NOTES FROM MY JOURNAL – APRIL 2020 – On COVID-19, Fear setting, practising Compassion, Gratitude, cultivating Mindfulness and more…

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!


WHAT I’VE BEEN WRITING:

12 Personal Commandments for a Happier Life

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.

5 Mindfulness Hacks to Help Bring You Back to the Present Moment

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.

How to Gain Enlightenment While Taking a Dump. – Favourite Books for Moments of Profound Pooing

A fun post about creating the habit of reading books while on the loo!

Am I doing this because of Fear or Love? – a question for motivation and guidance

A post based on the question; “Am I doing this because of love of fear?” that I heard from the following Tim Ferris podcast: Dr. Vivek Murthy — Former Surgeon General on Combatting COVID-19, Loneliness, and More  

Now is the time – What will you do with yours?

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.

The Nature of my Child

A short post inspired by my son/this quote:

“Every child has a god in him. Our attempts to mould the child will turn the god into a devil – A. S. Neill


WHAT I’VE BEEN READING

BOOKS:

2 books have dominated my reading and re-reading for the past two months – both of which I can highly highly recommend reading, especially during this time of great uncertainty.

The first is RADICAL ACCEPTANCE by Tara Brach

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.” 

The second is AWARENESS by SJ Anthony de Mello

Although written some time ago now – this book is the best I’ve read that translated to me what spirituality means and why cultivating greater awareness is something we all need.

Another book I can highly highly recommend is the beautifully illustrated ‘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 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.

This inspirational video of a speech by Orator Jonathan Roberts addressing graduating seniors at Harvard’s Senior Class Day ceremony on May 24, 2017 at Tercentenary Theatre.

THOUGHTS & IDEAS FROM MY JOURNAL:

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.

ON PARENTING

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. 

How To Gain Enlightenment While Taking A Dump & What Makes A Good Toilet Book?

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.

OR.

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.

James Clear talks about the power of designing your environment to help promote and stick to better habits (or break bad ones) at length in his brilliant book Atomic Habits.

He notes,

“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.)

The Power of Routine in Cementing Habits, Lifting Mood and Increasing Productivity.

“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 trainingFor 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?)

#8 Reading

#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.

January Review

“How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to mind the events of the whole day and consider exactly what has been good and bad. Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day; of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time.”

Anne Frank 

STATS:

Meditated  – 31/31 days (currently 144 days in a row)

Exercise – 17/31 days (Injured back lifting weights)

Writing – 20/31 days – Published 1 post/week on blog (5 total)

Reading – 24/31 days – Finished 3 books (The 4 Hour Body – Timothy Ferris. Tools of Titans – Timothy Ferris. How To Self-Publish A Children’s Book – Eevi Jones).

Alcohol free days – 20/31 days – 1 x alcohol free week (1st – 7th)

10k + Steps – 21/31 days

WHAT WENT WELL?

Meditated every single morning. 

Got plenty of reading and writing done – resulted in reading a total of three books plus publishing a post on the new blog every week (5 total)! 

Diet has been consistent, keeping to largely protein rich/low carb meals during my fasting window of 12-8pm. 

Completed alcohol free week (1st – 7th). 

Body weight = 75.2kg and body fat = 17.1% as of Jan 31st. Although my body fat loss has plateaued in recent weeks I’m mindful of the fact I’ve not been lifting weights or doing HIT because of my back (see below). (Also I’ve been having a few more cheat days as Mum and Dad have been in town to celebrate a belated Christmas and Chinese New Year!) At any rate I’ve not gained weight which is a plus. 

Injury setback through weight training. Despite this I managed to modify my exercise regime – replacing planned weight and hit workouts with lots of swimming (FYI swimming is awesome!). It has also given me a few ideas for upcoming blog posts. 

In terms of admin got plenty done – filling my UK tax return and paying my HK ones. Also organised new mortgage for UK property. 

WHAT DIDN’T GO WELL?

Work – haven’t performed as well as I would have liked although, in my defence, I’ve not done much flying this month. At any rate, still plenty of room for improvement. Lack of motivation still an issue too. How might I resolve this and find my former enthusiasm for flying? Honestly I think I’m suffering a little burn out following nearly ten years of long haul flying. A longer break this year is planned for exactly this reason. As a way of resting, resetting and coming back stronger. 

Injury set back. Managed to hurt my back during weights training. This stopped me from working the second half of the month due to lower back pain associated with sciatica. The warning signs were there – a small twinge but definitely felt something before stupidly going ahead with weights training when I should have backed off. MISSING ONE WORKOUT TO PREVENT INJURY IS ALWAYS WORTH IT! Listen to your body!

At home I’ve not prioritised writing a will which I keep putting off – mainly because I’m lazy which is no excuse. Get it done!  

WHAT DID I LEARN?

Mentally it’s been a tough month with this back injury. I have felt angry and frustrated, failing to see the bigger picture – ie. it will pass and NOTHING IS PERMANENT. I think finding the time to BE MORE PLAYFUL and HAVE MORE LAUGHS with friends and family should be a priority for February. Mercifully I have some leave this month and plans to go to skiing in Japan (back permitting) with the family. I must make the most of it regardless of how much skiing I can actually manage. 

TALK TO YOUR WIFE more (insert expletive) head. She’s your partner and wants to help you (just like the rest of your family!). Communication clearly still a weakness for me. My idea of talking every night before bed is a good one but I must MAKE A POINT OF REALLY ENGAGING. Asking more questions and listening intently. Just as importantly TELL HER WHAT’S REALLY ON YOUR MIND

Two things I can think of implementing straight away: 

MEDITATE MORE OFTEN, not just in the morning. Meditation really helps but I think I’m simply going through the motions a bit with my morning practice. My plan is to experiment more with different times during the day when I have a quiet moment and to meditate in the evening just before I go to sleep! 

When talking to my wife in the evening come prepared with THE SINGLE GREATEST CONCERN you have had during the day and TELL IT TO HER. Don’t keep it to yourself.

There is always an opportunity with any set back and it’s important to look for it. Following my injury I told myself NO EXCUSES, that THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY TO MODIFY even if you have to scale way back! Adopting swimming has been a great way to do this given the circumstances and is something I’m particularly proud of implementing. It turns out SWIMMING IS AWESOME and I believe is what’s responsible for a marked improvement in my cardiovascular system. My resting heart rate dropped from the mid to low fifties into the mid to high forties for the first time in a long time! Not to mention it’s been brilliant for my back pain. 

Another silver lining regarding my back injury is I’ve had more time to read and write. TAKING NOTES OF THE BOOKS I READ is something relatively new I’ve been doing but has proven a GREAY WAY TO CONSOLIDATE MY LEARNING. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m spending more time on writing blog posts then continuing with my children’s book. I must revisit notes from how to self publish a children’s book and WRITE A TIMELINE TO FOLLOW. Approaching an editor will be a close second objective.