Use Your Death

It’s all well good me writing to you impressing upon you the importance of doing ‘the right thing’, but how are you supposed to know what that right thing is?

It’s tempting to try to use your mind. To analyse it, to weigh this against that, to be rational and logical and objective. Don’t bother. It’s not necessary.

Use your death instead.

Remind yourself intead that one day – maybe even today – you are going to die. Don’t get sad about it. Just accept it. Drink it in. Swim in it. Because it’s true.

Why am I telling you to do this?

Because when you keep your death close at hand, your true priorities magically make themselves known. You stop giving a shit about trivia. You no longer have a need to taking things personally. It becomes impossible to bear grudges.

Only when you remember your death, will you know how to live.

There Is Safety in Boldness

Bobby wants to get started, but he’s waiting for things to settle down a bit first. When they do, he’ll proceed. Seems reasonable.

Billie promises she is about get started, but she’s no fool – it’s only sensible to wait until she’s got a few more quid saved up… just in case. Once that happens, she’ll be ready to roll.

Barry really thought he’d be started by now, but he’s decided that first he wants a guarantee. He wants some kind of signal that he’s made the right decision, and that everything will work out just fine for him. Then he’ll get going.

Bobby, Billie, and Barry think they’re being wise. I think they’re chicken-shit.

Life does not have a ‘pause’ button

When there is something you want to do, but present circumstances are not perfect, you have two choices: You can take some kind of action anyway, or you can do nothing whilst you wait for the circumstances to become perfect.

And intuitively, waiting feels like the safer option. The neutral choice. As though nothing is at stake. Like you’ve hit ‘pause’ on life, and though by waiting you might be not gaining anything, at least you’re not losing anything, so it evens out, really.

Taking action, on the other hand, feels decidedly risky in comparison. As though everything is at stake. Like now you’ve hit ‘play’ on life, and whilst, yes, you could stand to gain something from taking action, it’s also possible that you could lose something.

The truth is in fact the complete opposite of this.

Because life does not have a pause button. The stakes are the same in all moments. Waiting is not the neutral choice. There is no neutral choice. Either you are acting, or you are refusing to act.

And if you you are clothing your refusal to act with ‘waiting for the right moment’ then the truth is that you are not wise, but in fact a coward.

Waiting is much riskier

It is in fact riskier to wait for circumstances to change than it is to act under the present circumstances, whatever they might be. Riskier, and far more damaging too. And that’s chiefly because of the message you are sending yourself when you wait.

You are in effect telling yourself that you are only capable of moving forward under an extremely narrow set of perfect circumstances. Anything less than perfect, and you can’t do it. You are selling yourself incredibly short.

This is disempowering enough to begin with, but let’s suppose for a minute that whatever you’re waiting for actually does come to be – if it’s money you need, let’s say you find it somewhere. And now you can get started. What a happy ending.

It’s just that… what if it doesn’t? What if circumstances are never ‘just right’ for you? Think of all that time you’ll have wasted. What a sad, pathetic life you will lead, compared to the one you could have led if you weren’t so fearful.

The other thing is that even if – and it’s unlikely – circumstances become perfect, old habits die hard. What makes you think you won’t change the rules of the game and invent some new perfect circumstances that have to met before you’ll do something?

Wherever you go, there you are.

To take action – no matter how imperfect the circumstances – is to take a small, calculated risk.

To wait for circumstances to be perfect is to take the biggest risk of them all – your life.

“I certainly believe this: that it is better to be impetuous than cautious, because Fortune is a woman, and if you want to keep her under it is necessary to beat her and force her down. It is clear that she more often allows herself to be won over by impetuous men than by those who proceed coldly.”

Nicolo Machiavelli – The Prince

You Always Have the Power

Institutions erode. Demagogic strongmen stoke primal fears. Tribalism rises exponentially. Mistrust abounds.

This is what happens every now and then. When things change more rapidly and more violently than we are accustomed to, there is a void into which can step good or evil.

When I say “This is what happens every now and then…” I don’t mean to excuse evil behaviour. I don’t mean we shouldn’t do anything about it. But I do mean that if we are in any way surprised that this is happening, then we are stupid, and we need to read a history book or two…

Because human nature does not change.

Give people the ability to amass power, and some of them will. And give them the opportunity to take advantage of those with less leverage and mobility, and some of them will. And once they’re in the middle of it, they will do everything to convince themselves – and the rest of the world – that what they’re doing is somehow right and moral.

And they will try to manipulate public opinion. And they will try to silence those who seek a more level playing field. And they will appear to be succeeding…

… and then because they are mortal human beings, they will die. And their corpses will rot, and with the passing of enough years nobody will even remember them, let alone the evil they did.

All this is to say that whether you’re living through good times or bad, through justice or injustice… none of that affects your ability to do what you believe is right. To decide that you won’t be evil. That you won’t degrade the culture for personal gain. That you won’t willingly partake in the suffering of others.

You always have the power to do right. Exercise it.

Curiosity Doesn’t Kill Cats

There was the Asian girl with the perfect eyebrows who looked incredibly glum as she glanced every few seconds at her boyfriend. He was involved in a particularly animated phone-call and every time he chopped the air with his arms to emphasise a point she rolled her eyes.

There was the balding man in the loose, scruffy suit and trainers. He grinned maniacally at nobody in particular in a far corner of Cafe Nero. He had his fists on the table, and he hadn’t bought a drink.

There was the very tall bearded man walking solemnly past the Apple store, carrying a sleeping twin under each arm. His wife pushed the empty pram with her left hand, and with the false-nails of her right, tapped loudly at her phone screen.

I wondered about them all. Who they were. What they were about. How they got here. And why.

I didn’t get any answers, of course. But I wasn’t looking for answers. I was looking for respite.

Curiosity doesn’t kill cats, but it’s the best weapon I have found in my lifelong duel against a relentlessly unhelpful inner monologue.

Does It Keep You From Doing the Right Thing?

It was just after ten when I woke up. I was on a sofa-bed in Rome. And I looked at my phone and discovered that the British public had voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union.


I got up and made a coffee, and whilst it brewed I browsed the news websites. Each one spoke of what a massive, life-changing thing had happened, and speculated on what was likely to happen next. Of course, they had no idea, but they weren’t about to let that stop them. And over a thousand days later, they are still none the wiser.

I scrolled down my Facebook feed, and what I saw depressed me. Everybody was so bummed out. It surprised me how bummed out they were – I had been living in Rome for a while at this point, and so I hadn’t discussed Brexit with most of my friends.

I discovered that – like myself – most of the people I knew had voted to remain. Some because they loved the idea of EU membership. Some because they saw no compelling reason to leave. And many, because they were suspicious of committing to any course of action whose most vociferous champions were a trio of cunts like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Nigel Farage.

I went out onto the balcony with my coffee and sat in the hot sun listening to the streets of Rome below. If I just focused on the sound, I didn’t think about Brexit. But then I couldn’t help it. Through no fault of my own, I kept returning to it again and again.

Mainly I was thinking of Emma – my new Danish fiancee. We had only just begun. How was this thing going to affect us? Oh, God, life sure felt a lot simpler yesterday…

I was at my limit – which isn’t saying much – and so, sitting in the hot sun, beseiged by my worries, coffee long finished, I reached for the only thing I knew could comfort me – Marcus Aurelius. And as I always do, I found something to settle me:

“Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all the other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself?”

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations, Book 4


Next week’s election

As we hurtle towards the climax of what has been undoubtably the nastiest British election campaign in my lifetime, I know without a shadow of a doubt which horse I’m betting on to win, just as I did in the EU referendum. And I’m sure you know yours too.

But my plea for you is this: whether your horse wins, or a different horse wins, don’t let it ruin you.

I have no desire to be apolitical in my writing – I think that to describe our current government as scum would be incredibly generous. They lie, they cheat, they have nothing but contempt for the citizens of this country… and they get away with it because they have the billionaires who run the media in their pocket.

I want them out. I want them gone. Not because they’re Tories, but because they’re both ineffective and immoral – crap and evil. And that’s not exactly a killer combo for leading a country.

HOWEVER, if they do win – no matter how ill-gotten I might believe their victory to have been – that is the reality I must then come to face. I can argue with the sky until I’m blue in the face, but if they win, there is only thing I can ask myself:

“Does the fact that this happened stop me from doing what I believe to be the right thing?”

And so far, the answer to that question has never been “yes.”

Taking the Bull by the Horns

You go through your day thinking of yourself as the author of your own story, forger of your own destiny. And yet when you look in the mirror, late at night, who stares back?

Are they an active, wilful hero, one who knows deep inside the very thing they must do, and decides, come what may, to do it?

Or are they instead somebody who spends most of their time on the sidelines of life, waiting to be picked, waiting for cirumstances to be just so, and in the meantime fills their days playing bit-parts in other people’s stories?

If your honest-to-God answer was the second one, you’re not alone.

You’re a human being.

The minimum, conservative action

No organism ever expends more energy than necessary, risks anything it doesn’t have to, or takes any action unless it must.

Robert McKee – “Story”

Does this quote not sum up perfectly why we can be so sure of what we want, know exactly how to go about getting it, yet so rarely do anything about it?

Don’t feel bad – it’s literally not your fault. The modus operandi of the human being is very simple: take the minimum, conservative action.

In light of this, almost everything we do can be traced back to just two motivations: habit and necessity.

Habit or necessity?

Depending on which behavioural scientist you ask, between 40 and 95 percent of our actions are done habitually. I think the ’40’ people are being very generous – habit is clearly responsible for the lion’s share of our day.

And whilst we tend to only think of a habit in terms of time – a habit being something we do frequently and repeatedly – there is a more important aspect: will power.

Because a habit isn’t just brushing your teeth twice a day or going to the gym three times a week – it is every single thing you do without having to consciously decide to. It is your default response in every situation.

Habits are brilliant – they are the reason you don’t have to make a fresh decision every few seconds of your day. Every now and then, though, something happens which disrupts our equilibrium and breaks us out of our habitual behaviours. We are forced us to act. Let’s call this necessity.

Now, whilst it might look like we are doing more than the minimum, conservative action when necessity compels us to, we are not. We are still doing the bare minimum. It’s just that the thing that broke us out of our patterns raised the minimum. More is at stake if we do nothing.

So we do what we must – and no more than that – and once we feel that our equilibrium has been restored, once our life is back in balance, we happily default once again to our habits.

Seize the initiative

Living this way – doing either what we always do, or what necessity dictates – our lives become incredibly passive. We are either on autopilot, or we are reacting. There is no active element – we are not creating anything. And we are certainly not bringing forth into the world the changes we seek to make.

The solution then, if you wish to bring that change even an inch closer, is to seize the initiative. To take the bull by the horns. To take action long before necessity dictates you must.

If your autopilot is not serving you, switch it off and take the wheel.

If reacting to other people’s drama is not fulfilling you, then deliberately take your own actions.

When you start to live this way, something changes: rather than being tossed this way and that by the tides of fate and feeling as though everything happens to you, you become a willing and active participant in the game of life.

You start to get a sense of just how powerful you are.

ta eph’hemin, ta ouk eph’hemin…

You might water the plant.

You might feed the plant.

You might put the plant on the window-sill, so that it can get as much as light as possible.

But you cannot grow the plant.

The laws of nature dictate that the plant will quite happily grow all by itself, so long as the conditions are favourable.

Your job is simply to do the bare minimum that will allow those favourable conditions, and to let nature do the rest.

This doesn’t just apply to plants.

PS: The title of this piece is an old Greek saying.

It means: “What is up to us, what is not up to us.”

It Is What It Is

Imagine a football team.

It wins almost every match. It lives at the top of the table.

Its fans proclaim it to be the best team in the world, and although you might wish that weren’t true, your arguments fall flat – they have the numbers to prove it.

Now imagine that this streak lasts for a while – several centuries – before things very slowly begin to decline. It starts with the team drawing a little more often than it did. Then it loses a game – which is practically unheard of – before losing another. And then another. Before long, you are looking a pretty average football team.

Except that this doesn’t seem to have registered with the fans. Or the players. Or the manager. Or the board of directors. As far as they’re concerned, the team is still number one in the league. It’s still winning every game. And it’s going to last forever. And anybody with the audacity to question this is branded a liar, a traitor, and a heretic.

As everybody involved with the team continues to see things through rose-tinted spectacles, its fortunes continue their descent. The team slips further and further down the table, gets relegated again and again, until one day, there is no further left to fall, and nowhere left to hide.

You’ve just imagined Britain in 2019.

Reality is my drug

“Reality is my drug…

… Reality has its own power—you can turn your back on it, but it will find you in the end, and your inability to cope with it will be your ruin.”

50 Cent – “The 50th Law”

What causes misery? Fearing reality – what ‘is’ – and turning away from it.

What causes peace? Seeking, loving, embracing reality.

Whatever you confront today, you need only one sentence with which to confront it: “It is what it is.”

Reality cannot hurt you – only that which is false.

If what you confront is not what you expected, alter your expectations.

If what you confront is not what you desired, alter your desires.

There is absolutely nothing to be gained from blinding yourself to what it is, and everything in the known universe to gain from willingly opening up your eyes and accepting what you see.

It is what it is. It is what it is. It is what it is.

You Are Limitless

A pilot has three choices

This probably won’t surprise you, but I don’t really know how aeroplanes work. Still, was I going to let that stop me from using them to make a point? Of course not. So here goes.

When it comes to deciding how high to fly a plane, there are really only three choices a pilot has: she can make it go higher than it currently is, she can make it go lower than it currently is, or she can keep it the same as it currently is.

You think that you work the same way. I’m afraid not.

Your default is to get worse

There is a happy ending coming, but first we have to go darker.

The unfortaunte truth is that unlike the plane, you only have two options: you can up or you can go down. And if you’re not actively going up, you are going down. Your default is to get worse over time.

You are more like a muscle than a plane.

If you give your leg muscles hell at the gym, they will grow – it’s their job to respond to whatever stress they’re given. Give them more to do than they comfortably can, and they adapt by becoming stronger, ready for the next challenge.

But what happens the moment you stop giving them something to do? Do they stay big and strong? No. They start immediately to shrink. It’s not their fault – you stopped stressing them, and so they simply did their job and adapted.

Your brain works in a very similar way. When you give yourself slightly more to do than your comfort zone permits, you adapt. You become better, smarter, stronger as a result. But the moment you stop challenging your your brain, it stops adapting. You get weaker.

This is the why complacency is so dangerous – we feel as though sure, we could actively try to improve ourselves, but we don’t need to, and if we just stay relaxed about it all, we might not get any better but at least we won’t get any worse

No. There are only two options. Actively improve, or automatically deteriorate.

You are limitless

Now for the good news.

Just as there was a difference between you and the plane, there is a key difference between you and your leg muscles.

If you gave your leg muscles hell at the gym long enough, you would eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. You would have to keep giving them more hell to make them grow any further, and at some point more growth would become physically impossible. This is because your muscles have a genetic limit – a ceiling, if you will – determining how much they can grow. It would take you years to hit this limit, but hit it you would.

You, on the other hand, have no such limit to how much you can grow as a human being. Any and every second of effort you expend doing something slightly above your current level of ability makes you grow. And this never stops.

In fact, you could start right now in this moment doing something simple to try to improve yourself, and even if you lived to a-hundred-and-ten, you would still be growing. You can never reach a point where there is nowhere left to grow. It’s literally impossible.

Isn’t that something?

So how do we improve? What do you have to do?

To be honest, the what is arbitrary. It really doesn’t matter what you do, so long as it takes you in the direction of growth. So long as what you do challenges you – even in the most minute way – you will grow. And you will then be ready for the next thing. And the next thing. And the next thing.

Why Not You?

I went to a climate protest in Sheffield today.

I watched mere teenagers stand on the steps of the City Hall and give rousing speeches to a huge crowd. They were passionate, and they were articulate. They were heroes.

And they gave me chills. I’ll tell you why.

It wasn’t because the speeches were impressive – though they were – and it wasn’t because they stood up for something they believe in.

No, it was because they didn’t wait until somebody gave them permission. They were ready and willing to lead – willing to go first in the hope of co-creating a brighter future. An alternative.

An alternative to what, you might ask…?

The architects of doom

Well, contrast their vision and courage, if you please, with the complacent resignation of the people who – on paper at least – rule this country.

Nine years on, and the nasty, cynical Tory government we get to call our own have no compelling vision for the future.

The party who believe they were born to rule – yet can somehow neither attain nor keep their power without resorting to dirty tactics, bare-faced lies, or to having most of the British press in their pocket – have spent the past nine years subtly lowering the expectations of its citizens.

Have you noticed how we’re no longer surprised by the contempt with which our government holds us in? That this feels like… business as usual?

In one sense, you have to hand it to them – they might be unfit to rule a country, but they sure are black-belts at selling the mess they’ve made as inevitable, as reasonable, as the status quo.

Well, the young people I saw today aren’t falling for that shit. Not only do they have a vision, they are following it with conviction, courage, and integrity.

Don’t be discouraged

The message, I suppose, is don’t be discouraged. Because they love that.

They love when you feel like there’s no point doing anything because it’d just be a drop in the ocean.

They love when you get intimidated by their billionaire friends, and their blue suits, and their positively evil track records…

You know what? Fuck ’em.

You can make a difference. Not alone. But nobody said you had to do it all yourself. Nobody said you couldn’t co-ordinate. Nobody said you couldn’t organise.

What would you change about the world, if it were possible?

Whatever it is, I guarantee you there are other people – possibly millions of them – who share your vision. Now, if you all keep quiet about it, nothing will happen. Somebody has to make the first move.

Why not you?

Larry David and the Fake Fruit of Silicon Valley

“I grew up in Brooklyn. Of all the wonders and pleasures that can be found in nature, none of them can be found in Brooklyn…

“There were no flowers, just artificial ones. Every apartment had artificial flowers. People took great pride in their artificial flowers. And fruit – let’s not leave out the fruit. Anything fake – we love good fake things. The greatest compliment you could give somebody was to mistakenly pick up a piece of their artificial fruit, and take a bit out of it.”

Larry David – “Earth to America”

The virtual world

How long have you spent looking at your phone already today?

That’s not an accident, you know? That’s not just one of those things that naturally evolved, the way giraffes grew longer necks. It was deliberate. It was imposed upon you. And it was orchestrated by a very small group of people, none of whom give a flying fuck about you.

