Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Step Into Christmas


Well, here we are again. The season of excess and fun and family. Maybe not for everyone but for those of us that were brought up under a certain cultural bias and calendar.

As Christmas ends and the New Year approaches, it's almost impossible not to think ahead in some way. So much hope and expectation, even if we have all been here before.  

Sometimes I wonder whether we have our eye on the wrong prize. When looking at where we are in life we all tend to look up rather than down. We look at things that are missing, that we'd like to have, that we'd like to get done. Yes, it’s important to aspire but looking down can, for want of a better phrase or metaphor, also keep us grounded. There are so, so many people in this world of ours that have far less and could only dream of what we already have in our worlds. Yep, good old fashioned perspective for this time of year.

But at the same time I'm certainly not saying there's anything wrong with looking for a better life. So push on. And come 31 December 2012, what kind of regrets will we be harbouring then? A few hits and a few misses? The thing is what I'm experiencing at this moment is the result of choices and decisions I made in the past; what I'll experience in the future depends on choices and decisions I make now. I can't get all preachy because I'm just as guilty as the next man for that extra double cheeseburger and lack of focus, but deep down we know what we should be doing even if it's so much cosier to take the path of least resistance and all that.

So enjoy the festive season and may all your dreams for 2012 come true - thanks in part to what you're doing towards them now.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Running Up That Hill

Ahh, yes, running up that hill.

Balance. Where are you? I mentioned in my last blog how busy things are getting in my world. Of late, the part-time Masters course has been getting a lot of attention from me.

The trouble is, of course, some areas of my existence have been sidelined - I have barely been to the gym or kung fu (admittedly, that's more down to a sore toe though), the blog has been 'resting', I've made less time for friends, and I've barely registered that fast-approaching event called Christmas.

I realise some of it is temporary but often what starts out as a short-term distraction can turn into a longer-term concern about the balance of life.

Thankfully, once my mid-term exam is out of the way this weekend I'll be able to reconnect a few of the dots. But it has made me think again about the importance of maintaining discipline and balance.

It's not as if we can create more than the 24 hours in a day we're all blessed with so I have to work smarter with what I've been given. In the same way that you can 'leak' money without having a clue as to how it's left your wallet, so too can time be frittered away without any value being added. So it's time for a bit more awareness and to get that routine back on track. It's not about time management - it's about priorities management. Game on!





Monday, 21 November 2011

What A Fool Believes


Those nice people at Inner Space threw up an interesting comment into my inbox:

What is the meaning of life?
Why are we here?  What's it all about?

Do you try to make sense of it all by trying to understand connections between events and experiences?

Maybe the meaning is to be found in our perception - as each one of us has our own unique way of seeing and understanding things.

Or maybe it's what we do with our life that ultimately determines the meaning of life.

We could go on ad infinitum searching for answers, getting confused, frustrated or simply debating this forever. Wars have been fought over less. From a purely personal perspective, I find some value in seeing life's meaning as what I can bring to the party rather than purely what the party can bring to me.

That's just part of my belief system and that's just me. You don't have to have this view at all - but I do think it's worth having a view, any view, on it all. If nothing else, it'll help give life some context.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Call Me

Some years back I took a phone call out of the blue from a friend. I say out of the blue as basically she had never phoned me before (or since for that matter). We’d never been overly close but we drifted in the same circles, sent the occasional text, and used Facebook and emails as favoured communications of choice. 

Anyway, she started our chat by saying she was a bit bored so had decided to phone me ("thanks!", I guess). Unbeknown to me she actually had a bit of an interest in me beyond just friendship - she admitted as much at a much later date, around the time her married, two kids, different country status was well established. In hindsight this interest might have been behind some of the line of questioning she used that night:

"So what do you do in your spare time?"

I paused and had a think. "Well, I like socialising."

Her response: "Don't we all? What else?"

Me: "Ermm, I go to the gym."

Her: "Loads of people we know do that. What else?"

I paused again. At that moment in time I couldn't think of anything beyond the banalities of watching TV, going to the cinema and being in the office. I had been playing football socially but that was becoming quite sporadic. I had little of substance. She, meanwhile, had a few months earlier headed to Florida just to go waterskiing for two weeks, had been on a few interesting hikes in various countries, had got involved in a charity and was in the midst of a complete career change. I had nothing as exotic to throw into the mix.

I doubt whether she would ever remember the conversation but I still recall it some 4 or 5 years on. Maybe not all at once but that one chat did spur me on to have a look at things, to try a few new ideas, to have something to say when the proverbial "What have you been up to?" question comes along. That conversation has often come back to me when inertia has taken hold or when I slip back into the humdrum and am not adding value to myself or anyone else. In some ways it was a call to action - or, to use an insight from Stephen Covey in his "7 Habits of Highly Effective People", when you look back on life from your deathbed are you going to wish that you'd spent more time in the office or more time watching TV? I don't think so.

These days I've got a few more things to throw into the mix. If she rang today I could now now say that I've been doing kung fu for the last 3 years, have a side-line life coaching business up and running (albeit extremely inactive), am currently doing an 8-week theatre-based voice and public speaking training course, have just started a part-time Masters course, and when it takes my fancy I have this blog to write.

