How to do everything and be happy – by Peter Jones

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve just finished reading this book, by Peter Jones which I thought of buying when I saw his article in the Guardian.

Because I believe in following my intuition when it comes to anything, when I see a book I like the look of, I usually take it as a sign and buy it. If I learn anything new that I use, than I know it’s been worth it.

The things that I found useful in this book were:

Having a diary

Jones loves diaries, and I myself like the idea of being organised, and it’s my job to manage other people’s diaries at work, but I never manage my own diary when it comes to my life. It makes sense that if you want to be successful in achieving what you want to reach in life, then you have to organise time to work on it, just like you would at work, but often people don’t think of keeping a diary when it comes to their personal goals. As a result I have started a diary.

Boxing day

Jones suggests you have what he calls a Boxing day at least once a month. This can be on a weekend. Boxing day is a day, when you should do only what you feel like doing and none of it can be pre-planned.  You obviously need to plan having the Boxing day – put it in your diary – but you can’t pre-plan anything you do on it until the day itself. You can however keep a list of potential Boxing day activities you might like to do on the day.

Now list

Have a ‘now list’, I call it a ‘life list’ which lists all the things, in categories, that you’d like to do before you die. Like for example, learning to play an instrument, or travelling around the world, or meeting the Dalai Lama. To be fair, I did have a life list already, but I wrote it and then never looked at it again, so obviously I hadn’t done any of it. Jones’s advice is to book a ‘Now list day’ or evening or few hours in your diary every week to work on your now list and make arrangements for the things you’d like to do – like book tickets, research, etc. Then book a day in the diary to do something on your now list.

Goal list

Jones also has a ‘goal list’ or ‘wish list’, this is where you write down all the things you want your life to be. These goals have to be specific and formulated using positive wording and also there must be a deadline. So for example you could have:

‘I have written a successful book, which has been published.’ (deadline: 31 December this year)

‘I am a guitarist in a band’ (deadline: 31 December this year)

Out of all your goals you should pick 3 to focus on and put at least 12 goal days in your diary (1 every month) when you work on your 3 goals. When you tick one of the goals off, you can pick another one from your list to work on. As you go along, you can make your goals more specific, as you recognise what needs to be done for each one. Remind yourself of your 3 goals every day, by writing them on your desktop or putting images that remind you of the goals on your screensavers for example.

Trophy and vision board

I also like Jones’s idea of having a trophy board and a vision board. The trophy board is where you keep mementos of nice experiences you’ve had – like concert tickets, photos, parking tickets, postcards and pin them to a cork board, and have a jar for things you can’t pin to a board. This will remind you of all the good times you’ve had in the past year. At the end of the year, take it down, put it in an envelope, write the year on it, put it in the loft, and start afresh. Also have a vision board where you put images of your goals and what you’d like to achieve. You can also do this in scrapbook format or any other format you like. I’ve always wanted to make a scrap book but I never knew what to put in it, but this is a good idea of how to do it.

I liked this book, because it’s very practical. Like a lot of self development books it presents the same information in a different way, but it’s been useful to me because of its practical solutions. It does make free time seem like a lot of hard work, but it’s true that really, if we want to achieve our goals in life, and be happy, we have to work at it. It’s fun working on personal goals though, because we are doing what we want to do and not what we have to do, like in our jobs.

I also like the idea of having a Boxing day. I don’t know if it will work for me and provide the relaxation and enjoyment that Jones says it does for him, but heck it’s worth a try.

My 3 goals are working more on my blog, painting, and the last one is a secret…

What are your goals for 2013?

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Journey of life – a poem

1406497_sunlight_sparkling_between_tree_trunks_in_forestSometimes I wonder what life is about,

sometimes I want to go out and shout:

“Universe just show me the way,

I want to know what I should be doing each day.”

 

I want to feel fulfilled, happy and free,

I want to be grateful for just being me,

for having all the wonderful things I already have,

my health, my friends, my family should be enough.

 

But I seem to always want more,

striving and fighting to the core,

going from one goal to the next,

not being content with what I have now.

 

My intuition tells me to go,

to pursue more and more goals.

Will I ever stop wanting more?

I don’t know, but I don’t think so.

 

I love the challenges each goal brings,

when I set my mind to do more and more things.

I love the feeling when I achieve what I’ve set out to do,

even though often I don’t see it through.

 

I lose interest when I feel I’ve no more to learn,

and for the next challenge I start to yearn.

Life in this way seems like a constant struggle,

where there is always more to unravel.

 

It’s fun to play the game of life,

there’s always something out there,

something new,

that’s just out of view.