During the last couple of decades – and especially the last one – the internet changed dramatically. In short, it went from being an ‘information highway’ – and a cultural asset helping humanity soar ever higher – to a capitalist’s wet dream.

Basically, a small handful of US corporations started to figure out something with huge ramifications. They realised that this internet had incredible potential when it came to gaining control over the masses. And that nobody had quite managed it yet.

Deliberately designing devices and applications to prey on and trigger our basest instincts, they got us all hooked on a virtual world. More than that, they got us to believe in our very core that this virtual world was just as real – perhaps even more so – than the world perceived by our senses.

This is not a conspiracy theory – it’s fact. What happened is not up for debate.

What is up for debate, however, is where we go from here. How we get back to the real world.

Evil is a choice

I don’t think we let the rich and powerful off lightly enough. Not considering what they’ve done – wilfully and persistenty destroy the culture to line their pockets until they die in a few decades time…

I’ve noticed, listening to a mixture of other people and my own thoughts, that when we hear about a Zuckerberg, a Bezos, a Trump – somebody in a position of vast power and resources – doing things that benefit themselves at the expense of humanity…

The most common response is akin to: “Well, yeah, but how can you expect anything else from them?”

Sorry, what… how can we… not expect them to act in the interests of humanity? Nope. Doesn’t wash with me. When we talk like that, we’re enabling their bullshit. We’re actually treating them as victims. And they are anything but.

We don’t let a rapist off the hook by saying “Well, what did you expect? He likes raping!” So how is this any different? Why do we let the people who wish to destroy the best parts of humanity for their own selfish purposes get away with it? Because they’re rich? Because they’re CEO of a company? Because they have a lot of lawyers?

When Zuckerberg takes daily action against the interests of the human race, he has a choice not to at every step. Let’s not pretend he doesn’t. Because that just lets him off the hook.

It’s not evil to be a billionaire. But it is evil to do evil. And evil is always a choice.

Be the change

I can’t just leave it there, with me slagging off the rich and powerful. For one, I don’t believe that most of the rich and powerful are doing evil – it is a small minority.

But also because other than refusing to use their products and services, or vote for them, it can feel as though there is little we can do in the face of such evil. But there is. There is so much.

Start by being the change you want to see in the world.

Because really, how dare you rally against what you see as the immorality of the people on top if you yourself don’t live with integrity? If – when faced with the choice of whether to good or evil – you don’t choose good, what right do you have to challenge anybody else?

Just as at any point along the way, Zuckerberg et al could have said “Let’s do something awesome for humanity instead of just pretending to…” you get to decide how you’re going to live. Which direction your compass is going to face.

Don’t pretend you’re backed into a corner, or forced to do things you disagree with. The road will be uncomfortable, and likely full of conflict – you will scare people and they will try to pull you back into the bucket like the good crabs they are.

But you will have your feet planted firmly in the real world. And that, my friend, is priceless.

You don’t have to accept the fake fruit Silicon Valley wants to feed you. You always have a choice. Start exercising it.

PS: Larry David – Earth to America

Premeditatio Malorum (The Pre-Meditation of Evils)

At war with yourself

When you find yourself stuck and unable to move forward – but desperately wanting to – realise that this is war.

It is a war between your higher, rational self, and your lower, irrational self. Between the rider and the horse.

In war, the victor is not normally she who acts rashly, or who denies reality. She is usually the one who takes a step back, takes a deep breath, and accepts the situation as holistically as she can.

That is to say – tempting as it is – it’s probably not going to help you to simply deny that you’re afraid and try to barrel through with action.

I have a better solution, and one that has stood the test of time.

Premeditatio Malorum

There is only one reason why you are stopping yourself from moving forward, and that is because you’re afraid of what might happen if you do.

Not what will happen – what might happen. And every second that you stall, you give into your fear of what might happen.

You need to look what you’re afraid of squarely in the face. And doing it all in your head is not always that helpful – our minds have a tendency to circle and ruminate rather than “think.”

So get out a piece of paper, and on it, write down in bullet points every single thing that could happen, if you did what you intend to do.

Don’t judge the list – it doesn’t matter how likely something is or isn’t. All that matters is spilling out onto the page – getting it out of the subjective medium of your mind and onto the objective medium of words on a page.

When you start running out of ideas, stop. Look at your list.

Go through it, bullet-point by bullet-point, asking yourself “If this did happen, what would I do?”

I don’t do this exercise often enough. But every time I do, I realise that swimming around my head were dozens – sometimes hundreds – of nagging little fears, and for every single one, the only answer I can honestly give is “I’d handle it.”

Because it’s true. I would. And so would you. You can handle anything. Hopefully you won’t have to handle the worst things you can imagine. But if you had to, you would.

Best of luck.

CAVEAT: Don’t just skip the exercise and say “I’d handle anything, me, I’m tough as nails…” You need to identify the things you’re afraid of happening first, and then realise one-by-one that you’d handle even the worst of them. Only that which is brought into the consciousness can be dealt with, not that which is allowed to remain unconscious.

For F***’s Sake, Read a Book

“What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

When your car breaks down on the way home from losing your job, a couple of days after you forked out money you didn’t really have for a service…

When the person you thought you’d spend the rest of your life with suddenly tells you they fucked your best friend…

And when you see corrupt politicians rewarded for telling lies, for cheating, for decimating lives and communities…

It’s tempting to see these as entirely unique problems. Things that have never happened before and never happened to anybody else.

Except that they have. Hundreds, thousands, millions of times. To people of every colour, on every continent, and in every era of human history.

And this is why I read. To help me realise that whatever I’m going through, I’m not alone – people before me have not only solved the exact problems I’m facing, but they had the generosity of spirit to write it all down!

There is nothing new under the sun, and this includes problems. So read for fun. Read to relax. But most of all, read to connect yourself to the human race.

PS: If this post has inspired you to read something, I recommend you start with something which has stood the test of time.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius has been championed by the wisest amongst us for hundreds of years now. Here is an Amazon link to the best translation of it.

Disclaimer: Just so you know, I don’t receive any money if you happen to buy the book through that link – I have no idea how you set that up and I don’t really care.

I just want you to read the book!

It Was Bigger Than a Head…

It’s dinner-time.

You’re shoving a delicious piece of chicken into your mouth when your younger brother starts talking about the enormous dog shit him and his friends saw on the way home.

“It was bigger than a head…” he reports.

Before he can go any further, your mum snaps at him: “Jake! Not while we’re eating.” She shakes her head. Where did I go wrong with that kid?

Jake shuts up.

Now, I’ll be honest – I’m on your mum’s side.

I don’t want to hear about a dog shit bigger than a head whilst I’m trying to enjoy the dinner she slaved over. Call me old-fashioned.

But there is something else we do this about. All the time. Where we try to stamp out all mention of it and deny its existence in the hope that we can make it go away…


We don’t like talking about death. We don’t like thinking about death. We treat death like the proverbial dog shit bigger than a head at the dinnertable.

And paradoxically, all we are doing is we robbing ourselves of life.

One day – and there’s no knowing when – will be your last. It could be today. I hope it’s not. I hope you have many, many more days. But one thing I do know – you don’t have an infinite amount left.

So use them. Use them on stuff that matters.

Just like night gives meaning to day, and darkness gives meaning to light, let your death give meaning to your life. Let it focus you like a laser. Let it cut away the noise, the waste, the inertia…

When you were born, Mother Nature gave you a time-limit. And it was the most generous thing she ever did. She could have given you forever, but she knew better than that. Make her proud.

Be Willing to Be Hated

If someone out there hates what you are doing…

If someone out there wishes you’d stop doing it…

If someone out there wishes you were dead…

Don’t stop. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working.

The evil people-pleaser

If I’m about anything, it’s trying to live with intention. I want to live a good life, and I want to share what I find along the way in the hope that it might help you live a good life too.

Well, one of the greatest obstacles I have found to living a good life is trying to please everybody all of the time.

For one, it’s impossible. You can’t, you won’t, so don’t try. But you already knew that, didn’t you? I’m preaching to the choir. What you might not have thought about, however, is this angle:

People-pleasers are actually evil. And they do not get the stick they deserve.

They often get a lot of sympathy instead. Unlike the way we treat other addicts, we justify the bad things people-pleasers do by saying they were operating with ‘good intentions.’

So what? The junkie was just trying to make himself feel better. Why don’t we give him a medal…?

The dirty truth people-pleasers don’t want you to know is the real motive behind their trying to please everyone.

They are not saints who wish to please everyone because they’re made of more saintly stuff than the rest. They are simply cowards who try to please everyone so that they don’t have to face their fear of being disliked.

And the icing on the cake is that they don’t even really end up pleasing anyone.

I should know. I’m one of them.

I’m a recovering people-pleaser

Just like how a racist will claim they can’t be a racist because they have a black friend, I feel I am allowed to be pretty nasty about people-pleasers because I am one.

And I can confirm what I said a second ago to be true – I am not a saint who wants to please everyone. I’m just terrified of displeasing them. But why?

Because – and this is my lizard brain talking – if I don’t try to please them, they might reject me. And – again, lizard brain – if they reject me, that would be awful… for some reason. So I’d better live carefully. I’d better avoid doing anything that might upset or offend. Anyone. Just in case.

Fortunately for us all, there is more to Oliver Manning than just his lizard brain. I have two more newer brains on top. And using the third one – the uniquely human neo-cortex – I can attempt to see this in a more rational light.

You know the whole fight-or-flight thing, right? Well, that’s what it boils down to, more or less, neuro-chemically.

When confronted with the thought that someone might dislike me, my survival feels threatened. This causes a surge of adrenaline. I then misread the adrenaline – the emotions it creates cause me to conclude that I must have done something wrong, or else why would this person be anything less than enamoured by everything about me?

Compulsive people-pleasing is nothing more than the fear of being rejected. Repeat this pattern enough times, and you’ll find yourself avoiding taking any actions that could possibly upset or offend anyone – real or imagined.

You’ll find yourself miserable.

There is a better way

At various times throughout my life I’ve noticed this sickness and tried to deal with it using the apathetic posture of the teenager: “I’m just going to be me and if everyone doesn’t like it, forget them!” Reject everyone before they get a chance to reject me.

But it’s a dead-end, believe me.

We live in a world where, whilst we might not need every single person on our side to survive – let alone thrive – we do need the co-operation of at least some people. And so rejecting everyone is a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

So what’s the alternative?

Well, we can’t please everyone. And when we try, we end up pleasing nobody. And we can’t reject everyone – we need some people.

But we can please some people.

So who?

The smallest number possible.

The smallest number possible

When I was single, I cared a horrible amount about what women I didn’t know and would never know and wasn’t even particularly attracted to thought about me. Worse, I didn’t want to make any rash decisions that might put any of them off – if I had a haircut that was too slick, I’d put off the girls who preferred guys with messier hair, for example.

This was not a fun way to live. Nor was it a particular fruitful approach to meeting women. Bad all round.

But then I fell head over heels for Emma, and as we got to know each other more and more, I noticed that I’d stopped giving a shit at all about what any other woman in the world thought of me. I’d gone from trying to avoid – in anticipation – the rejection of millions of women I’d likely never meet, to trying to make one real woman happy.

It felt a lot better.

The point of this is not that you should find a Danish girl to marry. It’s that there’s a magic that happens when you narrow your focus, when you focus on as few people as possible.

When you try to please everybody – when you avoid rejection from anybody – you really have your work cut out for you. You’ve got to try and stay on ‘the right side’ of 7 billion people. What do you think your chances are?

Willing to be hated

The final piece to this is that whilst choosing the smallest possible number of people to focus your energies on is a great step, it’s just one half of the equation. It’s like putting your foot on the accellerator pedal whilst the handbrake is still on.

If you want the car to move, you need to release the handbrake. To do that, answer me this:

Who are you willing to be hated by?

There is no dark without light. No day without night. And no love without hate.

If you want to do anything good, anything real, anything that means anything, you are going to be opposed, perhaps violentally. The better, more real, and more meaningful that thing is, the more hate you will get. And you will drastically slow yourself down if you are always trying to avoid that hate.

Invite it instead. If you’re living right, that should upset some people. It should offend some people. Some people should be pissed off by your very existence. This is not something to be feared.

Earlier I mentioned that my big people-pleasing mistake was that I misread the signal – if someone seemed to disapprove of me, I would take it as a sign that I’d done something wrong. The confusion was that I had never defined who I was for, and who I was – by definition – against.

If I had done that, I would have known when somebody opposed me whether they were opposing me from my side or not. I could have thought “Ah, you hate what I just said. But I didn’t say it for your benefit, so that’s fine.”

Once you have defined who you are for, then you can happily ignore the judgment of every other human being in the world. Because it means nothing.

Who are you for?

Dance With Uncertainty

Of one thing I’m certain: until the day I die, I don’t ever want to be sure what’s going to happen next.

I’m a shitty writer

I spend at least a couple of hours every day writing.

And it may not surprise you to learn that I never know what I’m about to write about until I’m actually writing. Sometimes I think I know. And sometimes I’m dead certain. But once my fingers start moving, I am always proved wrong. Every single time.

For a long time, this actually bothered me. Really bothered me

Not because I didn’t like the results of my dive-in-and-figure-it-out-as-you-go approach, but more because I felt like I should be able to do it the other way. To think of a topic, to brainstorm on it, to structure a piece of writing, and then to execute. That’s what they told to do at school.

They told me this kind of left-brained approach was what smart people did. They sold it as more streamlined, effective, organised, efficient… but even back then I remember thinking it was a crock of shit. I got the distinct impression that all that anal preparation everybody treated as sacred was not actually out any desire to do great work, but instead out of a fear of writing. A fear of coming out with anything real, anything they hadn’t approved of in advance. A fear of… art.

Still, slag it of as I might… I tried it. Many, many, many times. And every time I failed at it – producing either incredibly shitty, forced writing, or giving up and just watching telly – I felt worse about myself as both a writer and a human being.

Until at some point I realised that those couple of hours I spent diving and writing every day – with zero clue what was about to come out – were the best parts of my day. And there had to be a reason for it.

There was. I was dancing with uncertainty.

In the face of uncertainty

These days, not only do I not try to plan what I’m going to write about, I don’t even listen to the voice in my head when it makes suggestions. I make myself wait until my laptop is in front of me, and I type. And I watch. And I shape. And that’s that.

But there’s a bigger reason behind this approach:

When I sit down not having the foggiest idea what I’m about to write – but mashing my fingers on the keyboard in the face of that uncertainty – I know I’m about to discover something. I know I’m about to be surprised. I know that in a couple of hours I’ll be a slightly different person because of what came out of me.

And isn’t surprise – which is only possible through uncertainty – what makes life interesting? When something happens just the way you expected it would, it’s nice, sure, but it’s kind of boring, no?

I don’t want to know what I’m about to do next. And not just on the page, but in life.

Life = story

I’m as guilty as anyone of this social crime.

I’ll be talking to my mum or my friend or whoever, and I’ll start telling a “story.” Halfway through telling I’ll realise a lot of the details I’ve given were not really relevant, and now that I think of it, it’s not really a story… more just some things that happened that interested me because they were about me. And sometimes I’ll finish it and sometimes I won’t.

But what is it that makes something a story, rather than just a thing that happened, a series of events?

It’s actually quite simple. One word: tension.

Or more specifically, the tension between what you thought was going to happen and what then actually did happen.

So, imagine that you’re somebody who wears glasses. You wake up in the morning in plenty of time for work, reach for your glasses, put them on, go to the toilet, flush it, go downstairs, drink a glass of water…

This is not a story. Why? No expectations have been violated yet.

On the other hand, imagine that you wake up an hour later than you meant to, reach for your glasses, accidentally knock them off the bed-side table, and then tread on them as you look for them. Now what are you going to do? You’re already going to be late for work as it is, but you can’t do a day’s work without your glasses. Then you remember that last summer you bought some prescription sunglasses and even though it’s the middle of winter you decide that’s the best choice you have. You scour the house for them, the clock ticking. Finally, you find them in the most random place imaginable, and you set off. You make it to work in the nick of the time. Your boss calls you into her office. She sounds angry. You think she’s going to ask you why the hell you’re wearing sunglasses. You get ready to apologise and explain yourself, but instead she pulls out a pair from her drawer and says that from now on Fridays will be shades-day. She applauds you for having the cajones to express yourself so freely. She asks you if you’re doing anything for dinner tonight. You say “no” and that you’d love to see her – you’ve liked her for a long time. You smile as you leave her office, until you remember that you promised on your life that tonight you’d help your nephew with his school project that has to be handed in tomorrow…WILL YOU CHOOSE?

Well, now you’ve got yourself a story. Because rather than everything going the way the you expected it to, your expectations kept being violated, causing you to keep adapting to the new situation. You kept being forced to grow.

Whilst the first version – where everything went as planned – might have ended up as an easier, more carefree morning, you’ve got to admit that the second version where nothing went as expected was a lot more interesting. It was a better story.

And real life is no different.

In real life, if everything happened just the way we expected it, just the way it was ‘supposed to’, 100% of the time, we’d all be incredibly bored. We wouldn’t learn. We wouldn’t grow. It’d be horrible.

We need uncertainty.

Dance with uncertainty

Why then do we crave certainty? Because we have our signals crossed.

We seek certainty in all we do. We put certainty on a pedestal. We direct all our energies into making the world conform to our expectations. We want to completely rule out unpleasant surprises.

But it never works. It just makes us miserable.

The truth is that – to use one half of a well-worn cliche – the only certainty in life is death. Everything else is up for debate. Everything else. There is nothing else certain. But guess what? That’s fine!

If everything is uncertain – and it is – then doesn’t it make for more sense to learn to dance with uncertainty than to hope and wish for a certainty that will never come?

Because when you resist uncertainty, the result is not more certainty. It’s more pain. But when you choose to allow uncertainty – to dance with it – you paradoxically feel more certain than ever. Not perhaps of specific things going a specific way, but a more holistic certainty that whatever happens – good or bad – you’ll be absolutely fine.

Don’t obsess over certatiny. Dance with uncertainty.

You Are Enough

You are enough.

Right now, at this very second, you are enough. I’ll go one further – you are actually far more enough than you’ll ever need to be.

Enough what, though? And enough for what?

Capable enough of handling whatever life happens to give you.

The worst week of my life

Since you asked, it was the circumcision that hurt the most.

But that was just one of the three painful things that happened to me one week in September 2009, a fortnight into my first semester of university.

