#BLACKLIVESMATTER

As I’ve made clear in previous posts, and in the title of the blog itself, I’m no rocket scientist. I am Joe Average.

I have the same 24 hours as everyone else each day, and a finite amount of time, energy, money and mental bandwidth.

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

I do my best with the resources I’ve got to:

  • educate myself to develop the mindset and habits that will help me achieve my goals
  • exercise and eat a healthy diet on a daily basis (and not be a burden on my family or the NHS) for as many years as possible
  • be kind to people and where I can’t quite manage that, at least be respectful and listen
  • help other people, encourage and support them to achieve their goals, and serve them as best I can (that is my real job, my purpose in life)…starting first and foremost with my family

I feel quite sure about the above, I am committed now and have been for many years. Falling short of acting on those four things on a daily basis would cause me to feel guilt, shame and ultimately feel “less than”.

I can’t see myself ever joining a Pride march, or BLM protest, or adopting a unicorn…not because I don’t see their plight as serious or important, but either because a) I don’t believe in their strategies to implement change or b) there are other causes more important to me that I choose to invest my limited resources in.

I will never buy a piano with elephant tusk keys, but my decision to send £2 a month to Cancer Research UK (subtle virtue signal) instead of the WWF won’t cause me to lose sleep.

Questions Not Conspiracies

Black Lives Matter. More? Too? This needs a qualifier. Otherwise isn’t it just common bloody sense?

Why did black lives not matter enough to protest before George Floyd?

Why did black lives not matter enough to protest about the numerous black on black stabbings and shootings year after year in the UK? Outcry about the tiny leak in the side of the boat after you’ve hit an iceberg makes no sense to me.

All Lives Matter. Why is that such a trigger, when again, that statement seems like good sense?

Has corona virus suddenly disappeared? If not, then as a member of the BAME community is it wise to be attending a mass gathering (the protests) during a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting your community?

So in an effort to educate myself, initially I do what everyone else with no time to read an actual book does. I surf the web.

So much violence, lawlessness, hate and anger. But then, I come across Candace Owens.

WOW! Apart from being an incredibly attractive, confident and articulate young black woman, the content of most of what she said about BLM and outrage culture in general just resonated with me. She is living proof that coming from the projects and having family members in prison is no excuse, that there are no limits for those who are willing to work hard.

I’m still not convinced about Trump, and the Rogan interview showed her to be lacking on the topic of climate change – but I was looking for a black voice on racism and the current situation. She is not alone…but she is definitely not every black person’s, or white progressive’s cup of tea!

Deep Dive Conclusions

  • Victim culture sucks – whatever happened to “empowerment”? Choose a decent label if you HAVE to have one
  • Outrage culture sucks – stop being so sthen-sthe-tive
  • Cancel culture sucks – people make mistakes, words and behaviours taken out of situational or temporal context seem far worse than they actually are
  • The media edits everything to manipulate its consumers – be a selective and sceptical consumer, and consume less
  • The Left sucks – I’m all for freedom and equality, but there has to be some responsibility, duty and order (I’m not so keen on the right either though)
  • Black on black crime is a MUCH bigger problem (statistically) than white on black – that’s in no way pretending that there is no white on black crime, or police harassment, etc. But the black community has lost far more members through stabbings and shootings by other black people than from police brutality
  • Public outcry about racism seems to coincide with election cycles in the US
  • Welfare policies have hurt the black community more than helped them – again, going by the numbers
  • Trump might be a good guy underneath it all and misrepresented in the media…and his administration has done more for black people than any other since Abraham Lincoln? Maybe?
  • I have no control over my ancestor’s actions – no guilt required

It makes absolutely no sense to me to intentionally treat someone unkindly or unfairly because of their skin colour, religion, sexual orientation or gender. None. A natural reaction to an individual being unkind to you is to retaliate, but not to take it out of every person who fits the same description. That’s ridiculous. Moronic.

Whatever your colour or other group identity, I’m not the biggest fan of angry or aggressive people, drill music, welfare spongers, deadbeat or absent fathers, lawlessness, gang culture, hard drugs and the violence that accompanies the selling of them. It’s a prejudice. I don’t see that as a problem until it leads to me discriminating.

If someone wants to say, “well that racist because that’s MY culture,” my immediate thought would be, “you really want to claim ownership to THAT? Good luck with that.” I am guilty of discriminating against those behaviours mentioned above, because I don’t want to assist or perpetuate them. I don’t buy that music, I don’t associate with perpetually angry or aggressive people. I’m not going to actively discriminate – my resources are better invested elsewhere – but I won’t help those attitudes and behaviours to flourish.

Learning is a lifelong process, so I’m going to keep on reading, watching and listening. I have started listening to Robin Diangelo’s book, “White Privilege” and I’ve pre-ordered Candance Owens’s book, “Blackout”. Like Bruce Lee’s philosophy of Jeet Kune Do, learn what you can from every martial art, keep what is useful and discard what is useless – I’m looking for what works. Works = improves the situation. Improve = positive, measurable change in the chosen area of focus e.g. unemployment, murder rates, academic achievement.

So I will do my best to support the BLM movement, while believing that All Lives Matters, be an ally without being a white saviour, use my white privilege to benefit all without feeling guilty for something that’s completely out of my control – being white and history. I will not be silent in the face of racism…so in reality, after learning all of this, will my actions be any different to the last 39 years?

Signing off for now. Peace and love to you all. Stay safe, and buckle up for the second wave!!! And I’ll leave you with this hilarious sketch:

Facebook not playing on here for some reason…not the full compilation, but google “famalam gang wars” hilarious!!!

…You Think You Have Time…

“The trouble is, you think you have time.” – Buddha, maybe

Where did the last 10 weeks go? Admittedly, some of it passed in a drunken haze (hence Dry June for me) but seriously, it’s going to be 3 months before I know it and I have accomplished…F*** ALL!!!