It's amazing how much impact some conversations can have on other people's lives without you even knowing.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Always On My Mind


I've been dabbling with meditation over the years. I say 'dabbling' because I've tried out all sorts of weird and wonderful versions - led and unled meditations, some focused on the breath, others based on a mantra or an external sound. Running water, a candle, with your eyes shut or your eyes open. The lot.

Like many things in life, there are many ways to skin the proverbial cat and as far as I can tell it's not a one size fits all kind of thing. We all have our biases and preferences and some styles will suit individuals more than others.

I recently attended a seminar hosted by The Potential Project, an organisation aimed at providing the right tools for emotional, mental and physiological balance. It was another spin on the use of meditation in life but it's given me another one to try out. I'm a believer that it works - it's just taking a bit of time to fine-tune what works for me. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Connected


There are so many metaphors used for dealing with life. Some reflect engaging with nature (swimming upstream or going with the flow), living in the world of sport (in the 9th innings or injury time) or even music (the fat lady singing and all that). But in this networked world that we now live in it seems apt that there should be one that relates to technology. Below is one I fell upon the other day:

"Just as the Ctrl-Alt-Del keys are used to interrupt the operation of a malfunctioning program on your computer, sometimes, we too, need to interrupt our mind by exercising Ctrl-Alt-Del.

Ctrl (Control): Take control of your life, take 100% responsibility and clearly understand what you want.

Alt (Alternate): Look for alternatives to get different results. See things with a different perspective.

Del (Delete): Delete all negativity in your life including attitudes and habits that are not working for you."

Quite an interesting way of putting it, I'd say.


Thursday, 6 October 2011

Get A Job

A lot of fine words have been written about the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. A visionary? Very possibly. Someone that has changed the way we live? He could well be viewed in that way, although sometimes you only get a true sense of a person's achievements when the world has moved on a few generations and historians have some true context to assess an individual's work.

One thing I would say, though, is the the famous Stanford graduation speech he did back in 2005 is always worth a read. A friend sent a transcript to me about a year ago, and it gave me such a lift on that specific day that I've kept it on file to refer to in those dark days.

No doubt it’s doing the rounds on social media as we speak but in case you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a read or a listen. And I'm certain it's message will last a lot longer than my current iPhone.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Born To Run


I spend a lot of time thinking about goals. Refining them, expanding them, creating them, redefining them, getting frustrated with them, embracing them. And so the game goes on.

After all, in order to get to where we want to be in life isn't it important to know exactly what we are shooting for? I say "kind of yes, kind of no" - this is purely from my perspective and this is purely from my perspective right "now". Ask me next week and I may by talking entirely differently...

When it comes down to making the perfect boiled egg, tying a bow tie, learning the best kung fu moves "ever" and playing winning chess, then I'm you're man. The "how to" world of being more efficient and more productive is something I'm getting quite adept at, with special thanks to Youtube, Videojug and all their friends.

But then I've had a few moments of, "So what?" - it's nice to be able to do certain things a little bit better today than yesterday but, in the bigger scheme of things, does it really mean anything? Is it aligned with what I want to stand for and what my life is meant to represent? A lot of the time I'd have to say, "No way, Jose!"

You see, I get the sense that I've been going a bit too micro on certain individual skills and talents while losing touch with a bigger sense of my purposes and passions. 'Doing' and 'Being' aren't the same thing. Just because you don't have a detailed plan in life doesn't mean you can't live fully and be fulfilled. But for those who don't have such a plan and do happen to be fulfilled I think it's far more likely to be because they are aligned with a sense of why they were put on this earth, what they were "born to do". I've known a few 'muddlers' in my time who, when I look back in hindsight, I now realise have always had an inner compass that steered them and all their efforts in a direction they were destined for. For me, it's time to keep asking the right and big enough questions in order to get to the right and big enough answers.

I'm not going to be throwing out Videojug anytime soon (and it's amazing what you can do with an eggplant these days) but a little more listening on the inside is the order of the day rather than reacting to the outside. And I'll try not to be as fixated on the destination and more interested with the glorious direction.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Happy Birthday

Birthdays are funny things. They are the one day in the year that you are the centre of the universe, or at least that's how it used to feel. There are the gifts and the well-wishers.

There are the celebratory dinners or parties arranged in your honour. It's all about you. And then it's gone and the baton moves on. But for that one day, everyone is thinking about you, wishing the best possible things for you. Well, at least when you're young.

Then it really did feel like you were special and were the centre of attention. We even had a fake cake at primary school specially rolled out to celebrate birthdays, with all your classmates surrounding you and belting out 'Happy Birthday To You'. Yes, you felt it was all about you.

But as you get older birthdays seem to take on new roles. You benchmark yourself - I should be married, with child, promoted, climbing the Eiger, by now. You start to see your mortality - I'll be retiring in X amount of years, "Haven't my nephew and nieces grown?", "The President is only how old?", "When I was 20 I could....". You fall further down the list of other people's priorities - "Don't worry about it. I know you're busy with the kids/work/your business/your own life."