So first, as I said, a surgeon cut off my foreskin. It had been in the calendar for a couple of months, but that didn’t make it any more pleasant, or the physical recovery any more pain-free.

Then a few days later, as I lay in bed dopey from the codeine and feeling altogether sorry for myself, my Grandma died. I couldn’t travel with my family down to Ipswich – I’d have only been able to mope about in pain there rather than in Sheffield – so they left me on my own. But what choice did they have?

And whilst all this was going on, my girlfriend told me – bravely, I should add – that she wasn’t feeling good about our relationship since I had moved away, and that it might be best for us to not be together. Perhaps any other week, I’d have handled that conversation with a calm, cool detachment. Instead it just about destroyed me.

Not a great week.

I went to counseling

Life went on, as it tends to, but the events of that week left me feeling like I was losing my mind.

The closest metaphor I can give is this: I felt as though just a few weeks earlier I had been happily hanging out on dry land, but now I lost at sea, treading water just to stay alive.

I found out that Leeds College of Music offered a counselling service. I didn’t expect miracles – I didn’t expect anything, to be honest – but I was desperate enough to give it a try.

And it’s funny what, with the passing of years, you do and don’t remember. I can remember the specific melody almost every line of dialogue in Friends is spoken with, yet I remember just one of the conversations I had with my counseler. But it was a biggie.

My mortal fear of the word “no”

How I got onto it, I’ll never remember, but I started telling the counseler one week about how when I was a child I was really scared to ask my parents if I could have my tape on in the car.

I would be sitting in the back, often sandwiched between my older brother and sister, wanting desperately to ask if I could have my tape on, but deathly afraid of hearing “no.”

Basically, I was afraid of was that if I took the plunge, and asked – which I had built up into this big thing in my head – and for whatever reason somebody said “no,” that that ‘no’ would destroy me it would be more than I could handle.

My solution, generally – my “best bad choice” – was to not ask. I opted instead to live in a kind of “Schroedinger’s Tape” situation, where I was both allowed and not allowed to have my tape on, where I both heard “yes” and “no”, and never had to risk actually asking.

Now, for context, this was not because my parents were mean and would never let me have my tape on. In fact, I was very often allowed to have my tape on. So I brushed it off as just one of those silly kid things. But the counseler got me to keep on talking about it, and as I elaborated more and more, I started to see that this might not have been something I only did with the tape in the car, nor something I had grown out of.

It might in fact have been the very way I had related to everything and everyone in my life for as long as I’d been living.


You’ve always been enough

Though it felt like a fierce shove, what the counseler had gently guided me towards realising was that I’d been telling myself quite a destructive story for perhaps my whole life.

If they say ‘no’, I won’t be able to handle it. I will crumble before them and be destroyed. I am not ‘enough’ to handle it.”

It sure would have been nice not to have go through a circumcision, the death of my Grandma, or a painfully disintegrating relationship to end up counseling in order to realise the story I’d been telling myself wasn’t necessarily true.

But c’est la vie.

The more I’ve thought about this in the years since, the more untrue I have found it to be – the more certain I have become that there has not been a single moment in my life yet that I genuinely couldn’t handle. Where I wasn’t ‘enough’.

There have been plenty where I didn’t feel able. Where I didn’t feel I had enough inner resources for whatever the moment seemed to require of me. But after ten years of searching, I still haven’t found one where it was actually true.

I urge you to look for yourself

Yes, I urge you.

Because whilst I don’t think many people had such a specific fear – of not being allowed their tape on in the car as a child – I can’t believe for a second that I’m the only person here who often feels like they can’t handle life.

And if you do look into your own life history, I think you’ll find the same thing I found.

You’ll find moments where you felt like you didn’t have enough strength or fortitude or willpower, you’ll find moments where you were convinced you were about to crumble under the pressure, you’ll find moments where you lashed out at someone, moments where you lashed out at yourself, and most of all, you’ll find moments that you feared not being to handle well in advance, only to end up handling it after all…

But try as you might, I don’t think you’ll find a single, solitary moment where you truthfully were didn’t handle it, one way or another. You might have fallen short of your high and exacting standards, but there has never been, a moment which required of you more than you already had inside, and there never will be.

“What does this moment require of me?”

Questions beat statements.

No matter how vociferously certain well-meaning authors champion them, I hate affirmations. The fact is that for me, repeating “positive” phrases to myself gives me the willies. I can say “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better ” til the cows come home, but every time I do, my mind is going to reply “No you’re fucking not.”

When I feel a certain way, saying something that contradicts that feeling just causes cognitive dissonance. I feel a fool. What I like to do instead is ask myself questions.

If you feel overwhelmed, and as though life doesn’t have your back, and as though everything is just too bloody much…

Ask yourself: “What does this moment actually require of me? And do I have it?”

I cannot oversell the pain I have felt from feeling like I wasn’t enough. But the saddest thing is not the pain – pain goes away. The saddest thing is that 100% of the time, it was a complete lie. It was totally unnecessary.

Perhaps today is the day that you realise you’re enough. That you’re more than enough.

How To Be Generous When You Have Nothing

Do you ever wake up hours before your alarm is due to go off? I do.

Once I’m awake, I can pretty much assume I won’t be going back to sleep. Just like how a child will run into its parents’ bedroom at 5am and make noise until they give it the attention they crave – my mind being the child.

But it’s not a cute child. It’s a mean, egoic voice, telling me all kinds of mean things about myself. The harder I try to sleep, the nastier it gets.

So I get up. Water. Pills. Coffee. And then I pick up my purple A4 journal. Since I should be asleep, I’ve technically gained a few hours – I might as well use them productively, to try and figure out why I feel so rotten inside.

I aim for 3 pages of A4 – an idea I stole from Julia Cameron – and by the time I’ve done that, I always feel ‘better’, even if I never really got to the bottom of what was bothering me.

This morning it took about half a page for me to work out exactly what was bothering me. And I didn’t like what I found.

I realised just how much of a stingy bastard I’d become.

How generous are you?

That’s not an easy question. But believe it or not, there is a correct answer.

We’re different people at different times, sure. But whilst there are certainly moments in life where you find yourself being more or less generous – you might be lavish with your cash yet stingy with your time, for example – you have an overall average level of comfort when it comes to being generous, and this tends to remains pretty constant over time.

Think of this as a line extending from ‘Not Generous At All’ on the left, to ‘Extremely Generous’ on the right. Somewhere along that line is you.

If you’re all the way over to the left, you do not feel you have very much to give anyone. You fear that if you were to give away the little you do have, you’d end up with even less than you started with. Not being an idiot, your natural tendency is therefore to be stingy – to hoard what little you do have, in the name of protecting it.

Right at the other end of the line, you feel totally secure, completely comfortable, and incredibly abundant. Since you know that you have more than enough of whatever you need, you are naturally quite happy to spread it around and let other people have a slice.

Where would you place yourself on this line?

Why are some people more generous than others?

Is it simply because some of inequality? That some people have more to be generous with, and therefore they are? It’s tempting to believe this.

You want to believe that it’s easier to be generous with your money if you’re rich, easier to be generous with your friendship when you have more friends, and easier to be generous with your time when you have a lot on your hands.

You want to believe that if you suddenly became £1,000,000 richer than you are right now, that you would also become more generous, because now you could better ‘afford’ to be.

But you’d be completely and utterly wrong.

Your position on that line has nothing to do with what you actually have – or don’t have – and instead everything to do with conscious choice.

What do you choose to do with what you have? Do you hold on to it for dear life, or do you happily give it away?

What you have or do not have makes absolutely no difference to your ability to be generous. But it sure as fuck doesn’t feel that way, does it?

Expand your definition

If you’d like to be more generous, then let’s face facts – feeling you don’t have enough is going to hold you back, no matter how much or how little you have.

You cannot be generous with what you do not have. But the good thing is that you don’t need to.

The problem is that you are looking at generosity through a keyhole, instead of opening the door and seeing the whole room.

All oranges are fruits, but not all fruits are oranges. Generosity goes way beyond the material. More than anything, it is a posture. An attitude. A way of being the world. To be generous is to have a generous spirit.

So what do you do if you feel you don’t have enough to be generous with?

Find the things you do have

I’ll give you an example.

Right now, I don’t have as much money as this time last year. I quit my job in the summer because I wanted to move on. We’re getting by. But currently, money is not something I can be lavish with.

Does that mean I can’t be generous? Fuck no.

I have a lot of time spare time.

I have the ability to string sentences together, so I can write pieces like this that might help people.

I have my musical abilities, so I can play gigs and busk and entertain people. And I can show other people how to play instruments.

But even if you took away all those things, I’ve still plenty to work with.

I have my ears – I could find somebody who simply needed someone listen to them.

I have my mouth – I could go for a walk and try to smile and say hello to everyone I passed.

I have my gratitude – I could send somebody a text to tell them I appreciate something about them.

For everything you feel you don’t have – and therefore cannot afford to be generous with – believe me, you have more than enough of something else that you could be putting to work.

When you feel as though something is missing in your life, you’re damn right it is. You are not giving enough of yourself.

In every moment lies the opportunity to be generous.

But… why bother?

I’m a fairly selfish person. I don’t particularly relish doing things that won’t benefit me in some way.

But I don’t preach generosity – and try to live it in my own life – because I heard someone else say it. Or because I’d like for it to be true. Or because I’m some saint who wants to teach the world to sing.

I do it because the more generous I am, the better MY LIFE gets. How?

Life doesn’t feel like a struggle. I go to bed feeling beautifully empty. Things that I would normally feel responsible for and stress out over work themselves out. People text or email me with opportunities. PEOPLE BECOME MORE GENEROUS WITH ME!

Please don’t take my word for any of this. Test it out.

Right now, your ego is trying to convince you that you don’t have enough to give yet. You do. You have plenty. You just need to look for it. And then give it away. You’re not going to run out.

It’s impossible to run out of anything that matters.

What are you going to be more generous with?

On gig day

Gig day is unlike any other day.

You could be doing thoracic surgery at lunchtime and rocket science in the afternoon, but if there’s a gig that night, that’s basically all you’ll be thinking of.

When I was a teenager, rocking out in teen funk-rock combo Viper Jungle, it was all about which questionable shirt I was going to wear, or if I was going to wear one at all.

When I did function work, playing jazz guitar in restaurants, it was all about “what price did we agree on?” and “do you get one free beer or is it two at this place?”

And these days, when I’m playing at The Washington with Joe and Arthur, it’s all about “what can I do that will make someone’s evening?”

I wonder what it will be all about ten years from now…

Try anyway

What’s stopping you is not that you don’t know what to do.

Oh, sure, you might not have ironed out every single little detail yet, but you don’t need to. You know more than enough to do something. And to do something is all you need.

No, what’s stopping you is that you aren’t completely sure that, should you try, you’ll succeed.

And so you stall. You wait for a better moment. You make a new plan. You call it patience, you call it strategy. It’s neither. It’s cowardice.

Weeks, months, years go by. You’re no closer to where you want to be. And it’s all because you were too scared to take a risk.

Do you know what the worst part of all this? You act as though one day you will magically have certainty that this or that is the right course of action. But you’ll never be completely sure.

If what you’re waiting for is complete certainty, and you refuse to do a single thing until you get it, you’re going to be waiting for the rest of your life.

So what do you do, if there’s no guarantee that something will work out?

Try anyway. You have literally nothing to lose.

The truth is that living with the fact that you let fear win is many times more painful than the ‘failure’ you are afraid of.

Once you’ve tried acting in the face of uncertainty you’ll realise that, whether or not it works out every time, you do not need certainty to take action.

And then you can really live.

Follow the butterflies

Is there a shortcut to living a good life? If there is, it’s this:

Follow the butterflies.


It’s really very simple:

The more fear you feel when contemplating a positive course of action, the more important that course of action is to your soul, and the greater the reward for completing it.

Of course, most of us, most of the time, do exactly the opposite. We have a thought. We feel fear. We interpret that fear as a sign to retreat to safety. Except… we were never in any danger. Over time this becomes habitual, and we become more and more fearful.

If you want to be happy, do the opposite.

Realise that your fears are guiding you in the direction which will fulfil you the most. Every time you act despite being afraid, you prove to yourself that you weren’t in danger after all. You grow. It becomes easier and easier to do. You become less and less fearful.

So when the thought of doing something gives you butterflies in your stomach, err on the side of doing it, not wimping out.

Bad dudes

There are a lot of bad dudes in the world. And right now, some of them getting awful popular.

Now, the existence of bad dudes is no cause for concern – so long as there have been humans, there have been a certain percentage of rotten ones. No, the problem is that the good dudes fell asleep at the wheel.

Sometime during the last few decades we got complacent, we thought that “progress” was inevitable, we thought that we no longer needed to fight for good. We thought that our morals and our ethics and our innate goodness would carry us through. Forever.

It didn’t. And so the bad dudes took over.

But just like a school bully, evil can only survive when good people do nothing. So now is not the time to feel helpless, to be conservative (pardon the pun), to start playing it safe. That’s just playing into their hands.

No. Decide today that you are going to live your life the way you believe in your heart to be right.

You are not going to cower. You are not going to believe their divisive bullshit. You are not going to turn against migrants, or foreigners, or gays…

You are going to stand strong. You are going to fight. Whatever that might mean.

Empathy: the secret superpower

If you want to change something about someone, try accepting them first.

See them exactly as they are, stripped of all the stories your ego is dying to tell you about them.

Make them feel seen, and make them feel understood. Do you know how rarely anybody is granted these two privileges?

And when you have done this, don’t be surprised if you find yourself having forgotten what it was you wanted to change about them in the first place.

Empathy is a super-power a hundred times more useful than anything you’ll find in a comic-book.

A love of fate

The more dependent you are on external events going a particular way for your well-being, the more miserable you will become until the day death finally relieves you.

But at least you won’t feel alone – the majority of human beings who have ever lived followed this exact path. There is safety – if not happiness – in numbers.

Fortunately, the reverse is also true.

If you adopt the mindset that everything that happens was meant to happen, and meant to happen in exactly the way it did happen, you’ll find soon that your well-being cannot be touched by anything outside of you.

Nietzsche called this “Amor Fati.” I have a coin in my wallet that I bought from The Daily Stoic with this on one side, and on the other, the phrase “Not merely to bear what is necessary… but love it.”

The miserable majority might not understand you when you live this way, but your life will be so meaningful that you won’t care.

You and your phone

Your phone has got you by the balls.

Let’s call it what it is: an addiction.

It is an addiction because it has become the default thing you do when there is nothing stimulating happening around you (and even sometimes when there is.) Its absence makes you feel itchy and as though something is lacking.

It is an addiction because it has hijacked your rationality. You pull out your phone not for any good reason, but to “check” what’s going on, to be stimulated, amused, outraged, and… to feed the habit.

It is an addiction because it doesn’t actually quench the thirst you think it will. It provides empty calories. It gives you sex without love. Which keeps you hooked.

But you’re not addicted, right? Not you. You could stop any time. You have it under control. Okay, I believe you.

But humour me: go without it for one day. Switch it off and put it in a drawer.

If you couldn’t imagine possibly doing this, or you just thought of five perfect reasons why it sounds like a nice idea but you genuinely need your phone on you 24/7 for x, y, and z…

…I think you’ve proved my point.

This is not a personal attack. I am struggling through this as much as you are. I’ve been forcing myself not to pick up my phone unless there is a clear, concrete thing I’m aiming to do with it. It’s been eye-opening. And really, really nice.

You are nothing more than a great ape

You cannot control the world. Forces beyond your comprehension are at play.

This is not a matter of opinion, but of fact. How you respond to it will greatly shape your life.

Will you accept your relative tininess in the universe and throw yourself whole-heartedly into the small number of things you can influence and control?

Or will you deny this reality, and imagine that the technological advances of the last 100 years mean you now have God-like omnipotence?

It’s a paradox, I know. The more you accept your tininess, the bigger your power. The more you imagine yourself to be God-like, the more foolish and naive you really are.

You are nothing more than a great ape. Enjoy it – it’s all you need to be.

It’s not you, it’s them

When somebody gets angry with you, every cell in your body is designed to take it personally.

But what if you didn’t?

What if you realised that the real cause of their anger predates their bumping into you by years, perhaps even decades? You’re just a convenient target – it’s almost arbitrary that it happens to be you.

It wouldn’t make it fine all of a sudden, but it might make it less likely for you to get sucked in, and to feel the need to defend yourself, or to lash back.

Best of all, it will give you choices – you never have less choices than when emotionally triggered. Do you laugh at them? Do you pity them? Do you ignore them? Do you carefully exact revenge upon them?

It’s entirely up to you – but not taking it personally is the first step.

Born again every day

The person you were is dead. The person you are is alive.

Shed your yesterday’s skin. Because that’s all it was – a skin. The real stuff is far deeper. And that’s going nowhere.

So get to know who you are today. Let your new skin surprise you.

Don’t get attached to whoever you are today – before long, this version of you must die too, to make way for who you’ll be tomorrow.

Let the skin you wake up in each day mark you indelibly, let it spill something beautiful and unique onto you, the sum of which you carry forth throughout your life.

In this way you are both timely and timeless. The days and weeks and months and years do not shape you, but reveal you.

You are you, always.

Use today to make tomorrow easier

About 1% of the time, I properly clean the kitchen after I’ve made dinner. Every time, it feels good. It doesn’t take very long, and I like waking up and making my coffee in the morning in a clean kitchen.

I could talk about what an idiot I am for not doing it the other 99% of the time, but… c’est la vie.

The point is that this applies to everything. It’s almost as though leaving things in a state – literally or metaphorically – creates this ugly residue that makes it harder to be at peace. Open loops, you could call them.

Is there something you could do quickly and easily today that would make your tomorrow easier? Why not do it?

There are two sides to peer pressure

If you want to improve yourself and live a better life than you do now, you could try to do it all yourself. Eat right, exercise, follow your passions… whatever the doctors are recommending these days.

And you might succeed. But it’ll be a daily uphill struggle.

If you want an easier (but no less-effective) way to grow, take advantage of peer pressure.

“What? Peer pressure? Isn’t that the gravity-like force I heard about in school responsible for my thinking that every other teenager was out to try and force me into smoking, drinking, doing drugs, and having illicit sex?”

Oh good, you’ve heard of it. Well, yes, that’s peer pressure. But it turns out your teachers were only giving you half the story.

Peer pressure is the mechanism by which we tend to do what the people around us are doing. Without realising it. If they’re doing bad things, so will we. If they’re doing good things, so will we.

