Simply Be.

This is my birds and the b talk

We sit, stand, lie and stay still. We close our eyes, relax our face and breathe in deeply to the slow count of three. Hold it and notice how everything stopped, if only for this moment, for you to focus on this one breath.

Now the time to breathe out begins. Again to the count of three.

We notice how the calm air feels on our upper lip or how our chest falls as our lungs slowly empty.

The world has slowed to the beat of One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three.

That’s what it means to simply be.

Taking the time to find pockets of stillness in your day is important for it is one of the few times where we cannot be consumed by the anxiety of the future or beaten up by regrets of the past. No longer living at the pace of other people’s agendas or taking the frequent journey into our negative thoughts.

The thoughts that bombard us and attempt to dictate how we feel are allowed to pass for what they are. Unimportant.

As with many people, I’ve had multiple moments when I begin to worry nearly endlessly about what the future holds and my inability to control what’s ahead of me. It drags me away from the good things that I’m probably experiencing right now, no matter how small. But sitting down to meditate reminds me to notice the present. To enjoy it for what it is.

It does not force calmness onto any person but it begins to cultivate a habit of staying calm in the face of stressful moments. The act of remembering to appreciate the present instead of getting lost in the future. Taking time to be instead of imagining the worst.

The worrying slows because we don’t attach judgements to the thoughts that fly through our heads, nor do we linger and follow them. When we are still, the thoughts leave our minds with the same speed they joined us with.

Observing this is remarkable. It separates us from the thoughts we have about ourselves and the other things out there in the world. Ever so slowly I begin to understand why there’s so much joy in being as still as possible. There are many really convincing thoughts that fly through our heads – usually about how bad we are at something or a flaw that’s “obviously” irreparable. Spending more time building pockets of stillness into our day forces us to slow down. And more importantly, it doesn’t mean that we analyse the thought in order to determine whether the thought it true for that is a battle easily lost.

We can let it pass. Attach nothing to it. No judgement, no reaction just acknowledgement.

By doing this, we come to better understand that so many of the thoughts which plague us leave our heads then join us again. Then leave again. They aren’t stitched into the fabric of our minds.

This isn’t easy. Stillness doesn’t cure depression or anxiety. It builds appreciation of slowing down and experiencing the day more on our own terms.

We Simply Be. We do not live for the future nor dwell in the past. We experience how we are at the present moment.

simply-be-web

Pockets of stillness can be difficult to make and difficult to sustain. Especially if you can’t find an immediate reward to the practice. To that I say, simply keep trying – it’s worthwhile.

Meditation is a practice not a solution. It’s something you do and keep doing. In the process, you appreciate its rewards. The journey doesn’t end when you’ve reached your first “moment of stillness” – these pass too. With stillness, you won’t find perfection every day. What you can find is a separation from hectic thoughts and negative judgements. For all you do is be.

How can you build more pockets of stillness in your day?

  • Meditate for 2 minutes in the morning.
  • Slow down when you eat, appreciate the flavours and smells of your food.
  • Take 15 minutes of your morning and make it yours. No time for emails, messages, or mindless web browsing.

And so on.

Remember, to simply be, we…

…sit, stand, lie and stay still. We close our eyes, relax our face and breathe in deeply to the slow count of three. Hold it and notice how everything stops, if only for this moment, for you to focus on this one breath.

Now we breathe out. Again to the count of three.

We notice how the calm air feels on our upper lip or how our chest falls as our lungs slowly empty.

The world slows to the beat of One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three.


As always, thanks for reading :)

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5 lessons from writing every day for 3 years

January 28th 2014, I challenged myself to write every day for a month. I wanted to improve my writing and thought the best was to write more.

Over 1000 days and 1 million words later, I’m still going and have no temptation to stop.

I want to share a few things I’ve learned from writing consistently for three years.

  1. It’s possible.

After my 30 day challenge, I realised  it was something I enjoyed it and decided to continue. The streak was still young so I wasn’t concerned about breaking the streak.

Without noticing, it slowly evolved into something much bigger that I could have expected. I’d wake up, and want to write. I’d think about my day and make sure that I could find the time for writing. I’d tell friends while on holiday that I’m going to disappear for 15 minutes and write a bit.

I’d carve out time instead of just hoping that I’d be able to get round to it. As the streak grew and grew, I became more attached to it.

Did I aim for 3 years? Never. If I did, I don’t think I would have achieved it.