As you get older it's also easy to forget that it is still something worthy of celebrating, even if there's no one around you to tell you as much. You've seen life move on another whole year, and whatever the trials and tribulations you've experienced during the previous 12 months, you're still here to tell the tale. You're still in the game.

So as I add another notch to my number, I realise all this thinking about what could have been, what I should have done, where I should be in life etc is all pointless and draining. Birthdays should all be about celebrating what's there to celebrate. Life as we know it. And that's what I'm going to do.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

911

So here we are. September 11th. More than just another date. As we hit the ten-year anniversary of that fateful day, so much has been written about the events - the victims, the perpetrators, the families left behind, the survivors, the bravery, the 'war on terror', the Holy War, the Big Apple, the Homeland security, the conspiracy theories, the rebuilding of Ground Zero, the rebuilding of lives, the world we now live in. A lot. And future generations will have a lot more to say about the day, whether they view it as showing that everything has changed or whether this just reflects part of our evolution and, fundamentally, everything has actually stayed the same. The one thing that continues to resonate for me is how we are all interconnected. 9 / 11 is one of those events that we can all relate to on the human level, whatever your religious or political leanings and however you choose to recall that day. Most people I know seem to recall where they were and what they were doing when events unfolded - this generation's JFK moment that binds us all. But it's also a marquee example of the fragility of life. Yes, these types of events are extraordinarily rare but any one of us could have been on one of the planes, near the Pentagon or in and around the Towers. We could have been working for one of the emergency services on that day, we could have been doing a tourist tour or could have simply popped out for a packet of cigarettes nearby. Or if not us directly, someone that we are close to could have been. And for "9 / 11" you can also read London, Bali, Madrid and Mumbai, to name but a few other similar incidences of human tragedy. We can all relate. Something that was there to divide us, has united us. Lessons have been and should continue to be learned about that day in September and other corresponding events. But let's not forget the lives of those no longer with us - the innocent victims of this whole big mess. And for those of us still here it's still our duty to make the most of the living, loving and learning all around us while we still have the opportunity.

Monday, 5 September 2011

We Are Family

Life. You get up in the morning, brush your teeth, go to work, come back home, go to bed. So it goes on. Doing a bit of this and doing a bit of that. And through no real fault of your own a year passes you by. Life can be like that. On occasion, you make things happen, but more often than not things just happen to you. And in the process of time whizzing by it’s easy to lose track of "things"; things of substance. And in my case that includes our family spread across three different continents. But this summer, thanks to a little bit of planning, a fistful of air miles and a readiness for jetlag I managed to catch up with virtually all of my immediate family – one mother, two sisters, a brother and 5 out of 6 of the nephews and nieces. Quite a challenge. Social media can be a wonderful thing in terms of staying in touch but it's still only a poor relative to the real thing. It was great - talking to a very chatty teen nephew and niece about the world, no longer espousing their vows of silence; attending my niece's pre-school ballet class; listening as my nephew spoke with conviction about religion and his career situation; talking to my siblings and mother about our respective lives; introducing my partner to my sister and her family for the first time. It's good to reconnect with parts of your existence that matter as it's too easy to get caught up in every distraction under the sun.Hopefully it will happen again sooner rather than later.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Cabaret


Over the last couple of years I've continued to get my daily dose of 'Thought For The Day' from those lovely people at Inner Space (http://www.innerspace.org.uk/). While I was rummaging through some old emails today, I fell upon one of them. It so beautifully captures how, in our own individual way, we choose to engage in this game called life:

"Some people are working backstage, some playing in the orchestra, others are onstage singing. Some are in the audience as critics, others are there to applaud. Do you know who and where you are?"


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

London Calling


Okay, time to get topical. With a spin. I remember years ago thinking going to the gym on a Friday evening was odd. For weirdos with no friends. Same thing for the cinema - going alone was for losers. I was convinced. Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with either. In fact I quite enjoy doing both these days. But back in the day I did tend to see things through a narrow perspective of how life should be lived. What was right. What was acceptable. I'd like to think that I've now grown beyond some of those limiting viewpoints.

And so, in a very round about way, to my tuppence about the civil unrest in London and elsewhere in the UK (or in the words of one looted store owner: "they weren't rioting, they were shopping"). Clearly there are bigger debates to be had behind the causes of it all - "Broken Britain", disillusionment with the job market, Generation X-Factor needing quick gratification etc etc. But as far as I can tell the unrest isn't the second coming of the Jasmine Revolution.

I don't have the answers and many, many learned people have come out with some pretty decent insights on it all. I can relate to the frustrations of some individuals involved - as soon as I could escape the housing estate I grew up on in South London, and the negative karma that comes with it, I did. Many I knew didn't. And people often march/protest/represent a viewpoint for a decent cause. But at the end of the day, we all have to live on this big old rock together and I do think that the perpetrators in this case are falling short on respect and perspective. Maybe that's the way they relate to and engage with the world. Somehow, somewhere we've got to broaden everyone's perspective on the world - 'everyone' doesn't just mean the "vandals, thiefs and troublemakers". We can't just be in a space of disrepect and opportunism vs. victims and recrimination. We have to be bigger and better than that. I have no answers - I'm just hoping for more awareness all around.