So if you want to get fitter, make friends with some people in good shape.

If you want to a better banjo player, make friends with some good banjo players.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

How to get out of a rut

Do you ever feel like you’re in a rut? I know I do. When you’re in it, getting out it feels impossibly difficult, but this is just a symptom of the rut. It’s actually very simple, and very easy.

The cause of your rut is simply that you have become overly familiar with your routine. It’s not the routine’s fault. And it’s not your fault. But as the saying goes “familiarity breeds contempt.”

To get out of a rut, all you need is something unfamiliar.

Do something you don’t normally do.

You might turn all the lights off in your living room and put on some Arab folk music.

You might try to come up with a story featuring yourself as the villain, instead of the hero.

You might go visit a shop near your house that you’ve seen but never been in before.

It doesn’t matter what you do. All that matters is that it’s something you wouldn’t NORMALLY do.

Routine is good, but every now and then it needs to be broken.

Hunt for details

I’m always looking for ways to get out of my head and into the world. One good way I’ve found is to actively hunt for details.

You can do this with any number of things, but I like to do it with music.

I put on a track, and as I listen through, I try to see how many things I can notice. I sometimes write them down. Not always, though. It’s not important.

I start the track. I might notice that there’s a little tape hiss before the song starts. Perhaps there’s a count-in. When it gets going, maybe there’s a guitar on the left side and an organ on the right. Maybe when the vocals come in, they have a delay effect on them. Maybe another voice joins for the chorus. Maybe a fragment of the melody reminds me of a song by somebody totally different, reminding me that all music is made from the same 12 notes. Maybe the a middle section feels like it was shoved in at the eleventh hour and I feel I could have done a better job…

Something cool happens when you do this. It’s as though one time of actively hunting for details causes you to permanently notice more details without even trying.

Try it.

Are you a tortoise or a hare?

Remember the fable about the tortoise and the hare?

From that fable came the mantra of the mediocre everywhere: “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Except… does it?

Only if you take the fable literally. And people do. They think it means that the best way to do anything is to do it slowly over a long period of time, taking no breaks or rests, working with the same intensity every hour, day, week, month…

And… that’s a load of shit. Human beings have rhythms and cycles.

Personally, I am a hare. I like to work quickly and intensely and then stop and do something else. If something can be done in 7 hours, I will do a WAY better job doing it all in one go than in 1 hour per day over a week. I feel angry and frustrated when I am forced to slow down. I want to be on or off.

Looking back throughout my life, this is the fashion in which I have done everything good. But because I’m an idiot, I’ve often ignored that this was true. I’ve tried to be sensible, and remember my fables. Following a slow and steady course has always spelt stress, boredom, giving up, and little to no results.

Now, you might not be like me. You might be a tortoise. You have an aim, and you’re going to slowly and steadily work towards it. If that gets you results, then hats off.

The point is simply to know how you work best. Slow and steady can win the race, but so can fast and intermittently.


When you say “yes” to something, you’re also saying “no” to everything else.

The word “decision” comes from the Latin root, “deciso”, which means “to cut away from.”

Making decisions is scary, because you are always taking a risk – no matter how small. Instead of um-ing and ah-ing and staying in the realm of infinite possibility, you are boldly creating the future.

What I often misunderstand here is that saying “yes” to something doesn’t mean I’m saying “no” to everything else FOREVER. I can decide how long my “no” lasts for.

For example, I often want to read a book, but I also want to listen to music, and I also know the house needs hoovering, and about seven other things…

Whatever I choose to do, I’m choosing not to do the other things. But they’ll still be there later. And that’s okay.

You can’t do everything all at once. Nor do you need to. Pick one thing to say “yes” to for a while and enjoy saying “no” to everything else. This is much better than vaguely trying to do everything and not really doing anything.

Let them be who they are

I believe it was Satre who said “Hell is other people.”

Taken literally, I disagree.

Other people are only as difficult as our refusal to try to understand them.

We hear the things they say, see the things they do, and immediately judge them as good, bad, evil, saintly, greedy, over-the-top… Once that impression is formed, it can be near-impossible to change it. Mostly, we don’t bother changing it.

But if our mistake is closing ourselves off, and clinging tightly to our first impression of people, then the remedy must surely be to do the opposite: open ourselves up and suspend judgement as long as possible.

Every single person you come across is like an undiscovered country. Your lower self wants to pigeon-hole them straight away. Resist this impulse, and simply wonder about them. What makes them tick? What makes them ticked off? How do they change when they’re around different people? What might that mean?

The longer you can delay giving into your temptation to form a fixed, permanent view of the people in your life, the easier you will find it to get along with them.

Or, put simply, let them be who they are.

Why you should turn your phone off for a day

You are a part of the most affluent global moment in the entire history of the world. Think about that for a second.

Consider how all the discoveries and inventions stacked on top of one another throughout the centuries led to this moment – to the aeroplane, the phone in your pocket, the fact that none of your kids will probably die in childbirth…

And yet, are we any happier than the people before us, who didn’t enjoy these things we mostly take for granted?

Nope. Not a jot. But it’s nothing to feel guilty about.

We are human beings, and it is in our nature to adapt. We adapt to adverse circumstances, but we also adapt to bountiful ones. This doesn’t make us bad, or spoilt. It’s simply how we are. It is a fact of life.

Just as more and better “stuff” has not made the human race happier, more and better “stuff” will not make you happier, personally. What will is appreciating just how good things are.

But you can’t just tell yourself “things are great now,” and expect to feel any different. We learn through experience. And especially through contrast.

The solution I like is fasting.

Fasting gets a bad rep, because it brings to mind scrawny Asians in the lotus position starving themselves in the hope of achieving enlightenment. I’m not proposing this.

But what I’m talkinga about is a much broader view of fasting, and seeing it simply as a conscious, temporary deprivation of something you have become accustomed to. Anything.

Go a day without switching on your phone. Nothing bad will happen. Your followers will still be there the next day.

Skip dinner now and then. You won’t starve. Trust me.

Wrap up in layers tonight instead of putting the heating on. Just for one night.

Basically, what you’re looking for is anything in your daily life that you take for granted – something you see as a fact of life – and then you’re trying to go without it just for a little bit.

You see, when these things become facts of life, you quickly become numb to them. Worse than that, you feel like you couldn’t live without them. Since this is never actually true, you are literally living a lie. You are, in a way enslaved, by these things.

Of course, one solution to this would be to rid yourself of all these things – cut them out of your life completely. But I don’t want you to do that. And it wouldn’t work anyway.

Fast instead – cut them out just temporarily. It’s almost like a little “reset” button, enabling you to actually enjoy things again, instead of just going through the motions with them. Imagine how different an apple would taste after 24 hours with no food, as opposed to after stuffing yourself with a giant Sunday roast.

The thing I like most about doing these little mini-fasts – which I wish I did more often – is the way it shows to me how little I really NEED in life. And the less needs you have, the easier it is to satisfy them.

Forget happiness

Do you know how to guarantee that you’ll never be happy?

Chase happiness.

The more you pursue happiness for its own sake, as opposed to allowing it to arrive of its own accord, the faster it will run away from you. The more unhappy you will become.

When you are unhappy, it is not because you haven’t chased happiness hard enough, and it is not a sign that you need to double down on your pursuit.

It is because some part of you feels that your life is without meaning.

Decide right now what “a good life” means to you. Not to society, not to your accountant, not even to your friends and family. You. What’s a good life?

If you do things that mean something to you personally – which could be ANYTHING – you will find happiness everywhere you look. But if you look for it directly, it will make itself invisible.

Phone a friend

It’s S.A.D season. But I have a remedy.

Yes, I believe in the power of the mind, and yes, I believe that our attitude has a huge effect on how we feel.

But so do a lot of other things.

And if the reason you feel bummed out this time of year is because your brain is in trouble chemically, and your neurotransmitters don’t want to play ball, then thinking “Oh, cheer up, it’s just a bit dark out…” probably isn’t going to help

So what will? (Other than overdosing on Vitamin D supplements…)

Call someone. Someone you really like.

Have a chin-wag. Bullshit for half an hour. Put the world to rights.

They’ll be glad you called, and so will you.

What’s the least you can do?

I’m not ashamed to admit it, since it’s the honest-to-God truth: I give up really easily. On most everything. Usually without realising I’m doing it.

I’ll be all into an idea, how cool it will be when it’s finished, how fun it’ll be to sink my teeth into, and then at the very first thought of resistance – the slightest hint that everything might not turn out perfectly from the get-go – I abandon ship.

Of course, I rationalise it by saying I’m being strategic, or that I need more time to explore the idea-space, or whatever creative, nurtuting, bullshit phrase I’m into that week… but really, I got scared. And I bailed. I couldn’t handle the heat so I got out of the kitchen.

Most hilariously – keeping this culinary analogy going – I often haven’t even set foot in the kitchen yet when I give up. Just the thought of the kitchen can be enough to derail me.

Over weeks and months, the cycle goes on and on. Occasionally I do finish something that stretches over more than a few days because I, despite myself, managed to somehow break on through to the other side, past the resistance. But more often than not, the flame is extinguished a brief moment after it was lit.

A weird thing I’ve noticed about life – a dirty secret, if you will – is that when you break things down small enough, nothing is really that difficult. It’s the chunking together that makes it seem so. When people talk about “hard work,” what they’re actually talking is relatively easy work, sustained over time.

When you look back on things you’ve achieved, you’ll find that – with the odd exception – the individual actions that got you there weren’t generally very difficult at all. What was hard was commiting to a direction, and then seeing that commitment through in the face of resistance – not the actual actions themselves.

The things worth having in life require consistent action over the long-term – they require perseverance. You could almost say that the only thing they require is… not giving up.

So if not giving up is all that it takes, and you’re someone – like me – who gives up incredibly easily, what to do? One question I find really helpful to combat this baked-in tendency of mine to is:

“What’s the least I can do?”

The problem, you see, is that most of the things we want to do cannot be done in one fell swoop. And yet we tend to think of them as one big thing that we must accomplish. No wonder we feel stress, pressure, and a sense of futility. No wonder we buckle at the first hint of resistance. No wonder we give up.

But the truth is that no matter how large the goal, it will only ever be accomplished by performing a series of small and doable actions, consistently, over time. As Lao Tzu said “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

If you know which direction you would like to go in, then all you need to do is think of some incredibly small and mundane action, and then do it.

That’s what I’m working on, anyway.

Do it yourself

Last night, I switched off all the lights in the living room, and spent about fifteen minutes scouring Netflix for a film to watch.

There were some contenders for sure, but nothing that really grabbed me – not enough to commit a couple of hours of hardcore attention to, anyway.

After about fifteen minutes of this scrolling, I snapped out of it. I realised that I was searching for something that doesn’t exist: the perfect film for me. And do you know why it doesn’t exist? Because it’s up to me to make it.

Not specifically a film. That’s not the point.

The point is that – and maybe you feel this too – I’ve come to a place where I am getting very little joy from being a consumer. It’s unnatural to consume in the quantities that we do in 2019 – our brains are still very much designed for life on the Savannah.

The consequence of over-consumption for me is that, like tolerance to a narcotic, nothing is quite hitting the spot, consumption-wise. But I know the solution.

To go into creator mode.

We all need to be entertained. But when you can entertain yourself, when you don’t have to rely on passive, mindless, external forms of entertainment, you’ve got something you can always rely on.

Do it yourself.

Above all, trust in yourself

Do you trust your own judgement, or do you look to “the world” to tell you what’s what?

If you’re anything like me, you feel best when doing the former, but find yourself doing the latter all too often.

If it’s permission you’re waiting for, have it. I, Oliver Stewart Manning, hereby give you total and utter permission to trust in your own judgement. On any matter. Whatsoever.

You might think that it’s more responsible to look to “the world” for guidance. You might expect to develop a deeper and more holistic perspective on things. You might even think it’s a bit selfish and solipsistic to trust your own judgements on things above the wise consensus of the crowd.

You’d be dead wrong on both counts.

You see, although we’re collectively inhabiting this planet and hurtling through time and space “together,” we each have a unique perspective. And the uniqueness of your perspective is valuable.

The beauty of life – what causes the universe to expand – is when unique perspectives come together. Sometimes they do so harmoniously, sometimes with a crash like a piano falling down a stairwell. Either way, we are not meant to do the same things, want the same things, be the same things, value the same things…

This is why you must stop looking to “the world” for answers to questions like “What should I do?” “What is right?” What is wrong?” “Who am I?”

The world cannot answer these questions. Only you can.

Fortunately, you were made with the necessary equipment fitted as standard – you posess within yourself a perfectly tuned spiritual GPS. You might call it a soul. Ask it what’s right for you, and it will tell you. The more you use it, the more reliable it will become.

The answer it gives you might be different to the answer mine gives me, or Auntie Sheila’s gives Auntie Sheila, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. There is enough room on this planet for seven billion truths, and yours is no less valuable than anyone else’s.

At the end of the day, the only thing you need here is courage. You don’t need practice. You don’t need any more intelligence. You need only courage, because the world is and has always been a more hazardous place for those unwilling to swallow whatever they’re fed.

It’s a scarier place at first – when you decide that you and you alone are going to decide what’s what – but after that first step, you might as well as have taken the red pill in The Matrix. Your world will never be the same again.

Music is enough

When was the last time you laid on the sofa and just listened to a great album?

Music doesn’t need a video accompaniment, or for you to be on your way somewhere, or to be paired with scrolling an infinite feed on your phone.

Music is enough all by itself, and when you digest it all by itself, guess what? It gets way better.

Turn it on. Turn it up. And let it thump you in the soul.

An anvil to the head

I shouldn’t tell you this – lest it come back to haunt me – but if you really want to piss me off one day, talk to me all about how Leonard Cohen is “music to slit your wrists by.”

It’s exactly the same kind of pissed off I got about five years ago when I’d been hired to play my songs at an indoor market in town.

A gaggle of middle-aged women wearing far too much make-up kept asking me to play something more cheerful. One even came right up to me and said to my face that I was bringing the mood down.

I was far too nice to her. I should have thrown my guitar in her whorish face and stormed off shouting “BUY A FUCKING RADIO THEN” but like a sap I smiled and said “Alright, I’ll see what I can do.”

I was even more disgusted with myself than I was with her.

Anyway, it’s not just that Leonard Cohen had more substance hiding in the shit under his fingernails than anybody Radio 1 has played in the last decade – but he definitely did – it’s everything that “music to slit your wrists by” line stands for. Namely, that music should have to justify its existence. Piss off.

Music doesn’t have to justify its existence to anybody – least of all somebody too simple to enjoy Leonard Cohen. If you’re so unfortunate that you need your music to be cheerful, lively, and upbeat… fine, but you don’t get to spoil the fun for the rest of us.

People who don’t appreciate Leonard Cohen don’t deserve to go through life bitching about him and getting away with it. They deserve to have an anvil dropped on them from a height.

The lasagne phone-call conundrum

Conor phoned me today whilst I was in Aldi, in the middle of making a big decision.

Emma wanted to have lasagna for dinner. Aldi sell it in two different varieties – a slightly smaller one with a creamier sauce, and a bigger one with a red wine ragu. The decision was whether to get two smaller ones or one bigger one.

Yes, that’s the kind of decision I sometimes find myself labouring over. And yes, I know that’s ridiculous. Let’s move on.

Conor phoned me right in the thick of it. I told him I’d have to ring him when I got home.

And I did. I threw the lasagna in the oven (I bought the bigger one) and went upstairs and phoned him.

We chatted until the lasagna was ready and bid one another farewell.

What is the point of all this? Well, nothing really, except that I’m glad I waited until I was home to talk to Conor.

The people who are important to us deserve our attention. Our full attention. The problem is that I don’t think we realise when we’re not all there. We think we’re there because our bodies are there, or our voices are there. But we’re not there. We’re cut in two. Or three. Or four.

If I’d have had the conversation in Aldi, I would have half been focusing on my Conor, half picking random things off the shelf and forgetting what I went to Aldi for, and not accomplishing much in either direction.

So whatever you’re doing, no matter how tiny – and no matter how great you think you are at multitasking – try giving that one thing all your attention. That’s what humans were designed to do.

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Wayne Dyer said that.

If one person…

Almost every time I sit down to write one of my posts, there’s a voice in my head telling me there’s no point. It doesn’t make a difference.

And maybe that’s true.

But recently, another voice replied.

“If one person…”

The rest of the sentence is irrelevant.

The point is that actions – no matter how small – have effects. If one person reads something I wrote and has a better day because of it, then oh my god I’m glad I did it.

Stop measuring the worthiness of your actions with the bullshit metrics of publicly traded Silicon Valley corporations.

Measure it in terms of whether or not you tried to make one person’s day better, and see the whole endeavour as a success if you even bother to try.

Say “Yes” to life

Saying “Yes” to life does not mean bending over and letting it do you up the arse.

Nor does it mean pretending to be okay with the things you are truly not okay with.

It means that whenever something crosses your path, whether you’d have chosen it or not, you don’t waste a second of your time resisting it, or wishing it hadn’t crossed your path. It did cross your path.

In denial, you are powerless. But when you accept it, you regain your power. Now you get to decide what to do with it.

It’s not a “Yes, fine, I give up, nothing ever goes my away anyway.”

It’s a “Yes, thit thing happened. Maybe I wouldn’t have planned it like that, but now that it’s happened, I get to write the script on what I do about it.”


Thoughts that feel good

The idea that we can choose our own thoughts is an interesting one. The idea that those thoughts help shape our realities, even more interesting.

I believe the second part, definitely. In fact, I believe the first part, I just find it incredibly difficult – if the average person’s mind is a mere monkey, mine’s one that just ate a suitcase of blue smarties and then chased it with a plant-pot of espresso.

But I have an approach.

I don’t try not to think bad thoughts. That’s like trying not to picture an elephant – you just picture one even more. Instead, I just try to pay attention to what I’m thinking about when I feel good, and then when I don’t feel good, I try to remember what those things were. It works. Not immediately. But gently, subtly, I feel better.

I imagine a fretboard in my mind and play imaginary guitar solos (this is how I often get to sleep.)

I imagine Emma smiling about something.

I see myself running really, really fast.

What thoughts make you feel good? Think them more often.

We all make the flowers grow

“Cowards and heroes listen my friends,
If you have money or nothing to spend,
It’ll make no difference in a hundred years or so,
Sooner or later we’ll all make the little flowers grow.”

