Tag Archives: meditation

Books for Entrepreneurs: Essentialism

Greg McKeown’s infamous book, Essentialism, has been on my reading list for a long time. I can’t even remember when or where I first heard about it, but those who mentioned it always spoke of its life changing effect.

When you read a lot of business and personal improvement books like I do, you get used to people waxing lyrical about how things will never be the same after adopting strategy x. This may turn out to be one of those rare occurrences where it happens to be true. The constant doing more, but achieving less. Never feeling satisfied or that the day was meaningful.

As I began reading, I was relieved to discover I already had quite a few essentialist habits. I discovered the underlying cause of friction I felt on many projects: my broadly essentialist approach versus the non-essentialist approach being taken.

This meant that in addition to completing the task itself, I had to work out the true intent and purpose of the project. Where some people are happy to just complete any task (usually just taking the easiest route to something approximating done), I have never accepted mediocre as the target to aim for. Instead, I would rather take longer to work out how to provide a valuable outcome.

But although I was embracing essentialism in many areas, in others I was getting woefully distracted. My personal life, especially, was in free-fall at the time of reading this book. In no small part this was due to the mental exhaustion that came with battling work tasks handed to me that were governed by non-essentialist principles.

So how has this book helped me? Largely by giving me the confidence not to accept a task without getting those in charge of the project to clarify their thinking about it first. Sometimes, the person handing out that task is me. As a freelancer or entrepreneur, understanding essentialism is vital for avoiding burnout.

It’s hard to ask difficult questions sometimes, but it gives me the boundaries to not only do good work, but also valuable work.

The best part of this is that I ultimately freed up valuable creative energy to expend into my personal life and projects. I developed a new infrastructure for 2017 that allowed me to be location independent and travel.It also gives me the framework to consider carefully my side projects and see which ones are ready to move from hobby to business and which ones simply need to be cut from my life, no matter how enjoyable they seem on the surface.

For the first time since reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done, I have experienced a fundamental shift in what I believe is achievable and what my life needs to look like to get there. The confidence comes through in the decision making process. Whilst success is never guaranteed, I am giving myself the best possible shot at living a meaningful life, rather than a purely busy and productive one.

With challenging economic and political times ahead, Essentialism is one of the books I would recommend for anyone who wants to make the most of future opportunities in the changing workforce.

2017: New Year, New Goals, New Dreams

I’m not going to lie. During November and December I fell off so many wagons I couldn’t work out which one I wanted to get back on first. So I drank another glass of wine, enough cheese and crackers to sink a small boat and opened a box of chocolates instead.

But now that has all changed! By the mystical power of the calendar year flicking over, my willpower has returned and I am wholesome and virtuous again!

I wish.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been wholesome and virtuous. But I have begun to steadily correct course this week to get back on track. But where did it all go wrong in the first place?

I suspect much of it came down to illness and exhaustion. I failed to achieve a lot of things in 2016 because I felt worn out or ill most of the time. Listening to the Creative Penn podcast, it was great to hear another writer making health a priority in 2017. It is very easy to set ‘business’ type goals only. We’re taught how to focus on finance and career, but not necessarily spiritual or health goals. Last year was a harsh reminder of how if I don’t sleep and maintain a healthy lifestyle, eventually I’ll fail in other areas as well. I had two (because I’m a slow learner) fairly serious burnouts last year. I’m determined not to make the same mistakes again.

I’m tracking my sleep on my Fitbit and have once again begun the process of detoxing from sugar. I got a huge morale boost from seeing my book, The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free at #2 in the kindle personal health charts in the first days of January. Hopefully I’ve been able to help a few people on their journey towards making the change too. Throw in a daily journaling and gratitudes practice and I can keep moving towards a physically and emotionally better me.

I’ve also challenged myself to read a book a week in 2017. With an English degree, I find it easy to read quickly, so the only excuse I have for not doing it is that I simply haven’t made it a priority. I have to hold myself accountable for that.

Mainly, I want to work on more exciting and challenging writing projects in 2017. I won’t give the numbers, but I have set myself a pretty hardcore stretch goal for increasing my writing income compared to 2016. Like health and reading, it will come down to prioritising and commitment. I’m good with that. When the 6am alarm sounded each day this week, I got up, got coffee and did the work. That’s how you achieve anything, right?

So those are some of my goals and plans for 2017. I want to get into a more consistent blogging schedule as well, to hold myself accountable to these things as much as anything. It also means I’ll get to share some tips and tricks I find along the way.