Anyway, that's my bit of idle waffle on the subject and that's all you'll get on it from me....

Monday, 1 August 2011

Do It Again


I've had one of those weekends where I fell off the wagon, proverbally speaking. In recent months I have fine-tuned a daily routine that involves a bit of meditation, active engagement in specific life areas (e.g. reading a little bit on personal finance or doing some form of exercise/body conditioning, however small). Basically, discplining myself to do specific things each day. And I can genuinely say that I've seen improvements in certain parts of my life, such as applying myself at work.

However, this weekend saw my 'little and often' daily acts of progress go totally to the wall. I blame Friday's pool party. Actually, it was my visit to the gym on Thursday night ahead of the following day's event. Now, I'm not proud to say it but I figured that because my body no longer defaults to one of a 20-something year-old Adonis, it was worth going hell for leather on the crunches and back press ups, just to make sure I could vaguely hold my own. Obviously, I didn't warm up and obviously my body was in shock after the crazy work out. This should have been done over a period of weeks - not a mad power half hour. So by the time I hit the party my lower back was in all sorts of pain. Then, of course, I chose the only natural remedy - drink through it. And drink hard. And so it was I found myself post-party drifting home from a random club we headed onto, with the sound of morning song in my ear and the morning sun in my eyes. The knock on effect of all that, of course, was a Saturday in ruins and a Sunday shaped by the five stages of grief.

I'm not saying that I'm in line for a sainthood anytime soon but the daily discipline of 'little and often' has been good at moving me forward. Keeping me on the straight and narrow and not allowing myself to be too distracted. Okay, I might well have still been out to some ungodly hour, but had I kept my focus I may well have managed my night a bit better. And my back wouldn't be aching like hell now either...

Monday, 25 July 2011

Higher Ground


It's amazing what you can find in hotel rooms these days. I was on holiday in the last couple of weeks and spent a few nights in a decent boutique hotel located in the lower Soho district of New York. I'm used to seeing a few cups and saucers for the spare tea bags provided, plus a travel sewing kit for those emergency moments. This hotel, though, also threw in a few books in the rooms if you found time to read - and not even a Gideon Bible amongst them.

One book I couldn't put down was Stephen Covey's 'First Things First'. In the past I've glanced through his '7 Habits of Highly Effective People' so I was aware of his approach to personal development. But I have to say I was quite taken by this hotel find (which was just as well as the jetlag was quite brutal) and I spent plenty of time thumbing through it. Once I returned home I purchased the book. A quote that Covey lifted from George Bernard Shaw really works for me:

"This is the true joy in life...being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one...being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy...I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can."

The idea of living for a purpose higher than yourself may sound quite abstract but it's certainly an approach that will strip out some of the ego involved in personal development.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Chain Reaction


Karma. It makes so much sense to me. What comes around goes around. Cynics would question whether it can be empircally proven or whether there's any scientific basis for it to exist. It's a spiritual principle but some might say "Where's the proof?". My view is: Who cares? It's a standard to live life by and a way of being that acknowledges the lives of those other than your own. And that's all I've really got to say about that...

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Let It Be


Sometimes friendships or relationships aren't meant to work on paper. It might be because it's a collision of two dyametrically opposed worlds, value systems or cultures. Maybe there's an age gap. Maybe you're an extrovert and they're an introvert. Maybe you're introspective and spiritual and they're highest priority in life is the next episode of the a soap opera or the next incarnation of a brand of shoes. It's classic Hollywood buddy movie stuff or the two lead characters in a romcom that are so different but finally get together before the end credits roll.

Personally, I've experienced all of this in recent years with a few friends and a girlfriend. On occasion it has been frustrating - "why can't you see the world through my prism?", kind of way. Other times, I find myself thinking - "wow, you've surprised/inspired me in a very good way."

There's no template for these things, and as long as there's mutual respect and understanding it's amazing what dynamics work. That's something I continue to learn and certainly I've unravelled a lot of my more rigid thinking over the years. Yes, there's plenty of ego behind it all. And I'm sure some of these individuals would be wondering why on earth I'm sitting here on a Friday morning dissecting and writing about such a subject. No need to analyse and discuss - whatever works, works, they'd say (and have said). So I'm going to (try to) continue to accept how dynamics can play out rather than instinctively refer to some manual on how friendships and relationships are supposed to be shaped. Just let it be.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Lose Yourself


One concept I've tried to ingrain into my being in recent years is to get away from the idea of 'searching' - for meaning, for answers, for peace and so on. Searching, to me, suggests a needy quality of 'absence' or 'lack of' which you're looking to fill with external factors; where you will only be happy if you get a complete answer. I've preferred the concept of 'finding' - like an exciting voyage of discovery - where I am in control of what I choose to take on board. It can be a mismash of things and not a perfect suite.

That all said, I recently fell upon a comment on my sister's Facebook page, which had come from an article in the New York Times. It was all about losing yourself:

‎"Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself."