Thankfully, this applies to other habits as well. With some persistence, the habit eventually grows into something you can’t not do instead of something you try to do.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

2. It’s OK to write bullshit.

So much of me is glad that I haven’t sat down to just publish everything in the journal. Half of it doesn’t make sense and the other half just repeats the same thing.

You can dance like no one is watching and you can write like no one is reading. It’s yours.

Surprisingly enough this gave me the confidence to write work then publish it because the first draft of your work is yours and hidden away. Write like no one is reading then edit the life into it. It doesn’t matter how repetitive, boring, and verbose it is.

Good writing comes from writing loads then editing the rubbish away.

Write. Write. Then edit a bit more.

3. It’ll pass.

For those who don’t know, I deal with chronic pain. I’ve written a lot about it in my journal (and much of that led to me writing Living With Chronic Pain) but I’ve also noticed that in the darkest times I’ve experienced, I’ve felt that it’s going to go on forever. It doesn’t.

Emotions pass with time. Especially if you give yourself permission not to latch onto them and see what it’s like to let them go.

This doesn’t mean the depression will just leave or the anxiety will turn into comfort but I do have a greater appreciation of myself and the problems I see myself experiencing. There’s a lot of shit that comes with disability or just living life in general. Having a log of some emotions is somewhat nice.

With time things pass. And that is comforting.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

4. You learn more about yourself.

Occasionally, I’d just spend time writing about my day. Maybe I had a particularly good day and I wanted more time to experience it and relive it as best I can.

Then I moved onto writing more about myself and the values that I hold. It’d take some struggle and time because I often didn’t know what I believed about myself and the world. It was something I’d studied but never really taken the time to reflect and learn.

It took a lot of time but the value in being slightly more reflective, even if it is 15 minutes every week or month, is remarkable. It showed me that there’s still so much for me to learn and improve upon as a person. How to treat other people better and with more respect or even how to treat yourself with more respect.

Taking time to reflect is important. Writing about it occasionally is helpful and better yet gives you a log of how your views have changed over time.

5. It’s OK to change your mind.

When I would sit down and write about something substantial, I’d occasionally find myself just changing my mind. Sometimes I’d dislike it.

But changing your mind is vital to being able to assess the world honestly. It’s uncomfortable. But worthwhile. Most worthwhile things are difficult.

And those are some of the things I’ve learned. It’s been enjoyable and something I hope to continue. As the streak grew, I gained more and more confidence in my ability to keep long streaks like this going. When I reached 2.5 years, getting to 3 years felt easy. When I was at 30 days, getting to 60 seemed impossible.

Start one day at a time. Ignore the end goal and focus solely on creating.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

Now if only I could apply this to the blog…


As always, thanks for reading :)

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Have you ever tried maintaining a journal?

Should You Follow Your Own Advice?

The first answer seems to be yes. If you’re giving advice, you must think it’s good to follow therefore you should too.

I don’t think the answer is obvious. There are situations when you can give advice without following it yourself and still be in a good position.

Unpacking the question of whether you should follow your own advice is valuable in a few ways. The first is that it’s  interesting (to me, at least) and second, it gives us the chance to think about whether the advice we’re giving is useful.

Not following your own advice

There are a number of situations when not following your own advice is perfectly fine or even the right thing to do.

In 2005, Steve Jobs gave a commencement speech at Stanford. He said to the students ‘follow your heart’. That advice, as argued by Cal Newport, he didn’t follow. He didn’t seem to be the most passionate about technology or start-ups but ended up becoming a leading influence within technology and his effects are still felt today.

Whether or not this argument is convincing, similar things happen to other people. Leo Babauta recently admitted he’d stopped focusing on single tasks (although he wants to return) and still produces great work every day.

Despite writing Create Without Expectation, I still find it difficult to rid myself of paralysing expectations to do well.

You’ve probably given advice, not followed it, yet still achieved what you want.

In these examples, there are two themes.

In the example of Leo, he’s graduated his advice and can now handle more than the person he’s giving his advice to.

He’s no longer like the person he’s advising.

This doesn’t need to be elitist. When we start learning maths, we’re taught techniques that a teacher would no longer use. The advice is still valuable for the beginner but not for the advanced person.

If a person is sufficiently advanced enough to know the effects of following the advice, they can give advice without following it themselves. For example, fat dietitians or personal trainers can still give useful advice about losing weight and doing proper exercises.