The odds of you being born were around 1 in 400 trillion. You might as well enjoy it.

Have a great week.

Love from Oliver. And Lee Hazlewood (the lyrics at the top.)

You are more important than capitalism

Every day, assuming you do more than sit in a windowless room until bed-time rolls around, you get a veritable shit-ton of propaganda thrown at you.

It might not look like stereotypical propaganda – there are very few hammers or sickles – but that’s because the disguises get more and more cunning every year. Everywhere you go, somebody is paying good money to control the way you see the world.

And you can boil basically all of this propaganda down to two sentences:


Just as a fish does not notice the water it swims in, I don’t think you realise quite how many times per day you are being told you are not good enough. And quite how much you’re letting yourself believe it.

Well, I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret “they” don’t want you to know: YES, YOU FUCKING ARE.

There is nothing about you that needs to change in order to make you “good enough.” Nothing you need to buy. Nothing you need to tweeze. Nothing you need to shave. Nothing you need to spray. Nothing you need to cover up. You are whole right now, just as you are. I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’m not saying don’t grow, or don’t change, or don’t try to better yourself. But do it on your own terms. Do it because it’ll make your life richer. Do it because you’re a real human being with flesh and bones and guts and dreams and life flowing through your veins.

Not because capitalism told you to. That’s a shitty reason to do anything.

It’s how you do it

I used to think that it mattered what I did. I don’t now.

I thought that there were right and wrong activities, and that so long as my body was busy doing the right ones, I was getting life right. I don’t think this way more.

I know that it doesn’t matter one jot what I do. All that matters is how I do it – whatever it is.

With what spirit are you giving the task at hand? Are you doing it reluctantly? Joyfully? Apathetically?

How you do anything is how you do everything.

What’s your problem?

Right now, in this very moment, wherever your happen to find yourself… do you have any problems?

Think about that question carefully.

I’m not talking about when your rent is due in a couple of weeks. I’m not talking about when you finally pluck up the courage to have that awkward conversation you know is coming. And I’m not talking about tomorrow morning when your alarm wakes you up earlier than you’d like it to.

I’m talking about now.

This precise moment.

Do you have any problems RIGHT NOW?

I walk around thinking I’ve got tons of problems. An embarrassing amount. And yet whenever I ask myself if anything’s wrong RIGHT NOW, I can honestly never answer with a straight-faced “yes.” Because it’d be a lie.

I don’t have problems. Sure, I have unresolved situations that worry me. Desperately, some of them. And I have loads of things in my life that have the potential to go “wrong” and cause me pain. And I’m certain that many of them will throughout my life.

But RIGHT NOW, none of that stuff is actually happening. Right now, I’m fine, thanks for asking.

We all have an incredible capacity to paint the the future – not to mention the past and the present – in the most negative light we can. It can feel more responsible than being positive – you might think you are being more “realistic” …

… you’re not.

How was your day?

How was your day?

I always panic a bit when people ask me questions like this. Like… “What have you been up to?” … “How’s the wife?” … “How was your weekend?”

I go blank, to be honest. Because I know they’re not necessarily looking for the ultimate truth from me. They’re just making conversation. They’re being good, decent, sociable human beings.

But I think the real reason these questions fry me so is because they make me start thinking “Well, how was my day, come to think of it?” Unless prompted, I don’t tend to think about how my day was – I’m too busy being stuck in the moment.

Think about your day. How was it? What was good about it? Make a list.

I ask you to do this because what you focus on gathers momentum. Have you noticed that good things rarely seem to happen to people who are miserable and sour-faced all the time? It’s not delusional to acknowledge the fact that your thoughts help shape your reality – for better or for worse.

No, thinking about a new car isn’t going to magic it onto your drive. Denying the bad shape you’re in isn’t going to make you thin. And thinking positively is not going to act as some kind of charm against unpleasant things ever happening to you.

But as I said, what you focus on gathers momentum. Focus on what makes you feel good, and you will find more things that make you feel good. Focus on what makes you feel bad (which, by default, we tend to) and you will find more things to make you feel bad.

Writing when you have ADHD

Somebody asked me how I decide what to write about each day.

The truth is that… I don’t. I don’t decide what to write about. Because I can’t.

I’m not being falsely modest here – I am genuinely incapable of deciding to write about something and then following through, sticking with that initial thing until completion. Believe me – I’ve tried. Hundreds of times. The experience is hellish, and even if somehow manage to finish something this way, it’s shit.

It’s definitely an ADHD thing. My brain struggles to stay on task with anything it isn’t grabbed by. In every area of life. And what I’ve noticed is that when I try to come up with ideas to write about, none of them grab me. They mean nothing to me. And if I somehow force myself to work on those ideas, it’s like trying to chop down a tree with a butter knife. It’s just a waste of my short, short life.

I was stuck here for years.

But I’ve found – and then forgotten, many times – that if I just let myself start writing, and pay attention to what shows up on the page, before long something always emerges – something that grabs me. It’s almost as though a part of my brain was closed off until I actually started writing. Now I can stay on task quite easily, because of all of a sudden I care. I’m grabbed. All I have to do is try to ride that wave until I have a finished piece of writing.

And that’s… how I decide what to write. I just write, and I see what comes out of me. Sometimes I think it’d be nice to be able to control it a bit more, but that’s just not in the cards for me. All I can do is get over it and write something!

If I could offer one piece of advice today it’s that whatever you want to do, try not to give a shit about how other people are doing it. You have to find a way to do it that works for you, one that you enjoy whilst you’re doing it. It might look conventional, it might look bat-shit crazy… who cares? Because if you love doing it, you’ll keep doing it, and then you get both the journey and the destination.

Try to avoid Google. The only exception is once you’ve done your work for the day, and you fancy a laugh – Google how to do something. Anything. WHATEVER the activity, I GUARANTEE you will find tons of opinionated Americans, each one shouting louder than the last how their way is the only way that works and everybody else is wrong and ‘MURICA. SPORTS. ONE NATION UNDER GOD, WHICH IS FUNNY BECAUSE WE HAVE A CONSTITUTION SEPARATING CHURCH AND STATE.

I only joke about America because it hurts to even think about Britain these days.

You don’t know the whole story

Did you ever see that movie ‘Crash’?

Not the 1996 erotic psychological thriller directed by David Cronenburg, but the 2004 one, directed by Paul Haggis, about racial issues in Los Angeles?

It’s a clever film. It even won the Oscar that year. Personally, I hated its guts.

The film features lots and lots of intertwining plots, like Love Actually. And its one, solitary trick – which it milks over and over and over and over – is this: It makes you feel a certain way about a character in one scene, before showing you something in the next scene that makes you completely reassess your judgment of them.

It got old fast. It actually felt like one of those films they show you at school to hammer into your head not to smoke or bully or murder. I just don’t enjoy films (or songs, or books) that I feel are trying to teach me something specific, or trying to show off how clever and brilliant the writer is – and being lumbering obvious about it.

I much prefered the other Crash, which is set in a dystopian future where people get really turned on by car crashes. I have no idea what that was trying to teach me, and yet I feel it taught me far more.

But as much as the Oscar-winning Crash grated on me, it had one thing going for it – a great message. A very important message. A message even more crucial to humanity now than in 2004.

You don’t know the whole story, especially when it comes to why people do things.

I’ll repeat that. You don’t know the whole story, especially when it comes to why people do things.

How many times recently have you got annoyed at someone and decided – based on that one thing they did – that you know what’s in their heart, and it’s a lump of coal?

I did it earlier today, when I nearly hit somebody on the motorway because they didn’t indicate.

But guess what? I have no real evidence that they were a bad person. I don’t know what’s going on with them. Perhaps they’re going through a hard time. Perhaps they’re absoultely fine and they just forgot to indicate. Or maybe they are a bad person.

The point is that I have no idea, and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. The only thing under my control is whether I let it ruin my day or not.

I’m not saying you should suspend judgment indefinitely and let people get away with doing shitty things. I’m just saying that the first story you tell yourself about stuff might not tell the whole story.

Remember: you are responsible for the story inside your head, and really, that’s all these things are – stories. There are no actual problems in life. There are just events, and the stories we tell ourselves about them. And though it’s difficult when people do really annoying shit, we always have the power to change the story.

Paying attention

I’m trying very hard these days to just do whatever I’m doing.

If I’m watching a film, then my eyes ought to be on the screen.

If I’m cooking some eggs, my thoughts ought to be on the eggs.

If I’m speaking to you, the only thing in my consciousness at that moment time should be you.

It’s near impossible. But not quite.

And when I do it, it’s more than a thousand times better than diluted attention.

Fitting in is a waste of time

I don’t have children yet. But it’s something I look forward to very much.

When I think about what advice I might give to my children, it’s the same advice I try to myself every day.

You have so much more to lose by trying to fit in. And everything to gain by refusing to.

Good night x

Do you allow yourself to enjoy life?

Do you allow yourself to enjoy life?

That might sound like a weird question. But hear me out.

We tend to presume that, left to our own devices, we will do the things that we enjoy doing. That without any outside pressure to pay the bills, or go to work, or clean the house… that we would be free to simply do what we enjoy. And that with that freedom, that is exactly what we would find ourselves doing.

But I think that’s a lie. It is for me anyway.

My experiment

I did an experiment this morning. After I had woken up, and took my pills, and had my scrambled eggs, I felt terrible.

I felt the weight of all the things I “need” to do on my shoulders. Some were obvious, everyday things: the bills, the laundry, the hoovering… but mixed in were bigger, more abstract things: What am I doing with my life? Should I do “x” today? No, I’ll do “y”. Oooh, no, actually “z” makes the most sense…


I saw that my bass and amp were still set up in the living room from when I taught Sam the other day, and I had an idea for an experiment. I turned my phone onto “Do Not Disturb.” I set a timer for 1 hour, and put my phone’s metronome app on 30 beats per minute. And I just… played bass. Until the timer went off.

The purpose of my experiment was simple: “What will happen if I deliberately enjoy myself for an hour? If I allow myself to put my worries and anxieties and obligations on hold, just for an hour?” I picked playing bass because it was low-hanging fruit – I love playing bass. I wasn’t practicing, or playing anything specific. I just let my fingers do what they wanted. For an hour.

What happened was that about five minutes in, I felt fantastic. I had a great hour. And afterwards, I felt differently about the things I had been worrying about. Did they go away? Well, some of them did actually – the more abstract, existential things, at least. But even the ones that didn’t… well, they just didn’t seem so terrifying any more.

What is your priority?

Now, obviously I’m not telling you to go play bass for an hour. But what I do want you to do is to examine the role of enjoyment in your life.

Do you see it as a priority, or as a luxury? Because, personally, I am a real sucker for seeing it as a luxury. As something that would be nice to do “once the more important things are taken care of.” And I’ve come to see this as a very dangerous habit.

Why is it dangerous? Because whatever you decide is most important tends to stay most important. What you make a priority tends to remain a priority. What you put first, stays first.

If you think you need to get your finances in order before you can enjoy yourself, they’ll never be quite in order enough.

If you think you need to meet that special someone before you can enjoy yourself, nobody will ever be special enough.

If you think you need to learn more before you enjoy yourself… you get it – the goal-post just keeps shifting and shifting and shifting.

If you put enjoyment second, it will stay second. Forever.

What about the bills?

Now, you might be thinking that this all sounds very nice, Oliver, but we can’t all be spending every second of every day doing fun, pleasurable things. And you’d be 100% right. But you’d also be missing my point.

There is a huge difference between denying the unpleasant parts of life and making them far more important than they need to be.

We have to make a living. We have to pay taxes. We sometimes have to deal with very unpleasant situations that we couldn’t possibly have predicted. Obviously. That’s just life. But just because those things are true, we don’t have to put them first.

If the consequences of putting your worries and anxieties first meant that they actually got dealt with, I’d say fair enough. Equally, if the consequences of putting enjoyment first meant that your life fell apart and you became a reckless, irresponsible monster, I’d say fair enough.

In truth, I have found the EXACT opposite to be true.

When I make my problems and my worries a priority, they tend to stick around. They get bigger and bigger, harder and harder to deal with, and take up more and more of my energy. And they never, ever get sorted. Forget about enjoying life in this state – there are just far too many more important things to think about first!

But when I make doing what I enjoy a priority, well, suddenly all those unpleasant facts of life lose their power over me. There don’t seem to be as many problems to begin with, and the ones that there are don’t seem too difficult to solve. Life itself seems lighter and more beautiful. I’m not in denial of the darker parts, they just don’t cripple me like they once did.

To put it another way, problems beget more problems; enjoyment begets more enjoyment.

Try it out

Please don’t take my word for this, or on anything I tell you. Try it out for yourself. Rack your brains – what’s something you enjoy doing, not for the results it gives you, but in and of itself? Set aside an hour today and just do that thing.

Put things in their proper place. Stop pretending that the bills, the obligations, the things that need sorting out, are more important than they really are. Stop using them as an excuse not to enjoy life.

It’s not irresponsible. It’s not reckless. It’s the right way to live.

When in doubt, create something

If you feel anxious, nervous, or tense a lot of the time, this is for you. It’s for me, too.

I feel tense. Incredibly so. A great deal of the time. I’m restless. Pulled in a multitude of directions all at once. I want to paint the town red, but I also want to pull the covers over my head and stay there all week.

I’m functional, though. Just about. And I’m sociable. So I put on a brave face. And yet in any given moment, the chances are that I don’t feel I’m doing the right thing.

There’s just one exception: when I’m creating.

When I’m creating, all that bullshit goes way.

I don’t mean “creating” as in “the creative arts.” No. I’m talking FAR more broadly than that. I mean “creating” as in “doing something to move the world in a slightly more positive direction.” And when you define it that way, almost anything can be creative.

Call me crazy, but I believe that the feeling of tension – a chronic existential anxiety – is a good thing. When we feel tense, it’s because – in the moment of tension – we are not doing what we are meant to be doing. We are not creating. And whoever’s in charge is letting us know. Thank you.

Every single moment of every single day, we are given the opportunity to make the world slightly more beautiful, or slightly more ugly. There is no neutral – you can’t get out of this by standing still.

When you feel tense and you face it head-on – by creating – you are rewarded. You feel a wonderful sense of expansion and oneness. You want to go do more stuff like that.

But when you run from the tension – by pulling out your phone, by watching a series you’ve seen before, by drinking a bottle of rum – you get no real reward, just neuorogically empty calories. The tension pretends to have gone away, only to come back worse tomorrow.

I don’t know what you should be doing. All I know is that creating is the only thing I have ever found that actually cures me of my chronic tension. And again… ANYTHING CAN BE CREATIVE.

When in doubt, create.

Be careful what you wish for


I watched Climax tonight – directed by Gaspar Noé, of “Love” and “Irreversible” fame.

I was assaulted even more than when I watched “mother!”

The whole point of a work of art is to elicit an emotional reaction from the audience.

Well played, Monsieur. Well played.


Does what you do with your days have any effect on the world?

How much? And in what way?

I watched “mother!” again tonight.

And I don’t know what you want from your work.

But I want mine to assault people the way “mother!” assaults me.

I feel pleasantly violated. And I think to aim for anything less is to be cowardly.

But I’ll probably have changed my mind by morning.

Do things for their own sake

I re-read The War of Art a few times a year.

Each time, it’s a completely different book. And that’s because I’m a completely different Oliver.

Lines I never noticed much before suddenly leap out of the page at me. Lines I thought I understood previously are now imbued with new meaning.

But some of the lines leapt out the very first time I read it, and they continue to leap out. One of them is from the Baghavad Gita, an ancient Hindu text.

It says: “We have a right to our labour, but not to the fruits of our labour.”

Looking back on the highs and lows of my 28 years on the planet, I can discern an undeniable pattern.

When I feel good about life, it is because I am doing things for their own sake – I am labouring for labour’s sake.

When I feel shitty about life, it is because I am doing things only for what I imagine they might bring me in the future – I am labouring merely to get to the fruits.

Sometimes I’ll go for months before I realise I’m getting it all wrong. But when I find a way to get back on track, oh boy, suddenly life is worth living again.

Another thing I’ve noticed time and time again is that when I labour just for the fruits, the fruits actually dry up. They are repelled by my desperate stench. So I get neither the joy of the labour nor the joy of the fruits! Or, sometimes, I do get the fruits, just like I wanted, only they taste bitter and I don’t want them any more.

When I find myself labouring for labour’s sake, on the other hand, there never seems to be any shortage of fruit. Furthermore, I don’t have to go and pick it – the fruit seems to just come to me, sometimes through unusual and unexpected channels.

What’s needed? A calm, cursory glance towards the future every now and then, just to check we’re not heading towards disaster, and then back to the present. Back to trying to do a good job for its own sake. That’s all.

Almost nothing matters

Things feel different on a Sunday, don’t they?

Everything that mattered so fucking much all week… well, on a Sunday, the slate is wiped clean.

Suddenly I can see the truth: almost nothing matters.

And that’s not apathy. That’s not pessimism. That’s practical wisdom.

But note the word “almost.”

The beauty of being human is that you alone get to choose what matters to you.

If you choose nothing, your life will have no meaning. And if you choose many things indiscriminately, your life will have no meaning.

Choose carefully, and go in all in on whatever you choose.

Happy Sunday.

A puddle

A puddle doesn’t become a puddle all at once. It happens drip by drip. Drop by drop.

A friendship doesn’t become beautiful all at once. It happens laugh by laugh. Tear by tear.

A life doesn’t become well-lived all at once. It happens day by day. Hour by hour.

Don’t give so much thought to tomorrow that you forget to live today.

Bishop’s House

Two nights ago I saw Robbie Thompson play at Bishop’s House.

The house was built almost 500 years ago.

Rachel played first. For one song she was concerned that the lack of vocal reverb would spoil the intended effect of the song.

I spoke to Robbie in the queue for toilet before he played. He was nervous and excited to play new songs for people.

Towards the end, a tall man almost fell on a group of girls who were sitting on the floor. Bones would have been broken. Tears would have been cried.

Throughout it all, my mind raced with its typical generation game of thoughts – some pleasant, many less so.

Everything seemed to matter massively to everyone. We thought that what we wanted was good, what we didn’t was bad.

But to the house, it was just another day.

Where it counts, we’re all the same

Today I am in England. Tomorrow I will be in Tunisia.