I don't think there's any right or wrong to all this. Maybe it's all just semantics and maybe you can lose yourself and find yourself at the same time. My angle on 'finding' isn't especially about finding myself it's about finding 'stuff' that works for me - in a joyful positive way, not with a need to fill a gap. Ultimately, it's just about an attitude to life. It's got me thinking again...

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Sign


Once in a while there is a sign. Or rather, once in a while you are willing and open to interpret information received as a sign. And so it has been for me in recent weeks. I got talking to one of the guys at kung fu the other day. He wasn't that overweight before but in the last month or two it was very clear that he had lost a fair bit of weight. Coincidentally, we also use the same gym and as far as I could tell he seemed a bit of a gym bunny, always seeming to put the hours in.

So when I saw the dramatic weight change I asked him about it. He basically said that of late he had introduced a bit more intensity and discipline to his workout. And not only that, he actually had a strategy and structure behind it now rather than “playing at it”, as he put it. We’re all very good at faking it – pretending that we are working hard towards whatever goals we have set when we aren't really. Or if we are putting the effort in and it's not working, sometimes we're not willing to or are just too pig-headed to change strategy. It's got me thinking about my approach to development and hopefully with a tweak or two and a bit more effort I'll be able to push on.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

So Long, Farewell


Last weekend an email went out from my school alumni association telling us all that my ex-headmaster had passed away. I'm not actually sure how old he was because through teenage eyes he already seemed quite old - and that was quite some time ago. Still, it came as a bit of a shock as you sometimes feel that certain people that exist in a bubble were just meant to live forever. At school he taught me A-Level History. I was fortunate enough to be awarded the course prize in both senior years and, ultimately, I went onto university to read History. So it's fair to say he had a bit of a bearing on my path into adulthood.

The thing is I don't actually think of him in the context of the course at all. In fact, he really wasn't that good a teacher. A bit rambly if I remember. But as a person he was just such a charismatic, warm, energetic and genuine kind of guy. Even when I bumped into him in the street many years after both he and I had departed the school, he still had so much to offer in terms of kind words, friendliness, advice and humour. And this whole episode got me thinking about a life coaching technique I know involving leaving a legacy. To set the scene, imagine you've just passed away (not a winning thought but roll with it). A friend stands up at a gathering to read a eulogy on you to all your other friends and family. What would you want your eulogy to say about the life you have led (winning character traits, achievements, people who have loved you, people you've loved)? Then think: What would it actually say if it were to be done truthfully now? A tad morbid, perhaps, but it does get you thinking about what kind of gift you're already giving to the world and the huge amount of other stuff and human potential that you could throw into the mix.

Nobody's perfect and I'm sure the headmaster had as many frailties as the next person. But I will remember him fondly based on what impression he left on me. So, thanks, for everything, Mr Thomson.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Remember The Time


Another Monday, another annoying day. Well, I say annoying - it was just another frustrating day of being me. Can't do this, not good enough at that, don't know how to think creatively - Monday morning thinking for me. Sometimes I get caught up with all the negative noises that are part and parcel of being human. But on the way home from work I had my own mini epiphany:

"Of course I'm very capable and smart and insightful and interesting - I just need to read my blog."

And that's what I've been doing - reading my very own posts from the past. The clever bits, the silly bits, the funny bits, the inspired bits, the emotional bits. It's a simple thing, perhaps, but it's little things like this that can prove to me that I have got what it takes and I'm more than enough. I've shown it in the past and no doubt can prove it to myself again in the future.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Redemption Song


As much as Tinseltown gets a bad rap for the amount of regurgitated, formulaic dross that gets served up on occasion at the cinema, there have been many movie moments that will continue to stand the test of time. One of my favourite films is the Shawshank Redemption, a wonderful movie about the human spirit. Having not seen it for a number of years I caught it again a few weeks ago. It's still great. One quote, though, from the Tim Robbins character still sticks out for me and in a way sums up life in general and not just life in a correctional facility:

"I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really - get busy living or get busy dying"

Too true.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Chapel Of Love


I'm not a monarchist by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I've very often had a negative take on what the British royal family represents historically and in the present (in my eyes). That said, and putting aside the media hysteria, the upcoming wedding between Will and Kate does temper my view for now. For one thing, an event like this does provide a common (more cheerful) bond for the nation as a whole - something that's built out of the more positive than negative. And because I don't live in the UK these days it does fill me with a sense of pride in all that pomp and ceremony that the little island is still very good at throwing into a party. And, of course, we have to wish the happy twosome well - they are just another young couple starting new lives together, albeit very much in the public eye.

So, to Will and Kate, have a special day.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Living Years

I was reading yesterday about the passing of the world’s oldest man, Walter Breuning. He lived to 114 years of age and clearly witnessed a great deal of change on earth. There may not be any magic formula for how to live your life but he certainly had some really interesting things to say about the secret behind his longevity:

- Embrace change, even when the change slaps you in the face. ("Every change is good.")
- Eat two meals a day ("That's all you need.")
- Work as long as you can ("That money's going to come in handy.")
- Help others ("The more you do for others, the better shape you're in.")
- A lesson Breuning said he learned from his grandfather: Accept death.
- He didn't regret anything, and he implored others to follow his philosophy.
- "Everybody says your mind is the most important thing about your body. Your mind and your body. You keep both busy, and by God you'll be here a long time."

