October Reading List

Hi again. More books.

Most of the books I’ve read over the past few months have been fiction. As you can probably guess from my previous lists, I read a lot of non-fiction. I enjoy it but haven’t lost myself in a lot of good stories for a while.

Naturally, during the last few months, nearly all of my books have been fiction.

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday 

A book about the problems our ego presents to us.

An easy way to explain this is like so: our ego makes us extremely interested and concerned about our personal image and how we’re viewed to others. As a result, we tend to focus less on the important tasks we have to focus on and more on how to protect the image we’ve built of ourselves.

It took me a while to get round to this book. I didn’t agree with a lot of it at first because I felt that he argued ego causes more problems than it actually does. However, after re-reading sections, I came to understand the book better and thought his argument was interesting.

It is when we care less for ego and more for the important things in life that we produce valuable work. Instead of always thinking about how feel. How can improve the lives of others?

Amazon.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Brilliant.

I’m very late to get to this book but damn. I loved all of it.

Towards the end of Stalin’s regime, there is a killer who targets children and murders them in horrific ways. Leo, a secret police officer, changes his ways completely in search for this person and risks his career, his life and his wife in the process.

I suck at describing books but read it. Please? Thanks.

Amazon.

One by One by Chris Carter 

Another thriller. Another great ride.

A man calls Detective Robert Hunter’s desk and asks him to go to a website. He sees a man in a glass box, restrained against a chair. The caller asks Hunter, “Fire or water? How do you want him to die?”

The whole book had me on edge and the ending was… interesting.

I also love Robert Hunter now. He’s one of those Jason Bourne type guys. Chris Carter can write a damn good crime thriller. I’ll definitely read more (thankfully, there are about 7 in the series).

Amazon.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Duckworth’s work has been getting a lot of praise among the self-improvement sphere for a while now. And for very good reason.

She studies grit. The combination of passion and perseverance. Continuing with tasks even if they get difficult or boring. In the book, she wants to understand why certain people are more ‘successful’ than others in a variety of tasks ranging from completing the brutal Beast Barracks training in the United States Military Academy to university students getting top grades. It’s not intelligence, wealth, height or any physical attribute that is the best predictor of success. It’s grit.

Her work is entertaining to read and every point she makes is well supported. However, I also admire that she’s open to admitting the shortcomings of her research and questions that can be explored further.

There’s a lot of valuable information to gain from it. Including why perseverance with goals is very helpful but less common than you’d imagine and how to foster grit in other people. I want to explore it in more detail as I think the ideas are worthy of much more consideration.

And Emilia Lahti is her student and she’s the nicest person ever.

Amazon. 


As always, thanks for reading!

Follow me on twitter @improvingslowly and like my Facebook page: Improving Slowly!

Create Without Expectation

I write a lot in my journal. As of today I’ve written over 560,000 words. I don’t expect it to make sense or answer any of the burning questions I might have had throughout the day. It’s easy to write in my journal because I don’t really care much about how sentences read or whether the whole idea is coherent.

In part, writing becomes easy because it’s done without expectation.

I don’t expect perfection. If I have an idea, it’s not a big deal if it doesn’t come out the way I imagined. It can be written and changed around a little bit. Perfection isn’t a goal and that breaks down fear I might when I want to create something.

Writing for an audience (however small or big) seems to create expectations that paralyse progress. It’s easy to have big ideas that need to be broken down into a multi-part series or might be shared with more people than ever before. Holding those expectations over your head inevitably raises questions like:

  1. What if it isn’t shared with anyone?
  2. What if it is shared and no one likes it?
  3. Will it be helpful?
  4. Will people laugh because of what I’ve written or laugh at it?

And so on.

When we think about writing and making it reality, we might fear it won’t live up to the standard we’ve set ourselves. If we write it, we’ll only prove to ourselves that we never should have started in the first place. If we write, we’ll only make a fool of ourselves.

Expectations shouldn’t be hindering our progress. Sometimes, it’s best to do without them and just see what can be created. Sometimes, that can be the most fun. My example is when I wrote The Aspiring Writer. It would have been easy to shelve the idea because no one would enjoy it or it might be confusing. That voice is in the back of my head whenever I’m writing something but it would be sad if it stopped me from creating completely.

