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. 

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. 

My 2020 GOALS & PLEDGES

Following on from my 4 part 2019 review, below are my pledges and goals for the coming year. I intend to do a monthly review of these goals as a way of holding myself on accountable as the year progresses. I hope you enjoy!

MY 2020 PLEDGES

By the end of 2020 my wife and I will have begun trying for a second child (or be pregnant with the second (and last!) on the way). 

With regards to work I will be “command ready” having worked to further my operation and confidence to its highest ever level. I will have attended a performance based course to help in this regard. I will have taken an extended period of 3 months off work from May till July. 

Health wise, I will be far more consistent with regards to my exercise and healthy living habits, sticking to my morning and evening routines that incorporates yoga and/or some other form of physical exercise. I will have completed one alcohol free week every month plus one alcohol free month during the year. My eating habits will much improved following a ‘slow carb diet’ 5 days a week. I’ll also have found a new activity based hobby that I enjoy outside of the home. As a result I’ll be as fit as ever having achieved my desired body fat percentage of 14%. My back injury will have completely healed.

My mental health will be vastly improved due to a more consistent practice of meditation, reading and writing that I’ll have better incorporated into both my morning and evening routines. I will have attended at least one silent retreat and a transcendental course to further my practise. I will have opened up to my parents about my previous difficulties and become much closer to them as a result. I will talk to my wife every single night when at home before bed.

In my spare time I will continue to write everyday. My first goal will be to write and publish a children’s book for wiggles. I will also start a new blog that explores the question of how to live a healthier and happier life at home and at work, as well as being a better father, husband and all round human being. I will have taken the time to volunteer and start annual donations to two new charities. 

At home I will be far more environmentally conscious having done a large amount of research into how I can live more sustainably. This will act as a model for Wiggles as he grows up.

Financially we’ll be in very good shape having organised a better tracking/savings system as we look to the future. We will have made a significant investment into my brother’s hedge fund and also a third property. I will have also invested in renewable technologies and/or an environmental project aimed at helping save the planet. Insurance wise we will have reviewed and updated all our policies and plans as necessary and have set up a will. 

MY 2020 GOALS

HEALTH

MENTAL

  • Meditate 365 days/year
  • Attend a silent retreat
  • Complete a course in transcendental meditation 

PHYSICAL

  • 5 x Exercise days/week
  • 4 x Alcohol free days/week
  • 1 x Alcohol free week/month 
  • 1 x Alcohol free month/year
  • 5 x low carb/high protein days/week (during intermittent fasting window 12 till 8)
  • 4 x long fast/year (24hr-76hr)
  • 14% body-fat goal 
  • Stretch/Yoga daily

OTHER

  • Perform LASIK
  • Heal back injury
  • Find new activity based hobby to commit weekly
  • Oxfam Trail Walker 2020?

CAREER

AVIATION

  • Be ‘Command Ready’ by 2021
  • Complete Performance course through work
  • Logbook journal after every flight – write 1 thing I did well and 1 thing I could do better
  • Take an extended period off work (3 months following LASIK? – May – July)

WRITING

  • Publish first children’s book
  • Start new blog (with a particular focus on health this year)
  • Post 1 new article/week
  • Write daily (As a minimum in my 5MJ)
  • Read 2 books/month
  • Read daily

FAMILY/HOME/TRAVEL

FAMILY

  • Set Liam goals to help his achieve throughout the year
  • Date night x 1/week
  • Talk to my wife every night when at home
  • Open up to Mum and Dad

HOME

  • Environmental research/piece on blog about how to live more sustainably/responsibly at home for the family to centre around 
  • Set goals and make changes based on this research

TRAVEL 

  • Skiing Japan Trip (February)
  • April/May getaway with Holly
  • Silent retreat (May in Bhutan?)
  • UK Trip (June)
  • Croatia and Serbia – Villa plus Ogi and Mia wedding (September/October)
  • UK (Christmas)

