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5 Harsh Truths of Life You’d Rather Not Think About

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Graveyard
Life is a whole lot of things all smooshed together. You can literally quote me on that.

It’s cruel, beautiful, harsh, joyful, mysterious. Sometimes it smells like herb roasted chicken. Other times it stinks of piss. Sometimes it’s just hilarious (I like that bit) and you want to keep laughing until your eyes dessicate, but it’s also a real bitch who’ll slap you hard in face without warning and then tweet to the whole world a red-faced picture of you in tears, with the comment “Stop attention seeking you prissy little cry-baby.”

I’m all for prodding into dark corners, so let me take some of the fundamental truths of life—these are some harsh truths you’d probably prefer to ignore—and smoosh them all up in your face like a chicken and piss pie.

You’re not immortal

Well done. You’ve lived long enough to read this article.

But today could be the day you keel over, emit your last pillow of intestinal gas and die.

We go about our lives as if they’ll just keep on going, day after day after day. And for the most part they do, until it doesn’t any more.

You know you’re going to die someday, of course you do, but the reality of your own mortality is one that your brain has a really hard time processing. Think of it like Justin Bieber trying to understand how the Large Hadron Collider works, or the Large Hadron Collider trying to collide particles of Justin Bieber together to discover how he got here.

Your brain can’t really fathom your own mortality, so it feels like you’ll be around forever. You assume that there’s time for things to work out. You think that there’s time to hit your stride. You think that there’s time for your life to come into focus.

But time is literally running out. You know how quickly the last five years raced by? The next five will be even quicker.

While this sense of being around forever is an illusion engineered by your brain, there is a genuine opportunity to make a difference while you’re here.

Don’t fret or panic about whether you’ll have a legacy that lasts for lifetimes. Just do your best and be generous of spirit in this life and be confident that it’s enough.

You’re not important

You’re the protagonist in your own story, like a less magical Harry Potter or a less murdery Hannibal Lecter.

You go about your life from behind your own eyes, perceiving the things that happen, processing the events you observe, assimilating learnings and dealing with shit when it inevitably hits the fan. All of this shenanigans is done as “you”.

Thing is, you’re just one among 7 billion others, each of whom do exactly the same thing. Wake up, do stuff, go to sleep. Whine about things. Laugh at people on YouTube. Worry about ageing. Feel pain. Make sweet love. Eat pudding. Sometimes all those things at once.

People don’t really care about what you do, what you think or what you do. They’re too busy with their own stuff to notice.

This sense of “I” as the most important piece of your world is just fine in some regards. It’s the thing that stops you jumping off the roof because flying looks fun or chopping off your own fingers to make pinky sausage.

But with it can come self-importance, the very thing that the Buddhists and Eckhart Tolle’s out there seek to let go of in order to find a more universal truth.

So here’s the universal truth (thanks for your work Eckhart and Buddhism, but I got this one):

You’re not important. But you can still create value that’s as rare as rocking-horse shit.

You make the decisions

There are easy choices, like what to have for breakfast, where to live, what job to take, how to take care of yourself and what to jokingly call your private parts (in my case, I call them Stephen and the Twins).

Then there’s the stuff that’s beyond your control, like being laid off, a house fire or losing a loved one. I’m guessing you wouldn’t go out of your way to decide to have something awful happen, but there’s a choice present in every circumstance you find yourself in.

Yep, every single one.

I have an incurable, chronic, debilitating illness, for example. And I made the choice to partner up with it like we’re in some kind of Walter Matthau / Jack Lemmon caper movie.

You get to choose how you deal with grief, how you deal with people, how you see your story or a million other things.

Oh, it would be remiss of me not to mention that fact that letting somebody else decide for you, or the decision not to make a choice are still your decisions, even though it’s easier to think they’re not. You’re welcome.

Making decisions is the mechanism for living a life full of texture and colour. And if that makes you uncomfortable about the choices you’ve already made or scared about the choices yet to come, then good.

They’re all yours. Don’t fight them.