After trying to abandon my expectations I’ve found that I’m pretty bad at judging my own work because it always tends towards the critical rather than celebratory. Which is neither balanced nor helpful. The critical voice is quieter because I let it pass rather than believing it to be 100% true.

If you have any creative project but seem to be paralysed by fear, create without expectation. Throw them into a river and watch them float away.

You see your project as it is rather than what it might be and create without paralysing fear.

***

This doesn’t mean that you can’t want things to be good.

You’re allowed to create and change it afterwards. However, it does mean your expectations shouldn’t stop your from sharing it with others. If we think we can improve it, we’re always allowed to. We don’t need to demand perfection straight away.

The Aspiring Writer

“I think I want to get into writing.”

“I’ve been working on a novel myself actually.”

“Oh, really? How long have you been working on it for?”

“A few years.”

“I only started this whole writing thing a few months ago. Nearly finished, then?”

“Fortunately, not that much. It’s in the early beta stages but I’ll get there. I need to do some more aspiring before I get to the writing.”

“Don’t you want to get it done?”

“No. That’s the best part. I am an aspiring writer. Not a writer. I don’t have to do any of the hard work but I’ll still look like I am. I can just say I’m working on it and by that I mean procrastinating.”

“Working means procrastinating in your world?”

“Yes it does. Working is procrastinating since it gives all the benefits without any of the honesty. My novel is really grand. It’s a story of a protagonist who is best friends with his opposite and gets jealous of how successful he is. The protagonist is me. The friend is imaginary just like my real life ones.”

“This is getting quite personal. Sorry if I’ve awoken any demons here…”

“Oh no, that’s fine. My demons are visible for everyone to see. In fact, I’ll probably write about them some day.”

“I hope you get round to that.”

“So do I. I’m sure it’d be a great read.”

“I’m not looking to write a novel. I think I want to write a children’s book.”

“I couldn’t do that within any deadline.”

“It’s going to be about a girl who wants to be a comedian but her parents thinks she’s too pretty to be funny. Then she’ll try making herself as ugly as possible by painting her face and wearing her brother’s clothes all the time.”

“Haha, sounds like a fun story”

“Thank you very much. I really hope it makes a statement about gender roles in society because it really needs to be said. But in a more light-hearted manner”

“When will you release your Magnum Opus to the world?”

“Oh I have no idea. I’ve just been busy.”

“Ah yes, that pesky busy-ness that seems to plague all of us. What are we even busy with? Coffees and ‘work’?”

“Don’t mock what I’m saying. I’ve just been busy – it’s on the back burner.”

“I get busy too. Facebook and twitter are just so blue. Like my feelings lately. Writing is just so torturous.”

“But you don’t write? You just ‘aspire’.”

“Yes, that’s what I meant. Thinking about writing is so torturous I don’t do any of it. It makes it less like torture and more like a romanticized struggle between pen, paper and a fleeting mind”

“It can’t be that difficult, can it?”

“Oh it really is. You just have to trust me. Are you going to finish your cake by the way?”

“No, please, help yourself. Can you continue the thought about struggles?”

“Yes I will. Just couldn’t pass up on a lonely triple chocolate muffin. Anyway, in its simplest form, I think a lot of my work is going to be rubbish so I don’t write anything. It gives me the excuse to hold onto the idealised form in my head and reminisce in what could have been had I actually had the desire to sit down and write.”

“Hmm. My work might be terrible and that’s really scary.”

“All aspiring writers know that it’s meant to be scary. We’ve all read On Writing by Stephen King a few times and still don’t want to face that fear. I certainly don’t. That’s not in my job description.”

“I’m not an aspiring writer. I’m a writer! And I haven’t even read On Writing. I read a lot of children’s books and cartoons for inspiration.”

“Sorry for offending you. I just thought that since you haven’t actually done any writing but say you want to, you’re an aspiring writer.”

“I’m far different from you.”

“You definitely are. Your hair is brown.”

“I mean about this whole writing thing. I’m actually going to write and you’ve made it very clear you don’t even want to.”

“OK, OK. I’ll believe you. You really want to write but don’t write.”

“Because I’m busy.”

“You’re busy.”

“I really am. I have a job.”

“So do I. You’re not too good at this whole spot the differences thing.”

