Locus of Control

I’ve been recently reading through Thrive by Rob Kelly. It covers many subjects (which I will definitely be writing about in the future) but one of the most striking concepts I have seen so far has been to do with the Locus of Control.

The general principle is that we each build up a system of reasoning – to help ourselves determine why things happen. We naturally look for patterns and find it comforting to reconcile our experiences against a system that explains why those things have happened.

This is where the ‘Locus of Control’ comes in. The locus (or location) of control for your mental framework is where you believe the influencing factors of you life are coming from. If you have an internal locus of control, you generally believe that you are influencing your own life through your decisions and behaviours. If you have an external locus of control, you believe that external factors have more influence in what happens to you.

Let’s say two people pass a exam. The person with an internal locus of control thinks ‘I worked hard for the exam, and I passed. The person with an external locus of control thinks ‘I was lucky to pass that exam.’

Having an external locus of control can lead to a negative mindset, as you feel less able to make changes in your life. It often presents itself as superstition, reliance on prayer and a belief in fate or luck

If you feel like you have an external locus of control you can practice bringing your decisions back into the experiences you have. Think about a positive thing that happened to you recently – what decisions did you make that lead to that positive thing? Try to do this whenever you have a superstitious thought, or wish yourself luck. Over time you can shift your mindset towards an internal locus of control, and embrace the decisions that you make about your life.

Beat Procrastination… Tomorrow?

The prospect of doing something is often more intimidating than the actual act of doing it. In a world seemingly designed to distract us, it is really easy to defer something awkward or difficult to another time, imagining that our future self will be better equipped to handle the task.

In general terms we avoid these situations because they are uncomfortable. It feels horrible to tackle something you’ve been putting off, even if the long-term benefits will be considerable. Only when you finally accomplish your task do you see how silly it was to procrastinate.

How can we overcome this mental block? With some mental strategies:

Practice being uncomfortable. This can help in all sorts of situations, and reduce anxiety in many areas of your life. Try and go against your first small feeling of trepidation every day. Say hello to a new person, go out in public in a horrible jumper, sit and read in an unusual place. The more you push your boundaries of comfort, the smaller the anxiety over procrastination becomes.

Put some time aside in the morning. Having something written down, with an alarm, in the morning can give you the best chance of tackling an awkward task. We generally have more mental energy and willpower in the morning, and with some time set aside you can hopefully give yourself more of a distraction-free environment.

Make yourself accountable. The simple act of telling someone you will do something can be a great motivator. We generally don’t like going against our word, and saying something aloud helps confirm your intention that the task needs to be done.

Procrastination turns opportunity into loss: something that I have to manage every day. With a few more incentives, and helpful strategies hopefully I can stop putting things off!

*Thanks to Vic for the great post-it note image! See more here:

Inspiration – Does it matter?

After a long day work, doing some chores, eating and sitting down I’ve started to feel really un-inspired to write. With nothing in mind to write about it made that starting step that much harder.

So after short break from writing I noticed I’d been going against some other the advice from master habit-maker James Clear.

To get back into writing I’m going to try and re-adopt some useful methods to make writing as easy as possible.

1) Have a prompt

I now have a long list of topics that interest me. With a topic suggestion the actual process of writing will be a little easier

2) Take the pressure off

I’d like to keep writing regularly, but was putting myself under pressure to write 4/5 times a week. From now on I will make sure I’m happy with myself for writing once or twice a week.

With these points in mind, the process of just itting down and starting should make the difference between faltering, and persevering.

The Taste Gap – Why Everything You Make Sucks.

You know what you like. We naturally form an opinion about everything we consume, consciously or subconsciously, as we form a ‘taste’ for things. For many people embarking on a creative endeavour this can highlight the differences between things you enjoy, and your own creations.

This difference is known as the ‘taste gap.’ You might love to read novels, but your own fiction writing is cliché. You might love listening to Pavarotti, but people leave the room when you start singing. That dodgy spice rack, that first burnt pancake. Having the knowledge to judge your efforts as poor, without the knowledge on how to make something better can be really disheartening.