This, I guess, represented his guiding principles or inner compass - what made him tick and what he was all about. I certainly can see value in a lot of what he said but it also made me think about what my own template for life is. The clearer it is to me and the more I embrace it, the more I'll be living a life that's true to me, however long that turns out to be. Thanks Walter.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The One And Only

On a personal level, I think it's important to keep on learning and finding ways to expand my mind. And on the basis of this I attended a 'Modern Buddhism' talk and meditation this evening. Hosting the session was a young and spritely fellow, draped in traditional Buddhist robes but clearly representing the new guard.

I've dipped in and out of Buddhist teachings, some parts of which I could apply more easily than others. But the thing that stuck in my mind tonight was a question that the Buddhist said to ask ourselves in times of stress, anger, upset, insecurity etc. The question to ask is, "Am I the only one?". Am I the only one out there stressed at the moment? The only one angry? The only one upset? The answer is clearly "no". But not everyone has as much insight or support or awareness to deal with it as you.

It was partly about perspective but also about seeing yourself as another human being and connecting with that. Problems cause havoc when you keep viewing them along narrow personal terms. The broader the perspective, the more chance for a bit of peace.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Hungry Like The Wolf


This time of year, every year I do a detox. I use the term detox loosely as I feel it's more a re-evaluation of the food and drink being consumed rather than some fashionable diet based on special pills or shakes. I went on a Tony Robbins personal development weekend about six years ago and learned the idea there, and have been implementing it twice a year ever since.

In a nutshell, it's no meat, dairy, caffeine, fried food, artificial sugars, alcohol and nicotine for anywhere between 10 and 20 days. In addition, over the course of the programme you're meant to do a minimum of 15 minutes cardio on at least 6 occasions. On top of that, you're supposed to avoid combining proteins with carbs and to have something like three-quarters of your meals based on fruit or veg - neither which I particularly adhere to as strictly these days. Finally, don't forget to have lots of water.

This detox is part of my calendar and friends and family have got used to it all. The first few times were definitely quite hard, as my diet was in hindsight pretty shocking back then and disciplining myself felt like a chore. But I realised even then that the body needs a rest from the toxins once and a while. The weight loss and the extra energy I found was quite dramatic, particularly as it took a while for me to want to fully go back to my old ways anyway.

My lifestyle has evolved - I drink less, don't smoke (well, rarely), hardly eat dairy, still have a sweet tooth but am more sensible, and generally eat more fruit and vegetables. I even have "no meat Mondays". Something that started out as a bit of an experiment has become part of me. I'm not perfect at it, and I know when I do fall off the wagon it can be with a mighty thud, but overall I think the process is adding more value to my life than taking away.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Holding Back The Years


The whole "trust" thing has really got me thinking over the last few days. I even dug out a book I bought about five years ago entitled "Trust Yourself" by M.J. Ryan. Reading through it now for a second time after all this time it's actually pretty good reading and I would recommend it.

One thing that did come to mind is my habit for hoarding. I blame my mother. She always has been and always will be a hoarder. It's interesting dissecting the whole thing now and beyond the obvious issue of it creating clutter and a more distracted mind. Sometimes it's pure sentimentality. A lot of the hoarding, though, is done out of a "what if" principle. What if I need the three-year old statement sometime in the future, what if I ever decide to take up Spanish, what if flares ever come back into fashion....

My mother's hoarding seems to labour the final point. There are so many things kept in boxes and drawers that are simply no longer relevant. Had they been used and appreciated and then discarded in real time, then that's fair enough. I appreciate the need for keeping certain things for a rainy day, like money obviously. But some of us just hold onto stuff because we're too scared to let go, to take risks, to move on, to trust ourselves and the world that everything will be alright without it.

Simply by addressing this habit bit by bit I think I'm going to see some interesting changes on how I relate to my environment.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

On And On

As readers of this blog will know, I like to dabble with things. Tinker here, tinker there. Add something here, remove something there. It doesn't always show strong tangible benefits but generally I think I’m heading in the right direction by doing / being something.

One thing that I’m looking to develop more, though, is trust. I was listening to an old guided mediation podcast the other day and although I'd listened to it a few times before, this time I heard a new insight. The commentary mentioned that finding peace is all about trust – trusting yourself, trusting your environment, trusting the universe. Essentially, by trusting more, you get more peace.

One of my favourite phrases is “it's better to sweat in peacetime than bleed in war”. So during all those quieter periods in life when I don't actually think I'm making progress, or am losing the will to repeat the much-repeated, I need to trust in the bigger picture and what is working behind the scenes. My efforts are not being wasted. This is fundamental. Preparing the self for whatever life throws.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Stop

We all procrastinate. It could be down to our decision-making style, maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s perfectionism (which to me is just a version of fear), maybe you just place the topic further down your list of to-dos. Plenty of reasons. But we all do it.