You’ll never have the answers

Answers are like socks. They make you feel all comfy and warm at first, but over time they wear out ’til you’re needing a new set, and then some days you just can’t find the damn things no matter how hard you look.

There’s so much value placed on getting the right answers, and let me take a moment to apologise on behalf of the personal development industry for our part in that. Sorry. We fucked that up a bit.

Answering questions like how do I know what’s right?, what if I choose wrong? or how can I be sure? become goals, and we pursue answers to them like reaching for a mythical cherry atop a cake of self-mistrust.

You get hungry for the certainty answers provide, but hunting for answers gets in the way of living.

The irony in telling you that answers don’t matter while attempting to provide some answers isn’t lost on me. What can I say, life is weird like that. But the truth is that testing and learning is more important than finding answers. Otherwise you may as well be collecting beer labels or contemplating what your butt-hole wants for breakfast.

So let’s hear it for exploration without having answers.

Go sockless.

You’ll never make it

Over the last few decades, success has been elevated in the West to the point where it’s idolised and worshipped. You may have heard of the classic Yale University Class of 1953 study, where researchers surveyed the graduating seniors to determine how many of them had specific, written goals for their future. 3% of them had done just that. Twenty years later, researchers polled the surviving members of the Class of 1953 and found that the 3% with goals had accumulated more personal financial wealth than the other 97% of the class combined.

Since then, industry has sprouted up around the notion of success (Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracey, Anthony Robbins and many more all quote the Yale study in their work) and people are hungry for it. If I can just make it, then I’ll be set, people think.

Only, the Yale study is complete bollocks. It never took place.

Yale University Research Associate Beverly Waters carried out an exhaustive search of the archives and found no evidence that such a study had ever been conducted. Says Waters, “We are quite confident that the ‘study’ did not take place. We suspect it is a myth.” Being vehemently anti-goal myself, I can’t tell you how pleased I was to discover this.

“Success” and “making it” imply an end point to your efforts, a point at which everything pays off when you can lie back and have your staff feed you grapes, wash your feet in champagne and tell you how gorgeous you look when you wallow in smug self-satisfaction.

But no matter how impactful you become, how many dollars are in the bank or how many lives you touch, you’re still you. Your issues are still your issues and your shit is still your shit. For all we know, Oprah’s terrified of odd numbers, Richard Branson has intimacy issues and George Clooney is bald as a coot.

Those things probably aren’t true (or are they?), but you’re never “done” and you can’t outrun your issues. This is why Hollywood stars come crashing down and why it’s widely found that winning the lottery has no impact on long-term happiness.

So, fuck success and to hell with “making it”.

The real gold, I strongly suspect, is in engaging and connecting in ways both meaningful and nourishing. And to me, that sounds like a hell of a lot more fun too.

How to Stop Getting in Your Own Goddam Way

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The road ends....Uhh no it doesn't
I’ve been slack.

I’ve let things slide. Big things like health, business and friendships.

It’s so easy to take your eye off the ball and get distracted by life, and I’ve realised that I’ve done just that this last year. Which is why I’m working with a new coach to kick me up the ass.

I got in my own way. I let little things divert me and big things stop me. Which means I have work to do.

I figure you can relate.

The things you want to work on and the texture you want your life to have will only happen once you get out of your own goddam way. And it’s not a one time thing. You don’t do it on a Wednesday and then sit back for the rest of your life safe in the knowledge that you nailed that getting in your own way thing.

It’s an always-on process, and here are 3 huge, important ways to help it happen.

You won’t get eaten

I’ve got one word for you. FEAR.

It’s perhaps the biggest reason you put obstacles in your own way. Fear of failure. Fear of screwing up. Fear of looking silly. Fear of success. Fear of not being good enough, after all.

So many fears.

That stuff is pernicious and sticky like jelly wrestling with Miley Cyrus, but one simple fact can be enough to counter it.

You’re not going to die

You might screw up. You might fail. But you’re not going to die. You won’t get eaten by tigers. You won’t perish in flames. You won’t get beaten by an angry mob.

