up the phone.
I reached out.
I asked for help.
“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives”
I rate it as both the most courageous and important decision I’ve ever made. Since then the changes have far exceeded what I thought possible.
Am I out of the woods yet?
No, not a chance.
But I can honestly say after I sought help, after over a decade of suffering from what was eventually diagnosed as long-term depression, I’ve not had an episode since.
I still struggle with anxiety and other emotions that surface, especially in the face of adversity. However the difference is they don’t consume me like they used to.
I’m acutely aware of where those emotions and the false narrative are coming from. This has helped me to gradually let them go.
I also realised through the flooding of my subconscious with positive thinking and reading (the same way bullying can flood your subconscious with negative thinking), you can change the narrative in your head. You can literally grow out of a fixed mindset. You can literally grow out of depression!
Of course I don’t want to underplay how difficult this all was or, indeed, still is. To this day being bullied remains one of the most difficult topics for me to talk about personally, let alone publicly, but I now understand the need to do so.
In not facing your demons, you only give them strength. You only strengthen your fixed mindset. By not asking for help you only make it harder to do later on.
Ultimately if there was just one message I could convey to those struggling with depression – to those who suffer from an all consuming self-doubt – it would be to ask for help.
To somehow find the courage within you and reach out.
I know how hard it is.
But please remember, asking for help is simply asking someone else to help you grow. We all need help from one another – from the day we’re born till the day we die. The last thing it shows is that you’ve failed or that you’re incapable.
It shows the exact opposite.
It shows that despite everything you’re still willing to show up. It shows you’re not willing to let past demons fix in you any false belief. It shows that you understand that within you is another voice. Another mindset that knows you have so much more to give. A mindset we all have.
Dear readers, thank you so much for listening to what I have to say! In the interest of growth, I’d love to hear any comments, suggestions, questions or criticisms you may have in the comments sections below. Thanks again. Yours, AP2.
Hello Fine Readers and welcome to my Happy Silly Mondays Newsletter!
In an attempt to rewrite the narrative that Mondays are the most depressing day, I’ve decided to compile a weekly newsletter for a happier, sillier start to the week!
Following the rule of 3, it contains 3 thoughts from me, 3 positive quotes from others and 3 things I’ve been reading, watching and/or listening to this week.
As a bonus I’ve finished with one something very silly that will hopefully make you smile.
Hope you enjoy.
3 x Thoughtful Quotes From Me:
Trees – they take what we don’t need and give us what we do. We should show them the same love and respect in return.
Make your journey about the journey itself. Not about getting somewhere.
Learning to look at everything through the eyes of your children is perhaps the greatest gift of parenthood. Everything is new and beautiful and amazing, because of course it is! We adults just forgot.
3 x Positive Quotes From Others:
The physician and writer, Oliver Sacks, on the value of gardens:
“As a writer, I find gardens essential to the creative process; as a physician, I take my patients to gardens whenever possible. All of us have had the experience of wandering through a lush garden or a timeless desert, walking by a river or an ocean, or climbing a mountain and finding ourselves simultaneously calmed and reinvigorated, engaged in mind, refreshed in body and spirit. The importance of these physiological states on individual and community health is fundamental and wide-ranging. In forty years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.”
An excerpt from the poem “Youth” by Samuel Ullman, a Jewish poet:
“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life. Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust. Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living.”
Bill Watterson, the cartoonist and creator of Calvin and Hobbes, on the difference between ambition and happiness:
“…having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another. Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them. To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”
3 x Positive Things I’ve Been Listening/Reading/Watching this week:
An insightful Ted Talk by Manoush Zomorodi on How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas:
One Quotes From The Transcript:
“The next time you go to check your phone, remember that if you don’t decide how you’re going to use the technology, the platforms will decide for you. And ask yourself: What am I really looking for? Because if it’s to check email, that’s fine — do it and be done. But if it’s to distract yourself from doing the hard work that comes with deeper thinking, take a break, stare out the window and know that by doing nothing you are actually being your most productive and creative self. It might feel weird and uncomfortable at first, but boredom truly can lead to brilliance.”
