Just One More Episode

It used to be that major TV shows were treated like proper events. The nation would tune in together at the same time, creating these water-cooler moments that dominated the conversation the next day. The excitement would build as the week went on until we could enjoy the next episode. Television, when done right, has the power to connect people like few other mediums are able to do.

Since the likes of Netflix came along with box set bingeing these moments are increasingly rare. Now we expect a series to be released in its entirety, for us to feast on when and however we like. A seemingly endless list of programmes to watch makes it almost impossible to get through before the plot twist in the finale is thoughtlessly revealed by Jeff from Finance.

While it is so much easier for us now, we’ve lost that shared experience, that connection. Witnessing a cliffhanger ending, knowing that you have a whole week to wait before you find out what happens creates a powerful link to the viewer. Now you don’t even have to watch the whole end credits before you’re nudged to watch the next episode right now! Very few of us have the willpower to say no, and before you know it you’ve finished the series – on to the next one.

This opens the door to a lot of very mediocre shows, as they can be watched before you even realise you just wasted 15 hours of your life on something rubbish. Time is our most precious resource, yet we are all guilty of giving it away to things that don’t deserve it. I still love TV and I always will. But by being more conscious in my choices and not mindlessly consuming it means I really appreciate the few shows that I do still watch, and I have more time to spend on other activities that bring value to my life. Are there any shows that you know aren’t doing anything for you, but you keep watching anyway? If so, maybe it’s time to make a change.

Second Album Syndrome

In 2003, a little-known band released their debut album, without much fanfare or expectation. ‘Permission To Land’ was the album, The Darkness was the band. Overnight they became a household name, playing major venues across the world, and though largely seen as a bit of a joke, they were undoubtedly talented musicians who created an album unlike anything else at the time- packed full of great riffs and earworm choruses. Permission To Land is still one of my all-time favourite albums; impossible to listen to without a big grin on my face.

The Darkness’ debut album, Permission To Land

Two years later, the follow-up, ‘One Way Ticket To Hell…And Back’ was released and, well, flopped. A couple of half decent songs weren’t quite enough to make up for the rest of the album, which lacked all of the charm and fun of the original. As quickly as they had burst onto the scene, The Darkness disappeared into obscurity. The wheels had already started coming off by this point, with lead singer Justin Hawkins eventually having a bit of a breakdown.

This situation is far from unique to The Darkness. Known variously across the world as either the ‘sophomore slump’, ‘second album syndrome’ or ‘second-year blues’ this phenomenon refers to when a follow-up album (or film, book, athlete, sports team) fails to hit the heights of the debut effort. A quick google will reveal countless lists of examples, from The Strokes to The Stone Roses. Seemingly the more successful the debut, the harder it is to follow. Lightning doesn’t strike twice as they say.

On one hand, the first effort has been crafted over a lifetime, and without the expectation has been crafted lovingly from a place of truth. The follow up however will only have a year or two, and often less, to try and capitalize on the ‘buzz’. But if the talent is there, then why should the quality drop off so much between efforts? I think the problem comes when the focus is lost. Very few people create with the expectation of becoming rich and famous. They do it because they love it – because it’s what they feel in their heart. Once they start believing the hype, they’re no longer creating what they feel, they’re creating what will be the most successful. They stop trying to make another great piece of work and instead try to make what they think others will want.

Money is a great servant but a terrible master.

The people who avoid second album syndrome are the ones who stay true to themselves, the ones who make what they make for themselves, and no one else. Most of us will not experience creating something which is beloved by millions, but it’s still easy for us to get caught up in our own hype. If you find yourself at a crossroads, remember what got you started in the first place. Do what you do because you love doing it, not for any other reason. Being distracted by things outside of your control like money or what other people might want will nearly always end up in failure.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, this story has a happy ending. The Darkness are still going. After several stints in rehab, lineup changes and infighting, they took a further 7 years to release their third album, and while it was hardly a commercial success it was at least critically appreciated. Now sober, happy and healthy, they have continued to release a new album every couple of years and touring regularly. They remembered why they became musicians in the first place, and once again make the music they want to make.