“I’ve always wanted to write sto-“

“Write stories and books and even plays ever since I could remember.”

“Don’t be so rude. You know what I mean.”

“Apparently I don’t.”

“No. You don’t. Writing makes me feel like an armless, legless-“

“-man with a crayon in my mouth. Pity. I don’t want to feel like that.”

“And you never will since you don’t write.”

“Perfect.”

“I’m quite tired and should get going. I have some things to do. I think I’ll start my children’s book today. You’ve inspired me.”

“No no, I aspire. Not inspire.”

“I’ll get started tonight and send you my first draft.”

“I wish you the best of luck. You’ll need it as an armless, legless man. Do you want my email, twitter or anything?”

“When I finish it, I’ll find you.”

“I’m confident you won’t.”

“Find you or finish it?”

“Both.”

“Enjoy your aspiring.”

“Enjoy yours too.”

“I’m a writer.”

“And sooooo am I.”

Writing every day for a year

On January 29th 2014, I decided to start a journal. My main motivation at the time was to get better at writing. To get better, I’d need to practise regularly. I’m not sure how much improved over that time but I feel that I’ve learned a lot about habits, writing and myself.

1. Consistency is incredibly important

At the moment, I’ve written over 380,000 words. A year ago, that would have sounded like an impossible task. “380,000 words of what? That’s over 1000 words a day!” Thankfully, I’ve shown myself it isn’t impossible. In fact, it wasn’t very difficult.

I’ve only managed this because of consistency. Every day, I sat down and had the goal of writing 750 words. It was a fairly small starting point that could be spread over the day so I didn’t feel overwhelmed at the idea. Then the next day would come and I’d do the same thing again. At the end of the month, I had written over 20,000 words.

When you start something, every step forward brings you closer to your goal. Even if the step is extremely small. At times, the end might seem extremely far away. But after a while, you’ll be a quarter of the way there. Then halfway. Then you’ll have reached it.

Keep walking forward and eventually you’ll get to the finish line.

2. Habits will get easier

Nowadays, not writing every day feels extremely weird. It’s become a normal part of my life.

However, I remember the first weeks when I found writing daily difficult and exhausting. There were days when I wouldn’t want to do anything let alone write. It was out of the ordinary and required a lot of energy.

This process is the same for many lifestyle changes. When you’re trying to lose weight, junk food has an almost seductive pull on us. When you’re trying to read regularly, watching TV feels like an ice cold drink on a hot day.

Falling back into previous habits at the beginning is really easy to do because we’re so used to them. We aren’t used to the challenge.

Getting past the initial challenge of any lifestyle change can be difficult. The first month of a habit change are the days where people give up. Making it your goal to get past the first week and month will mean the remainder gets steadily easier. You’ll get used to the habit and it’ll no longer feel like a chore. You’ll probably begin to enjoy it.

That isn’t to say every day will be easy after a month. There will be some days where you’ll find the habit difficult or even frustrating. You won’t regret pushing past that difficulty as you’ll keep your streak going and later feel empowered by the fact. If you do slip up, that is no reason to quit completely. Just dust yourself off and get back on it the next day. You’ve shown yourself you can make some progress, so set yourself the challenge of doing even better.

The knowledge that habits get easier is helpful when we decide to start other habits. If we’ve experienced making one habit a regular thing, that transfers to other areas of our lives. Going to the gym regularly might actually happen!

3. You can be proud of something

Perhaps one of the most satisfying takeaways from keeping this habit going for so long is that I’m proud of what I’ve done. I can say to myself “I’ve written every day for a year without fail!” 

The old adage “The best time to get started was 20 years ago. The second best time is now” holds some truth. Keeping a positive habit going for an extended time is something only you can do. Other people can’t do the habit for you. That’s what makes it so wonderful. It’s a demonstration of concentrated effort and persistence.

Take any goal or project you want to make progress towards. Now imagine you’ve been working on it for a year already.

That’s a lot of progress right? Especially in comparison to doing nothing at all. You’re capable of working on something for a sustained period of time if we start small and take small steps forward. Always keeping the big goal in mind need not be overwhelming if we just focus on what we’re doing at the current moment. Writing 750 words a day is far less daunting than writing half a million words in two years.