2016 was a terrible year generally, but with some major personal highs. I want 2017 to be the year to give back. To use my voice to make a change in the world when I can. That sounds lofty and ambitious. But if you haven’t been happy with the way things went politically in 2016 then you have to raise your voice. You have to do something. As Shonda Rhimes said, a hashtag is not a movement. Do something.

Subtle discomforts

I haven’t posted here for a while. As well as being very busy, there was a strange discomfort that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

This morning, I realised what it was. I’d probably known all along, but I finally acknowledged it.

When I published my Sugar Free book, I decided to give Facebook a go, despite disliking it as a concept for years. Obviously, if you’re going to use it for marketing purposes, then it made sense to link my blogposts to it.

I still hated it. More importantly, its open door policy and spooky algorithm meant that everyone I may have ever known was being suggested to me in other places, such as my Instagram. Even people who I don’t want to be part of my life. It was like a sledgehammer of suggestions that kept poking sore spots.

So this morning I deleted my Facebook account. I’m under no illusions that it will make all the problems instantly go away. But I realised I don’t want the downsides it brings, no matter what the upsides might be.

It feels good. If something bothers you, then get rid of it, even if other people tell you it’s a ‘must have’ item. Trust your own instincts. They’re probably right about things more times than you realise.

Floating: why it is beneficial to my physical and mental health

Everyone who knows me understands that I inhabit a strange place between logical efficiency and unconstrained creativity. Essentially, this:

venn

In reality, I try to be efficient so I can get the things I must do out of the way as quickly as possible, so that I can enjoy the things I want to do. Like a lot of people, I frequently seem to slide down the slippery slope towards getting more done, rather than getting the right things done.

Luckily for me, just under a year ago, Time To Float opened up nearby. Before, I had travelled to London to float, but for anyone in the centre of the England, this is infinitely more convenient. So, why did I try it and why do I keep doing it?

1. Sleep

I’ve put this first, because it is the one I can actively measure. I’ve always ‘felt’ like I slept better after floating, but having recently started wearing a fitbit, I was interested to see if my gut feel actually resembled reality.

Apparently, it does:

img_1531  img_1530
I selected two nights, one from the week before floating and the second from the week after. Both had a similar amount of ‘total’ sleep. But you can see the quality of that sleep was markedly different. After floating I had prolonged periods of sleep without restlessness (the light blue bars that make the first picture look more like a barcode). This was really interesting to see and I’m glad it’s not just all in my head.

2. Physical Relaxation

The physical effect of floating is a strange one. At first, I find that it is like lying down on a really comfortable bed. Then I start to become aware of areas such as my neck and shoulders relaxing, letting go of a tension that I’ve simply become used to feeling. I try to use a standing desk at home, because prolonged periods of sitting during my workday makes the problem so much worse. Even doing that, I still find my shoulders tensing in response to any stressful scenario. Feeling that tension disappear is amazing.

Finally, when the session is over, trying to stand is almost hilarious. My body gets used to being weightless very quickly, so when my feet get back on the earth it feels like my limbs are made of lead. For a few moments you are aware of gravity in a way that can be achieved by little else. I tend to be a little zoned out for a while after and have to take advantage of the chill out area.

3. Creative/Strategic Thinking

Unlike sleep, this can’t be quantified with a chart. But I notice it every time, depending on what phase of life I am in. If I’ve been juggling multiple projects and can feel the beginnings of burnout and poor decision making, then floating allows me the clarity to get to the higher levels. Most people don’t apply strategic thinking to their daily lives, but I have no intention of getting to 80 and wondering how I ended up in a place I never wanted to be. The sensory deprivation may be a part of it. But it certainly works.

Alternatively, there are times when I just want to come up with new ideas. They may be for my writing, or they may be for other side projects. Sometimes I go into the session with a problem already in mind, giving myself a chance to really think about it in the silence. The aha! moment usually comes a few hours later, seemingly out of nowhere, but really from the freed up depths of my subconscious. Other times I am open to whatever my brain comes up with when it is allowed to do nothing but think. I’ve recently been reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism and I can see how floating provides me with a fast track to getting that clarity. Although it is easy to understand the physical effects, the psychological ones are as profound.

So those are the key benefits of floating for me. There are many more that are important for other people, but these are the ones that have had a positive impact on my own life. If you think that could work for you, then definitely check it out.