The first few weeks I stuck to my routine. I was full of energy, aspirations, excitement about the vast amount of time in front of me…and then it all went to pot (that’s a British expression, meaning “everything went wrong”, I didn’t add weed to my list of vices).

I started staying up later and sleeping in later. I skipped my daily exercise (or at best I can say it was sporadic), and my 5:2 diet of 5 days of clean eating to every 2 days of whatever takes my fancy…well..I stuck to the ratio…just reversed the numbers.

My lower back started to give me problems and I can’t put my finger on whether it’s just lack of flexibility or a herniated disc. Either way, I can run and cycle, but sitting down for long periods and dead-lifting are out of the question.

On a positive note, I did grow that beard, and was proud of it…but no one was ready for me to look THAT old, so off it came, along with the mop of hair that had grown over the last 10 weeks.

I also plucked up the courage to speak to a couple of policemen about my novel – which was very helpful – and I have daydreamed a lot about the individual scenes…but write? No, I haven’t actually WRITTEN anything!

I even took a break from the blog because…well…why not? Why not? Why not? I seem to be saying that far too often, the further into the covid cave I get. It’s dark in here at the moment…and it ECHO-ECHO-ECHOOOOOEEESS!!!

Why not have some chocolate? Why not have a beer or some wine? Why not binge watch another Netflix series and turn off my morning alarm? Why not leave my writing, reading, studying, exercising until tomorrow, or the next day?

There are some bloody good reasons for “why not?” and yet they never seem to come to mind at the right time! So instead, as of the 1st June 2020, I’ve decided to mind f*** myself and ask aloud “WHY???”

Why eat some chocolate – knowing that 4 squares is never enough and will ultimately destroy my dreams of ever possessing a visible six pack?

Why drink alcohol – knowing that getting up to run is hard enough without a hangover (which doesn’t take me much) or that booze seems to send my resting heart rate skywards and ruins my heart rate training?

Why put off writing/studying/exercising – knowing that I’m already further behind than I want to be as a result of my earlier poor life choices and delayed arrival to the game?

I have plenty to be excited…(well, at least enthusiastic) about, even without a definite upcoming race or exam to focus on:

  • We have just bought a puppy, Ronnie – he’s a collie cross (border collie and a huntaway…a hollie, if you will…or if he’s been naughty, well…you can work it out. He will eventually be an ideal running partner and perfect answer to “why run this morning?”
  • The Paris marathon is 20 weeks away, as long as it doesn’t get cancelled. I plan to train as if it’s going to happen, and as if this is the sub 3 hour attempt that Berlin should have been.
  • The blog was doing well, lots of views, even if the likes and comments were few and far between, so I’ll go back to writing that on a daily basis, publishing weekly.
  • I have a great story to tell…right now I feel that way. Funny how the blinking cursor on the blank word document convinces me otherwise! One – word – at – a – time!!!
  • I have found so many books to read, films to watch, online courses to study…I have so many things I would like to do, I need to start them! And start them again.
  • I know a routine works best for me, so it’s back to waking at 04:30 and going to bed at 21:00, I’m far more productive that way.

Anyway, I can’t do anything about whatever time was wasted over the last 10 weeks. All I can do is make sure that the next 10 are far more fruitful. Some people only wake up and realise this after 10 months or 10 years, so I should count my lucky stars.

So thank you for all of those encouraging slaps and kicks up the backside. I’m back on both feet, soon to be back on track and into some sort of rhythm again.

Characters: Personality

As a psychology graduate, being given a window into the inner workings of a character’s mind is one of the best parts of reading fiction. The golden rule, “show, don’t tell,” holds true – and being shown a character’s unique personality through their thoughts, words and actions is a gratifying experience – especially when you can relate to the character, or know someone just like them.

I remember learning about the Big Five Personality Traits from a clinical psychologist lecturing at my university in London. Even now I sometimes find myself thinking about someone I’ve met, in real life or fiction, ans where they fit on those five dimensions. I could be wrong with my educated guesses, as sometimes a person’s inner world is very different to the way they appear to conduct themselves e.g. the introvert who drinks alcohol to be more sociable or assertive, the neurotic who meditates daily to better control her hostility or stop her withdrawing from threatening situations, etc.

So with my characters, playing with those personality dimensions, giving the development of each trait a backstory and throwing in a few red herrings is great fun. There is no good or bad in terms of personality, but being high in a particular trait can make specific situations easier or harder due to how the character instinctively reacts e.g. criticism to a character high in neuroticism, is like a paper cut would be to a haemophiliac.

Below I’ve listed the five traits and their aspects, with a short description of each one and how sometimes, all is not as it seems.

Openness to Experience: Openness and Intellect

These characters like to learn new things, try new experiences, can be insightful, imaginative and have a wide variety of interests.

If they score low in intellect however (this is different to IQ – author sighs in relief) those interests will more likely be practical in nature as philosophical or complicated ideas are less appealing.

People tend to be more open to new experiences when they’re in a new place, with new people, like on holiday – which says a lot about the reinforcing nature of family and old friends on personality. We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, says Tim Ferriss, so allot that time wisely! Who are my character’s family/friends? Who is bringing my character’s average down…or is she the dead weight?

Conscientiousness: Industriousness and Orderliness

The characters scoring high on this trait are conscientious, reliable and prompt. They are generally organised, tidy, methodical, and thorough. Not bad traits for a professional hitman or surgeon.

Ask a child to tidy their room, or polish their shoes, or do homework and you are trying to instil the behaviours of this trait. But if they don’t understand WHY those tasks are important, or they understand why but those reasons just aren’t that important to them, they won’t become a habit. The behaviours don’t match their SELF-IDENTITY, so the habits won’t stick and you end up with a lazy or messy character.

A moderately conscientious person, with high neuroticism is the perfect storm when it comes to procrastination – useful to know. Increasing conscientiousness and reducing neuroticism, could be a potential cure?

Extraversion: Enthusiasm and Assertiveness

Extraverts become energised by interacting with others, while introverts get their energy from within themselves and find socialising draining. Extraverts are frequently energetic, enthusiastic, talkative, and assertive.