Whatever happens, you’ll be fine.

This reassurance—the assurance that you can take your next step and not die—is as comforting as it is enabling.

Skip the small talk

Getting in your own way happens when you talk yourself out of something, or talk yourself around to a different point of view.

Now’s not the right time for me to do that.
Maybe things will be different in six months.
People are already doing it better than me, what chance do I have?

I’ve been doing this a lot, waiting for my health to improve before I really get moving. Fact is, CFS / ME might not improve, and though I’ll keep working on that I have to watch when I’m using it as an excuse.

Individually, these little moments when you decide to go small might not be a big deal. Just tiny little thoughts and adjustments that go by almost without noticing them.

But cumulatively, it’s death by a thousand cuts.

So start noticing those thoughts, those moments when you go safe instead of going forwards, because otherwise they’re already building up. Noticing them does one important thing – it allows you to step back and maybe, just maybe, make a different choice.

Noticing them takes regular, deliberate practice. But it’s worth it.

Life’s too short to talk yourself small.

Put on your lab coat

Taking that step or making that move can seem like a challenge too big. There’s too much involved – too much change, too much risk, too many unknowns.

How can you quit your job when you have genuine responsibilities? How can you start that new project when you don’t have time? Or how can you ever feel better about yourself when you don’t know where to start?

With all that seemingly insurmountable and unfathomable “stuff”, is it any wonder you get in your own way?

So try it a different way.

Run an experiment

The point of an experiment is to try something different and see what happens, right? So change a variable and see how the output changes. Give something your best shot for a week or two and see how it looks or how you feel at the end. Without needing to commit yourself to all kinds of change and upheaval, simply try something and see what happens.

Then run another experiment. Then another. And another.

Through repeated experiments, life is made.

So I’m curious, what experiment can you run?

There’s Just One, Single Question You Need to Answer in 2015

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Questioned Proposal
Throw a stick at this time of year and you’ll hit a tweet, post or video with someone telling you to set your goals for 2015, review how your 2014 went and put in place measures to track your progress for the year ahead.

Yawn, yawn, yawn. Same old, same old.

Bollocks to all that

There’s really just one question you need to keep with you right the way through 2015. One single question that can’t fail to keep you on the right track.

What is this question I’m trumpeting?

Drum roll, enter stage left, the only question you need:

What’s my next choice?

Looks simple, right? Just four words. Easy.

Your next choice could be about which breakfast cereal you pick off the shelf, which socks you put on in the mornings or which lipstick you’re in the mood for. It could equally be about which city you move to, whether you take that job or whether you break up from your partner.

Decisions, decisions.

Too often we let our doubts and fears make make our decisions for us, but the whole point of having them is to make them. Not based on what you fear about what could happen or whether you’re good enough, but based on what might be possible and what you might get to create.

Your next choice could create a smile. It could take you a step closer to something. It could make things simpler for you or for someone else. It could be about going easy on yourself. It could be about kicking yourself up the butt. It could be about fun. Or it could be about exerting effort.

Here are a 3 different ways to use this question to help you, no matter what 2015 brings you.

1. What’s my intention here?

Having a shitty intention (how can I come out looking good, I can’t be bothered or I wish I was somewhere else, to give you just 3 examples) isn’t going to see you at your shining best.

Your intention shapes how you approach a moment in time. It allows you to stand back a little rather than be swept along by the drama or detail and to look at what you can bring to the moment. It gives you the opportunity to choose how you want to approach something.

When my illness is tearing chunks out of me and I find myself wanting to hate that I have this thing, checking in on my intention allows me to breathe and to stop judging. I get to ease into the moment with grace rather than with teeth and nails.

And when clients tell me that they don’t feel confident in a specific situation (in a big meeting, on a date, when hanging out with people who are “better”, etc), asking themselves this question provides answers like:

I want to enjoy it
I mean to give it my best shot
I choose to lean into it

It’s a deceptively simple looking question on the surface, but asking yourself this at the start of the day can help you to dig deep, to hang on a while longer and even to go easy on yourself. Because sometimes, choosing the right intention can make all the difference in the world.

