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.

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!

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!

The KonMari Method – Tidying Up your Life with Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo has popularised her KonMari method for living a life that ‘sparks joy.’ The idea is that everything in your life should be something that excites you and has purpose.

The method falls in line with other lifestyle philosophies like essentialism, minimalism and simple living. Take a moment to consider how each of your possessions make you feel. Consider if it is worth owning, and whether it improves your life.

The KonMari method is a way to review your possessions. These are broken down into five main categories:

1) Clothing

2) Books

3) Papers/Files

4) Miscellaneous

5) Sentimental Items

The process is simple. For example gather together all of your clothes into one huge pile. Take a look at how much you own (it’s probably more than you expected!)

Next hold each one in your hands and think about whether it ‘sparks joy.’ Do you feel like that item gets you excited to use/wear it? Do you feel joy from knowing how useful this item has been and will be again?

If it doesn’t spark joy you can let go of it. Donate or recycle it. Thank the item for its use.

If it does spark joy keep it ordered. Marie suggests some ways to store and organise things:

1) Store similar sized things together.

2) Use tray boxes to contains loose group of things.

3) Stack things on their side so you can easily see each one when you open the drawer/cupboard.

Marie suggests practicing the process of finding a joyful spark in our possessions can be trained, and that’s the reason she puts sentimental items last.

We often keep things because we feel we should because of some sentimental reason, so they can be the hardest to let go of.

Throughout this method you build up an awareness of the relationship we have with our possessions, positive and negative. With this awareness you can change your environment to give those relationships a positive bias.

If you’re interested in Marie’s work I suggest her Netflix series, and you can get the book here. If you buy the book through this link you help support the blog.

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!

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!

How to Make it a New Year’s ReVolution

The start of a new year feels significant, as we can easily look back over the last 12 months and sum up our successes and failures.

The idea of ‘starting fresh’ in a new year is attractive, but considering how many resolutions fail to stick, there has to be more than that to making long lasting life changes.

With some tips in mind from my favourite author on habit and behaviour change (James Clear, seriously check him out!) let’s look at some useful tips to keep your resolve after the first few weeks.

1) Be specific

‘I want to lose weight’ is not good enough. ‘I want to lose 20lbs this year is better.’ Now you have a required work-rate and a clear goal in mind.

2) Think of the action, rather than the results

Instead of ‘I want to get stronger’ skip to the thing that will actually help achieve this. Try ‘I will go to the gym three times a week’ instead.

If you keep doing the required action, the results will follow. Make starting as easy as possible to reduce all but the most extreme excuses.

3) Tell everyone, and join a group

We do a lot of things because they’re expected of us. I lost a lot of weight when I told all my friends I wanted to, just so I wouldn’t look stupid.

Even better, join a group of people with the same aim. A running club, a hobby meetup, and business development group. If you surround yourself with people already doing what you want to do, you can feed off their enthusiasm, learn some things and possibly make some friends along the way.

4) Change your environment

The things (and people) you surround yourself with drastically effect your behaviour. If you pledge to stop snacking, stop buying snacks. If they’re not in that house, the easier option is to stop snacking rather than going out to get some.

Keep a bowl of flossers on your sink, to make it easy to do, and easily to remind yourself. Same with fruit in the kitchen.

5) Take it to heart

I think the most key factor in the success of any behaviour change is how it effects your identity.

If you go to the gym three times a week without fail, that mentality becomes part of you. I quit sugar earlier this year, and it became much easier to refuse sweet treats because I could say ‘I don’t eat sweets’ instead of ‘I’ll just have one’ which I could repeat every half hour until nothing was left to eat.

Making a change to you lifestyle means permanent change, meaning your new year’s resolution becomes a lifetime habit.

6) Don’t worry if you fail

We all fail sometimes. It is inevitable but it can have a damaging effect on our willpower. If you miss the gym once or twice, it will make little difference compared to the 150 times you might go in a year, as long as you make an effort to start again.

Too many times I have considered my failure permanent, as I was too precious about keeping a perfect record.

If you slip, forgive yourself and resolve to get back on track as soon as you are able.

Whatever your new goal in life, I wish you the best of luck, and with some of these tips, I hope you have success this New Year.

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!

When Do Your Priorities Become Your Distractions?

I was listening to the Minimalists podcast the other day and something Joshua said really struck me.

He explained that there wasn’t a plural to the word ‘priority’ until quite recently, in the last century or so.

The idea that a multitude of things can be extremely important to us is a modern invention, but is it useful to have multiple priorities, or is it a distraction?

Whenever we set a priority we elevate something to make it more important. If your career is your priority, you might work late to impress your boss. If your health is your priority you might go to the gym instead. But if your priorities are your health and your career, you are simultaneously pulled towards each choice.

The worst case scenario is that you stay late at work, you lose focus and aren’t productive, you try and go to the gym but you’re tired and injure yourself. You get home late and have such poor quality sleep that in the morning you’re grouchy and inadvertently offend your boss. By having these dual priorities you have failed at both.

Of course that would be particularly unfortunate, and it’s important to have balance, but having a single, over-arching priority can help guide your decisions to hopefully a much more satisfying and rewarding outcome.

My priority at the moment is family. I want to be the best parent I can be, and provide my family with the time, opportunities and resources to live comfortably, learn and grow.

Because this is my priority I can, when faced with a difficult decision, draw on this priority to give greater context. If I am offered a better-paid job, but have to travel further, I am gaining in financial opportunity, but limiting my family time. This is at odds with my priority, so I wouldn’t take the job.

When you understand your true, single priority, the rest of the decisions become much easier. Think about what ultimately drives you, and use that knowledge to make better judgements for your decisions.

You can read more about priority and lots of other subjects in the Minimalists book of essays ‘Essential.’ Any purchase made through this link helps support the blog.

Thanks for reading!