“Don’t ask yourself “What am I going to do to be a better man?” or “What kind of man do I want to be?” Invert those questions and ask “What am I NOT going to do to be a better man?” and “What kind of man do I NOT want to be?”
“Eliminating obvious downsides like bad habits and debt will provide a good life; eliminating good things so you can focus on the very best will lead to a truly flourishing life.“
Freakonimcs podcast on Reasons to be cheerful: Why we all have a built-in Negativity bias and why the Covid-19 crisis might be an opportune time to reverse this tendency.
One Great Rule Of Thumb I Took Away: It takes 4 good things to make up for 1 bad thing. (Something to think about when you’re mindlessly scrolling social media or news articles online)
1 x Silly Thing To Make You Smile:
I was relaying something to my wife the other day that I had been writing, and she said, “you’re turning into such a sage.”
I contemplated this before replying, “I’ve never thought of myself as a herb before?… how silly.”
I told her that she must be a rosemary and that our son, he must be a basil because that’s the silliest herb.
Happy Mondays everyone and thanks for reading! Hope this helped and be sure to exercise your silly muscle this week!
Hello fine readers and welcome to my monthly newsletter – a series of my thoughts and feelings from my journal.
Included is a round up of what I’ve been reading and writing, plus a collection of my favourite bits and pieces from around the web, and finally a collection of thoughts and ideas from yours truly. I hope you enjoy!
A piece to inspire action from isolation as inspired by the following Kitty O’Meara poem:
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
From Amazon: “Writing with great warmth and clarity, Tara Brach brings her teachings alive through personal stories and case histories, fresh interpretations of Buddhist tales, and guided meditations. Step by step, she leads us to trust our innate goodness, showing how we can develop the balance of clear-sightedness and compassion that is the essence of Radical Acceptance.”
It’s not only deeply moving and thought provoking, it’s a beautiful piece of art in its own right. I could pick any quote and it would be worth sharing, but I’ll leave you with just one that hit home for me on a personal level.
“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy…
“Help”, said the horse.
OTHER BITS AND PIECES FROM AROUND THE WEB:
Fear setting – who Tim Ferris described as the most valuable exercise he does every month – is an exercise in defining some of your fears about a difficult decision you are considering making, versus the longer term costs of doing nothing. I used it this month to consider what might happen if I lost my job and found it a very reassuring exercise.
ON COVID-19, DEALING WITH FEAR, PRACTISING COMPASSION AND BEING GRATEFUL:
Gratitude, with rare exception, gives you a more accurate interpretation of reality.
Do not try to change people, that’s the wrong approach. Instead try only to help people.
The inability to forgive each other and people’s unwillingness to admit they’re wrong go hand in hand.
The Chinese character for crisis translates as danger + opportunity. I think this is brilliant. Danger meaning a need to be careful and vigilant – a need to act. But as with any crisis there is also opportunity for growth and to learn – to profit from setback.
Make your mission about helping others, not validating the ego. Make your mission about inspiring hope, not criticising others for acting out of fear. After all, are we not all irrational when acting from fear? Have compassion for those who are scared and forgive those who acted rashly and misled the public based on limited, information. We are all fools in this together. Don’t attack. Be kind.
ON DEVELOPING THE MIND AND MINDFULLNESS:
As a rule: Clarity first. Action second.
The great thing about momentum: eventually is becomes easy.
It matters less what you choose to do, but that you give that thing your undivided attention.
Everybody’s mind is filled with bullshit. Wisdom comes from shifting through that bullshit and picking out what you know to be true in your heart.
The egos need for validation will never be satisfied! When you feed it, its appetite over time only grows. You have to let it go!
Your insecurities prevent you from showing your true self.
The desire for others to say something positive about me is a reflection of my own insecurities.
Your resistance to other people only serves to strengthen their position in your mind.