In the example of Steve Jobs, it’s possible that the advice simply isn’t very good, too vague or unrealistic.

Who can give advice?

Anyone.

It’s easy to give advice. There are many people who give relationship advice without ever being in a relationship or people who talk about beating procrastination despite being the worst procrastinators.

The requirement for advice giving is low.

A lot of advice seems to be personal experience with a self-proclaimed detachment from the situation. Personal experience adds credibility because we then know that it’s at least worked for one person and that person has no reason to lie to us (assuming they’re trusted). Objectivity helps because they can analyse the situation a few more ways than you might have yourself.

Following advice, even if it’s good, is harder. The advice giver is nearly in opposition to the person receiving it. They are attached to the situation and the problem becomes very personal to them when the advice giver tends to be very detached.

“When we think about other people, and what might be right for them, it’s a lot easier to see them as the big picture. It’s much harder to apply that big-picture perspective to ourselves.”

Hal Hershfield

It’s when advice giving and advice reception is complementary we make progress. In order to make these two position complementary, I’ve found it helpful to reduce the importance of objectivity and practice more empathy.

How should we give advice?

Advice can still be good without the advice giver following it themselves. Different situations often demand different types of advice.

However, what seems to be more likely is that by giving advice to other people, you’re giving advice to yourself. This means you’re in similar positions. Should you follow your own advice in this situation? Yes, if you have some desire to change.

If you can’t, it might speak to the quality of advice you’re giving. Which brings us to why the question is helpful.

If you can’t follow your own advice yet give it to others, the advice could either be bad, too simplified or irrelevant.

It’s easy to give lazy or ‘just-do-it’ advice.

  • Just start working
  • Just save more
  • Just stop eating so much

Simple advice, right? Sometimes helpful but rarely does it inspire much action. It’s easy to give because it negates the problem and packages it as a helpful answer.  Most importantly, it distances us from the problem – reducing our likelihood of being empathetic when helping others.

We probably don’t aim to be dismissive when giving such advice but I’ve found it’s useful to make a greater effort to refrain from giving dismissive advice.

“Once you understand something, it is difficult to remember what it was like not to understand it”.

Peter Lipton

When we’ve overcome a problem, it’s tough to appreciate how it was to experience it.

If we’ve lost weight, it’s unlikely the only step we followed was to ‘eat less’. It probably involved reducing portion sizes, drinking more water and taking the stairs instead of the lift.

If we’ve improved our grades, it’s unlikely that we just ‘worked more’. It may have involved setting out time for the library, taking more breaks and focusing more in class.

And so on.

This just-do-it advice tends to be a label for more detailed advice that needs to be unpacked rather than the advice to be followed. It’s easy to get the two conflated because we might not even notice the small changes we make in order to achieve the bigger goal.

Not following our own advice when we think we should, helps give an insight into why other people might not either. There’s a large difference between ‘knowing’ you should do something and feeling it. It befalls many of us.

So should you follow your own advice?

Yes, if it’s good and relevant.

By asking this question we’ve discovered that good advice can be difficult to give. It requires empathy and an effort to be attentive to the problem rather than dismissive. Thankfully, asking whether we would actually follow it can be a signal towards whether it will be helpful.

It’s a good thing to try being helpful (I wouldn’t write this blog otherwise) and trying to improve how helpful you are is another goal worthy of attention.

No, if you don’t need it (or want it).

We don’t always have to follow our advice just because we’ve given it to someone else. Sometimes we don’t need it as it’s become irrelevant to our own needs or we know it’s proven to work and don’t need to apply it to our own lives.

There’s a bigger discussion about what good advice is and how to give it but I won’t start that here. I don’t know a definite answer to any of those questions.

Do you follow your own advice? Do you think you should?


 

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Further Reading:

Why don’t we take our own advice?

Your Own Advice is the Hardest Pill to Swallow

Why Is It So Hard To Take Your Own Advice?

The One Phrase to Beat Procrastination

Procrastination plagues all of us.

Whether it’s a writing an essay or cleaning the house – we have tasks we want (and need) to do and put them off anyway.

To combat this, we’ve probably read a number of useful things on stopping procrastination. Break down the goal into small and manageable tasks, plan your day, set deadlines, and work without distractions and so on.

They’re all helpful but we still put things off. When we think of the task, we begin to feel uncomfortable. Let’s delve into that feeling of resistance.