 

I’ll find it soon and then there’ll be more to come,

this is what makes life worth living,

constantly discovering and finding meaning,

learning, developing, changing, loving, yearning, trying, doing, revealing,

searching for the ultimate truth, on the wonderful journey of life.

 

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Finding flow – by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Everyone finds flow in something else, skiing is only one example.

Everyone finds flow in something else, skiing is only one example.

I’ve read lots about the concept of flow before I even read this book by Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced ‘chick-sent-me-high’), who first coined the term ‘flow’. I thought why ready this book, when I’ve already read about this idea in other books, but as is often the case, even though lots of people can talk about the same thing you can learn something new from all of them because they all present a different way of seeing it.

Flow

Obviously flow is a state of being known to mankind since the dawn of time, but Csikszentmihalyi measured it and named it and the term is now used in modern psychology books. Flow is a state which happens to us when we are dealing with a situation which is highly challenging and requires high skill from us.  This makes us focus all our energy on the task at hand and time flies by, hours feel like minutes, we become completely engrossed in the activity. Everyone finds flow in something else. As I have written before I find my flow in writing or in rowing for example, where my focus is 100% –  these are challenging activities and they require my highest skills. If the activity is too challenging and we don’t have the skills this is not flow, because instead of motivating us it causes anxiety as we feel unable to cope with the challenge at hand due to lack of skills and vice versa if it’s not challenging enough and does not require our highest skills it becomes boring, so we need to keep adapting our challenges to meet the new levels of our developing abilities.

What stuck in my mind from this book – are a few things, and here are the ones I found most interesting.

Free time has to be planned as much as you’d plan your work

Yes that is new to me, it makes sense when you think about it, but seeing it written out in front of me made me realise – it’s true. Your free time has to be planned out with ideally activities that induce flow within you and that are working towards long term plans or goals you have. Spending free time just doing nothing will make us bored and with no goal we will start to experience restlessness, anxiety and possibly even depression.

It’s interesting for example that people report experiencing flow more often at work than they do at home, but if you’d ask them then they’d still say that they prefer not to work, because free time is seen as generally more desirable.

TV is bad for you

TV is something that in recent years I’ve become to really dislike, because I feel like it hypnotises you and you don’t even want to watch it but you keep watching senseless programmes for entertainment. Some people have it on all the time as background noise even though they’re not watching it. I don’t watch TV and don’t even have one. Csikszentmihalyi’s research confirms what I’ve felt , that people who watch more TV are less likely to experience flow, therefore their quality of life suffers, because you cannot experience flow through passive entertainment. Instead people who read more, learn new things and study more are more likely to experience flow and have fuller lives.

Relationships

A good relationship with friends, partners and family, depends on having certain goals in common. If you don’t have goals you want to achieve together you will less likely experience flow together. For example often successful couples are passionate about something that they share together, like a sport or a hobby.

Solitude

According to Csikszentmihalyi naturally people don’t like being alone and always want to be with someone and when they are alone they feel anxious and nervous. I felt this is strange, because perhaps  as I grew up as an only child I like to be alone and even need to be alone at least once a day for an hour or two. But I know some people who literally cannot stand to be alone. Csikszentmihalyi says that if you don’t like being alone you should learn to like it or at least tolerate it because usually people experience flow when they are focusing or studying or generally doing something for which they need to be alone to concentrate. As expected, the happy medium is that there should be a balance between being alone and being with people and either extreme of being alone all the time or being with people all the time is bad for one’s development.

Friends vs family

According to research we enjoy spending more time with friends than we do with family. I guess this is because we choose our friends but we don’t choose our family, unless you’re lucky enough that your family are also your best friends.

Csikszentmihalyi says that now relationships need work . We put effort into our jobs but when we come home we feel we can somehow switch off, and just relax and not put any effort into our relationships, but this is why they often break because people take them for granted. In the past you didn’t have to worry about working on your marriage for example, because divorce wasn’t an option, but now people only stay together if they want to.

Csikszentmihalyi also points out, which I’ve felt to be the case, that today’s modern environment is not conductive to sustaining long lasting friendships because people move around all the time. I myself find it hard to deal with that a lot of my friends have moved far away and it’s very hard for me to see them and keep in touch. Whereas for example my father who has grown up in the same village and lives there even now when he’s retired still sees the same friends he went to school with and grew up with. Luckily as Csikszentmihalyi points out, we make up for this a bit by choosing our partners and spouses for love and because they are also our friends, whereas in the past marriage was seen as a practical union and friendship or love was not the norm.