Getting over the taste gap can take some humility. Bear in mind that everyone’s first try at something was usually awful:

credit: Richard Simpson

The key to success is to give yourself a safe space to ‘fail.’ If you want to share your first creations, find someone you trust who cares for you. Even just the process of sharing will give you a fresh perspective on your work.

If you can find a mentor or teacher to help you review your creative practice, you will get feedback on what parts of your work don’t work as well, and they can help highlight the technical aspects that aren’t immediately apparent when you’re consuming that medium.

When talking about anything creative it can be helpful to follow an iterative process, both for individual works, and for your own abilities. Try following and repeating these steps:

Create: Make something

Review: Judge and/or have others judge your creation

Reflect: Think about how successful you were, and highlight which parts need improvement

Plan: Talk to a mentor or research ways to improve your key points of interest.

You can repeat these steps with a single work to improve it, but it can also be beneficial in the long term start something new. Every time you review and reflect you are given the chance to highlight something specific you can improve on.

If you can stick with the process of creation, you will learn the skills required to close the gap and start making things exactly to your taste!

If you’re interested in learning more about the creative process try ‘The War of Art’ by Stephen Pressfield. Any purchase made through this link helps support this blog. Thanks for reading!

Fall Asleep in 5 Minutes

Getting a good night’s sleep can be elusive for many. A stressful day or a noisy environment can easily keep you awake.

Reason enough for the US military to train their soldiers to fall asleep more easily.

They reported that 96% of the people they trained over 6 weeks could consistently fall asleep within 5 minutes using these techniques.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Think about any tension in your head and face. Concentrate on relaxing your jaw, tongue and eyes, and finally neck.
  2. One by one, release the tension in your shoulder, arm and hand on each arm. Stretch each side down and then release.
  3. Breathe in fully, then slowly breath out and feel your chest relax.
  4. Stretch out your legs and then release, considering your thigh, legs, ankles and feet.
  5. Clear your mind with visualisation. Imagine yourself in a serene comfortable environment, like a quiet seaside grove, or snug hammock. If you can’t clear your thoughts repeat ‘do not think’ in your head for 10 seconds.

By practicing these techniques you can rapidly increase your relaxation and readiness for sleep. Faster sleep means more sleep, which is always a good thing.

Sleep has a huge benefit on your physical and mental body. You can read more about sleep (and how important it is) in Dr Matthew Walker’s book ‘Why We Sleep

Thanks for reading!

Supercharge Your Memory with a Mind Palace

Sherlock Holmes uses a mind palace to solve crimes.

The human mind has an amazing power of recall. People have been know to remember things for more than 90 years. Memory masters can recall entire decks of cards. However your memory always seems to fail at the worst moments. If you’re under pressure, and/or have nothing to take notes with, it might be worth having a strategy for remembering.

Enter the ‘Mind Palace:’ a mental construct that allows you to connect things you want to remember, to places/routes you already remember clearly. The most analogous way to do it is to imagine your route from your bed, getting ready and going out. A route you take nearly every day, in a place you know very well. For example:

Bed > Bathroom > Shower > Wardrobe > Kitchen > Table > Sink > Coats > Front Door > Garage

Now you have slots to put memorable things. The next step is to make your memory as vivid as possible.

Let’s say for example you want to remember the most populous countries of the world. Imagine as vivid a reminder as you can in your route through your mind palace:

1 Bed/China – your bed has broken pieces of china in it.

2 Bathroom/India – Tim curry is in there holding a bottle of Old Spice

3 Shower/USA – Captain America is under the shower, using his shield as an umbrella.

4 Wardrobe/Indonesia – Sia has just finished sorting your clothes (in-done-Sia)

5 Kitchen/Pakistan – Stan Lee is making you a packed lunch (Pak-o-Stan)

And so on! With memorable clues in place you might never forget this list.

The reason it works is because the human mind is designed to look for patterns and stories. Rather than random facts or tasks, you can use funny or striking situations to make a story in your head. Try it for yourself… If you remember!

Thanks for reading!

Willpower – A Finite Mental Resource?

Every time you decide to do something you’re not excited about, you’re using willpower, be it making a difficult phone call, saying no to a donut, or getting ready to go to the gym.