The mind is a tool – something to be used. If you fail to remain aware, the mind will take over and use you.
Learning to continuously question your beliefs, to unlearn everything you’ve been taught, to treat what you know with a very large amount of skepticism, is one of the most important skills one can cultivate.
ON PURSING YOUR DREAMS/DOING THE THINGS YOU LOVE:
Doing the things you love gives you the energy to the do the things you need but don’t.
Better to be happy in failure than unhappy in success.
Ask yourself whether you are making this decision because of fear or love. A perceived need for more money is often driven by a fear of losing out, a fear of not having, or losing the things you already have. Of course thats not always the case. If you’re doing it for your family, for a better education for your children, a better neighbourhood for them to grow up, for certain their security, then those decisions clearly stem from a place of love. However that’s often not the case. What I want to stress is to the need be clear of the reasons for choosing to pursue a certain career or path. If the decision is about finding purpose – follow your heart.
I think in our efforts to make something of our children, we often do a disservice to that which is already there. I don’t need to make him into anything. I simply need to encourage what is already there, for him to flourish and realise his full potential.
There is no need to force parenting, just be present and you’ll understand what you should do.
ON HONESTY, EXPECTATIONS & FORGIVENESS
Being honest with someone is important, but unless you do it compassionately you’re probably wasting your time. People aren’t willing to receive rocks if you hurl them – they’re either going to duck and hide, or throw them back.
The truth hurts because we are breaking down that persons reality – pointing something out they didn’t want to hear. That’s why it’s important to be kind, but to be kind while being courageous enough to tell them the truth.
People often expect an apology before they’re willing to forgive. Forgiveness should come first without any expectations. Ones apology will often be returned with far more sincerity if you do.
“Every child has a god in him. Our attempts to mould the child will turn the god into a devil“ – A. S. Neill
I’ve been thinking today about the nature of my child. What I see is a boundless love and tenderness. Such a pure gentleness.
This is his nature.
I mean to imprint that in my mind.
A gorgeous boy full of smiles and laughter. But also not afraid to cry and express himself. He might not have full control of how he responds to his emotions yet, but there is no doubt about how in touch he is with them. He’s not one bit consumed by them either. He lets them go as soon as they’ve passed.
There is a lot we adults can learn from that.
I think in our efforts to make something of our children, we often do a disservice to that which is already there. I don’t need to make him into anything. I simply need to encourage what already is, for him to flourish and realise his full potential…
Now is the time to pause and slow down. To revaluate your priorities. To consider what is working and what hasn’t been.
Now is time to practise gratitude for everything you have, such a roof over your head, access to food and clean running water, for living in a remarkable age technologically speaking, that helps keep us entertained, informed and, crucially, connected to all those we love despite our physical isolation. If nothing else to be grateful for life itself, despite all its hardships and heartache.
Now is the time to practise compassion for each other and ourselves. To be kind. To send that energy inwards and from there, outwards to the wider universe of which we are all part.
Now is the time to heal. To use our shared pain as a gateway to shared compassion.
Now is the time to contemplate time. Time is an illusion isn’t it? A trap that makes us think we have to keep on-top of things. To always do things. To strive for some perfect version of ourselves. A compete fantasy. Look at our reality now. Completely turned on its head. No time but to sit. Nothing to do but look inward, if we dare.
I strongly encourage you to do so. Sit with those emotions. Let them surface. The fear, the anxiety, the depression. Accept them as they are. Allow them into your heart. If you do you might learn something that will fundamentally change you. Something that no amount of striving, or trying to get, will ever be able to take away from you. Genuine peace. Peace with yourself and with the world as it is, at this moment.
Now is the time to practise acceptance. Learning to accept – to be at peace with yourself, gives you the clarity of mind to know how you should act – from the heart. Acceptance isn’t resignation. Acceptance is life’s biggest lesson.