That doesn’t mean introverts can’t display all of the above…but it generally requires some chemical enhancement or extreme event. Parrots can ride mini-bicycles, but not if left to their own devices. Give me cosiness or camping over crowded pub any day.

Agreeableness: Compassion and Politeness

Those characters who act in a friendly, cooperative, or compassionate way would score highly in agreeableness. Whereas scoring low in this trait can make the character seem distant, unkind, cold and lacking empathy.

As with all of the other traits, agreeable people may not be so in every situation, and in certain situations scoring too highly on this trait could put you at a disadvantage. We all read and see characters who are too compassionate and polite, only to have their good nature taken advantage of.

Neuroticism: Withdrawal and Volatility

That moody, tense character who frequently experiences negative emotions and lacks emotional stability is the embodiment of the word, neurotic. Those with low scores of neuroticism would be unlikely to withdraw from anxiety producing situations and less prone to emotional outbursts.

I’ve blogged about 4D people before, and a high degree of neuroticism will definitely make a character more likely to fit this description. They may be a drain in real life, but neurotic characters are fantastic because there is so much going on – in their head, if nowhere else.

Plot vs Character?

“There are no extraordinary men… just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with.” – Admiral William Halsey

People. Not just men. People. He was speaking to the navy back in the day, so he’s forgiven. Either way, I don’t think that I agree fully with the statement. Here comes my tangent…hear me out…

We find ourselves in our current circumstances (plot) because of how we have behaved (character) in the past.

If we find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances it is rare (possible, but rare) that we were acting in an ordinary way. It’s our past decisions and actions which have led to these present and future consequences.

I would argue therefore that extraordinary people do exist. They are the select few who decide and act in such a way so as to arrive at those extraordinary circumstances. Signing up for the navy or any military service in the first place is an extraordinary act. Continuing to work on the front line throughout this pandemic, is an extraordinary act. Homeschooling children with no background in teaching yourself? Continuing to provide necessary services and products in some evolved format? Habitually act in a certain way, and shouldn’t you earn the title of an extraordinary person?

I get that he may have just been trying to calm the nerves of his men, who were faced with overwhelming odds. I understand that reassuring them, that their leaders and their enemies were ordinary too, could have made those odds seem better. But there are a lot of professionals in the world at the moment, who I see as anything but ordinary.

Whilst I agree that ordinary people can be thrown into dramatic situations – and then either rise to the occasion, or not – most will not. They will let fear get the better of them, they will feel the overwhelm and run away, they will procrastinate. They will fail, confirming their ordinariness (anyway…that would be a crappy story. Rocky gets beaten – no rematch. Marty get stuck in 1955 – messes up everything…next!).

So plot and character are linked inextricably, but I do spend a lot of time of the character part. Not just because I enjoy the process, getting to know these “people”, but also because you can’t rush these things. Flat characters are the worst. It’s very easy to pigeonhole your character – especially using occupational stereotypes e.g. “Oh, she’s a rocket scientist, so she must be good at maths, and think about nothing but the physics involved 24/7.” That could be the case, but the professionals I’ve met are multifaceted. Flawed. Doctors who smoke. Divorced marriage counsellors. Bald hairdressers. For all we know, our rocket scientist took the job because it paid well enough to fund her drug habit and all the science, she doesn’t understand – it’s just her job five days a week. There is more to life. There is more to her. Even those lucky enough to do their dream job, will have elements that they would rather delegate – and these elements are far more interesting.

I have delayed writing anything useful for long enough…I’m off to meditate in the hope of becoming a little less neurotic, and I may reward myself afterwards, inadvertently making myself a little more extroverted.

Step 5: Write Character Sketches

Step 5 instructs us Snowflake practitioners to write a few paragraphs (up to a page) on the main characters, including their backstory, story goals, values and ambitions, etc.

I find this part so interesting, which should be no surprise as a psychology graduate. I am going to be spending a lot of time with these characters, so unlike the cardboard characters in Netflix’s Top Boy (it might just be the terrible actors playing them), I want them to be believable, multi-dimensional and fun to be around. I inevitably started to brainstorm what that would entail and ended up on a google-sponsored tangent instead.

4D People

I read that K-Pop culture has invented a slang term 4D, to refer to a person who is strange, eccentric or has a big personality. It’s supposed to be a compliment, not a derogatory comment. But for years I’ve had my own meaning for a 4D person, that’s not so positive. In fact, I do everything I can to keep these people at a firm distance in real life – even before that was in vogue – but as a reader, I do enjoy these characters.

4D people are those individuals perpetually drawn towards Drama, Disease, Divorce and Debt. They will be totally oblivious to the fact that they are a 4D person, so there’s no point in telling them or even blogging about it. They have probably blogged about it in the past themselves and not even realised who they were writing about (too meta?).

Photo by Moose Photos on Pexels.com

Drama

Make no mistake. It is ALWAYS about them. Victim one minute, hero the next – but their challenges far outweigh anyone else’s. They have the unenviable ability to start a fight in an empty room. They use Machiavellian methods to stir shit up, but only if it would cause them to lose favour to be seen throwing the first punch. They are predictably unpredictable, and to keep your sanity it’s best to laugh and marvel at their endlessly inventive ways of starting shit.

The opposite is the character who won’t take the bait. They can chuckle to themselves and shake their head, or roll their eyes and sigh, because they hold a “live and let live” attitude and they are firm on their decision not to be drawn in to the person’s shitshow. Life is too short my friend, it will offer enough drama of its own, without you inviting/creating more. The second character may be a bit less entertaining on the page or the screen however, so God bless those drama queens.