4. Writing is human

Spending so much time journalling has granted me the opportunity to make some observations about it. Writing is one of the most beautiful yet difficult ways for us to express our thoughts and emotions.

It’s extremely unlikely we’re going to feel exactly the same throughout the whole year. Spending some time writing every day is an implicit log of how you might feel during that day. Even if you’re not writing about yourself. I’ve observed a lot of change this year with how I approach myself, other people and my days.

I’ve felt extremely happy. I’ve felt at peace. I’ve felt just ok. I’ve been so sad I can barely concentrate on anything I’m writing. I’ve felt a lot of things. You probably do too. Being able to witness that change is interesting and somewhat humbling. At the moment, my health isn’t too great and my feelings of despair has frequently shown itself in my journal. However, the fact that I’m still writing through difficult times shows that I’m able to have a conversation with myself. The habit of writing has continued in the background and is not too dissimilar to the teddy bear we had when we were younger.

Writing is so very human. I recommend regular journalling to everyone. 

***

I journalled on 750words.com. It’s a simple and useful site that logs things like how many words you’ve written and how fast it was done. Unfortunately, it’s limited to 30 days of writing and you have to pay for a membership if you want to continue. If you want any alternatives, just let me know. But, you can start journalling with a pen and paper! That’s how I started :)

I wrote a post on my thoughts of writing every day after a month so if you want to know what I thought at the very beginning, you can read it here.

I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts about habits, writing or this post in general. Do you write regularly? Do you have a habit you’re proud of?

I’m 19

Yesterday was my nineteenth birthday. I thought it would be worthwhile to share my thoughts on the year that’s just passed and things I have planned for the future. It probably won’t all be positive but that’s ok. Reviews are done so the future can be improved.

Looking back on the past year 

  • University

I started university last September and began studying philosophy. I’ve had to learn to become much more independent and proactive. Simple things like no longer having a structured school day could have resulted in excessive procrastination because I have so much more freedom from things. I’m no longer told to wake up at a certain time or even read relevant books. All of that is up to me now and I think it’s been more of a positive than a negative. It’s allowed me to break the basic monotony of going to school then completing homework. Now, I can travel around London whenever I want or sleep in then order pizza. The new found freedom has been nice but it does have its downsides. It requires a lot more self control since it’s much easier to travel in the right direction when there are signs everywhere but now there aren’t. I’m meant to be an adult now. I’m not. But I’m meant to be. I’ll get there eventually.

  • New Habits

I’ve also started writing and meditating regularly. These two habits have been the most beneficial things I’ve started doing and I hope to continue them with increasing volume over the next few months and years. Writing for this blog and my private journal has taught me a few important things. I know that I enjoy writing and researching articles related to personal development and similar areas. I know that I have many more ideas than I once thought I did about the world. Even if they’re based on poor information and faulty arguments, it’s something that I’ll slowly develop and work on. For the better ideas I have, writing about them is improving my ability to express myself clearly and effectively.

  • A Few Negatives 

Unfortunately, this year hasn’t gone without the bad. This year marked the 5th year of my chronic pain and leg injuries. That’s a difficult thing to say because of how normal it sounds. Over the years I’ve met a lot of new people and this means that nearly all of my friends at the moment know me as the person who is always on crutches. The pain appears quiet but it is as loud as the moment I first noticed it. Being in pain every day for over five years has started to take its toll on my mental health. My various coping mechanisms are struggling to handle just how prominent all of these medical problems are in my life. This year alone I’ve had two operations in the space of four months. It’s difficult and definitely hasn’t been the brightest part of my year but I’ll remain optimistic about there actually being an end to all of this even though the tunnel could not seem more dark.

Looking forward

I have a few simple goals for the next year. For now, they’ll be vague. I have reasons for that and I’ll say why in a future post (if I remember :D)

  • Writing 

I have a whole summer ahead of me and I hope to take writing, for this blog and possibly elsewhere, much more seriously. I say ‘seriously’ to mean I’ll dedicate more time to it, not to mean I’ll suck out all the possible fun from it in order to make it profitable or anything like that. I have been thinking about a number of posts I’m excited to write about and you should enjoy reading them too. One of the biggest posts (which will probably be a small series) is about why the world isn’t as bad as it may appear. For a long time I’ve had the desire to explain to myself and others why it’s better to put your money on the world improving as a whole rather than it getting worse. Another one is to expand on what it’s like to live with chronic pain. It will be personal to me so it won’t be a universal guide for people who haven’t experienced it but wish to learn more. Nonetheless, I still hope it’ll be useful, if not engaging, for some.