 

Capturing ideas wherever, whenever

Intuitively I felt like I was capturing so many more thoughts and ideas as I moved through 2015. So at the end of the year I collected together all the notebooks I had completed into one place to confirm the theory. Yep, I had indeed had a lot of thoughts:

2015 notebook stack

Because I’m a bit of a GTD fan, I was in the habit of capturing things to do the moment I thought of them, but story ideas and general everyday thoughts and feelings, not so much. I made much more of an effort to do that and it shows. I have a whole treasure chest of ideas for stories I can now return to, as well as all the highs and lows of the year that I’ve recorded for posterity.

Broken down into three notebook types:

  1. The filofax was my daily log book for 2015. For 2016 I’ll be moving over to a Hobonichi which is already proving to be an amazing experience.
  2. The large, hardback notebooks were for novel plotting and extended meditative journalling, including daily gratitudes to set my days up right.
  3. Pocket notebooks (especially Field Notes) were always in my jeans or handbag for keeping track of what I had to do each day, but also for those random confluences of inspiration that happen when I’m out and about. Now I can capture them immediately (I’m guaranteed to forget them if I put it off until I get home).

2015 Notebook collection

I made leaps forward in my writing processes and achievements in 2015 and I fully intend to keep building on the momentum in 2016. More than ever I believe the best way to succeed at anything is to just write it down!

The importance of finding peace

Saying things have been crazy lately is an understatement. I know everyone in today’s world feels overwhelmingly busy most of the time. I’ve spent years putting systems in place to allow me to manage multiple products and still be uber-productive, but even I have had several moments of complete overload. I already know my yearly review of 2015 will be quite something.

Even my morning journalling, a time solely dedicated for quiet reflection, has been interrupted by a compulsion to check my phone, having random ideas that need capturing elsewhere and, quite frankly, the fidgetiness of a five year old.

It kind of defeats the point.

But the absence of peace and stillness has made me realise how important it has become to me. Not to sound like some hippy white person trying to be an eastern self-styled guru, but there is so much to be said for the practices of mindfulness and gratitude. Of just being in the moment and being part of the world around you. Of being able to appreciate an autumn sunset, rather than just whizzing past it on your way to somewhere else.

Lake Windermere

It has been manic, and there is more to come. Nanowrimo is coming up and I have six days to complete it in. This is not one of my crazy, self-imposed deadlines and I’m certainly not going to try and beat last year’s three day completion, but I won’t actually have access to my computer from day seven. So it’s either type or fail and I’m not the kind of person who relishes failure.

But it seems to me that in order to keep moving forwards, one needs to be intentional about standing still. About appreciating where you are and where you are going rather than just charging forward blindly. Life is about progress, but not necessarily about speed.

It will be over before you want it to be anyway, so don’t rush to a final location that may not really be where you ever dreamed you would go.

Can you get worse at meditation?

At the beginning of the year, one of my main goals for 2015 was to get to the point where I could meditate for 30 minutes. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy, so I used the calm app for my phone so I could work my way through, starting with small chunks and building up.

Despite setting my expectations low, it’s been harder than I thought. I assumed that it would start off difficult but then I would have longer and longer periods of a calm and quiet mind. Instead, the voices are getting louder.

I’m not sure if this is a normal thing. There is a chance that I’m at that point which occurs with most things; the bit where it gets so bad you want to give up before the breakthrough. It could be that I’m actually getting worse at it. I might be the first person to ever end a year’s worth of meditation more stressed out than when I started.

I don’t want to give up on this though. Not just yet. I have a few more strategies I’m going to try:

1) changing the time of day. I’ve been doing it just before bed, but maybe that’s not right for me. Instead, I’m going to try to move it to part of my 6am morning routine, before I have the chaos of the day built up inside of me.

2) change the frequency. I set myself a goal of doing it three times a week, because that seems doable. It means it doesn’t form a habit though, so the inertia sets in between each session. While it might seem crazy to say I’m going to do it more when I’m already struggling to do it less, I can see the benefit of making it part of my daily routine.

3) reduce the time back down again. I’ve been trying to do ten minute blocks, because that seemed reasonable. It could be that sitting for ten minutes right now is more than my brain can handle, so it allows itself to turn into a free-for-all. Going down to five minutes (or perhaps even three), until I can see some progress might be enough for now. I can build up again when I’m ready.

So that’s the plan. If anyone has any helpful hints, or has been through this and come out the other side, then please let me know!