What I’m realising more and more in one of those “statement of the very obvious” moments is that once I’ve addressed the issue being procrastinated over it opens up more clarity and opportunities. For me, things that linger can just gnaw away. Sometimes you tolerate it but it’s still eating away somewhere.

I realise energy is important for me - once I have it then comes the momentum. My procrastination has no energy. Actually, it does have some but it's all negative - too often a lot of effort is simply spent on procrastinating, which doesn't help. So all I've got to do is improve my pain / risk threshold, focus on what's important to me and a little less procrastination should lead to a lot better results.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Control

I was thinking the other day about a comment I heard many years ago from the great English footballer, Sir Bobby Charlton. A journalist was asking him about his excellent record when taking penalty kicks. The conversation went something like:

Journalist: So, Sir Bobby, when you used to take penalties were you ever worried that you'd miss?

Sir Bobby: No, I used to hit the ball as hard as I could and let the goalkeeper do the worrying!

It did get me thinking about the idea of controlling the controllable. We all do a fair bit of worrying about what other people are thinking about us and the like. Sometimes we just need to focus on what's ours to control and be the best we can in that context.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

State of Independence

I've been on quite a roll of late in terms of getting things done and working towards goals. I've managed to build up a bit of momentum thanks to a bit more discipline on my part and applying an array of skills and techniques that I've amassed over time in notebooks.

But I had a bit of an enlightening moment at today's kung fun lesson when practicing a sequence of moves. I had learned the moves in question over the last few years and know some like second nature. And yet all too often in recent months I've found myself caught up in the soundtrack inside my head - failure/success/right/wrong/good/bad etc - that doesn't make for a balanced focused experience. Today my instructor could see that I was getting a bit lost in the fog in my head and simply said to put myself in a relaxed and present state, own the space and forget about trying too hard. It worked.

To me it's akin to simply "being" rather than trying hard to do this or do that. You are commencing from the right centred and balanced position. Start from the "being" state first and gradually work towards the "doing". We are, after all, "human beings" and not "human doings".

Friday, 4 March 2011

Too Good To Be Forgotten

Don't you just love YouTube. All those so easily forgotten memories have been brought back to life thanks to the beauty of the worldwide web.

And for some reason a really random song came to mind, from the deepest depths of my younger years: Too Good To Be Forgotten.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHpWX9EkhOk

Yes, it's dated and oh so cheesy but it did bring a smile to my face on a Friday afternoon.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Golden Brown

It's amazing what you can find on the internet to get you thinking and, hopefully, take you to the next level. I fell upon a TED lecture by Brene Brown, an academic researcher, that discusses the concept of vulnerability and "being enough".

It's a great piece - if you get the chance to watch it all, give it a go. It may well expand your perception.
video

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Keep On Believing

I love 'Glee'. It's fun, cheeky, irreverent, poignant and just bursting full of talent. I'm going to talk about my thoughts on the TV programme in more detail another time but there was an interesting comment made in an episode I watched recently.

It was an episode which discussed religion, faith and belief systems and one of the characters, Kurt Hummel, was having a crisis in this space - he simply wanted to block that world out.

It's not for me to say what people should or shouldn't believe in but I liked what Kurt's friend, Mercedes Jones, said. To paraphrase, she felt that we've all got to believe in something - something you can’t just taste, touch or see. We're bigger than that. The idea of believing in something that can't be measured, that shows that we exist beyond the tangible information put in front of our face. Maybe it's just about trusting in something good.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Year of The Cat


Kung Hei Fat Choi! Or at least that's the Happy Chinese New Year that Cantonese speakers worldwide will be embracing.

It's been quite interesting reading the stir that excerpts from 'Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mom' have engendered. This is the book written by Amy Chua, Yale law professor and self-described "tiger mother". Amy was born and raised in the US but was given what she terms as traditional "Chinese parenting". It is a form of authoritarian parenthood that she has used on her own daughters that is quite shocking to some observers: never accepting a grade lower than an A, insisting on hours of maths and spelling drills and violin and piano practice of up to six hours each day until they got pieces right, calling her daughter "garbage" when she acted disrespectfully, and not allowing television or computer games or even school plays.

The backlash has been very vocal. Critics in the US call her a "monster" and ask "where is the love, the acceptance?". Amy insists that she is doing it out of love, positioning her children for the "tough world", where Western/US parenting creates weak-willed children less geared towards hard work, with less focus.

I think Amy's approach is certainly an extreme one and not one that encourages the development of free-spirited individuals. But I have to say, having lived in both Asian and a US cultures, I do see some things I want to glean from it. I'm looking at it more from the angle of focus and discipline, keeping the eye on the prize, repetition and practice to achieve goals, praising hard work rather than simple success, better utilisation of time and so on.

Her tone and approach may have a lot to be desired but a less extreme version has its merits and we'll see whether this is reflected in more of an the economic shift from West to East in coming decades. In hindsight (and it is pure hindsight), I kind of wish that I'd been given more of a push at different times in my life.

So as we enter the Chinese year of the rabbit, it's worth thinking about some of the messages from the "big cat mothers" - a bit more focus and diligence could make this your year as well.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Work Song

This month seems to be flying by! I've just been so busy being so busy in recent weeks. So busy in fact that I haven't had a chance to play with my blog.