Superficially, some things will be different there: fashion, weather, currency…

But mostly it will be the same: people trying to get through the day and do right by whoever they feel they ought to do right by.

Our differences make the world an interesting place, but where it counts, we’re all the same.

Today’s song: Your Fine Petting Duck by Devendra Banhart

Either a prison or a playground

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

Anaïs Nin

The world can be a prison. But it can just as easily be a playground. Given the choice, I’d pick the playground.

Start by asking questions…

Everything that feels rubbish, unfair, unjust, stacked against you, shit in any way… pick it apart. Dissect it. Float the possibility that you could be wrong – that there is more possible one way to look at things.

Do this for a while, and you’ll find that the only person making the world a prison was you all along.

Today’s song: Lady, Tell Me Straight by Mike Uva

To live is to explore

That feeling of being in a hurry to get where you’re going, or even to figure out just exactly where you’re going so you can hurry up and get there?

A choice.

Another choice is the one to – so long as you can manage to keep your head above water – explore. See where life takes you.

Not sit about. Not mooch. Not do nothing.

Explore. Take in as much of the world as you can. Let your mind go crazy connecting the dots behind the scenes.

I would wager that the life you’ll be living after just a few months of being a little bit more open and exploratory will shit all over the alternative – desperately, fearfully picking some arbitrary direction because “that’s what you’re meant to do.”

If you know in your heart just what you were meant to do and how to do it, don’t let me stop you. But if you don’t, let yourself do some wandering.

Today’s song: Flying Theme (from “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”) by John Williams

What if you were broke forever?

Some say it’s a good idea to imagine what your life would be like if you never had to worry about money again – if that part of your existence was “sorted” forever, how would you spend your time?

It’s an okay idea. But there’s a much more powerful one:

What would you do if you were always going to be broke?

You won’t come up with the same answers as when you imagined having infinite money. Your mind will strip away any of those ideas that revolved around second-hand ambition or desires you inherited from others around you, and lead you to some deeper, more personal, genuinely fulfilling answers.

Today’s song: I Was in the House When the House Burned Down by Warren Zevon

You already have everything you need

Everything you need, with which to do the right thing, you have inside you. Right now. At this very moment.

The reason you disagree – that you cannot believe this to be true – is that you misunderstand what is meant by the word need.

You think that before you can truly do the right thing – whatever it might be – that you need more money, more resources, more time, more contacts, more opportunities. And so you allow yourself to continue avoiding your duty to do the right thing.

The only two things you need are the willingness to ask the question “what is the right thing to do here?” and the courage to do whatever answer you get.

Everything else? Cherries on top.

Today’s song: The Ballad of Big Nothing by Elliott Smith.

You can only take one step at a time

I watched about 80 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey earlier, before my wife woke up and wanted to watch something different.

The half of it I did get to watch blew my mind… yet again. And it made me think about the conundrum that faces everybody with ambition.

We are somewhat grandiose – we want to create something in the world that is as grand and epic in scope as 2001 is. It feels like anything less than that is futile. And yet if we even make an attempt, we seem to inevitably fall short of our great ideals.

One possible solution is to reduce the size of our ambitions – to take on something we are more likely to succeed at. I think this is a terrible idea.

We should make our aims as grand and epic in scope as that film. But we should also realise that both the most enormously magnificent projects and the most mundanely shit ones proceed in exactly the same way – one step at a time.

Assuming that aliens didn’t build the pyramids, human beings did. Brick by brick. Until they were done. Yes, they took planning and strategy, but that was also undertaken one step at a time. It can be done no other way. Nothing can.

Today marks the first day I am including a song recommendation in my daily meditation. I have created a playlist on Spotify, and I’m going to be adding to it every day.

Today’s song is “The Crystal Ship” by The Doors.

Your life is more important than “the news”

Given the choice between being what news-addicts would call “ignorant” – but genuinely enjoying my life – and being “informed” – with the resultant depression and despondency – I know which I’d choose.

And yet it’s very tempting to think that if you want to be a good person, you should take the things you see and hear on “the news” seriously.

That you should put your personal, subjective experience second, because you think that some stories told to you by a corporation are more objectively important than the thoughts in your own head.

Don’t. You get to decide what’s important to you – nobody else has that right.

Watch the news if you like – maybe you enjoy it. Just don’t let it become more important to you than your actual life. That’s tragic.

People are going to hate you

It’s a bit dickish to go around purposefully making other people’s lives difficult…

But that doesn’t mean you are here merely to make other people happy – to make not upsetting anyone the sole purpose of your day.

You are here to be you. And if you do it right, some people won’t like you. If you do it really right, vast swaths of people will hate you.

Embrace it. It means you’re living.

You cannot “tempt” fate

I cringe whenever I hear somebody admonished by another for merely speaking about something morbid.

Don’t tempt fate,” the other party will say, as though Fate were intently listening with a cup to the adjoining wall, and now that you’ve reminded it of something unpleasant, it will decide to gift you with some of that very unpleasantness. As though, had you only kept your mouth shut, you would have been somehow “safer.”

What a load of shit.

Fate cannot be tempted. Fate marches to beat of its own drum – it acts purely on its own whims, whatever they happen to be. It is the height of arrogance to presume that by merely mentioning something unpleasant, you have the power to tempt Fate one way or another. Fate couldn’t care less about you.

So if it is impossible to tempt Fate – either to your benefit or to your detriment – what is left to do?

Simply to adapt yourself – in advance – to whatever it does dish out. Be ready for shipwreck, be ready for calamity, be ready for things to go completely wrong. Because that stuff is either going to happen or not going to happen, completely independent of what you do or say.

What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. The fact that it was unforeseen has never failed to intensify a person’s grief. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events.

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

Today creates tomorrow

The moment you find yourself in right now is a gift – a gift from the you of the past to the you of the present.

Are you happy with what you’ve given yourself?

If you are, then well done. You need do nothing more than keep on enjoying yourself.

But if you’re not, think about what you might want to change. And start changing it.

What you do today creates your tomorrow.

If it’s possible for someone…

… then why isn’t it possible for you?

I’m not saying that is possible – I couldn’t possibly know. Nor am I advocating any kind of delusional “positive” thinking where you try to trick yourself into believing you are omnipotent.

But when you watch a concert pianist and you think “I know I couldn’t possibly do that…” you must realise that you shoot yourself in the foot massively. To arrogantly presume that you know for sure everything that is and isn’t possible, and yet… if you were really so smart, why would all these things be so apparently impossible for you?

On the other hand, when you instead think “Crikey, that looks bloody difficult… but I suppose it’s technically possible…” you might not realise it, but the ramifications are very, very different. You have loosened your stranglehold on reality, and opened yourself up to a wider, much more expansive range of possibilities.

You can’t make the impossible possible, but you can stop yourself making the actually-possible impossible.

Do not think that what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; but if a thing is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Book VI, 19)

Some prick with a drill

“Some prick with a drill is interrupting my morning coffee.”

Perhaps. Or just maybe, “It was foolish and entitled of me to expect the world to be deadly still, that I might enjoy my morning coffee in silence. That prick with the drill has every right to be there.”

Same prick, same drill.

Different story, different rest of my day.

Life improves all by itself via negativa

Everything you have, everything you see, everything you do… either it’s making your life better, or making your life worse.

In search for a deeper human experience, you would be forgiven for presuming what we all presume – that what we ought to do is hunt down that which makes our lives better. We should vigorously pursue it like we would a safari lion, take aim, blast its head off, and take it home as a trophy. And if we have enough of this, then maybe it will drown out the bad stuff.

Go the other way. Focus first on taking an axe to all that conspires to ruin your life – starting with the tiniest things. See them as energy vampires – with each one you slay, you feel a little more relief, and most importantly, you have some space in which to invite something new into your experience.

Get rid of something that doesn’t serve you today. An object, a person, a habit. Start somewhere.

By the Hammer of Thor! 101 Posts in 101 Days

If you know me at all, then you will know me as a man who has demonstrated — time and time again — his proclivity for chasing shiny objects at the expense of getting on with the task at hand. I find it excruciatingly difficult to set my mind to anything it doesn’t want to be set to.

And yet, somehow, over the past 101 days, I have managed to write and publish a blog post every single day.

You can read them here.

It started off at The Unique Guitarist — a website I’ve all but abandoned — where I wrote 43 pieces in 43 days. Each one was geared toward some part of the mental aspect of being a musician — specifically a guitarist striving for uniqueness in their work. The longer I kept this up, though, the more I realised that what was coming out of me and onto the page had increasingly little to do with music, and more to do with life itself. At the end, I was just inserting the words “unique guitarist” into posts about life in general in order to force some kind of relevancy to my audience.

I was loving the “I have to post something fresh every single day” aspect; less so the “it has to be about being a unique guitarist” aspect. And so I decided, after 43 days, to pivot away from that and towards just writing under my own name and on my own website — giving myself the permission to write about whatever I wanted. It’s been a blast. Thank you for reading. But 58 days on, and I’m ready for another pivot.

My daily posts are going to get much shorter.

You see, I find myself in a tricky situation. Whilst I am hooked on the daily writing habit — the thing I was hoping I would get hooked on — the problem is that once I get writing, once I get into the flow, I can’t stop myself. This is a problem.

If I give myself the freedom to write for just fifteen minutes, let’s say, then in that time I can craft a little post that I’m quite happy with. It won’t go particularly deep into anything, but it will be satisfying to write and to read.

If, on the other hand, I let myself write for half an hour or longer, however, then something very different happens. My mind senses that it’s been given the opportunity to go deeper and wider than normal, and it responds by thinking up heaps more stuff that might somehow fit into the piece.

I very much want to go deep into the things that I write about. But I can’t do that on a daily post. I end up in this weird halfway house – not writing a short and sweet post that I’m happy with, but also not having the time to make the longer, deeper post actually any good.

I see it in movie terms. A short, sweet daily post is like writing a single scene. And the longer posts are like writing a whole film. Now, let’s say a film contains 60 scenes, and to write one scene takes a day. If you think that writing the whole film is then just matter of writing a scene a day for 60 days, you are going to have a really horrible film. It will take far more than 60 days to write the whole film — and be happy with it — because all the scenes have to not only work in isolation, but as a part of the whole film.

Instead of writing 58 solid scenes, I’ve ended up attempting 58 bad movies, and rushing to a clumsy conclusion when I look at the clock and realise I’ve got to get ready for work.

But, as I said, I’m not quitting. I’m pivoting.

I’ll be continuing to write a — short and sweet — daily post for anyone who wants one. And with the energy left over, I will try and craft the longer pieces I have in my mind. They’ll come in their own sweet time, or not at all.

If you would like to receive the — short and sweet — daily email, you can sign up here. (Don’t worry, Mum, I’ve already signed you up.)

The longer pieces, which will not be often — if they are, I’m rushing, and you should tell me off for that — will be sent to my ordinary email list.

Thanks again for reading. It’s nice to have an audience.

An Oliver in Motion Tends to Remain in Motion

My trouble is getting myself into motion.

Not toward doing the things I need to do but don’t really want to do — I am horrendous at starting on them, but this doesn’t bother me — no, what I get bummed out about is my inability to start the things that I actually want to do. Write my own songs. Learn a few more Dexter Gordon licks. Read The Brothers Karamazov. Blind-bake some pastry.

Whatever the blasted thing might be, the voice inside my head — telling me that once I get started I’ll be fine — seems to have very little sway. There’s a much louder voice reminding me of all the other things I could be doing right now, or how I’m doing the right thing but in the wrong way…

This has been pissing me off for years. But recently I started doing something to counter-act this. It’s worked nicely for me so far. My method is dumb-ass level simple: I set a timer on my phone for five minutes.

For five minutes — and five minutes only — I get on with the thing. And when the five minutes are up, I am free as a bird to do whatever the hell I like.

I told you it was simple. And I don’t know why it works. Part of me wonders why. A much bigger part doesn’t give a shit.

It works.

Don’t Put Tomatoes in the Toaster

The “you can do anything you set your mind to” phenomenon must be a fairly recent one.

I say that only because I’m trying — and struggling — to imagine too many people even a couple of hundred years ago thinking in this way, let alone in the centuries before that. Oh, sure, there were rulers who definitely operated with this kind of grandiose mindset — and it didn’t hurt that were treated more like deities than like human beings — but the common person?

The common person has — traditionally — been acutely aware of their limitations. They have felt from deep within their core that without extraordinary luck, their lot in life had pretty much been decided before they were born. Thankfully, this is becoming untrue for an increasing number of people, as we move — ever haltingly — towards greater social mobility around the world. We have a long way to go, but at least we’re going.

Personally, I both love and hate “you can do anything you set your mind to.”

I love it because for the people born into the most testing of circumstances — that they didn’t ask to be born into — this kind of positive self-belief can be the fuel that helps them to overcome their harsh beginnings. Believing in their unlimited potential can start them on a path that leads them to, if not become leader of the world, then at least make more of themselves than anybody could have realistically expected.

But there’s a big difference between being born into trying circumstances and being born into relative comfort and luxury, and it’s these people for whom “you can do anything you set your mind to” is a dangerous trap.

I suppose my real beef with it is the assumption that we are born as blank canvases. I don’t believe that for a second. I don’t believe you or I could have recorded Axis: Bold As Love. And I don’t believe Jimi Hendrix could have isolated molybdenum. I don’t believe that whoever could have done whatever… if it wasn’t in their nature to do so.

You are not a blank canvas. You have within you a multitude of strengths and weaknesses. You are drawn toward certain things in life, and away from others. Whilst the “you can do anything you set your mind to” cheerleaders might champion discovering your strengths and your passions and what makes you tick, they are missing the other essential half of the equation.

Your weaknesses, your limitations, the things you hate… these “negatives” have just as much — I believe more — of an effect than the “positives” which — granted — are nicer to think about.

Imagine coming home from Tesco with a bag for life filled with tomatoes. Now, there are lot of things you could make with that big old bag of tomatoes, but this list is not infinite, and I think you’ll agree that — hypothetically — knowing what tomatoes are and are not capable of could potentially save you a lot of wasted time.

But if instead you decided to adopt the “you can do anything you set your mind to” mantra when it came to your bag of tomatoes, then there are any number of dumb things you might end up doing. You might put them in the toaster, labouring under the impression that if you just set your mind to it, they’ll turn into toast. But you’d just end up making a mess. Ruining your toaster. Maybe even starting an electrical fire.

Tomatoes — delicious and versatile as they are — have limitations, just like everything in the known universe. Things only work in the space they work in. Learning what a tomato — or a block of wood, or you, yourself, as a unique human being — is actually capable of is not some kind of scary exercise in negativity that should be avoided at all costs. It’s not depressing, it’s not giving in… it’s liberating. It’s an extremely intelligent way to approach life.

Prior to being diagnosed with ADHD, I just thought I was shit at a load of things mentally — remembering where I’d put things, being organised, staying on task with things that were boring — that other people seemed to get along just fine with. I assumed that my only option, other than “give up,” was to try harder at everything — to “set my mind” to it. This only served to make me feel worse about myself when I couldn’t do what I tried to, no matter how hard I tried.

After my diagnosis, however, I realised that there was another option open to me. My brain has a physical limitation, which has certain knock-on effects on what I am and am not capable of. And so I started learning how to compensate. I started accepting that most of the things I am naturally crap at are not worth worrying about, and I started devising ways to step around them instead, saving my energy for the areas of life where my trying could actually make a difference.

Before diagnosis, I was putting tomatoes in the toaster, and when they didn’t turn into toast, I was heaping more and more of them in, turning up the heat on the toaster, and then crying about the inevitable fires I was causing.

After diagnosis, I decided to use them to make soup instead.

The World Doesn’t Give a Shit About What You Might Do

Only what it sees you actually do.

Your problem is that you want to have all your ducks lined up before you even think about taking the first step.

The path to what you want exists, and it will gladly show itself to you. But the path has standards – it wants to know that you’re serious. You have to show willing. You have to be the one to make the first move. Do that, and it will bend over backwards for you.

Do you know why aggressive drivers – though they might piss us all off – don’t crash their cars more often than they do? It’s simple. Though they take risks and chances, other drivers see them coming, and get out their way.

In the same way, as you move through the world, the world is not ignorant to what you do. The world notices you, and adapts itself to you. To your actions, though. To the things it sees you do, not the things you say you’re going to do, or plan on doing at some point in the future.

What you need is not more clarity in order to take the first step – that’s just your ego fucking with you. What you need is to simply to take that first step, and the result will be the clarity you dreamed of all along.

Take the first step. The second will show itself.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Promises You Make, the Promises You Break

It feels horrible – to all but the most stone-cold of villains among us – to make a promise to another person and to break that promise. And I’m not just talking about situations where the “p-word” is explicitly used – I’m talking about any instance where you say you’re going to do something, and then you don’t do it.

That feeling of letting somebody you care about down has a visceral effect on us – it can make you physically sick. A lot of us, in order to avoid such a horrid feeling, take preventative measures – we try to only make promises to other people that we think we can keep. A good idea.

We treat the act of promise-keeping between each others as sacred – and this is a good thing – but for some reason, this doesn’t seem to extend to the promises we make to ourselves. Why not?

I don’t think we realise quite how often we make – let alone break – promises to ourselves.

“I’ll get up at 8 tomorrow,” “I’ll finish those leftovers instead of getting a pizza on my way home,” “I’ll start my essay after one more episode…” All day long, we are telling ourselves – our pants on fire much of the time – that we are going to do certain things.

The problem is not that the things you say you’re going to do don’t get done – most of it is utterly trivial, from a cosmic perspective.

No, the problem is that every time you break the promise you made, you kill your ability to trust yourself in the future.

When you break a promise to a friend, the intangible – but very real – bond of trust between you is broken. It takes time – and effort – to build that back up. But if it’s someone you care about, you put in that time and effort.

It’s no different when you break promises to yourself. But if you don’t see when you’re making promises to yourself, you certainly won’t see when you’re breaking them. Entering a vicious cycle, where your self-trust diminishes with each passing day, is all too easy.

My advice is two-fold.

First, make better promises – make promises you know you can keep. The trap is that most of us carry this attitude that when it comes to ourselves, it’s better to expect a ridiculous amount from ourselves, and then be happy with whatever percentage of that we actually accomplish. Except that we’re not happy with it. Ever.

In this game, you are rewarded for the promises you keep, and punished for the promises you break – no matter the size or scope of the promise. So make it easy for yourself.