Now is the time to practise awareness. To observe quietly. Meditation isn’t an act of doing nothing. It’s an act of curiosity. It’s a profoundly beautiful act of self compassion. Of being aware. Awakened. It is perhaps the most underrated act one can undertake. The act of being. Of dropping our attachment to our thinking minds. Of letting go.
Now is the time to create. It’s often from constraint that creativity springs. Some of histories greatest minds understood and achieved true freedom in isolation. Others created some of their best work. Nelson Mandela and William Shakespeare readily spring to mind.
Now is the time to play. Now is the time to laugh. Now is the time to grieve. Now is the time to feel. To drop your guard. Now is the time to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be courageous.
Now is the time to look those who you love in the eye and tell them so. Death is never far away. Death is life. Death is a continuation. Part of the journey. That journey continues. It continues in your children and your grandchildren. In all the people you have touched. In all things. Death is beautiful. Death is necessary. It gives way.
Now is the time to meet your shadows in the darkness and understand they were made from light.
Now, is the time. The time to be. If you do, you might just realise that what you‘ve been looking for, has been with you the entire time.
Hello and welcome to the first in a series of blog posts surrounding the topic of my favourite toilet books for moments of profound pooing.
How to gain enlightenment while taking a dump. #toiletbooks #profoundpooing (I’m hoping to start a trend).
I’ll get to the first book I recommend shortly and what it is, specifically, that makes it such a great book to have by your toilet at home. Plus some other hygiene related suggestions. (Very important at the moment of course #coronavirus.)
First though, there is a more serious point I’d like to make. One about designing your environment to help cultivate better habits. In this case, putting a book to read next to your toilet, instead of mindlessly scrolling on your phone (come on, I know you do), when you go for a number two.
“Environment design is powerful not only because it influences how we engage with the world but also because we rarely do it. Most people live in a world others have created for them. But you can alter the spaces where you live and work to increase your exposure to positive cues and reduce your exposure to negative ones.“
Some examples of environment design include:
– Placing a glass of water by your bed to drink first thing in the morning.
– Leaving your phone in a different room when you go to sleep so its neither the last thing you look at before sleeping, nor the first thing you look upon waking (FYI there’s this great invention I heard of in a different life called an alarm clock).
– Placing a fruit bowl on your living room table to encourage better eating habits. Similarly placing bottles of water around your house to keep you hydrated.
– And, if you want to promote better reading habits while also reducing harmful mindless smartphone scrolling – placing a book by the side of your toilet for when you sit down to do a poo.
So what kind of books should one be reading while taking a poo? And what is it that makes a book, a great toilet book in particular?
When picking a good toilet book to read, as and when nature calls, I think the topic of the book is less important than the type.
Novels tend not to work well because they are designed to be read over a matter of hours at a time. Unless you had Indian for dinner the night before, I don’t think any heavy duty book which requires a great deal of reading at any one time is best.
Instead I suggest books designed to be read in short occasional bursts.
Generally you want lightweight books, although, if you have the space in your bathroom, larger coffee table style books could work too.
It can be fictional or humorous, depending on what your preference is, but for me, I find that spiritual books help to keep my grounded, while I’m giving back to the earth (see what I did there).
Some other benefits & toilet book hygiene etiquette:
The great thing about toilet books, especially spiritual ones with many thought provoking quotes, is you can really sit on them (Ah the puns are endless). Read a quote, put the book down and then ponder the meaning of life.
You’ll also be surprised by how much reading you can get done as the weeks and months pass by. I only started this habit recently but have already finished several books.
An added bonus – its a great reminder to leave your phone outside the bathroom (or in your pocket) – so you’re not making the very unhygienic and unhealthy habit of scrolling and wiping.
Of course while it might see like obvious etiquette to put the book (or your phone down) before wiping – should one accidentally mistake the order of things, something which, incidentally, is much more likely to happen when scrolling on your phone, at the very least the toilet book stays in the toilet. Should you make such a mistake – unlike your phone – its not coming out of the bathroom with you.
So what have I been reading?