So it seems apt that the inspirational comments that came over my email today was as follows:

"Are we there yet? How often do you find yourself anxious to get 'there'? Are you over focused on the destination? How about enjoying the journey and not just the destination."

Time to enjoy.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

It Only Takes A Minute


I've been reading a fascinating book called ‘59 Seconds’. In a nutshell it packages itself as a personal development book with a difference. It bases its wisdom and insights on scientifically-underpinned results. These are simple ideas that can be learned within a minute (hence the name). Social psychologists are always doing tests on something and this book aims to synthesize the outcomes of all kinds of experiments on human lab rats. And interesting stuff it is too.

I’ve read a lot of development books in my time and I've often wondered how much of the advice is the genuine article or simply old wives tales, half truths or simply regurgitated stuff that people kind of believe is true without even testing the water. Yes, you can still question causation and coincidence with some of the experiments outlined in this book but it did get me thinking.

One of the tests revolved around how children behaved when they are given the option of getting instant reward in the form of a chocolate or accepting a better reward in the form of two chocolates. The theory is that some want gratification now rather than to wait for something that will turn out to be better. A bird in the hand types to some degree. The research behind the tests suggests that those that show more patience have tended to be more successful over their lives. Naturally, it got me thinking about how I've lived my life. Too often I've had a need to get results in the now, which has provided my ‘sugar rush’ but hasn’t had a lasting impact. Playing the long game has not always been a strong suit. But the boffins have a view on balancing up the instant fix with the benefits of playing the long game. I’m definitely being more conscious about thinking and shaping ahead. It's not too late to plan for tomorrow.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Only You


I was walking down the street when I heard the old Platters song 'Only You' belting out of a shop doorway. It's one of those oldies but goodies you rarely hear, even on old school radio.

But here it was talking to me. I say talking to me as I was having one of those early-year, post-resolution-setting moments of aaaggghhh!!!

The day's gym effort had been pretty feeble even in the context of recent less than stellar efforts. The plan to push on with more life coaching had hit invisible speed bumps. My guitar heroics hadn't quite turned me into the next Eric Clapton. And, quite frankly, I was getting nowhere fast really. I always had excuses. It was the weather, the water, the whatever. And then I heard the song and remembered it was all down to me:

Only you can make this world seem right
Only you can make the darkness bright
Only you and you alone
Can thrill me like you do
And fill my heart with love for only you

Only you can make this change in me
For it's true, you are my destiny
When you hold my hand
I understand the magic that you do
You're my dream come true
My one and only you

Cool.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Boxer


Yesterday I heard the sad news of the tragic passing of ex-British heavyweight boxing champion Gary Mason. He was only 48 years old.

His was a story of a man with so much unfulfilled potential who didn't quite get the luck he deserved. As British champion he fought in a unification bout with the then European champion, Lennox Lewis. At the time Gary had an unblemished fighting record and was favourite to win against the relative upstart. It was winner takes all - and little did we know how this was to play out. Lennox won the fight by technical knockout and never looked back. Because of eye injury Gary's career started to wind down, despite him never losing again. 37 victories, 34 of which were by knockout, and that one solitary defeat. Quite a boxing career.

Why do I have such an interest in him? He was my next-door neighbour in South London for a number of years when I was growing up. That, and the fact he was genuinely a very generous, humble, articulate and decent guy. And with a smile on his face. I still remember setting off early every morning to do my paper round only to see him already putting the hard graft into his training. He was committed. He tried.

After his career ended he tried his hand at a number of ventures - I still remember his "Punch and Jewellery" shop. If the initiative didn't work out, and more often than not it didn't, he'd try something else. And so he continued. But still with a smile on his face and with a positive expectation out of life. I've flicked through quite a few tributes over the internet - some knew him, some had just been inspired by him. He wasn't part of the badaaass, gangsta heavyweight merry-go-round that served some boxers; nor did he play pantomine dame for public adulation. He was just good at what he did and let that do the talking.

He could have been more than a contender (and had he being plying his trade today there would be no doubt. But he was sandwiched between the Frank Bruno and Lennox Lewis eras. It just wasn't to be.

So farewell, big man. Keep that laughing large and loud wherever you are.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Begin The Beguine


Happy New Year!

It's that time of year again - fresh promise, new inspirations and bold aspirations. Everything is possible over 2011... Okay, we've all been here before. In fact, it only seems like so many of us were having these thoughts about 12 months ago - and it didn't quite pan out as planned... Regardless of previous efforts, once in a while we still need to be able to re-set our dial to point us in a direction we feel is right for us.

Personally, I like to think that this could take place at any given time within the year, rather than package it in the hype and pressures of New Year resolutions. But an unexamined life isn't worth living (or something like that), so any calendar mechanism that allows us to re-think how and why we you are doing what we are doing can only be a good thing, particularly if it helps us to undertake positive change.

I'm taking on a few more focused goals for 2011, including making more out of this blog. Hopefully some of you will join me on the journey this year - or join me with my dance, as a "beguine" apparently is.

Hopefully we can all start the year as we mean to go on...