Start Something

There are plenty of reasons why you might fail:

  • The idea isn’t good enough…
  • The brief is unclear…
  • You spent too much money…
  • Or not enough…
  • You may launch too early…
  • Or leave it too late…
  • You target the wrong people…
  • You could be too niche…
  • Or too broad…
  • You might not be good enough (yet!)…
  • Or experienced enough…
  • Or lucky enough.

But there is one sure-fire way to guarantee failure:

  • You never started.

The first step is always the hardest because you have it all to do, but once you make a start, you have something to build on. The momentum makes each new step that little bit easier.

Of course there will be hard times, and unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee success, but with every step in the right direction, you have the experience of all your previous steps to learn from and improve on.

As the saying goes ‘the things you regret most in life are the risks you didn’t take’. If you don’t try anything then technically you will also never fail, but what kind of life would that be? When all is said and done, you will feel more fulfilled having given it your best shot. So, what’s in the way of you starting something?

Setting Yourself Up For Success

Think about something you want to achieve – a personal goal perhaps. What would success look like to you? What are the steps you need to take to make it happen?

It really doesn’t matter how anyone else would see success for you, only what you think. The key to defining success is to set objectives that are within your control to achieve and not dictated by outside factors.

For me, I plan to be a successful writer this year. On the face of it, that might seem like quite a fanciful statement, but when you break it down to the separate parts it becomes a lot more manageable. I write for me, not for anyone else. I want to improve as a writer and use my writing as a way to express myself. I have defined what success looks like for me using these 3 objectives:

1) To write every day, for at least 20 minutes. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing for my blog, writing fiction or journalling, all that matters is that for 20 minutes every day I sit down and write.

2) To post at least once to my blog every week. At the moment, that’s about as much as I can manage, but I would like to up this to twice a week.

3) To see improvement in my writing over time. I will measure this in terms of both the quality of output, as well as how much editing I have to do from the first draft. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I’ll be able to look back on these early posts and see how far I’ve come along.

So that’s it. I’ve not overcomplicated things and kept it as streamlined as possible. There might be some goals where you want to really push yourself by setting really ambitious goals. I want to solidify the habit first, so if I can stick to this in 2019, then I can pick up the pace for the year after.
Whatever you want to achieve, this simple framework can help you to make it a reality.

Finding Purpose

No one particularly enjoys Mondays, but apparently, today is the worst of them all. The 3rd Monday in January is known as ‘Blue Monday’ – the most depressing day of the year. It turns out that this concept was actually researched and created by a travel company a few years ago in an attempt to sell more holidays in January, but still, it is a time when people can feel most down. A mix of the post-Christmas blues, rubbish weather, having to go back to work and what feels like a lifetime waiting for payday all help drive the mood down to rock bottom. But you can at least take comfort in the thought that if today is the worst day, then tomorrow can only be better.

Remember, you are in control. You can choose to notice the things in life which you are thankful for, instead of focussing too much on what you don’t have. Often, that empty feeling can stem from a perceived lack purpose, or a desire to do more with your time. To give back. If you’re feeling a little directionless – you want to do something, but can’t quite figure it out – then ask yourself the following question:

If you were given a vast sum of money, and you had to spend it on improving the world in some way, what would you choose to spend it on?

What’s your first thought after reading that? It might be that one thing jumps out at you straight away. Some people are already very clear on the cause closest to their heart, but it took me a little while to really think what my answer would be.

I’d never really thought of purpose in this way before. I’ve been happy enough obsessively following one interest for a while, before switching over to something else and repeating, but never getting down to that deeper level. I haven’t been one for a grand plan and have instead chosen to focus more on the here and now, following whatever takes my fancy at the time. As I get older, I want to find a larger purpose – something in the world that really drives me to change and be the best version of myself that I can be.

So if, like me, you find yourself thinking about what to do, and which direction to take then maybe you should ask yourself this question. The answer you come to might surprise you, but once you have it you can start taking steps in the right direction. Very few people get to change the world, but we can all make a difference in our own small way, and you never know where the path may lead.

Morning Routine

When I’ve studied the habits of the people I look up to, there are a few things that seem come up time and time again. One such thing is a productive morning routine. If you’re anything like me then your current morning routine consists of setting your alarm for as late as you can get away with, snoozing it a couple of times, then rushing through your essentials in some sort of mad dash to get to work on time. As I’m sure you’ll agree this isn’t exactly the stuff of champions.