What do we feel when we procrastinate?

Should we actually spend time with these feelings, we might learn a few things.  We’ll split the tasks into the classic Eisenhower matrix.

If it’s important but not urgent, we’ll find comfort in procrastination because we don’t have to do it but feel guilty because we know it will be helpful. If our thinking continues, we might feel guilty for having these feelings at all.

If it’s urgent but not important, we might feel anxious or on the other hand, apathetic towards the task. The task’s urgency means we have to think about it but since it’s unimportant, the deadline might just zoom past without consequence.

If it’s urgent and important, the feelings  of guilt, dread and discomfort are multiplied. We’ll feel trapped within the confines of our own procrastination – like slaves to distraction and quick entertainment.

Depending on how bad the procrastination is, the task will remain undone and we’ll just deal with the consequences.

There are many feelings we have while procrastinating. A lot of it stems from the fear of discomfort and results in self-criticism that makes us feel bad rather than change action in a sustainable way.

How can we combat this?

The phrase to beat procrastination

“It’ll be better after I start”

Since all of our feelings from procrastination are born of inaction, using them it’s useless to gauge how well the task will be done. We often overestimate the difficulty or underestimate our ability to try.

Stop thinking about how you might feel during the task and quieten the internal monologue convincing us to give into instant gratification. Start the task then experience how you feel.

Starting something always feels better than not starting but wanting to.

I’ve never felt worse for starting something I’ve needed to. Of course, I’ve abandoned things or disliked them for a variety of reasons but it’s better to have justified reasons and progress under your belt rather than being guided by fear.

Conclusion

When you find yourself procrastinating, say “it’ll be better after I start”.

Because it will and you’ll be OK.


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Other helpful reminders for procrastination:

Create without expectation

What’s wrong with now?

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate

Make Your Bed

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed

Admiral McRaven

Start the day with a simple and easy task – make your bed.

When I was younger, I ignored the command “make your bed” as many times as I was told to do it. I didn’t need to because I’m going to sleep in it later anyway. It was pointless.

But the point isn’t to prepare you for sleep at night. It’s to prepare you for the rest of the day.

Making your bed is easy. It takes a minute to do, it can be done every day and you’ll always have a reason to do it.

It is the perfect way to get started with changing bad habits and encouraging good ones.

I say this because it teaches us a lot about how habits are created and maintained. Habits require a trigger (a messy bed), a routine (making the bed) and a reward (first task of the day accomplished and a neater room).

It also gives us a small sense of pride. You can say ‘I’ve accomplished something today’ before you’ve brushed your teeth. Since it was so easy, you might be encouraged to complete other tasks such as cleaning your desk or open the book you’ve been meaning to read.

Should you have a bad day, a made bed can offer some calmness. Maybe you haven’t accomplished the things you wanted or something has bothered you. You’ve made your bed. It’s a small victory but one you can appreciate.

If we don’t appreciate the small things in our day, the bigger moments may pass by unnoticed.

Start the day simply and make your bed.

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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?

30 days to Polish and gratitude

It’s the beginning of November and I want to do a 30 day challenge. Of the current habits that I developed intentionally (they’re quite small – as they should be), progressing past the first month is the best part. Keeping it going for a week or two is too short and I don’t feel like much has changed if I break it.

The two things I want to start doing are learning Polish and being more grateful. Learning Polish is something that I’ve failed to do for the past few days (or months if you really want to be nit-picky about it). Being grateful is something I’ve been doing for quite sometime but I want to make it more purposeful so I stop dwelling on the negative parts of my day.

Polish – I’ll learn a few words each day. That’s the least I can do. I should be able to keep that up… I hope. Obviously, if time and energy permits I’ll do more but that’s a small, sustainable aim for now.

Gratitude – Being thankful for things throughout the day. A simple way of appreciating the good things. I actually started doing this as part of my meditation. It takes about 20 minutes. You start off by wishing good things will happen to you today and in the future, then you move onto a good friend, a person you dislike or hate (if you find it difficult to find someone like that, high five yourself silently. If not, I hope you let go of those emotions soon) then you pretend everyone is at a table together and wish good things to happen to everyone.

I’ll probably try to update every week about good things that have happened and hopefully someone else will be able to share a good thing that happened to them no matter how big or small it is.

Goodbye for now. Auf Wiedersehen und bis bald. Trzymajcie się.