Second, keep the promises you make. You’ve made it easier on yourself by making your promises realistic and achievable. Now you just have to commit to keeping them.

And what you will see when you do this is that instead of a vicious cycle, you’ll enter a virtuous cycle – with each passing day, you will trust yourself more and more. The result? You will feel able to make, and keep, bigger promises. Life will expand.

Simple is Beautiful

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Albert Einstein

Aim for simplicity in all that you do.

Go as deep as you can. Get dirty. And then strip away everything unnecessary. What you will be left with will be only the essential parts – the essence of the thing. What you will be left with will be simple. And beautiful.

Resist the human temptation to write off that which appears simple. The best things in life are simple. Not too simple – that would render them crude – but just the right amount.

If something in your life feels complicated right now, remind yourself that it isn’t actually complicated. It only appears that way because you haven’t yet stripped away the superfluous and the non-essential – you are carrying unnecessary baggage that is muddying the water.

Complication is never necessary. It is sometimes the result of ineptitude – nobody has yet reduced the problem to its essential elements – and sometimes the result of malice – somebody is trying to pull the wool over your eyes, and deceive you.

Life can, and should be, simple. Not easy. Not effortless. Not without trial or tribulation. But simple.

There is a reason why “The Old Man and the Sea,” Ernest Hemingway’s last major work of fiction, and the one which won him the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature reads at a Year 5 level – suitable for 9 and 10 years olds.

He made it as simple as possible, but not simpler. That’s art.

“He always thought of the sea as ‘la mar’ which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money, spoke of her as ‘el mar’ which is masculine.They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.” 

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

The Gravitational Pull of the Status Quo

Imagine drinking a lovely mug of coffee in your favourite armchair.

Now, if after your last delicious slurp, you stand up, walk into your kitchen, and are greeted by a single dirty plate in the sink, then I have some sad news for you. The chances of you washing up your innocent little coffee mug – your intention as you entered the kitchen – have just plummeted dramatically.

But there’s more. If you do leave your mug in the sink, then by the end of the day, the collection will in all likelihood have grown – a veritable menagerie of dirty plates, spoons, glasses – maybe even a pan or two – will now be inhabiting your sink.

And there’s even more – with each subsequent item that gets added to the sink, the chances of you washing up any of them continue to plummet.

That is the gravitational pull of the status quo, starkly illustrated. And it all started with one decision – not washing up the first plate. But how can something so seemingly minute and immaterial – the washing up of a single plate – have such a disproportionate effect?

It’s our good old friend human nature at work again. You see, one of our strongest tendencies – and there’s a reason I used the word “gravitational” in the title – is to maintain the status quo, even if we don’t like the status quo.

As silly as it sounds, once there was a single unwashed item in the sink, the status quo was a dirty sink – washing anything up would have violated the status quo. So you left the mug, and you let everything after that continue to pile up. But had there been nothing in the sink, then cleanliness would been the status quo – not washing up the mug would have been violating the status quo.

Status quos attract us like gravity, and what’s more, they are incredibly self-reinforcing – a good status quo will tend to get even better, whilst a bad one will tend to get even worse.

It pays to develop a keen understanding of the various status quos in your life, because they are affecting your moment-to-moment more than you could ever know. Your human nature is to protect them – whatever they are, whether you like them or not. You almost always do this without any conscious awareness. Make them conscious, and you give yourself a little bit of leverage over them – you give yourself the chance to sack off the negative ones, and double down on the positive ones.

You choose the colours with which you paint the world

Something shitty happens. Something you weren’t expecting.

Do you freak out, and act as though it’s the end of the world – something you couldn’t possibly recover from?

Or do you take a deep breath, and act as though it’s no big deal – nothing more than a temporary inconvenience?

Neither choice is right or wrong, but the two choices have incredibly different effects on how you feel able to proceed afterwards.

Where the first limits your options, the second multiplies them. Where the first shrinks your manoeuvrability, the second expands it.

Unlike the things that happen to you – which are by and large out of your control – the story you tell yourself about them is completely under your control.

If you don’t like the things that seem to be happening to you, it doesn’t mean these things are objectively “bad”, merely that you are painting them with colours you detest. Choose some colours you actually like. See how the world changes before your very eyes.

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Wayne Dyer

Let’s Go to the Movies: Lucinda, Jorge, and Rajnigandha

The world’s most expensive slippers are worth very little to a double amputee.

Three people – let’s call them Lucinda, Jorge, and Rajnigandha – walk into a cinema. They are all there – separately, I might add – to see the new Wes Anderson movie.

Each pays £10 for a ticket and, walking to the screen, are stopped by a middle-aged man in a blue suit. He introduces himself as Barry, and asks politely for a moment of their time.

Barry asks them – in exchange for a voucher giving them 10% off their next cinema ticket – to briefly explain why they chose the particular film they chose, and if, when it’s finished, they’ll let him know what they thought of it.

Lucinda: “Well, it’s something to do with my Saturday, innit?”

Jorge: “I’ve seen all his films, and I’ve loved all his films. I’ve been looking forward to this one for three years. I can’t wait!”

Rajnigandha: “To be honest, I’m not expecting to enjoy it, but everyone’s talking about it, so I’m going to give it a shot. And if it is good – which I don’t think it will be – I don’t want to be the only person who hasn’t seen it – that’d be embarrassing.”

Barry thanks each of them for their time, and gives them the voucher he promised.

Lucinda spends almost the entire film with her phone in her hand, occasionally glancing over the top of the display to glimpse the action on-screen. Towards the end of the second act, her battery dies, and since she’s not remotely invested in what’s going on, she leaves.

She walks past Barry in the foyer. “It’s not finished already?”

“No, but… it were a bit boring, to be honest. I couldn’t really follow it. You haven’t got a charger, have you? I need a taxi home.”

Jorge has his eyes glued to the screen the whole time. When halfway through, he starts desperately needing the toilet, he sprints there and back so as not to miss any more action than he physically has to. This guy is in his element.

As the credits roll, he stands up, grinning. He nods his head at the screen. “Bravo, Maestro.”

Barry is waiting outside with his clipboard. “I loved it, Barry. The best film I’ve seen in years. You know what? I might even come see it again with my girlfriend in a few days’ time.”

Rajnigandha, like Jorge, also has his eyes glued to the screen the whole time, right until the final credit, but unlike Jorge, he is far from filled with enthusiasm for the picture.

He is the last one to dawdle out of the screen, and he sees Barry enjoying a pack of complimentary Revels.

“I knew I wouldn’t like it. And I was right. I hated it, right from the start. I wish I’d have walked out – I could have gone and seen that new one with The Rock in it instead. I’d definitely have enjoyed that.”

“Why didn’t you?” Barry asks him.

I’d paid for this film, hadn’t I? It’d have been a waste of ten pounds not to stay and watch it.”

All three moviegoers paid the same £10. To watch exactly the same film. In exactly the same cinema. But all three had wildly different experiences.

Lucinda wasn’t really there – whilst her body was physically in the cinema, her mind was not. She was dicking about on her phone until it died. And when it did die, there was little point in her sticking around to see how it ended – she wasn’t invested in the story. She may as well stayed at home and saved a tenner.

Jorge had a great time – he’d been looking forward to seeing the film for ages, and he made sure to savour every moment of it. Bringing his full attention to the movie wasn’t a guarantee that he would enjoy it, but it did put the chips on his side.

Rajnigandha appeared to try and enjoy the movie, but in reality he’d made his mind up before it ever started – he only stayed to try and justify his investment. He had put £10 into that movie, and he wasn’t about to see it go to waste. Except… it did go to waste, didn’t it? He had a rotten time, and he could have easily just cut his losses and gone to see The Rock in whatever franchise sequel he was in this week. Sunk costs spoiled another Saturday.

We almost always think about money in objective terms – we say that something is “worth” a certain amount, and act as though that is that. Nothing more to it. And there’s an extent to which this is true. “That” is the amount the thing costs – in pounds and pence, at least – but there is a much more important piece of the puzzle being ignored.


Value has nothing to do with cost, and everything to do with the story you are telling yourself about the thing you’re spending you’re money on – or choosing not to spend it on. It’s what you bring to the thing you’re spending money on that makes it worth it or not.

There are two parts to getting this right:

  1. Pick an activity you care about enough to give yourself to.
  2. Give yourself to it.

Jorge did both and had a great time. Lucinda did neither and wasted both her afternoon, and her tenner. Rajnigandha tried to do the second one, but because he’d already failed so spectacularly on the first – he knew he wouldn’t enjoy it, and continued watching even after proving himself right – his efforts were in vain. He had a rubbish time.

Things don’t simply “cost what they cost.” The energy and attention you bring to the things you buy matter far more than their price-tag.

Money isn’t a number. It’s a story.

Be an Auteur

My brother bought me a really nice Quentin Tarantino coffee-table book for my birthday this year.

It’s a beautiful retrospective of the man’s career, with loads of cool photos in, and stories about each movie that I’d never heard before.

Last night, I was leafing through it for about the third time. Somewhere around Reservoir Dogs, I stopped reading and just sat and thought for a while about Tarantino, and what made him special as an artist. Being a ridiculous fan, I could think of plenty of things that make him special, but there’s just one that I want to focus on today.

The auteur

You see, in Quentin Tarantino, you have a fine example of the auteur. This is a title bestowed on those special directors – your Woody Allens, your Wes Andersons, your David Lynches – who wield so much influence on their film that they are considered the “author” of the film.

In all kinds of ways, the auteur goes above and beyond the call of duty expected of your average director-for-hire. They might have also written the script (Tarantino), they might employ an unmistakably distinct visual style (Wes Anderson), and they might have a big say over matters of casting (The Coen Brothers.) Auteurs – though they work with a crew often numbering in the hundreds – make the film their own.

Though there are exceptions to everything, my favourite work – whether that’s movies, TV shows, or music – is auteur-driven. I find it very difficult to get excited about stuff that’s generically popular, but lacks the personal touch of any one person in particular. When a song sounds like a bunch of people trying to create a “hit” rather than something cool and inspired, for example… count me out.

I prefer work that reflects one person’s original vision. Most of all, I like those artists who have made themselves into a category of one – a genre in and of themselves. You go and see “a Tarantino movie”, you listen to “a Bowie album”, you read “a Stephen King.”

Don’t dumb it down for anyone

The camel is a horse designed by committee. Similarly, most art is a perhaps once glorious vision watered down and made anodyne by committee – through some unfortunate blend of greed, conservatism, and a general fearful attitude. We don’t need any more of that. I repeat, we do not need any more of that.

You can choose to toe the line, to be a conformist, to make average stuff for average people. Or you can choose to be an auteur, creating original, brilliant work. It’s up to you.

At every step along the way, there will be people trying to get you to cheapen your vision, to compromise, to make what you’re doing more palatable to the masses. They might be doing it for shady motives – they see dollar signs in you – or for altruistic ones – they want to protect you from disappointment. Whatever the reason, your job is to politely – or not so politely, it’s entirely up to you – tell them to fuck off. If, when push comes to shove, you don’t respect your vision, how can you expect anybody else to?

You only get one life. Don’t waste it doing stuff any old bugger could do. If you’re going to make something, you’re much better off trying to make something original and brilliant – and falling down on your stupid face – than trying to play it safe and make something inoffensive, loosely reminiscent of that powerful vision you once had.

Be better than that. Be braver than that. Be an auteur.

Worrying… Both Seductive, and Completely Pointless

That thing that kept you awake last night… was it worth it? Did all that time you spent “thinking” put even the slightest of dents in the problem?

I’ll save you your breath – it didn’t. And I’ll go further: Never in the entire history of the human race has worrying helped anyone. Ever.

Noticing genuine danger and acting on it? Most definitely. Sabre-toothed tigers would have wiped us out a long, long ago without that.

But sitting and worrying about something? Always a bad thing.

What we habitually call “thinking” is anything but…

Real “thinking” is using your unique human intelligence to actively connect the dots, to compare and contrast, to entertain different ideas… creativity, basically.

But that’s not what we’re usually doing when we think we’re thinking.

What we’re actually doing is passively watching a handful of worries go round and round like carriages on a model railway set. One worry leads to the next, which leads to the next, until the first one comes back around.

It’s a cycle, and we can either wallow in it, or break it.

Take the power back

If something is bothering you – and if you’re anything like me, something is always bothering you – you don’t have to let it bother you for another second. You can do something about it.

You think that worrying is something you have no power over. Even worse, you think that the worries are true – that they are real pieces of information. They’re not. They’re just your mind fucking with you.

Worrying is not one of life’s necessities. It’s a choice. And it’s a cycle.

Grab a notepad

When you next find yourself worrying about something – you’ll know that you’re worrying because a thought will keep recurring, and it won’t feel good every time it pops up – grab a notepad and write down anything

Anything that comes to you is useful, even – especially – things that don’t make literal sense at this moment in time. Don’t worry about grammar, don’t worry about sentences, don’t worry about insulting people you love… put it on the page.

Read it back, slowly. And then burn it. Or throw it away.

What does this do?

Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them, as David Allen would say, and the more worries you are carrying around with you, the less space your mind has.

But when you get this shit out of your head and onto paper, you are freeing your mind to do what it is its nature to do… to think.

This exercise will not solve all your problems – you have to do that – but it will do two things. Firstly, it will put you in a much better position to be able to think of solutions to your problems. And secondly, it will help you realise how many of your “problems” weren’t problems at all.

PS: There are a few articles and interviews that I come back to every few months. This interview with John Frusciante about music and mental health is one of them.

The Goose That Lays the Golden Egg

Putting a pinch of salt on your chips makes them taste better than before. And putting a second pinch of salt on makes them taste even better.

Putting a tablespoon of salt on your chips, however, doesn’t make them taste even better again. It renders them inedible.

Why? Because quantities matter. Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

“Scaling up”

“Scaling” something up merely means to make it larger than it was before.

This could mean blowing a photograph up to twice its original size so that it can be seen from further away, cooking an extra large chilli so that you can feed more people, or hiring more staff – with more people on the job you can process orders quicker and grow your business.

The thing with scaling though, is that there is almost always a knock-on effect.

Ships, printing presses, and atomic bombs

Scattered throughout human history are some key moments where it all of a sudden things that had previously scaled up slowly scaled up incredibly rapidly, and what always happened next was that the world was changed dramatically.

From the 14th century onwards, the increasing size and reliability of naval technology made it more possible than ever to travel to, trade with, and conquer, the far reaches of the globe. Cue modern colonisation.

In 1439, Gutenberg’s printing press made it possible to reproduce the written world at scale, enabling – amongst other things – peasants to read the bible for the first time. Cue the Reformation.

On August 6th 1945, the US proved to the world that something no larger than a traditional bomb could now wipe out an entire city. Cue the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War.

Just because something can be scaled doesn’t mean it should.

What are you trying to accomplish?

Answer that first, and then look at the different parts of your operation that it’s possible to scale up.

Scaling up the right things gives you more time and energy each day with which to focus on the critical parts of what you do – the parts that you and only you can do. It helps to eliminate annoying distractions, and reduces genuine waste.

But scaling up the wrong things – whilst possibly making you incredibly successful in a worldly sense – could kill the very goose that lays the golden egg. In a search for more, more, more, you might inadvertently destroy the very essence of what it is you’re doing. And if that’s gone, what’s the point?

If all that matters to you is making a profit, for example, then the modern world offers you untold avenues for scaling up. You can buy influence, you can lobby governments, you can cut your production costs by exploiting sweatshop workers who have no choice…

That doesn’t mean you should, though.

If you’re trying to do something different than that, something better, something with a little more to it, something richer, something deeper…

Embrace and enable your humanity

We are entering a technological age where it is becoming more and more possible – and more and more critical – to treat each other properly. To acknowledge that we’re all in this shit together – this weird and wonderful gift called life. We are able to do this because machines can and will do more and more of the menial tasks traditionally performed by humans. The point of scaling up technology is to enable our humanity, not to destroy it.

Some things benefit from being streamlined, made more efficient, scaled up… but not our humanity. We need to be free to express, to learn, to grow. And we can’t do that if we’re constantly trying to measure ourselves against arbitrary standards, or do this thing faster, or do this other thing more efficiently.

Human beings weren’t designed for the efficiency computers were designed for. Let the computers do what they do. And let yourself be a human, warts and all.

Your inherent humanity is the goose that is laying the golden eggs. Don’t kill it. Enable it.

Words Can’t Describe the Best Things in Life

I’m not good at expressing myself using the English language – at feeling something, and then trying to put that feeling into words.

That might be a facetious thing for somebody who claims to be a writer to blurt out – after all, isn’t my job to express myself using words?! And yet it’s the honest truth. Sure, I’ll own up to being adept at choosing words and ordering sentences in a pleasing way, but that is not the same thing. I’m hopeless at adequately summing up what it is I feel.

“What are you trying to do?”

For instance, I couldn’t possibly tell you in mere words what I’m trying to do with my life. I could tell you that I’m trying to write stories, or write songs, or teach people. All these things would be technically true, and yet I’d feel like no combination of them – no matter how long I deliberated over my choice of words – would adequately sum up what I’m trying to do.

And yet… I know perfectly well what I’m trying to do with my life. I know when I’m getting it right. I know when I’m getting it wrong. I just can’t express it using language. Oh well.

Things are bigger than words

The problem is not that I’m bad at expressing myself – though I believe I am. The real problem is that words are a tool with severely limited applications. Hard as it is to believe, in a culture that places so much importance on words, there are many things in life that – even in the most skilled poet’s hands – words cannot begin to express.

In their defence, words are incredible. Speech – and then writing – allowed us to progress as a civilisation, to communicate with each other in ways utterly impossible otherwise. They make our lives easier and more efficient.

But in the same way that you wouldn’t use a machete to trim your mustache, or mustache scissors to chop down branches in the jungle, words have their time and their place.

If your friend wanted to know how to boil an egg, or get to your house, or what the weather was like, for example, then words would suffice.

But if your friend wanted to know what Beethoven’s 5th sounded like, or a sunset looked like, or what being in love felt like… words would be woefully inadequate.

Words are a just fascimile – they are a reproduction of the original source. In the domain in which they work, they work better than anything else. They just don’t work outside of that domain.

Your Mind at War

I’m glad I was born when and where I was.

Had I been born into another time or place, I’d have more than likely been expected – as a male not of the ruling class – to go and “fight for my country” in some bullshit war. And not that it’s a competition, but I’m one of the least patriotic people I know.