On those rare occasions where I do get up on time, and fit in some exercise or writing it sets me up for a more content and engaging day. By fitting in some ‘me time’ at the start of the day for things like writing and meditation it means I’m not trying to cram it all in to the evening when I get home from work.

It often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done that we want to. I don’t have time for a 90 min morning routine!! – but it comes down to making conscious choices about what is most important to you, and then making sure you stick to it. So, it’s not a new years resolution as such, more a tweaking of current habits which should set me up for much more fulfilling days.

Finally, any productive morning routine starts the night before. Making sure you have a good night’s sleep is essential for wellbeing, so going to sleep earlier is part of this new deal. No more falling asleep with the TV on, or checking something on the phone. I’m going to have my book on the bedside only.

So for the last few weeks I’ve been trying to stick to my new routine- slightly different for weekdays and weekends. The first thing I do is 35-50 pushups, not a major work out but enough to get the blood pumping and it wakes me up. I’ve started exploring yoga, and have learned a couple of basic routines. I’ll alternate between that and meditating, as I find they both have a similar effect on me. After that I’ll do some writing, whether that be for the blog, some journaling/ idea logging or some creative writing. Once I’ve done that then I do the essentials – looking after the dog, and getting ready to leave the house looking at least semi presentable. Ideally I’ve left enough time to sit down and have some breakfast, otherwise I take it to work and eat at my desk.

On the whole I’ve managed to keep it up, though there have been a few days (mainly Mondays) when I have really struggled to get out of bed. I’ve never been a morning person (sounds better than bloody lazy!) but I’m determined to force myself to keep it up.

Weekdays

  • Push ups (2 mins)
  • Yoga or meditation (10-15 mins)
  • Writing (15-20 mins)
  • Feed & let the dog out (10 mins)
  • Make lunch (10 mins)
  • Eat breakfast (10 mins)
  • Get ready for work (20 mins)

Weekends

  • Push ups (2 mins)
  • Yoga (10 mins)
  • Meditation (10 mins)
  • Feed & let the dog out (10 mins)
  • Writing (30-45 mins)

2018 In Books

Another year, another stack of books read. For the last few years I’ve been participating in the Goodreads Challenge. You start the year by giving yourself a target number to complete, and are able to keep track on your progress through the website. In 2018 I set myself the target of getting through 60 books, which I finally reached on the 30th of December, and have set myself the same goal again this year.

In July, I moved jobs to be a bit closer to home and as a result I now drive to work instead of the 2.5 hour round trip on the train I used to have. While this has been lovely for my work/life balance, it does mean I’ve lost quite a big chunk of my reading time, so hitting 60 again might be a little ambitious. We’ll see.

Rather than talk about all 60 books I read, I’ve picked out the 5 highlights, but the full list is at the bottom if you’re interested. I love browsing charity shops for books, so you will no doubt find some older books here mixed in with a few newer ones.

I’d love to hear if you took the Goodreads Challenge and how you got on. How many of my books from 2018 have you read? Any recommendations, please leave a comment.

In no particular order, my top 5 reads of 2018 were:

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

Very different to the books I usually read, which is probably why it has stayed with me for so long. Oddly I didn’t particularly enjoy reading it at the time as it is pretty slow I did take a little pause in the middle somewhere and briefly considered leaving it there. I’m glad I stuck with it. The main character, Toru looks back on his college years, and the events that shaped his life, in particular love and loss. Looking back now, I can’t remember a lot of what happened in the book, or how it ended, but more the journey the characters take along the way

The History Of Bees – Maja Lunde

One of my favourite books of all time is Station Eleven, and this uses a similar device of telling different stories from different times, which are all interlinked. In The History Of Bees we follow a story from England in the mid 19th century, near modern day America, and late 21st century China. As the title suggests the link between the 3 narratives is bees, but deeper than that it explores the state of the environment, and the rather depressing fate we’re currently heading towards. The book also explores the relationship between parent and child, as that is the key relationship in each of the stories. After finishing this book you will want to get out there and do something for the environment.