Willpower requires mental effort, and mental resources. There’s a reason that most of us slip up and run out of willpower at the end of the day, or if we’ve had a bad night’s sleep.

Because we often prefer the easy/lazy option, or the most pleasurable choice, it can be difficult to deny ourselves this promise of pleasure and comfort by taking the healthier or more productive choice, by expending willpower.

Willpower is such an important influence in our lives that you can better guess at a child’s future success by measuring their willpower, rather than their intelligence.

With this knowledge what are some strategies we can employ to increase our reserve of willpower, and make it more effective?

  1. Sleep

When you’re talking about mental energy it’s obvious that sleep has a huge impact. Sleep deprivation can cause a whole raft of negative effects, as toxins build up in our brains. Getting adequate sleep will give you more mental energy, which will mean you can use willpower more throughout the day.

If you’re feeling tempted more than usual by sugary food that’s a great sign you’re reserves are running low, as the brain looks to grab more quick energy it needs. Consider instead taking a 15-20 minute nap (with an optional caffeinated drink beforehand) to allow yourself to recharge your mental energy for the remainder of the day.

If you don’t have time or space for a nap, try 5 minutes of mindfulness meditation for a mental energy recharge.

2. Train Willpower

Learning new skills requires repetition. Nobody can read or write the first time they try. When you’re building up the skill of willpower, you will strengthen the pathways within your brain to make those signals more efficient, a vital part of learning.

If you struggle with temptation, put that item on display. Every time you walk past a bowl of sweets you can tell yourself ‘I’m saying no’ and feel good about it. Start the exercise just after you’ve eaten and you’ll make it easier to say no, as the initial temptation is reduced.

3 Environment Design (Out of Sight, Out of Mind)

This is moment when I get to completely contradict the previous strategy! When you need to stretch the willpower as long as possible, the most effective strategy is to remove temptation.

Throwing your sweets, alcohol or cigarettes away makes it much harder to be tempted by them. When the causes of willpower are removed, you’ll be able to use it much more sparingly.

When you’re tempted by laziness, make the productive thing the easier option. Drop your car/house keys at the gym, so you can’t skip the gym and just go home after work.

4 Don’t Feel Guilty

If you slip, you get feelings of guilt and shame. This strong emotion can instigate stress, pushing you towards more comforting pleasurable choices to mitigate the stress. When this happens you can start to binge bad behaviour in an attempt to get comfort.

If instead you are aware that a slip and the feeling of guilt can be temporary, you’ll be much more likely to use willpower effectively next time.

It’s always bearing in mind that we can’t act like robots, and that our willpower will sometimes fail. With some of these strategies we can stay on track more often, and shift towards better choices more often.

For further reading on willpower and the science behind it take a look at Kelly McGonigal’s book ‘The Willpower Instinct.

Purchases made through this link help support the blog.

Thanks for reading!

Discover your Chronotype with The Sleep Doctor

Lack of quality sleep can be debilitating, as any new parent can attest to. We’re often told ‘you need 8 hours of sleep’ but this thinking was first introduced 80 years ago. With the help of Dr Michael Breus aka ‘The Sleep Doctor’ you can transform your sleep with one piece of information.

Your ‘Chronotype’ simply means time-type, and it describes how your body naturally trends in terms of sleep. This variance is caused by individual differences in hormones and circadian rhythm. The two well known chronotypes are Lion (aka ‘Early Bird’) and Wolf (aka ‘Night-Owl’) and two others: Bear (daylight following) and Dolphin (light sleepers.)

Each of these types react differently to different types and times of sleep. Once you know your type, you can give yourself the right habits and schedule to improve your sleep. You can take the chronotype quiz here.

There general best-practices for sleep: a dark, quiet room, no caffeine after lunch, reducing blue/bright light after sunset. Knowing your chronotype allows you to add two new best practises, going to sleep at the right time for your body, and keeping your sleep schedule consistent.

If you’re a Lion/Early-Bird you shouldn’t push yourself to stay up past 9pm. If you’re a Wolf don’t go to bed at 9pm and sit awake in bed for hours. Dolphins need more time after dinner to wind down with reduced screen time. Bears, although generally the best sleepers can drift towards the other types when they’re experience poor sleep.