Well I’ve already finished a few, but to get started I want to recommend just one that resonated with me deeply. A beautifully illustrated book called ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesy.
It’s not only deeply moving and thought provoking, it’s a beautiful piece of art in its own right. I could pick any quote from the book and it would be worth sharing, but I’ll leave you with just one, that hit home for me on a personal level.
“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy…
“Help”, said the horse.
(I intend to share more of my favourite toilet books with you going forward. Hopefully to inspire some you to do the same and have your own moment of profound pooing. Should you already be in the habit of doing so – and all the power to you – I’d love to hear of any suggestions for toilet books you might have in the comments section below. Thanks in advance and happy pooing.)
“Mindfulness isn’t about goals or ticking a box – mindfulness is a way of life – something to cultivate over time.”
Below I’ve written out 5 Mindfulness Hacks that I like to use informally throughout the day to help bring me back to and fully engage with the present moment.
1. WHEN YOU NOTICE YOUR MIND WANDERING – SMILE.
“A tiny bud of a smile on your lips nourishes awareness and calms you miraculously … your smile will bring happiness to you and to those around you.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
“The power of a smile to open and relax us is confirmed by modern science. The muscles used to make a smile actually send a biochemical message to our nervous system that it is safe to relax the flight, fight or freeze response.” – Tara Brach
Smile to yourself as you gently redirect your attention and return to the task at hand – whatever that may be. Smile as a way of congratulating yourself. You’ve just experienced a moment of mindfulness and that’s a great thing. This is not a moment to beat yourself up for having drifted off or getting caught up in your thoughts. That’s like beating yourself up for having flatulence. It’s a perfectly normal thing for the mind to do (and the body in the case of farting). Its important you remain kind to yourself. (PS – I hope that made you smile 😃!)
2. USE S.T.O.P. AS A WAY TO PRACTICE PAUSING INFORMALLY THROUGHOUT THE DAY.
“The sacred pause helps us reconnect with the present moment. Especially when we are caught up in striving and obsessing and leaning into the future, pausing enables us to reenter the mystery and vitality only found here and now.” – Tara Brach
STOP is an easy to remember acronym you can use at any time to help bring you back to the present moment. Its stands for:
S.top to pause for a moment – discontinuing what you are doing. Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes if it helps.
T.ake a breath. – Next take a few deep breaths. Let go as you exhale. Let go of any worries or thoughts, of any tightness in the body.
O.bserve – Now pay attention to what you are feeling as you fully inhabit the moment. What do you feel? Do you feel anxious – some resistance to stopping whatever it is you told yourself you have to do? Do you accept this moment exactly as it is?
P.roceed with whatever it is you were doing mindfully, taking that awareness with you
(There are plenty of other mantras or acronyms you could use. The important thing is to find one that you like and works for you – to help bring you back to the present moment. As another example, I also like to use the mantra, ’Smile, Breathe… Focus, Believe…’ whenever I catch myself getting caught up with my emotions or a negative train of thought.)
3. TALKING TO YOURSELF IN THE THIRD PERSON AS A WAY TO UNIDENTIFY WITH THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS.
David is feeling stressed. David is thinking lots. David is looking at his phone. Talking in this manner is a great way to help unidentify with your thoughts, feelings and emotions. To really become the observer. To see your thoughts and feelings for what they are -just thoughts and feelings – without falling into the trap of thinking you are your thoughts or feelings.
I am depressed is very different to saying I am feeling depressed or having feelings of depression. Replacing ‘I’ with your name takes this a step further. eg. David is having feelings of depression. Its a subtle but powerful shift in terminology that fundamentally changes how you relate to your feelings and thoughts.
Mark Reinecke, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine says, “When we put something in first person there’s a heavier [emotional] load that makes it more difficult to reason about a problem clearly. If you put the problem into the third person, it allows you to keep perspective on it and have a calmer response.”
Give 100% attention to whatever you are doing, whenever you remember.
How do you do that?