Disease

Whether it’s karma from a previous life, a genetic predisposition or sheer bad luck – if we are lucky to live long enough, we’re going to end up with some illness or other. A cheery thought, I know – but there are actually people out there, who are rubbing their hands together and hoping for that very thing – like I hope for a lottery win. The NHS website describes Munchausen’s syndrome (Factitious Disorder) as a psychological disorder where someone pretends to be ill or deliberately produces symptoms of illness in themselves. They might actually be ill – but they bring it on themselves. Their aim is to assume the “sick role” so that people care for them and they are the centre of attention. I try and keep the posts to 1000 words, so I can’t even begin to go into the how fucked up that is….and Munchausen’s by proxy? Don’t even get me started.

The opposite is someone who does their best to guard their own mental-emotional health, to sleep right, eat right and exercise. When they are concerned about their health, they go and see the doctor (after a terrifying morning on WebMD, we’ve all done it) and don’t trouble everyone else with their ailments until they’ve actually been diagnosed. They take the doctor’s advice and complete their treatment, they don’t see-saw between doing so and throwing caution to the wind – “well, you only live once”. They don’t have to say, “I’m a fighter,” because they show it with their continued efforts to get and stay well. They do not run, screaming from the burning building, only to start another fire outside.

A vegan, teetotal marathon runner may not sound like someone you would want to be sat next to at a party – but given the choice between them and Sick Note? Let’s talk tofu recipes. On the page however, at a distance, those characteristics might well make it into the DNA of one of my characters.

Divorce

This is not necessarily marital divorce, but could be any strained relationship resulting in arguments, separation or lack of communication. People can have short-term falling outs, but these are generally over situational specific disputes, as opposed to ever-present personality conflicts.

It’s the difference between an argument caused by a momentary misinterpretation of someone’s intent, versus the long standing feud caused by them being so different in terms of their values, beliefs and behaviours, that people realise it’s better to keep their distance. They are not part of the same tribe.

Apparently there are lots of different types of toxic people, which again, make great fictional characters – but you wouldn’t want them as a room mate or partner. But we love to read about or watch them from the safety of our sofa, where they can’t penetrate our own like bubble of Hugge. We hope.

Debt

“Neither a lender nor borrower be.” – William Shakespeare

You will see these people win the jackpot on Friday, only to ask you if they can borrow a fiver the following Monday. They live beyond their means and any pay rises are accompanied by an increase in spending on excessively expensive possessions or ENC (pronounced, en-see, stands for emperor’s new clothes) experiences – you know the kind? You went, you thought it was shite, but you dare not say so to all of your friends who loved it, because you don’t want to seem uncultured or like a Neanderthal. Just smile for the selfie.

Money is a charged topic. Give a character an issue with handling their money (think, Snatch, Frankie Four Fingers) and you automatically have tension. It’s a car crash waiting to happen. Do I want someone like this as my accountant? No. But do I want to watch or read about a gambler getting further and further into debt to pay off his other debts…it would be a tense read, but it will keep me turning the pages.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

He Who Fights With Monsters…

“…might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” – Fredrich Nietzsche

Basically you start to become like the people you associate with and think about the most. Tim Ferriss says something similar, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” So I shall be watching myself as I write about the dodgier of my characters – wary of any changes to my usual thinking or behaviour.

I am currently rereading James Clear’s Atomic Habits and he argues that a key component of changing your habits comes down to changing your identity. I’m nearly 40 years old, but I don’t believe my identity is fixed (as in stable, not repaired) – although it’s human nature for other people to want it to be.

I believe that change is possible. Improvement is possible. I hope that my characters change and grow throughout this novel – from this starting point I’m writing – and that some of those 4D characters are just 3D by the end.

Three Gratitudes – A Journalling Practice

Most days, I write in my journal. It’s mostly gibberish, brain farts I have to get out so I can sleep or irrational worries I want to ridicule on the page so I can get on with the rest of my day. But one thing I do regularly in my mind, even when it doesn’t make it onto the page is the 3 Gs practice. No, it’s not an inferior cellular network – it’s just a very simple practice that leaves you in a better mood to start, or end, your day.

3 Gs stands for 3 Gratitudes (yes, that noun can be countable TEFL teachers) and the three gratitudes you choose fall into one of three categories.

The first gratitude is where you acknowledge a PERSON that you are grateful for. You don’t need to write the reason, but it will often amplify the feeling of gratitude if you can state specific reasons that you are grateful to, or for them in your life.

The second gratitude is where you acknowledge an EXPERIENCE that you are grateful for. Again, writing in detail about the experience will applify your gratitude for it. It doesn’t need to be an experience that you have already had – it could be from the past, present or future. I try to stick with the present or recent past, and only dip into the past of near future if I’m struggling.

The third gratitude is where you acknowledge a POSSESSION that you are grateful for. Don’t get all spiritual and feel guilty about the material world for a second – just be thankful for that phone, laptop or tablet, and if you can state the reasons why, it may make you feel even more so.

If for whatever reason you are struggling to come up with an example in each category or feel anything for your choices, rather than assuming that you are ungrateful or lacking imagination, answer these questions:

  • What would life have been like (or currently would be like) without this person (just pick someone randomly) in my life?
  • What would life have been like (or currently would be like) without this experience (just pick one) in your life?
  • What would life have been like (or currently would be like) without this possession (just pick something) in my life?
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Below I’ve written some ideas to get your gratitude juices flowing.

Person

Partner, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, mates, colleagues, customers…doctors, nurses, shop workers, postal workers, train drivers, carers, scientists, farmers, engineers, teachers…the list is endless.

Experience

Future holidays may be a distant dream, but past holidays can be a pleasant memory to be grateful for, but there are some really basic daily experiences that when you think about it, make you thankful e.g. breathing easily through your nose (no hay fever or cold), breathing at all (try WHM), hot showers, homemade food, walks in nature, my children’s laughter, my children wanting my attention, breaking a fast, waking up before my alarm goes off, reading a book, watching a film or TV show, electricity to power lights, kettle, internet…and again, I’ve been doing this for a few years so these come easily. Right now, this lockdown experience offers some positives, some reasons to be thankful – as well as all of the upheaval and tragedy. I’m not denying that the negative is there, or could be there the very next moment, just making the decision to focus on what’s positive.