It’s sad Csikszentmihalyi writes that some people go through life without experiencing flow at all, and therefore their lives become devoid of joy and real meaning. So the advice is do more of the things that give you a flow experience, try new things, get into new things, keep learning, keep challenging yourself and plan your free time wisely instead of frittering it away by watching TV or reading trashy novels or generally wasting time.

Loving your fate

There are some things that you will simply have to do that you don’t like doing. You can either accept this and choose to be happy doing this, by for example trying to make a game out of how fast and how efficiently you can complete a task for example, or you can grumble while you do the disliked task and make it harder on yourself, but either way you’ll still have to do it.

By paying attention to what you do in your work for example, even though it might be boring, can help you find ways how to do your work quicker, find more efficient ways to getting things done, and perhaps you might even discover something new like when Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin as he noticed that unwashed and mouldy bowls had less bacteria in them. When a problem comes up in life and at work, take it as a challenge and try and think of the best way to solve it before you go and ask someone for help, or at least try to already have a suggestion of how it could be solved if you do ask for help.

Good luck with finding the things that give you flow and finding new passions that constantly challenge you and develop your skills, it makes life worth living. I for one will try and plan my free time more wisely in the New Year and aim to problem solve more as well as love my fate more than I do.

Wishing you all complete happiness in the New Year, may it be full of amazing and positive states of being and experiences.

 

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Goodbye 2012, hello 2013

Wow what a year it’s been. 2012.

1409165_christmas_ballsI left one job, was unemployed, then found another one and happy to say I’m still employed.

I went through a break-up and I am now single for the first time in what feels like ages.  Being single with all its ups and downs feels like I’m remembering something  that I experienced long ago and it’s all coming back to me now.

When you’re single, there’s the upside of being able to do what you want when you want, not having to tell anyone what you’re doing, who with and where, and having lots of spare time to devote to your interests.

With time comes clarity and I’m beginning to see more clearly my relationships now that I’ve had time to stand back from them, which is always the case, but you can never see it when you are in them and then suddenly it clears up like a fog and all becomes obvious.

Then there are the lows. I guess every human is always looking for that special someone and it’s an instinct for us to look for someone to love. At the same time though, I’m realising that being single is so much better than being in a relationship that doesn’t work for you. This might seem obvious to some, but it wasn’t always obvious to me.

In the past I’d put off breaking up with someone because I was scared of being on my own. But I realise now, that like with everything, the idea of something is usually worse than the reality. When you make the leap and take things as they come, nothing is as bad as you imagine it will be.

This year, I’ve made some big decisions about work, relationships and my future  –  which is saying something for me, who would often put off making a decision for as long as possible, but doing it too many times has made me realise that being in state of indecision is worse than deciding something. Spending time in indecision is time wasted and drains away your energy.

There’s no point worrying about the future, because it won’t help, if every time I start worrying I just stop and it’s slowly becoming a habit, and I feel much better for it.

Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used is better than the one to come?” Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak

Merry Christmas everyone, wishing you lots of happiness, health and love for the year ahead.

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Row, row, row your boat, as fast as you can down the stream

Me next year hopefully :-)

Me next year hopefully 🙂

Recently I’ve started rowing and it’s become a bit of an obsession.

It’s had to be considering the training is four times a week, it’s a lot to commit to.  The idea is to get us to be fit to race next year, which requires technical skills in the boat as well as having the physical fitness.

It requires discipline getting up every weekend morning at 7 am  which means I try to get an early night even at the weekends. So I’ve been thinking what exactly do I really like about this? Firstly, when we are in the boat, rowing requires full concentration. You have to all row in time with each other and so you have to focus on the rhythm of the boat, and make sure that you’re doing everything well technically as well. This feels like a type of meditation for me – total focus on what I’m doing, no time for the mind to wander, and if it does, it’s likely to show quickly because I’ll end up making a mistake.

Our trainer is not the most patient type and has coached an advanced crew before us, so his frustration is quite visible. Yet we keep on showing up four times a week and keep trying to be perfect, better, faster.

There is also a feeling of satisfaction when it’s only 11.30 and you’ve already done 3 hours of training, it makes me feel like I’ve really taken advantage of my whole day, because if I wasn’t forced to wake up at 7 am, I would probably sleep until late and by 12 I’d probably just had my breakfast, a cup of tea and read the news.

I like the feeling of being in a team. Everyone in the boat affects everyone else. If you make a mistake you throw the whole boat off balance.

I also like the social side of it. Everyone there is passionate about rowing, otherwise they couldn’t do it. It’s great to be there with people that share that passion and as we are all quite new to rowing in our group, it’s also amazing to see how quickly we improve, week by week, session by session.