Quiet – Susan Cain

This is a book about introverts, and how dramatically undervalued they (we) are. Throughout the 20th century there’s been a rise in the ‘Extrovert Ideal’, which now seems to dominate what we value the most in western culture, but it hasn’t always been this way. This book is equally valuable for introverts and extroverts, and will make you cherish the differences between us all and how together we can bring about the most change in our world

The Accidental Further Adventures Of The Hundred Year Old Man – Jonas Jonasson

Jonas Jonasson is probably my favourite writer. This is the sequel to ‘The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, so if you haven’t read that yet stop what you’re doing and go find it. Allan Karlsson (our Centenarian protagonist) has been involved in most of the major events of the 20th century, and all by complete accident. Allan just lets the world happen around him. You will come away with the feeling that life is full of serendipitous moments, and I find it hugely uplifting, and laugh out loud funny. I would also recommend another Jonasson book ‘The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden’.

I Think You’ll Find It’s A Bit More Complicated Than That – Ben Goldacre

Ben Goldacre is a physician, academic and science writer, and this book is a selection of some of his most interesting articles and essays over the years. You’ll be scared by some of the bad science and lazy research that he calls out in this book, and also encouraged to dig a little deeper. Don’t believe everything you read because even some of the most respected sources can be much lighter on the facts than you would think.

The complete list of 2018 reads:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Attwood
  2. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
  3. Adapt – Tim Harford
  4. The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman
  5. Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
  6. Elon Musk – Ashlee Vance
  7. The Little Book That Beats The Market – Joel Greenblatt
  8. Shadow Of The Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  9. Artemis – Andy Weir
  10. The 4 Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss
  11. The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman
  12. The New Paradigm For Financial Markets – George Soros
  13. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari – Robin S. Sharma
  14. Linchpin – Seth Godin
  15. E-Squared – Pam Grout
  16. Reminisces Of A Stock Operator – Edwin Lefevre
  17. Lost In A Good Book – Jasper Fforde
  18. The Boy On The Bridge – M. R. Carey
  19. Utopia For Realists – Rutger Bregman
  20. The Templars – Dan Jones
  21. Day 21 – Kass Morgan
  22. Golden Son – Pierce Brown
  23. Killers Of The Flower Moon – David Grann
  24. The Hidden Oracle – Rick Riordan
  25. The Postman – David Brin
  26. Tin – Padraig Kenny
  27. Mayday! – Clive Cussler
  28. The History Of Bees – Maja Lunde
  29. Who Moved My Cheese? – Dr Spencer Johnson
  30. Moonwalking With Einstein – Joshua Foer
  31. Start With Why – Simon Sinek
  32. The Room – Jonas Karlsson
  33. Blink – Malcolm Gladwell
  34. Jump Start Your Marketing Brain – Doug Hall
  35. The Fellowship Of The Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
  36. Quiet – Susan Cain
  37. Animal Farm – George Orwell
  38. The 30 Day MBA in Marketing – Colin Barrow
  39. All Marketers Are Liars – Seth Godin
  40. All You Need Is Kill – Ryosuke Takeuchi
  41. How To Win Friends And Influence People – Dale Carnegie
  42. The Star Wars – J.W. Rinzler
  43. Universal – Brian Cox
  44. Deadpool & Cable – Fabian Nicieza
  45. The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers
  46. Purple Cow – Seth Godin
  47. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson
  48. The Laws Of Simplicity – John Maeda
  49. What The Dog Saw – Malcolm Gladwell
  50. Entrepreneurial Confessions – Elliot Lum
  51. Choose Yourself – James Altucher
  52. Sleeping Giants – Sylvain Neuvel
  53. The Accidental Further Adventures Of The Hundred Year Old Man – Jonas Jonasson
  54. I Think You’ll Find It’s A Bit More Complicated Than That – Ben Goldacre
  55. The Undoing Project – Michael Lewis
  56. The Stand – Stephen King
  57. Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve
  58. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale – Philip K. Dick
  59. Snakes In Suits – Paul Babiak
  60. 500 Words You Should Know – Caroline Taggart

It’s The Little Things.