Possession

I have too many possessions and I am making an effort to be more minimalist. The possessions that I do own that I’m regularly grateful for include my phone, my laptop, my TV and fire stick. My books, my clothes, my car, my home, my camera, my guitar.

Next Level Gratitude

Sometimes I look at something I own, maybe a shirt is missing a button or my bike tyre is flat – and a lot of the time, I’ll put off fixing those things. This is a habit that I need to change, if I want to take my gratitude to the next level.

It’s all well and good being grateful in my head, writing it down in my journal – it feels good and puts me in a better state of mind. But the next step is to tell that person, “Thank You”, to share that positive experience with those close to you – not necessarily on Facebook or Instagram, just a closed Whats app group perhaps? And I need to maintain my possessions – sew on those buttons, pump up those tyres, or give those possessions away if they start to feel as if they own me rather than other way around.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

Thank You

Thank you Uncle Michael – the life and soul of every party, thank you for those caravan holidays in Norfolk, thank you for the book of birds you gave me as a kid that I’m now sharing with my children.

Thank you everyone for reading, liking, sharing, commenting and subscribing. I made it to day 10, so these posts will be weekly from now on. With any luck the reduction in pressure to produce so much quantity will result in an improving quality.

UBI and B******* Jobs

In typical No Rocket Scientist fashion, I have been trying to expand my mental horizons and read a bit wider afield than usual. I’m a fan of self-development, science and health books, but I find history, politics and religion a bit tedious.

That said, two books that I have found particularly intriguing are Rutger Bregman’s book, Utopia for Realists, and David Graeber’s book, Bullshit Jobs.

Bregman argues that a Universal Basic Income (UBI – free money for all to cover basic expenses like food and rent) is a possibility and a positive solution to many problems such as homelessness, poverty and even environmental damage. Well I’m all in favour of that. Elon Musk, despite stating that it’s not what he would want to happen, sees UBI as inevitable due to the automation of so many jobs. The left and the right have their own versions and motivations for UBI – which is reassuring, as I’m repelled from either in side their extremes.

So lockdown is giving us a taste of the future. Many employees have started to question (if they weren’t doing so already) the point of their current job. Many are learning the distinguishing features of a s*** job – a hard job with terrible conditions or low pay, but which is of use to society e.g. nurses, and a b******* job – a meaningless and pointless job you do but can’t justify the existence of e.g. advertising executive. I can therefore drop the “bull” from my job description, but that doesn’t negate the small print I ignored when I signed up. A few questions that thinking about these things has brought up for me are:

What meaning do we find in life without employment?

Without work, what’s your ikigai (reason for getting out of bed)?

What employment would we choose if our basic needs were covered and we could retrain?

Debt Cancellation

The current crisis understandably throws some anomalies into my initial analysis of this concept.

I have heard people I admire (e.g. Russell Brand) talk about this in the past, and they lose me for the following (faulty or questionable? Happy to discuss) reasons:

If I go out and choose to drink more alcohol than my body is able to handle – there will be a consequence to that action. One I’m all too familiar with.

If I eat continuously, especially high carbohydrate or highly processed foods, and don’t move enough, there will be consequences to that action as well. As I get older, those consequences become apparent a lot more quickly than they used to – and take a longer time to put right again!

So if I spend more money than I earn, and borrow to spend more than I have saved, the obvious consequence to that behaviour is debt. My values, beliefs and actions i.e. habits, have landed me in that debt. My inability to spend only what I’ve earned (hopefully a little less than I’ve earned), my inability to wait, my insatiable desire to consume.

If I’m hungover, overweight or in debt, I don’t expect sympathy. As much as I would love someone to come and solve these problems for me, I don’t expect it or see it as a right. I don’t want to be in those situations in the first place, so I do my best not to end up in those places – and double my efforts if I do temporarily end up there.

What I’m saying is – does being “saved” from the consequences of our actions really help us in the long run? Shouldn’t we be assisted, helped to change our habits, rather than having our slates wiped clean and getting ourselves into the same mess all over again?

My initial knee-jerk reaction is a feeling of injustice. “Hold on a minute, I’ve been denying myself beer/donuts/expensive holidays for years…trying to be responsible…only for them to get a saline drip/liposuction/bail out?”

But two thoughts help me see this from a different perspective and rid me of those negative (insensitive? immature?) sentiments.

  1. What if it was my brother or friend who was being saved? I’d feel relieved for them, and joyful that their burden had been lifted. I’m sure they would learn whatever they could from the past and not end up in the same situation again without a fight.
  2. What if it was my arch enemy who had been saved? Let him drink – and mask the true consequences for a while. Let him post his six pack photos, but he knows, we all know, he didn’t earn them. Let him go to Bora Bora, and forget how boring boring the other 50 weeks of the year are (don’t worry, the booze will help ease the pain).

Win-Win. So governments will do what they will do, and I suppose the important thing is not letting them get in the way of us living a life of purpose and meaning.

For my own sanity, I need to work. It’s nice to feel needed. For my own self-respect, I’m not looking for handouts – but I don’t blame anyone for trying the occasional short cut (gotta love a lifehack)!

Our identity and self-worth can’t be solely based on our occupation however, and I am more than my job. So if my work does become automated, just like when marathons get cancelled, there are other parts of me to weather the storm. It does motivate me to start looking at alternatives to my current work though – and use this lockdown as a chance to retrain in something less vulnerable to automation. Apparently I’m a closet Luddite!

Thank You

Post 9 out of 10…so close…just – one – more!!! Thanks so much for reading, liking, sharing, commenting and SUBSCRIBING! I really appreciate your time and attention, but I think I need to start trolling a few bloggers to get some comments! Either that or I need to start writing some more controversial posts that get me trolled?! I’ll work on it!

Perfecting My Morning

As the name of this site suggests, I do not consider myself the sharpest tool in the shed e.g. there were three words missing from this sentence when I originally read it back, but in my head and as I typed it, it sounded perfect!