2. What matters to me?

What matters to you really? Is it what Kanye and Kim are up to? Maybe it’s trying that crazy new fusion restaurant that everyone’s talking about (Caribbean Korean anyone?). Or perhaps it’s getting that 1000 thread count bed linen, because your comfort matters, dammit.

What matters to you will change at different times. When you’re dying to take a piss, that’s going to matter quite a lot. Or when you haven’t eaten in 3 days, your next bite of food will naturally matter a whole lot. But at other times you get to choose.

You get to choose whether to honour the things that don’t matter, or whether to honour the things that do. The things that are ten thousand feet down inside you. The things you’ve always loved. The things that have always tugged at you.

For me, these things include creativity, belonging and laughter, and I actively make choices around them, seek out those things and give room to them. It’s this stuff that gives life its texture.

What is it for you?

3. What do I let go of?

My hair’s getting as thin as the “plot” of Fifty Shades of Grey, and I could have gone down the road of using Regain for Men, colouring the bald spot in with a Sharpie or having hair transplanted from my butt. But I didn’t fancy being a butt-head about it (literally), so I chose to let it go.

Clinging onto things that no longer serve you is tempting when you’re trying to stop change from happening, but it’s a bit like hiding under the bed with your eyes tightly shut and refusing to accept that the Sun’s come up, or making a blast shield out of bacon as the massive asteroid plummets towards you from space.

Deciding to accept how things are and to let go of the things that drain you, frustrate you, don’t serve you, make you fearful or keep you small takes guts, and it’s a decision that we all too often push away, pretend isn’t there or hide from. But this growth and shedding is inherent to a good life.

There’s comfort in keeping things close, but there’s relief in letting go.

Take the stick out of your ass…

With all this talk about making great choices in life, honouring what matters to you, creating something of value and living a great life, it’s easy to feel weighted down with responsibility and import.

But please, please, please don’t be rigid, sombre or pious about this stuff. I hate self-righteousness, and the second I sniff that I’m heading into that space I make time for a fart joke or say something really inappropriate (it’s part of my charm).

Life’s way too short to treat everything seriously, so while it’s true that your choices are your mechanism for living, for me at least, this would be nothing without fun, joy and a healthy slathering of silliness.

5 Reasons I Love and Need Christmas

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Christmas Bow
I’ve always loved Christmas. While my enthusiasm and vim for the season might have been tempered somewhat over the years, I’m still a kid at heart (I always have to be in bed by midnight on Christmas Eve, so I’m all tucked up when Santa comes, for example). There’s something totally compelling about the season that hooks me every single time.

I love it. I’d go so far to say that I need it. Here’s why.

1. I get to breathe.

I’ve been working non-stop and wound pretty tight these last few months, and the illness has been tearing chunks out of me. Not gonna lie, it’s been hard. Wanting to curl up into a ball and sob because my body hurt so much hard.

So now, I get to breathe. I get to relax into the time that’s available to me, and it’s a gift to myself that’s priceless.

2. It’s about opening.

Christmas is arms open. It’s giving of who you are, regardless of how awkward, silly or vulnerable it makes you feel.

The idea of generosity is perhaps the whole spirit of the season, and it’s also woven right through the heart of confidence.

3. Connections.

Friends and family. Home and hearth. Holly and jolly. For someone like me who finds flow when connected to people, being able to reach out and connect with friends and spend time in the company of family is a joy.

The simplicity of being able to connect and smile with another human being? Perfect.

4. It’s a great reminder.

I’m always surprised by Christmas, because it never fails to remind me how things could be. To paraphrase Bill Murray from the movie “Scrooged”, it’s the one time of the year when people smile a little easier, cheer a little more and embrace a kind of freedom of spirit that they might not exhibit for a whole 12 months.

Christmas reminds me of all the good things people can do.

5. Cheese.

One word. Vacherin.

I can hear my arteries clogging already.

Let me wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. And if you can’t have a happy one, have a peaceful one.