We get caught up with trying to add value to other people’s lives. It’s a great ambition to have, but sometimes trying to focus on the big changes, means that we end up not doing much of anything.

A little gesture can go a very long way- a sincere thank you when someone does something nice, a friendly smile or a word of encouragement at the right moment- these little things add up to make a huge impact.

Bringing positivity into the world, one small step at a time, will make the biggest difference.

Too Busy Or Too Distracted?

We always feel the need to be ‘doing something’, as our lives are seemingly too busy. Next time you have the TV on in the background, catching up on some show that isn’t entertaining enough to give your full attention, while scrolling through various apps/articles/feeds on your phone, think about why. Would you rather be doing a few things that don’t warrant your full attention, or would you rather just do one thing, but do it right, and do nothing else at the same time?

Digital Detox

I don’t like social media. It annoys me, it stresses me out, it makes me feel worthless, and it wastes countless hours of my time. I used to think it was a great way of staying in touch with friends and family when they are far away, that I could keep up to date with everything where previously I would be in the dark, but it doesn’t really work out like that, not for me anyway. I’m not sure if it’s just the way I am, but I actually feel further away from these people than I ever was before. Liking a picture, or commenting on a status has replaced real communication. No need to phone or email to find out how everything is going now, I just saw that status update, and ‘liked’ it. Job done.

I’ve decided to have a digital detox. It started a few months ago with me getting rid of my shiny iPhone 6s, a device it seems which exists only to waste time, and make you buy things. I became convinced that everything needs to have an app now, simply going to the website isn’t enough anymore. So I sold it and replaced it with a Blackberry Passport – certainly not the phone for everyone. It’s massive, with a square screen, actual keyboard and most importantly for me, less apps! Now if I had strong willpower then I would simply delete the extra apps, or not download them in the first place, but I’m not that strong (yet) so I needed to take it that step further and take the choice away entirely. A few years ago I tried switching back to a ‘dumbphone’, but this didn’t last me too long, there were just too many things that I was losing out on, from music and podcasts (which i LOVE!), to travel information and maps I lasted about 4 days before making the switch back. But this I can do. I still have all of those things, but I’m getting rid of the distractions. No more games, and a serious adjustment to the social media platforms that I use.

First up, Facebook- with nearly 2bn users every person I know is on it (except my dad who staunchly refuses to step into the digital world wherever possible, though mainly because he doesn’t understand any of it), which makes for some serious FOMO – the main weapon these sites have in the battle against our free time. I made the decision to ‘unfriend’ anyone who isn’t a very close friend, current colleague (because that would be awkward), or family member. If I wouldn’t go for a drink with them, then they were gone. Lots of very nice people, but when going through the list I realized that many of them I hadn’t spoken to in years, and some I hadn’t had any interaction with at all, since we became FB friends. Some were easier than others, but eventually the list was complete and I now have a much smaller list. At the same time I also turned off all the notifications (except birthdays). The little nudges throughout the day, designed to keep your mind tied in, even when you’re not using it. Now, I go on there once a day, and have a quick scroll through and see what my nearest and dearest have been up to, and so far I’m feeling a lot less need or desire to constantly go on there.

Next, Twitter, which is probably my favourite social media platform. Like religion it seems to bring out both the best and worst in people. So many accounts on there exist purely to be spiteful and negative to anyone (everyone) else, but there are also a lot of really great accounts on there too, providing a daily dose of interesting thoughts, inspiring quotes, new words and bitesize current affairs. I swept through my ‘following’ list and got rid of any that no longer add value to me. Gone are the mindless celebs, timewasters like Buzzfeed and entertainment news. Now my timeline feels like it really enriches my life, rather than just something to read through when I’m bored and can’t think of anything else to do.

Last up, I had Instagram and Snapchat accounts, though didn’t really use them much anyway. I disabled my accounts for both (because it’s practically impossible to actually delete a social media account) and haven’t missed them at all since I’ve been without them. Instagram I enjoyed for a while when I first got it, and initially it encouraged me to take more photos, but I soon realised it made me a lazy photographer, using filters to cover up poor shots.

It would be great to hear from you about your experiences with social media. Do you feel overloaded by it all? Which platforms do you use, and which ones do you find can add value to your life?