But there’s a lot to be said for being resourceful in the face of a lack of resources (just ask MacGuyver or The A Team). In fact, an awareness of our limited time, money, energy or attention is what drives us to get creative or at least seek out others’ ideas, to make the most of the little we do have. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.

The best non-fiction books, Audible audiobooks, podcasts and YouTube videos I read/listen to/watch make me change my way of looking at world, or behave differently. I want to learn better ways to use my resources – and even now, with so much of it on my hands, I appreciate how limited time is. So how should I spend it?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Twenty-four hours, minus a third for sleep tax (I don’t resent paying this tax, as it ultimately serves me – take note Branson and Bezos!). So sixteen hours to invest – morning, afternoon, evening.

Below is a look at my current morning routine and the inspiration behind the various habits I am trying (does anyone else hear Yoda when they use that verb? Just me? OK) to instill – with varying degrees of success.

Morning Routine

04:30 – Wake up / WHM Stretching

I’ve spoken in previous posts about WHM (Wim Hof Method) and my struggles with stretching, but why wake up so early? Jocko Willink‘s book Extreme Ownership convinced me that getting up before most people means I can get things done without interruption and with the minimum amount of stress. The alternative of oversleeping, missing out on exercise, arriving late, not being prepared and spending the rest of the day playing catch-up (the type of day that was all too common in my youth) just fills me with dread. It’s not easy leaving the comfort of my bed, but a few things that have helped are:

Three alarms – first, my vibrating wrist watch gently pulls me from my slumber, one minute before what will be a LOUD mobile phone alarm at the other side of the room. To save me from the wrath of my wife, I leap out of bed (or groan and roll) and dart (shuffle) over to the phone before that alarm can sound. Jocko recommends three alarms, but in all honesty I only have two – which is working fine, so why fix it?

Eating deadline – As recommended by Mark Sisson in The New Primal Blueprint, you should eat your last meal a couple of hours (or more) before bed so I stop eating by 18:00. I can’t eat too close to bed time. I just feel too uncomfortable and wake up in the morning with a horrible taste.

Bedtime routine – or sleep hygiene, as it’s often called includes going to bed and getting up at a regular time, limiting food, drink and screen usage for two hours before bed and keeping your bedroom at an optimum temperature (cooler is better). On a good night, I will turn off the screens at 19:00, stretch and maybe shower, and then read a paperback before going to sleep at 21:00. I’ll only journal if my head is busy, or I need to write down an idea or memory before I forget it. Some great tips on becoming a super sleeper are in Dr Richard Wiseman‘s book Night School – well worth a listen.

05:00 – WHM Breathing (4 rounds)

I use the Wim Hof Method app for this, specifically the Breathing Bubble. I’m generally able to hold my breath for over three minutes now and one time I even managed four minutes. That isn’t really the goal, but it is an indication of the method working, and honestly I just love “getting high on my own supply”. It really is a trippy feeling – well worth experiencing.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

05:30 – Exercise

Cardio (running or cycling) for thirty to sixty minutes, OR bodyweight strength exercises (air squats, push ups, pull ups, planks). For the particulars on these, refer to the book The New Primal Blueprint mentioned earlier. I’m considering doing a vlog on this – comment if you would watch that!

06:30 – Warm and Cold Shower

I can’t go straight into a cold shower, and I am putting off doing my first ice plunge, but I’ve gone from thirty seconds to two minutes. I have to have a four or five minute hot shower first, to get clean and psyche myself up, but then I turn the tap. Have you ever eaten or drunk something so cold that it’s given you brain freeze? Next time it happens, try putting your tongue on the roof of your mouth – it works I promise! But not when the cold is coming from the shower head above you. The only way I can handle it, is to move around and focus the water on my back, chest and shoulders when my head-freeze gets too intense to bear!

07:00 – Ready to Write

Black coffee and pint of water (sometimes with lemon) positioned to my right, laptop open in front of me, I sit down to face the blank page (Word document, you know what I mean).

Until my first coffee break at 11:00, I will now struggle to produce WORDS. Which will only come if I can answer my THOUGHTS/QUESTIONS.

  • What am I going to write about?
  • How can I make it more entertaining/enlightening?
  • Who is my ideal reader?
  • How would he/she react to that part?

I’m going to do some research today on some better questions to ask before/while writing. That could result in me having some better questions, and therefore some better writing coming out of the answers…or, it could result in 4 hours of googling and youtubing and me asking the same questions all over again tomorrow. That, would be a wasted day – and enough days spent like that, would be a wasted life.

Thank You

Thank you once again for reading, subscribing, liking and commenting! It’s much appreciated it!

This blog post is number 8 out of 10 – for the “10 blog posts in 10 days” challenge – just two more and I have met the challenge! Then it’s back to a weekly blog post, and a competition with a prize draw for subscribers (more details to follow).

The Wedge – Audiobook Review

So this morning, after acknowledging that my downward dog needs a lot of work (or sending to the farm) I tried to access the following week of the Wim Hof Fundamentals course (stress management). It was locked, meaning that I’ll be learning patience as a bonus lesson!

After some dire attempts to get more bendy and once my other exercises were done, I did a thirty minute Zwift cycle before my ninety second cold shower. During the cycle, I listened once again to this excellent book – I would highly recommend it, so here’s my review.

Summary from Scott Carney‘s website

Thrive or die: That’s the rule of evolution. Despite this brutal logic, some species have learned to survive in even the most hostile conditions. Others couldn’t—and perished. While incremental genetic adaptations hone the physiology of nearly every creature on this planet, there’s another evolutionary force that is just as important: the power of choice. In this explosive investigation into the limits of endurance, journalist Scott Carney discovers how humans can wedge control over automatic physiological responses into the breaking point between stress and biology. We can reclaim our evolutionary destiny.