The Difference Between Self-Doubt and Second-Guessing

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#9: difference
One big reason people end up lost, afraid and without confidence is because they’re full of self-doubt. Another is that they’re always second-guessing themselves, but not much thought is given to the difference between these two experiences and what it means for how you handle each of them.

So here’s the difference.

Second-guessing is wondering if your actions are enough. Did you take the right job? Did you move to the right city? Are you dating the right person? It also projects forwards. How do I know which job is the right one? How do I know where I should move to? How do I know if this relationship will work out?

Self-doubt is wondering if you’re enough. I’m not ready for this. I can’t do it. I’ll only fuck it up. Self-doubt also uses selected history as “evidence”, using times when things didn’t go to plan to support any thoughts that you’re not enough.

Dealing with these things isn’t a one-time thing.

They need consistent and deliberate action to keep at bay.

But let me boil things down real quick.

To productively deal with second-guessing, ask yourself this: If I knew I could deal with whatever happens, no matter what, what choice would I make?

And to help manage that self-doubt, ask yourself: What would the very best version of me—the me who feels connected, flowing and alive—do now?

Is Trying to Be Perfect Ruining Your Life?

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Andrew
I make a mean omelet, but it’s never going to win a Michelin star. I can string a sentence together, but I’m no Shakespeare. And my singing voice sounds great in the shower, but would have customers demanding their money back if I did a solo gig at the Royal Albert Hall.

I do have high standards though. Standing on a really tall ladder and touching the moon high.

But I gave up on perfection a long time ago. You know perfection, right? It’s the thing that keeps you awake at night; the thing that makes you feel like you’ll never be good enough; the oppressor who never lets you be yourself.

Up there with using your own feet to flavour a home-made soup or watching 24-hour rolling news, chasing perfection is a spectacular way to ruin your life

Pursuing perfection in a task, project or behaviour is pursuing the impossible out of fear that your best might not be good enough or that others will see you’re not good enough, and it challenges you to always do better, to be perfect.

Like breeding cattle with the sole aim of birthing a unicorn, perfection is an unattainable target that puts “feeling good enough” always out of your reach.

Perfection robs you of any chance to have a sweet, dumb, beautiful life. Pursue it and you’ll never be free.

Perfect is fiction

Or perhaps it’s more a choice of perception. After all, there’s the perfect song for your mood. The perfect time to call a friend. The perfect meal with people you love.

Perfect is a sense that things are fine, right now, just as they are. It’s choosing to soften into the moment and to stop needing things to be a certain, impossible way.

It’s having confidence in who you are rather than feeding a sense of lack by trying to be something you’re not.

Bollocks to chasing perfection. You’re already there.

Explore Vastly

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Cape Cod 2012 (Explore #492)
People say that life’s a journey, and I think they’re probably right.

You start at point A, and end up at point Dead, and the journey between is pretty much up to you. It’s interesting to note that while that journey is a straight line in terms of time, it’s never a straight line in terms of action or thought.

It feels like you meander and swerve, pivot and refocus, adjust and steer all the time. All of those verbs are about exploration, which, I think, is what the journey’s about too.

There’s an expanse of life ahead of you that remains to be explored. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Your future is pregnant with possibility.

It’s a vastness that can only be explored once you accept your role as explorer, as the leader of the expedition of your life.

Explorers have a sense of compelling curiosity, a sense of wanting to see what’s out there and to drink in the journey. Every step is embraced in the same spirit as the fruits of that journey, no matter how tough or joyous the moment is.

Explorers have confidence in their ability to explore vastly.

How about you?

Gratitude, Confidence and Why You Should Give a Damn

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gratitude & joy
I’m grateful for a lot of things. Sunshine. Fresh, crisp sheets. Laughing ’til I cry. The first sip of coffee. Netflix binges.

There’s something magical about gratitude that takes you out of your head and into your body. It’s gets you out of trying to plan and control everything and slap-bang into the right now.

But I wonder if it’s possible to experience gratitude if you’re surrounded by walls built to protect you from the loss of control and certainty?