FINANCE/INSURANCE 

FINANCE

  • File/pay UK Taxes
  • File/pay HK Taxes
  • Research new mortgage for London apartment
  • Invest in my brother’s fund
  • Invest in third property
  • Sort better tracking/savings system with longer term goals in mind

INSURANCE

  • Write a will
  • Set up loss of income insurance through Union

CHARITY

  • Set up annual donation to 2 x new charities
  • Volunteer locally

My 2019 Review – CAREER, WORK and WRITING✍️

Hi there and welcome to part 2 of my 2019 review! Today I’m looking at work, specifically my career in aviation and as a writer. As before two major questions are driving my thoughts. Those are, ‘What went well?’ and What could I do better?’. I hope you enjoy.

AVIATION

In terms of my job (the one that pays the bills), I’m flying less often as a result of requesting a long haul roster, which means I get more days off. Given how young my boy is, family time is simply a much bigger priority for me at the moment. I don’t feel guilty about this however, the result is, quite naturally, a less proficient operation. Approaching my command I will look to focus more on my operation again, but for now and looking forward to 2020, given it’s still a way off, my focus will remain on improving my own health and well-being on top of becoming a better father to Liam and husband to Holly. 

With that said I would at least say I have achieved a much healthier relationship towards work, especially with regards to flying through the night, which previously occupied a much greater and more negative space in my head. Working with my therapist has paid dividends in this regard.

I also have a better handle on my anxiety toward flying with certain, shall we say, personality types. Although rare, previous experiences had left me feeling nervous almost every time I showed up to work. Outside of my family it was perhaps the biggest driver for me to seek help. I used to take work home with me all the time – worrying about my performance, lack of drive, who I might have to fly with, the havoc night flying must be having on my health – basically A LOT OF NEGATIVE SHIT. Without getting into too much detail about my therapy, we worked out a great deal of these thoughts stemmed from an underlying belief of inadequacy that I had been carrying around with me for a very long time.

I can happily say my perspective has changed significantly. The boundaries between work and home are much clearer – more or less forgetting about work when at home and feeling more excited and motivated when back at it. I’m less hard on myself when I don’t have the best day and far better at taking the positives.

Next year will very much be about bringing this improved perspective toward work consistently. I still have demons to fight, but unlike before I now look forward to the battle. I now want to put myself in the uncomfortable situations – take the more challenging sectors with the more difficult captains – knowing that I’m more than capable of dealing with them, but that I still have things to learn and room to grow. We always do. 

I think it’s fair to say I haven’t really felt like a captain yet up to this point in my career – settling and becoming too comfortable with my role as First Officer and Second Officer before that. However far off it may be, I want to feel that I am truly ‘Command ready’ by the end of 2020, so that the course may be less of a shock to the system than previous upgrades have proved. This will be my ultimate work goal for next year.

To achieve that I will look at perfecting my routines around work as well as at it. I will never turn down a sector offered and I will challenge myself at every opportunity to put myself in the captains shoes. I will seek to attend a command performance course. I will ask the question, “What could I have done better/differently?” Beyond that I will remember, It is a privilege to be an aviator and I owe it to the profession to give it my all. 

WRITING

Consistently writing every day has to be a major goal for 2020. Setting myself the goal of one post a week, or however many a month, has not proven the best way to get me writing. If anything I find it demotivating when I inevitably miss the deadlines set for myself. I think much more important is the process or routine of writing. Making it a daily habit. If I simply do, then I know I’ll be more productive regardless of how many articles/posts/books I actually end up producing.

Like a lot of things, I’ve had too much of an on and off relationship with writing, as has been the case this year. Happily I’ve seen a major improvement, in the latter part of this year. I have been writing almost everyday. In the past month. I’ve written my family Christmas newsletter, finished my first draft of my children’s book, which I hope to get published next year, written in my 5MJ every day and started this blog. Let see what I can get done in a year by committing to the simple goal of writing just one lousy paragraph a day.