Review

Journalist Scott Carney, who also wrote the New York Times bestseller, What Doesn’t Kill Us, seems to be a kindred spirit (except he doesn’t like running? What’s THAT all about?!). His sceptical approach and original goal of debunking Dutch guru Wim Hof, peaked my interest right from the start. His first book was the warts and all account of encountering Wim and his method, that humanised the Ice Man and lowered my reluctance to becoming a practitioner.

While I’m still at the beginning of my Wim Hof journey, Carney writes that it, “gave him superhuman levels of endurance and quieted a persistent autoimmune illness.”

The Wedge is about the underlying technique that can enable a person to have an edge in almost any situation.

In his latest book, Carney travels the globe in search of those who are also exploring the potential of the human mind and body. In doing so he:

  • visits a cutting-edge neuroscience laboratory at Stanford to overcome fear/anxiety
  • achieves flow states by tossing kettlebells
  • explores the benefits of heat from saunas
  • reaches transcendence through breathing routines
  • searches his mind in sensory deprivation tanks
  • hacks his mind with MDMA
  • tries ayahuasca

I really enjoyed this book, and while I’ve already start the Wim Hof Method, saunas and flotation tanks, I still have a long way to go to earn my psychonaut black belt.

“Under certain circumstances, one is actually better informed concerning the real world, if one has taken a drug than if one has not.” – Terence McKenna

I would rather do this without ingesting psychoactive substances, so I’ll experiment with some of the other methods first…but who knows…in future…maybe? You only live once, and Carney really does seem to making the most of his time here. I appreciate him sharing his experiences and experiments – it gives me ideas and encouragement to continue my own!

As this was an audiobook, I need to comment on the narrator, Scott Carney! Yes, I always appreciate the author narrating their own work – when they’re good that is – and Carney is as skilled a narrator as he is a writer.

Thank You

This is blog post number 7 out of 10, and I am really encouraged by the views I’m getting. Hopefully these will translate into some more subscribers, likes, comments, etc.

On the home front – lockdown is going well (F****** Covid-19), Wim Hoffing is going well (except the stretching – I suck – so inflexible) and writing is…well you’re reading this, but don’t expect my novel any time soon!

Procrastination cure? Not yet. Allen Carr’s Easyway need to get onto this!

Take care – be safe and well – peace.

The Wim Hof Method

“Breathe M***** F*****S!”

– Wim Hof

I hate the cold. But I love winter holidays.

This seeming paradox is easily explained by the fact that on any ski holiday I’ve been on, I’ve been wrapped up in a snow suit most of the time. If you’re really lucky, you also get to sit in thermal pools or saunas, and experience all of that beautiful scenery without any discomfort (skiing, snowboarding and apres ski hangovers aside).

So in December 2018, when after a hard treadmill session at the gym I had to have a cold shower due to a broken boiler – I was fuming. I literally swore through gritted teeth for the entire duration and I didn’t even feel clean at the end.

But whilst I was horrified at the effect of the experience on my manhood, once I got out, I felt amazing. I was glowing. So alert, so energised. So I went away and googled if there were any benefits to cold showers – other than the mythical damping of the teenage libido.

Photo by Mohan Reddy Atalu on Pexels.com

Enter Ice Man

My web search inevitably led me to Wim Hof, also know and The Ice Man, the crazy Dutch record-breaker and local celebrity. The archetypal new-age, health guru image would have repelled me were it not for his stunts and the mounting scientific evidence for his method. I needed to learn more, so over the next year or so I watched various YouTube interviews with Wim and read the following two books:

Both of these books give an insight into Wim’s tragic backstory, what’s driving him and the science behind his method – they are well worth a read! They’ll tell you what you need to know about the three pillars of the method: breathing, commitment and cold exposure. If you have any health ailments, you should look into Wim and his method – you’re probably covered! It really does seem to be a cure-all.

The Wim Hof Method Benefits

  • Stress reduction – I’m not stressed right now, but once this lockdown is over and I have to go back out into the real world, this could definitely come in handy.
  • Faster recovery from physical exertion – marathon running, triathlons, hangovers…it’s supposedly meant to make you heal like Wolverine! Count me in.
  • Better sleep – as a lifelong insomniac (maintenance, sometimes onset), this would probably be a better option than the two-glasses-of-red-wine method? Long-term I mean.
  • Improved sports performance – back to marathons and triathlons again. Could this give me that edge I need to break the three hour barrier? As an aside, the London Marathon should have been going ahead today – I feel terrible for those runners. I ran London last year (3 hr 24 mins), raising over £2000 for charity and it was an unforgettable experience. I hope they all get to experience something similar soon or run it next year!
  • Enhanced creativity – an obvious requirement for any blogger or novelist. But I’m sure creativity and resourcefulness go hand in hand, so even in everyday life, parenting, etc.
  • More focus and mental clarity – a potential cure for my procrastination?
Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

Just like with Chi Running, I didn’t feel completely confident following the method from a book so I purchased the Wim Hof Method app, which I would recommend for the Breathing Bubble alone! Such a great tool!

Even if all of the benefits above aren’t forthcoming, I will probably continue with the breathing and the showers regardless – they just make me feel great. The breathing gets you naturally high, and the cold shower gets you wired – in a good way. So no more need for weed, beer or coffee? Number three will take me some convincing!

The Fundamentals Course

So I took the bait – hook, line and sinker – and purchased the Wim Hof Method Fundamentals Course. To be fair, I have saved money on petrol over the last month and Wim has reduced the price by 50% during the pandemic in an effort to make it affordable to the masses – so I don’t feel swindled!

I started Week One of the course this morning, and apart from the stretching – which was agony, and I sucked at – it was easy-going compared to what I have been doing already with the app. I acknowledge the stretching is important to open up the airways, and I should do some anyway, but running has made me so tight!

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

The breathing was just three rounds, each with a one minute breath hold, which was easy as I have already been holding my breath for up to four minutes by my fourth round, just by using the app.

The homework, was to take a thirty second cold shower, at least five days a week. Again, I’m already up to ninety seconds, most days. But I don’t want to rush through this programme in case I miss something. The slower rate of progress elsewhere will give me more time to work on my flexibility.