Dr Breus has specific tips for each sleep type after you take the quiz, and plenty of further reading around all aspects of lifestyle in his book ‘The Power of When.’ With a subtitle that reads: “the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More” you know it has to be good!

Thanks for reading!

10,000 Steps – The Marketing Tool That Became the Goal

In 1965 a Japanese Doctor released a pedometer, and named it ‘Manpo-Kei’ which literally translates as 10,000 steps. A great piece of marketing, but with no real science backing.

10,000 steps is however a useful target for many people, as it stretches you to be more active than usual, especially for those in office-based sedentary jobs.

In the meantime science has discovered that walking reduces stress-hormone cortisol (unlike running which increases it,) and reduces inflammation. Some research suggests that increasing from 2500 to 4000 steps will increase life expectancy, with further benefits up to around 7500. With this in mind let’s look at some tips:

For those looking for weight loss, it can be nice to have an activity to focus on, rather than obsessing over food choices.

Wrist pedometers are really popular, and you can set reminders for yourself if the pedometer notices you have been still for a long time. If you have a smartphone with an accelerometer there are also many free step tracking apps available.

Otherwise you could have a set walking time or distance that equates to your step goal. For most people 10,000 steps is roughly 5 miles, or 1 hour and 15 minutes of walking.

There are a couple of different ways to approach increasing your daily steps:

Set aside some time each day for walking. Carve out some time to add walking into your daily routine. For many people walking can have meditative properties and if you set a long stretch aside for walking this can be a chance for some creative thinking and reflection.

Incorporate more walking into your day. Convert part of your commute to walking, even if it’s parking further away from work or school. Take the staircase. Invest in a treadmill desk. Spread things that you often use a bit further away from eachother to keep you moving throughout the day. Doing it this way can be beneficial because you won’t really notice you’re being more active than usual, and don’t have the daunting task of walking 5 miles in one go.

Some general tips for getting started:

Get some insoles for your shoes, and thick socks, to alleviate the added friction/impact on your feet. You can get moulded arch supports which made a big difference to your overall walking comfort. Invest in a breathable waterproof jacket if you’re likely to be walking in the cold/wet.

Write on your schedule/calendar when and where you’ll be walking. Invite friends to join you if possible.

Don’t worry if you can’t manage 10,000 every day, especially at the beginning. If you’re worried about the impact it will have aim for 4000 for the first week, and aim to reach 8-10,000 over the next 6 weeks.

Take some music/audiobook/podcasts with you. If you can pair this healthy activity with a listening experience you enjoy, you will naturally get excited about doing it.

Thanks for reading!

Face Any Adversity By Embracing Stillness – Ryan Holiday

You wouldn’t necessarily think that advice from almost 2000 years ago would resonate with how we live today, but here’s a quote from Seneca, a Roman philosopher

Here I am with a babel of noise going on all about me, I have lodgings right over a public bathhouse. Now imagine to yourself every kind of sound that can make one weary of one’s years.

The fact is, people are dealing with the same problems. When your attention is dispersed and distracted by your relationships and surroundings it’s hard to keep your mind clear and rational.

Keeping your mind clear and rational is achieved through stillness, which many people recognise as stoicism. The core concept is that when you learn to remove your ego from your thinking, you can gain clarity and insight.

Ryan’s book ‘Stillness is the Key’ explores the concept that your reaction to a situation has more impact in your life than the situation itself. He uses historical events, from Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius to John F Kennedy reacting to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Through these anecdotes Ryan draws out a common theme: that you can train yourself to step away from your first, instinctual reaction to a situation, to bring out more positive actions, and reactions.

In essence, a stoic is able to face adversity by understanding that they can choose how to react to it. If you have to work in a noisy environment, learn to let the sounds wash over you, rather than letting each new one draw your attention away, or make you angry.

A lot of the same themes come out of a mindfulness practice, but you can achieve stillness in other ways. The easiest way is often by doing a physical activity you can do on auto-pilot, like running or swimming. Try in these states to think about your life’s problems not in how they effect you, but how you can change it, or change how you feel about it.

You can read more about Ryan’s excellent book ‘Stillness is Key’ here. Any purchase made through this link helps support the blog.

Thanks for reading!