To give you an example: Try for a few seconds, closing your eyes and imagine you have been blind your whole life – that you’ve never seen a single object in its flesh – don’t know what colour is, etc. Once you’ve spent a minute of two imaging this, open your eyes again and really look as if you’re seeing everything for the very first time.
Did you have any thoughts or was everything you looked at, if only for a second or two, completely and utterly amazing? Thats what I imagine, at least, how an enlightened person sees the world. Bringing that level of attention and awareness to absolutely everything, as if for the very first.
5. Use R.A.I.N. to deal with difficult emotions.
The acronym RAIN is an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness and compassion during difficult moments using the following four steps:
R.ecognise what is happening and label it.
A.ccept the emotion or feeling to be there as it is.
I.nvestigate it – become curious and really observe it. Ask yourself why/what triggered it?Be compassionate as you do so.
N.urture with self compassion – Remember you are not your thoughts, you are not your feelings. They are simply things you are experiencing. They will pass! Remember too that every person in the world suffers. That is part of the living experience. You are not alone.
As inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s wonderful Happiness Project, I decided to put together a list of my own 12 commandments for living a happier, healthier and more purposeful life.
As Gretchen says, ‘these aren’t meant to be specific resolutions but overarching principles by which to live’. At any rate, it’s a fun and creative way to help outline some core values should you have the time.
I should say the quotes are not mine, but ones that stuck in my mind from various readings over the years. Anyway here they are:
“Live in day-tight compartments”– Live in the moment. There’s no point in living with regret about yesterday or worry for tomorrow.
“Don’t cry over spilt milk” – You can’t change what’s happened. Only pick up the pieces and move forward. Forgive and forget.
“Pay Rapt Attention”– Meditate daily and show a keen interest in your daily activities and conversations. Stay in the moment and participate fully.
“Act and think the way you wish to feel – be fearless”– Smile and be happy. Stand up tall and be confident. We live in the mind whether we know it or not. The wisest among us use our actions to influence our emotions and not the other way around.
“Count your blessings – Not your troubles”– First – aim to get what you want and then Second – Enjoy it! Be grateful everyday. You’re exceptionally lucky.
“Be Yourself” – Imitation is suicide. Be your best self and embrace your uniqueness.
“Have malice toward none and charity for all” – Don’t waste a second thinking about those that have wronged you. It serves no purpose. We must harbour no bitterness. Instead find time to give and serve those in greater need.
“Order is Heaven’s First Law”– Clearing clutter will help create peace of mind. Set specific measurable goals, visualise them complete, then act on them.
“Lose yourself in action – Just do it” – Secret to being miserable is to have the time to wonder whether you are happy or not. Keep yourself busy. Work daily, Exercise daily and Play daily. The time is now so go!
“Do what’s right, not what’s easy” – The easiest is rarely the best option. Strive toward a higher purpose and think before every word and action.
“Remember life comes from you not at you”– Give up blaming and complaining. Only YOU are responsible for YOU. Be honest with yourself and understand that belief is a choice so choose to believe!
“Look to the stars”– Have faith you can turn around any situation. To profit from your losses is far more important than capitalising on your gains. Take the time to reflect everyday.
I might add I wrote this some time ago after I first read Gretchen’s book. After going through my old notes I thought it might be a great time to refine and update this old list. I’ll be sure to post it when its finished. In the mean time, if you have any personal commandments of your own please let me know in the comments section below. I’d be thankful for the inspiration.
“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.”
― W. H. Auden
I’ve worked hard on perfecting my day to day routines over the last half year – in the process cementing a number of positive habits that has had a profound effect on my general mood, motivation and productivity.
Not only have I been far more consistent in going through my morning routine, the implementation of an evening routine (as recommended by my therapist) has, among a number of other benefits, helped improve my relationship to sleep tremendously.
For those interested readers I have listed a breakdown of my current morning and evening routines in detail below. Hopefully it will serve as inspiration should you be looking to build upon your own morning and evening routines.