So each morning, I will be waking up at 04:30 and doing the yoga stretches – the hardest part for me – before I start the breathing exercises. The cold shower will be after my cardio.

I’ll keep track of any changes I experience throughout the course, and write a proper review at the end, but for now I would say GET THE APP! It is well worth a try, and the science is there – it’s not all WOO-WOO! You don’t have to use it to run marathons or climb mountains bare-chested. It might just make your day to day less painful, more enjoyable and more productive.

THANK YOU

Once again, thanks for reading this – please do subscribe, share, like and comment if you can. This is blog post 6 out of 10, and it is definitely getting easier to sit down at the laptop and tap out some words!

Have a great Sunday! Which for me means FAMILY TIME!!!

Younger You?

Apologies in advance if you arrived here in search of the fountain of youth. I’m not here to sell snake oil or beauty creams. At some point, I will blog about the benefits of a plant-based diet, intermittent fasting, quality sleep and exercise, but not yet.

Photo by Gabriela Guerino on Pexels.com

This post is about two powerful questions, the answers to which could change your life and the lives of your nearest and dearest. But rather than jump straight into the questions themselves, let me set the scene.

No Flux Capacitor Required (just an imagination…or some alcohol)

Time travel suddenly becomes possible – but only to the past I’m afraid. The other issue is, you can only send small inanimate objects back. Oh, and did I mention, only as far back as ten years. The science behind it all just gets too messy if you go back any further!

Now if you thought Royal Mail was expensive, you should see the cost of sending anything bigger than a postcard! Astronomical! Completely unaffordable – unless you’re Jeff Bezos. So that’s where we’re at.

A postcard. A pen. A portal to the past. A potentially life-improving exercise.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

What Would You Tell Your Younger Self?

I really do want to read your answers to this question – especially if you’re older than me (unlikely) or wiser (highly probable) – that is, if you’re brave enough to share them in the comments.

I can only write about what I would tell my twenty-nine year old self, and after watching The Butterfly Effect again recently, I would be very wary about sharing too much with him. Will changing the past make things worse?

Well let’s just assume that in our hypothetical scenario, we can advise ourselves to stop any bad habits or tendencies – or to take some smarter actions – without any negative impact on what’s going well right now.

For instance, if I were to write on my postcard, “stop drinking alcohol”, I can imagine the ten years worth of the benefits I would have experienced from having made that decision, without the fear of my son never having been born. Just kidding. Hmmm.

So what would I tell me?

What do I wish at thirty-nine years old, I had been told at twenty-nine or earlier?

Think less, read and write more – when I’m following this advice I am definitely more productive and have fewer sleep problems (insomnia). But reading and writing are so energy intensive sometimes, and thinking – even the same, repetitive, negative thoughts, seems to be my default. Paralysis by analysis, my biggest flaw. Maybe if I had taken this advice more seriously ten years ago, I would have finished my novel already? Nah.

Quit the sugar – I know it’s not the most expensive or lethal white powder out there, but it’s definitely not doing me any favours. I am a sugar addict. I can take or leave meat and alcohol, abstinence is not hard, but going without an evening sugary treat actually depresses me. My evening meal is not complete without dessert – I will literally go to bed feeling hard done by. And moderation is not something I do well. Intermittent fasting has helped, with my eating cut-off time being 18:00 – but you should see the binge eating feeding frenzy I’m in at 17:59. Not pretty. My abs will retain their “hide and seek” title for as long as this habit continues.

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Quit the screens – I go from my phone, to my laptop, to my phone, to the TV and back again, all day, every day. I had four channels and a VHS player as a kid in the 1980s, so a lack of portability limited my screen time. No such ceiling these days. I deleted Facebook and Instagram from my phone in January – and lasted six weeks – and that definitely helped a bit. But when all of this Covid-19 business kicked off, FOMO took over. Apps were downloaded, my YouTube channel surfing went through the roof (Dr John Campbell and Sky New Live in particular), and I felt the sudden urge to start another blog (giving me the perfect excuse). I can always justify my next screen fix, “but I’m cycling simultaneously,” or “but it’s research for my novel.” Lockdown is hardly conducive to kicking this habit, but when I get out, oh, when I get out…

Quit buying stuff – Just before this lockdown, when the charity shops were still open, I had a clear out and donated three large black bags of “stuff”. Clothes, books, DVDs, pointless gizmos I would never have used and yet, I did not return empty handed. Three second hand books accompanied me and took their place on my bookshelf…probably to gather dust, until my next charity shop trip. The books only cost £1, but when I started to think about what the contents of those three black bags had cost me, brand new, I sighed. Stuff and lottery tickets, such a waste. Think of all the money I could have saved to invest! Invest in what? Well, I’m no FTSE expert but if I had been doing that for the last ten years I’d probably be feeling a bit down at the moment. Given the option, I would probably invest in an office/pain cave – this would be in the hope of producing 50,000 words than rather than re-enacting fifty shades (see below):

Now for some homework.

Take another postcard. Date this one, ten years hence (2030, for the non-Dickensian amongst you). Imagine this is decade-older you. What advice is this older, wiser you going to have? What pieces of advice do you want to give yourself to live by? What can you start, or stop, right now that will make it more likely you end up where you want to be in ten years?

Quit, or at least spend less time on gaming or social media?

Read more books, watch less news?

Hug more – once we’re allowed again – and criticise less?

Save more, spend less?

Listen more, talk less?

Play more, stress less?

Looking forward to your answers – share the wisdom peeps!

Thank You

Blog post 5 of 10 written and published! Wooo we’re half way there….!!!

Views are sky-rocketing (worldwide) but I’m short on likes, shares, comments and subscriptions so far. Your contributions are all appreciated.

Still learning my chops, so bear with me – but it feels good to engage my mind on a daily basis and try to put my brain farts in some sort of logical, if not literary, order.

Take care out there – get back inside, unless you were out for exercise or essentials. Check in tomorrow.