  • Personal projects 

The desire to learn everything can be infectious. However, I have narrowed that desire to a few things. Those being, computer science (mainly programming but I wish to eventually learn more about artificial intelligence) and learning languages (Polish and German). Those two areas have stood out to me the most because they are the most interesting and useful.

  • Health 

This will probably be the most ambitious of my hopes given my past track record but it’s worth a shot.

I hope to be walking normally again before I’m 20 and spend a whole week without worrying about my chronic pain. If I had to say which one was more probable, it would be the end of my chronic pain.

Overall view

This year has definitely had its difficult moment but it hasn’t all been terrible. Hopefully, there will be much better content to come and it’ll be a good year for all of us.

I’ll add that the inspiration to do this post came from Scott Young at scotthyoung.com. If you haven’t read any of his stuff, I strongly recommend it.

 

I tried cooking my sister

I found the small stool I used to reach the sink when I brush my teeth and placed it down in front of me. I could now reach everything I needed. The fiery circles mum puts the pots on, the big wooden spoons and carrots. I climbed on top of the counter and put everything I needed in front of me.

Then I saw her. She thought smiling and kicking her feet would change her fate but not today. She took all of mum’s attention by screaming and crying whenever she felt like it. I no longer had story time because mum was too tired from looking after her all day. She also got more presents than me last Christmas.

Today that would all change.

I tried to make the fiery circles work. I didn’t know all of the dials and buttons mum used to make it work. It looked like a spaceship and I didn’t have any training for that so I had to find another way to complete my plan.

I walked over to my sister and tried to pick her up. I thought babies were meant to be small? Carrying her felt like the holding all my school books at once. I didn’t want to hurt her so I put her down and she stumbled her way into the kitchen.

I opened the oven and she gleefully climbed in. I put the carrots in for flavour since that’s what happens in all the movies and waited.

My mum warned me against having cookies when she wasn’t around but she was sleeping this time – so it was kind of ok, right? I thought so. I climbed onto the counter and tried opening the cupboard where she kept them but the worst thing possible happened. They fell onto the floor.

She shot up from her bed, rushed downstairs and caught me staring at the cookie jar that was smashed to pieces. I tried running past her but she blocked the doorway and asked me where my sister was.

My plan was falling apart.

After she took my sister out of the oven, I ran upstairs to hide under the covers in the hope that she’d forget about everything. She didn’t.

I expected to hear “You’re grounded forever!” or “You’re never allowed to eat in this house again!” Instead she walked into my room and said:

“You didn’t turn the oven on.”

I wasn’t allowed any cookies for a whole week.

***

26/08/13: This also relates to a daily prompt :) However, I’m not sure I would call myself a comedian.

Weekly Writing Challenge: I remember

The clouds were dark and a soft breeze stroked the grass. Maybe it would rain. The weather was unpredictable but right now; it was perfect. I took a slow jog out of the changing room, heard the familiar cheer of my teammates behind me and the daunting stare of my coach greeted me at the top of the pitch. He never said much, but his general stance gave me an impression of fear, respect and comfort.

He wished our team luck and we went on our way to play one of the most important matches of the year.

It started as a high energy encounter. Both teams fought for that oval shaped ball as if their lives depended on it. There was blood, shouting from the small crowd of friends and parents, encouragement from friends. Most importantly, I was on top of the world. Running towards the try line with only winning on my mind gave me a feeling that I cannot replicate. I felt at peace despite being among so much destruction.

Peace among destruction. A wonderful state I have yet to experience again. One poor tackle made that so. I was left to watch the match on the sideline in pain as I struggled to walk again.

It took a few months to understand what had happened. But I’m reminded of it everyday. One of the most important matches of the year turned into the most significant match of my life.

I wasn’t to play the sport again.

***

I wasn’t expecting that to be my second post but it was an interesting challenge. You can get a lot done in ten minutes! Do you have any important memories you want to share?

Here is a link to the challenge.