It feels like rowing has opened up a whole new parallel world, which was on my doorstep before, but I’ve not discovered it until now. It’s great having a new hobby which I’m really passionate about, and makes you think how many more opportunities there are out there to discover and get excited about. Although I don’t think I’ll have time to discover them right now, because I’ll probably be out rowing.

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The How of Happiness

I’m just about to finish reading a book called The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. Lyubomirsky is a psychologist and presents strategies in her book that have actually been tested on people and have been proven to make them happy in the long run.

The most surprising information in this book was for me that 50% of how happy we are is down to our genes (quite a lot!), 10% to our circumstances (not much at all) and 40% to the way we think.

So having a bigger house, finding your soul mate, winning the lottery, getting your dream job, or whatever you think it is will make you happy, will actually only make you happier by 10% because you’ll soon adapt to the change and it won’t make you so happy as you thought in the long run.

Lyuobomirsky’s happiness strategies are:

  1. Thinking positively and being optimistic – imagining and writing down how and where you would would like to be in the future, 5, 10 years from now, which will make you actually realise where you want to be and you should start to work towards it
  2. Practice gratitude – be grateful for everything you have and make a point of writing it down regularly
  3. Avoid over thinking and social comparison –  over thinking about things that happened serves no purpose, so just forget about it and don’t compare yourself to others, because there will always be someone who’s doing better than you. Just do what you want to do and don’t care what anyone else thinks about it
  4.  Invest in social connections, make an effort with your friends and family and make an effort to meet new ones
  5. Practice acts of kindness
  6. Learn to forgive
  7. Live in the present
  8. Increase your flow experiences
  9. Savour life’s joys
  10.  Meditate
  11. Reminisce about the good times – you can do this by creating a savouring album where you put lots of things that you like, pictures of your family, friends, your favourite places, experiences, poems, quotes etc. and then every time you look at it will provide positive emotions for you
  12. Commit to your goals – all happy people have goals they want to achieve, so go for them and if you haven’t got any then create some
  13.  Practice religion or spirituality – religious and spiritual people are happier than non spiritual people
  14. Take good care of your body, exercise and eat healthy

Lyuobomirsky says that achieving happiness is hard work, it doesn’t just come to you as most people believe, you need to make it happen. She argues that just like any goal, happiness needs to be made time for and pursued, like it was exercise for example. To get fit you go to the gym 3 times a week, so to be happy you equally need to make some time and put some concentrated effort into achieving this.

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Writing is my flow

‘I never know what I think about something, until I read what I’ve written on it.’

William Faulkner

I couldn’t agree more with this quote. Writing for me is also a kind of therapeutic, or flow experience, where I just start writing, without planning what I want to write.

At school when we had to write an essay on a topic or do a piece of creative writing, there were always two groups of people. Those who planned exactly what they were going to write before they started, and those who just started writing and see where it took them. I was definitely in the second group.

Often, I would have a vague idea about what I wanted to write about, and then I’d just start writing and see what came out. Writing something down makes you start thinking systematically about it and you start neatly categorising your thoughts by writing them down on paper. If you’re writing a story, it starts taking on a life of its own.  I spoke to someone who is working on a novel recently and she told me ‘I was writing about a character and it really surprised me how he turned out to be in the end, I thought he would be just a marginal figure, but he became one of the most interesting characters in the novel, I can’t wait to see how his story will end.’ There’s something fascinating about this process as if you weren’t the person who was writing but rather something took over and was writing for you as your imagination begins to develop the story and guide your hand.

As with many worthwhile things it can be hard to start writing. Every time it’s time to write a new blog post, report, or personal statement I keep putting it off, whiling my time away and putting off starting writing. But the trick is to open up your notepad (or a new Word document in my case) and start writing the first sentence you think of and then just let yourself write. Keep writing and see what comes out. Sometimes you start off well and then suddenly the words dry up and you’re stuck in a dead end, but somehow you keep going until you get a second wind.

While writing you experience a sense of flow and when it’s done you’re proud that you’ve done it and when you look at the clock, once you start it actually takes very little time to get a lot done, the key is just to start. It’s like exercise, or taking on a new project, or forcing yourself to go out to the pub with your friends when it’s raining outside and your warm sofa feels so comfortable. Once you actually do it, you have fun and you’re glad you did it.

Sometimes you worry about if what you’re doing is any good, but in the end you just enjoy it and that’s what matters. It’s important not to over think too much otherwise you’d end up not doing anything and get bogged down by the details.

And before you know it another blog post is done…

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