My Morning routine:
#1 Wake up – Drink a glass of water and make my bed first thing! (This sets the tone).
#2 Go to the bathroom – brush my teeth and weigh myself.
#3 Change into workout clothes – then meditate for 10 – 20 mins without fail!
#4 Exercise for 5mins (if nothing else) to 1 hour (usually 30-40mins of HIT or Weights/Strength training – For those interested in doing similar I can highly recommend checking out fitness blender online or via YouTube. They have hundreds of brilliant at-home workouts for all levels, that require nothing more than a yoga mat).
#5 Shower and get changed into my best clothes for the day!
#6 Make Brunch – low carb/high protein – and take my vitamins (I usually skip breakfast as part of my fasting window in which I only eat during a block of 8 hours a day) with coffee or tea.
#7 Go to Office –review my day plan/goals and write in my journal.(I keep my journalling very simple – tip hat to Tim Ferris for the inspiration – by asking myself a few questions. Those are: What am I grateful for? What is worrying you most today (and what can i do about it)? What would make today great (how would you spend it if it were your last)?)
#8 Write or work for 1 hour. (Sometimes in the chaos of playing with my boy or doing other things I’ll ear-mark a period in the afternoon- usually when my son has his nap – for work and/or writing ✍️).
My Evening routine:
#1 Have dinner as a family at the table – mention one thing you’re grateful for today and one thing you could have done better (works well as a conversation starter).
#2 After dinner – run through Liam’s bed time routine and put him to bed.
#3 Go to the office immediately after and write tomorrow’s plan/goals and also in my journal. (Again I ask myself a few simple questions. Those are: 3 amazing things that happened today? What did you do well? How could i have made today better? What did i learn?)
#4 Shower and change into pyjamas.
#5 Make a cup of tea to enjoy on the couch – watch some TV/play games (Limit to 1 hour or 1 movie) and/or read.
#6 Stretch – 30 mins of gentle Yoga(I usually do this while watching TV)
#7 Brush teeth/get ready for bed then TALK TO HOLLY EVERY NIGHT WITHOUT FAIL! (How have you been doing today? Are you OK? What are some things you have been thinking about or are bothering you?)
#9 Evening meditation (visualisation) then sleep.
Routine is massively underrated and something I now believe to be so so important.
Some key takeaways…
Start small and do what you can. On a near perfect day I’ll tick every item off the list but I rarely do. Thats ok. I don’t imagine many would ever be able to run through their routines perfectly, so if you can’t do, for example, 20 mins Meditation then do 10. If you can’t do 10, do 5. If you can’t do 5 (really?) do 1. If all you have time for is 1 push up then just do that. Tick it off and improve the next day. The important thing is to show up.
Change it to suit your needs on the day. I often have to change the order if I don’t have the time for something like getting in a proper session of exercise. In this case I’ll try reschedule it for the afternoon or count it as my weekly rest day. If it doesn’t get done don’t beat yourself up – simply get on the horse the next day.
That said I have found that if I do just 3 or 4 out of 8/9 on each list, I’ll have a much better day than having done nothing. For that reason I have a few NON NEGOTIABLE ITEMS.
In the morning these are making the bed and meditating first thing. I also make sure to write in my journal (I’ll do it over breakfast if I’m really pushed for time as it only takes 5 minutes. This is about the same amount of time it takes to brush my teeth, so I feel there are no excuses).
In the evening my non negotiable items are making my plan for the following day and again writing in my journal. Also talking to my wife at the end of the day, if only for 5 minutes. I like to think of these non-negotiable items as my abbreviated MRs and ERs.
If all else about my day fails and turns to complete dog shite, I can at least to go to bed knowing that I’ve done these simple things. I showed up even on a bad day.
With the world in isolation because of the COVID-19 I might add that now is the perfect time to start implementing your own morning and evening routines. Ones that help to build healthier long-term habits to hopefully last far longer than this crisis does.