You might be able to intellectually appreciate that you’re grateful for your lot, but that rationalisation is just another means of control. So the question I’d like to put to you is this.

Are the walls you’ve built preventing you from experiencing the gratitude and joy that’s here, right now?

See, gratitude is an honest expression of thanks towards something in your life, without needing it to be a certain way. It requires that you let go of your ego, your expectations and your craving for certainty, and embrace how things are right now, however they are.

Gratitude requires that you make yourself vulnerable

Letting go of “you” and giving yourself over to the moment renders you open and capable of being hurt, but it also does three things:

  1. Allows you to express gratitude.
  2. Allows you to experience joy.
  3. Gives you greater confidence in your ability to let go.

I don’t know about you, but gratitude and joy seem a hell of a lot more appealing than control and certainty, and confidence is really just your capacity for letting go of certainty and being vulnerable.

The more naturally confident you are, the easier it becomes to open to vulnerability. Which leads to gratitude. Which leads to joy. It’s a circle.

So I’ll ask it again.

Are the walls you’ve built preventing you from experiencing the gratitude and joy that’s here, right now?

Get Off Your Butt And Get Some Focus

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The Lounge
A human being without action isn’t really a human being at all.

They might look like one and walk like one, they might even talk like one. But they’re not really alive.

Unfortunately, inaction is natural.

We’re wired to stay in the place we feel safe and comfortable. But inaction leads to procrastination and atrophy, and this cycle of safety, comfort, procrastination and atrophy continues.

Until, that is, it’s interrupted by something. An intention is a good start, but is pointless without following through. An idea is amazing, but valueless unless it’s explored. And a desire to do something that matters it phenomenal, but wasted without action.

You don’t need to be ready. You don’t need to know what’s going to happen. You don’t need to feel confident enough.

Sometimes, you just need to get off your butt and get some damn focus

This, perhaps, is what I need to remind myself of most often. My body and my illness want to pull me into slumber relentlessly, and I have an inclination towards rest and relaxation that some would call a talent.

The temptation not to act can be as tempting and delicious as resting your head on a pillow made of marshmallow and kitten fluff, but will engulf you in its warmth if you let it.

First then, comes awareness. Awareness of who you are. Awareness of when you’re idling. Awareness of your wants. Awareness of what could be.

Then, comes the translation of thought into action; the place where an awareness threaded with confidence and worthiness is most essential.

So, if *you* were to get off your butt today, what would happen?

You Have The Right to Lose Everything

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i'm losing my grip, but i'd lose it all for you
What do you have in your pockets or in your bag right now?

Some loose change? A set of keys? A receipt or two? Your wallet? Maybe your phone?

What if you lost that stuff? What would happen?

You’d probably worry about it, fret about it or maybe curse like a drunk dock-worker. You might be upset that you lost some of your stuff. You’d sigh as you realise you have to get going replacing it all.

But what about you? What impact does this have on you, other than some momentary frustration?

None whatsoever.

When it gets to the bigger stuff, like a car, a friend, a house, a job, a partner or your health, the stakes get a little higher and the frustration, anger and hurt can grow to match.

But there you are, in the middle of it all, going through it one second at a time.

Hurt when you hurt and miss what you miss, but don’t for any one of those seconds think that you’re any less or any worse as a result.

Instinct will urge you to cling to the hurt of what you’ve lost as a way to keep it close and keep the past alive, but the only thing that brings is the diminishing of your self and the growth of fear.

You have the right to make mistakes, lose everything and start again

It’s actually kind of a miracle if you think about it; a right that lets you experiment and a right as essential as breathing or free speech, but a right that’s pulled back from out of fear.

I hope you flourish and I want the best for you. But the only thing to be afraid of—with genuine, heart-stopping fear—is that you go through your life as if this right wasn’t yours, as if losing everything would see life standing over you, pressing its boot down onto your beaten chest, and that it would be that way forever.

You have the right to make mistakes, lose everything and start again.

How does that feel?

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