Now, I don’t oppose war in general – it is sometimes, heartbreakingly, the only choice left. But very rarely. Far more often, a war is the brainchild of some insecure despot who has managed to amass enough power to make it happen.

Carl von Clausewitz remarked that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” My take on this is that if you have to have a war – though you might well have to – it means somebody messed up politically beforehand.

But since I have no experience of fighting in a “real” war, let me tell you about the only war I do have experience fighting.

My little war

The battle-ground is my mind, and the opposing sides are two conflicting parts of my consciousness.

One part believes that it’s a special, unique human being. The other part thinks it’s just an insignificant member of a 7-billion strong species.

One sees the world subjectively, the other objectively.

One thinks that Revolver is the best Beatles album. The other argues that, in an NME poll, Abbey Road was voted number one – therefore that’s the correct answer.

One thinks that the creepy feeling I get from someone I meet is a sign to be wary of them. The other thinks that’s ridiculous – they are brilliant, accomplished, and attractive.

Together, these two ways of looking at the world form a complete picture – a three-dimensional view of life. Their extremes come together to create balance. But torn apart, they lead to living half a life.

What is the goal of war?

We tend to think of wars as necessary bloody affairs – two rival nations take up arms against one other in a field somewhere, the one who gives up first loses, the other wins. Except that’s not really how most wars have been fought.

According to Sun-Tzu, in The Art of War, the ultimate goal of war is to win with minimal bloodshed. In his eyes, the supreme general uses every resource available to evade and avoid battle. Not because he is a coward, but because in the long-run, fighting is incredibly wasteful and inefficient, when compared to politics. It should the last resort, after all else has failed.

My minimal bloodshed

Now, I am not trying to win this war in my head – I am not one of the opposing sides. I am merely the mediator who has to listen to and live with the two opposing sides battle it out in my head.

Unconsciously, my approach has generally been to let one side win. For a few days I’ll either see the world more subjectively or more objectively. Inevitably, the other, ignored side will then pipe up, get belligerent, and try to drag me to their side.

Over time, I’ll go back and forth, back and forth. It’s okay. But it gets dizzying. Is there not another way?

Just like people, the two sides of my mind want little more than to be heard, to be seen, their existence to be acknowledged. When they do feel heard and seen, they tend to be a lot more receptive to the idea of working together for the common good. And it makes me feel calm, capable, and productive. When they feel repressed and ignored, well that’s when they double-down on their right to rule my mind, on there being only room for one opinion round here. Life becomes unnecessarily difficult.

The only way to manage this war – which neither side can ever actually win – is to simply give each side the chance to express itself. Neutralise them.

The Glory of the Quick-Fix

We can’t help it. When we face a problem, our natural instinct as human beings is to look for the fastest, easiest, most accessible solution. Let’s call this our “quick-fix” tendency.

There is nothing inherently negative about this tendency. Most of our problems are simple enough that a quick-fix is sufficient. There are only so many hours in a day – the choice between a faster and slower solution seems like no choice at all.

Where the tendency becomes negative, however, is when we butt up against a problem that can’t be solved quickly, easily, or with our most accessible resources. In our hunger for a quick-fix, we sometimes don’t actually solve the thing we set out to solve – we often make it even worse than it already was.

Now, a lot of well-meaning people will try to tell you that there is no such thing as a quick-fix, and even if there is, that you should stay away from them. Well-meaning as these people might be, they are dead wrong on both counts.

Quick-fixes not only exist, but are far preferable to their alternative. But – as you probably saw coming a mile away – there’s a little more to it than that.

First, let’s look at something that tries to pass itself off as a quick-fix, but is in fact, not one.

The False Quick-Fix

Some solutions get you out of a jam – for the time being, at least.

At school, I would often only remember I had homework to do the night before it was due in – if I remembered at all, that is. Over time, I developed a kind of sixth-sense for which teachers you could and couldn’t bullshit into letting you hand it in the next day, or after the weekend.

My approach depended entirely on the teacher – if they were the type that took no shit from the likes of me, I wouldn’t bother, and I’d just do the homework and hand it in. But if I thought I could get away with it, I’d make up some excuse the next morning, and agree to bring in the homework the next day, or after the weekend.

I’m sure I thought I was very clever, but looking back, I have to ask myself what was I actually achieving? I didn’t need the extra time I bought myself, nor did I actually end up with any extra time in the long-run – I still had to do the work, and it was just as annoying and unpleasant two or three days after the original hand-in date than it would have been before it.

If you reach for a quick-fix solution, but your problem comes back a few days, weeks, or months later – perhaps with a vengeance – then you didn’t really fix it, did you? All you really did was give your future self something to deal with, and that is the difference between the false and the genuine quick-fix.

Are you making things harder or easier for your future self?

The Genuine Quick-Fix

To qualify as the genuine article, a quick-fix has to tick just two boxes.

Firstly, it has to solve the problem for the foreseeable future. Whatever the solution is, it must free your future self from having to play catch-up.

Secondly, it has to solve the problem with minimal waste of time. Note that I didn’t say “minimum expenditure of time”. To do a thing right takes whatever time it takes – possibly a very long time – but it needn’t take a second longer than that.

The foreseeable future

You are a human being – your foresight is limited. You cannot – with confidence – ever know what is going to happen as a result of the things you do or do not do. But neither can anyone else. So the playing field is level, in that respect.

Simply making an attempt to predict whether or not this or that solution will be better for your future self is all you need to do, and the more you make these kinds of predictions, the more accurate they will start to become.

You will never reach 100% accuracy – and to be honest, life would be pretty boring if you knew exactly what was going to happen – but there is no reason you can’t keep getting better and better at it until the day you die.

With minimal waste of time

There is a kind of “golden mean” when it comes to the speed at which you attempt to fix your problems – an ideal pace where you are calm, yet intense; relaxed, yet productive.

If you try to go faster than your ideal pace, your solution will not be as stable. You are in a hurry, and it shows. You will be tempted to cut corners and skip steps to get, and you will probably feel stressed and harangued as you go…

If you try to go slower than your ideal pace, then the solution might be fine, but it will most likely be lacking. A spark, a bit of vitality… This is because the journey did not stimulate you – you were bored. What’s more – the extra time you spent solving this problem was time you ultimately spent not solving your next problem, or on some much-needed rest and recuperation.

It is just as limiting to go too slowly as it is to go too quickly. Discovering your ideal pace is important – it enables you to get closer and closer to your potential.

The truth about solving problems

The truth is that for every problem you have that is actually solvable – and if it isn’t, you may as well stop worrying about it – there is a solution.

There is a solution that can solve the problem for your future self, and that will benefit from being done as quickly as possible, but no quicker.

There’s your quick-fix.

To Live Is to Change, to Change Is to Live

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 BCE)

You were not born to be some convenient, rigid, fixed identity. You were born to discover your true self. And to discover your true self, you must embrace change. You must accept that what was true for you yesterday might not be true for you today.

This is easier to see when you’re a kid.

For the first eighteen years of your life, you were in a state of constant flux – both inside and out. You got taller. Your face changed shape. Your voice got deeper. One day you liked one thing, the second you liked another, and on the third, you couldn’t believe you ever gave either of them time of day.

Everything about you seemed to change like the weather, and – for the most part – everybody was fine with this.

Until you hit your early twenties. For some reason, at this point in your life, you were suddenly expected to stop changing.

“Stop subverting our expectations!”

We silently encourage people – around the age of twenty-three – to grind to a halt that constant change that defines our first couple of decades, no matter how they might feel on the inside. By this point in your life – we seem to suggest, if only indirectly – one really ought to have had the time to figure out who they’re going to be… for the rest of their life. It’s the end of the line, as far as self-discovery goes.

You are permitted to continue changing after this – there’s no law against it, after all – but even if people appear okay with it, there will be an unmistakable glint of suspicion in their eye. Who do you think you are? We thought you were this one thing, we thought we knew what to expect of you, we thought we could put you in a little box in our mind…

It’s really fucked up. But it all boils down to control, really. People want you to be predictable. When you’re not, it puts them about.

I’d say that – assuming you’re not doing anything genuinely deviant – that’s far more their problem than yours.

To live is to change, to change is to live

The truth is that you are changing – both inside and out – from the moment you are born to the moment you die. Just because your twenties are over, nature doesn’t put the handbrake on.

As every second goes by, you are a slightly different person. Cells die, and are reborn. Perhaps you liked Megadeth in your twenties, but you prefer Mozart in your forties -this is exactly what is supposed to happen. But if you stifle this change because you don’t want to inconvenience people… well, you might be alive in body, but you will be dead in spirit.

When a river is allowed to flow, all is well – we have a healthy river. When it is not allowed to flow, it stagnates. It becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and parasites. Day by day it becomes more and more toxic.

We are no different than a river – when we allow ourselves the freedom to adapt to change – both inside and outside – we are living a rich life. We are growing. We are embracing who we really are.

When we resist change, we stagnate. We die inside.

If a Robot Steals Your Job, Thank It.

From the wheel to the Wii, “technology” is what it’s call it when humans – sick of doing every step of every job themselves – leverage tools and resources to get the job done quicker, cheaper, more efficiently, or all three.

It’s not just modern inventions like iPads and Terminators that count as technology. It’s the abacus, which helped ancient civilisations count higher than their fingers. It’s the printing press – which enabled ordinary people to read the bible, rather than having to hear it second hand from their priest.

In fact, it’s not just even just “devices”… it’s also systems, like the assembly line Henry Ford masterminded, allowing cars to be made at a fraction of the cost and at a speed previously undreamed of. To get crude, even the humble to-do list is technology – instead of having to keep in mind the 7 things you have to do lest you forget any, you write them on a piece of paper, ridding yourself of the need to remember any of them.

Any time humans leverage anything to get something done quicker, cheaper, or more efficiently – we can call it technology.

Humans have untold potential – the things we can do now will almost certainly seem quaint and naive in a hundred years’ time – and it is only technological progress that frees us to explore that potential. When we don’t have to spend our time on the trivial, on the bullshit – on the things that don’t matter – we are free to spend our time on higher pursuits.

Technology is – in its broadest sense – the greatest human achievement. And yet in recent years, it’s been under attack.

The robots are coming for your jobs

Many people – though they may spend the lion’s share of their day staring and prodding at their smartphone – are increasingly wary of technology, and the detrimental effect they see it having on their future.

Most of these people are not Luddites – opposed to technological progress for intellectual or philosophical reasons. On the contrary, they’re just real people, people who fear – encouraged in no small part by an ever-predatory media – for their place in the world, as technology moves ever faster towards automation, robotics, A.I…

The message they are hearing loud and clear is: “Sooner or later, when your job is “taken” by a robot, you will become irrelevant.”

I can’t imagine how horrible it must be to feel that way – to feel as though you have such little inherent purpose in the world that a “robot” can “replace” you.

Fortunately, it’s completely unfounded.

Your job can be replaced. You can’t be, though.

When people live in fear – and actively seek to hold back technological progress – thinking that “the robots” are going to render them irrelevant, they right about one thing, wrong about another.

The thing they are right about is that their particular job is probably replaceable. They are not, in the long run, the best person for the job. The best person for the job is probably not a person at all, but some kind of machine.

The thing they get wrong? That the first point is a bad thing.

You are not your job

You are not your job. You are you. You are an autonomous human being. You cannot be replaced.

You can lose your job, sure. But unless you let your job define you, it’s just the thing that you happen do day-by-day which enables you to pay for stuff. Food, shelter, some new trainers every now and then…

And if a robot can do your job quicker, better, easier than you can, then you can’t really get upset with the robot for that. It’s not the robot’s fault. It’s also not your fault either. The fault is with the system, the culture, with society at large.

You were lied to. You were taught that what matters is subservience – “getting a job.” And unfortunately, whilst humans have showed themselves to be fairly adept at subservience over the years, they’ve got nothing on robots.

The personal and the political

The truth is that the vast amount of jobs people currently have are going to become irrelevant as technology marches forward. That is what is going to happen, whether we resist it to or not. It’s just a matter of when. And so have a duty and an obligation to adapt to these changes. If we don’t, they will crush us.

On a personal level, we must realise that what matters most is not our job, and keeping it at all costs. If a robot can do your job as well or better than you, let it. There is definitely something better you could be doing with your limited time here on the planet. Let the robots do what they’re better at. And you do something robots could never do.

But what about the fact that people need to pay for stuff? How will they do that without their trivial jobs? Well, that’s where the political comes in.

There is enough money and resources on this planet for nobody to have go without food and shelter. It is not “the way it unfortunately must be” for people to spend their time worrying about these things, it’s a political decision.

The sole reason half the world lives in poverty, and has to struggle to survive until tomorrow, is because we haven’t yet decided to – and figured out a way – to make it happen. It’s not because it’s impossible. It’s just that we haven’t got there yet.

There are giant problems facing humanity, and governments around the world need to wake up to the fact we are not going to solve them if we insist on maintaining the status quo – keeping humans on treadmills of subserviency, performing jobs that could be done better by robots, just so that they have something to do. Why not inspire them – and sponsor them – to do something bigger and better?

Humans are suited to particular tasks. Why not let the robots do everything else. And then let’s see what we’re capable of.

It’s All in How You Frame It

  1. Romeo and Juliet is the tragic story of star-crossed lovers – two young and beautiful human beings who find solace in one another amidst the backdrop of an old, bitter feud between their respective families, only to be torn apart by a simple miscommunication.
  2. Romeo and Juliet is the upsetting story of a 13 year old girl from Verona being groomed by a 19 year old male from a rival family – who also murders her cousin – culminating with a climactic double suicide.

It’s all in how you frame it.

The way you frame something has a powerful effect on the way it’s perceived – whatever the real facts happen to be. Facts are essential, but they are only the starting point. It’s how you frame the facts that matters.

In Shakespeare’s own words – through the mouth of Hamlet – “Nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

You don’t get to decide what happens to you, but you do get to decide what kind of frame you’ll put around everything that does. I suggest you choose your frame with as much care as a bride chooses her wedding dress.

The Infuriating Inevitability of Creation

I walked to work this morning, listening to Spotify. I have about 1500 of my favourite songs saved, and what I like doing at the moment is just hitting shuffle at the beginning of a walk and listening to whatever it throws up.

Well, just as I passed the Tesco petrol station on Abbeydale Road, I heard a familiar piano intro, and I realised that I was listening to one of my own songs – “There Was a Boy” from The ManBoy LP.

I’ll admit it – sometimes I listen to my own songs. I like them. Why wouldn’t I? I made them, after all. This time, however, it was a genuine accident – I didn’t realise I had any of my songs saved on my phone.

So I listened to the song – John Wilson on piano, Joe Wood on drums and various classroom percussion – and I recalled in my mind’s eye recording it with Alan Smyth, and that got me thinking about the writing process, which was a peculiar one.

I had walked that day to Starbucks on Ecclesall Road – armed with an A4 notepad and Uniball UB157 – ordered one of those plant-pot sized filter coffees, and then proceeded to pretty much just write the song. In about the time it took to physically write down the words, I was done. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know why it was so easy and effortless. But it just was.

That’s not the way it normally is for me

Looking back – having started the writing of hundreds of songs since I was ten years old – I have written just two types of song: Songs that have stuck around, and songs that have not.

That in itself isn’t particularly strange, is it? If I were a painter, I wouldn’t expect to deliver on my initial vision perfectly every time; if I were a screenwriter, I wouldn’t expect to knock every scene I wrote out of the park. It’s not unusual or unexpected that I wouldn’t be in love with, and want to keep forever, every song I wrote.

But what’s interesting – to me at least – is that there is an undeniable difference between the songs that I keep around, and the ones that I don’t.

And this difference is at its starkest during the writing of the song.


When I’m writing a song that ends up sticking around, it feels bigger than me. It feels as though it already exists somehow. It feels… inevitable, as though I can hear what the finished product will be like. Just as Michelangelo chipped away everything that wasn’t David – revealing David – I feel like I have something in my head that I can compare my work-in-progress to. Something to aim for.

It’s as though I’m not so much trying to write a song, as I’m just… writing it. Rather than scouring my mind for ideas, it’s akin more to hearing something on the radio, and then writing that down.

When I’m writing the songs that end up on the scrap-heap, however, it’s a slog and it’s a strain. There is no sense of inevitability – no aural picture in my head to compare what I’ve got so far to.

It feels like it’s up to me and me alone to turn this scrap of an idea into something. And sooner or later, I give up. I have no skin in the game.

For example, another song from my ManBoy LP – “Lady Love” – was written on a piano in the place I used to work, whilst waiting for a student who never showed up. I was noodling around with some chords I liked and humming a melody. I grabbed a notepad, and wrote three verses. I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know what it was about… I just know that as I sat playing it to myself on that piano, I really liked it. And two years later I recorded it exactly as I wrote it.

On the other hand, I have a folder in my loft containing literally one-hundred complete songs that I wrote in a one-month-long frenzy as a resident at Bank Street Arts. I made little demo recordings of every single one as I went, and when the month was over, I listened back to them all. There were nice moments in every song, but none of them were songs. Why?

There was no inevitability.

What can I do with this information?

Think about surfing. It doesn’t matter how much you strain mentally, how much you wave your fists at the sea – waves show up, or don’t, on their own schedule.

The only thing you have control over is what you do if and when the next one shows up. You have two choices – either you adapt yourself to the wave, and ride it, or you stand rigid, and let the wave batter you about.

Similarly, you can’t control when these moments of inspiration come, or what they look like when they do. But you can be ready to drop everything and follow them.

Although it can feel risky to stake everything on hunches and inspiration, it’s not when you actually think about it. For starters, I have enough personal experience now of both following my hunches, and of ignoring them, to know that I am always rewarded for following them and always punished for ignoring them. You could set your watch to it.

But besides that, what are you actually gaining by ignoring them? Security? Protection? Peace of mind? I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel particularly secure, protected, or at peace when I go against what I feel in my bones to be the right thing to do.

There’s a reason for inspiration, for gut feelings, for hunches. It’s at your own peril that you pretend you don’t hear them. If you listen, though, and act on them, you’ll discover untapped inner resources – life will literally open up. But it will close again the second you stop listening to them.

Own the Negative, Discover the Positive

Yesterday evening, I looked through the titles of all the pieces I’ve written on this blog so far. My god, I thought. I ought to be calling this thing: “On All That Is Wrong with Humanity.”

My apparent fixation on the negative aspects of our kind isn’t by design – I don’t plan in advance what I will write each day. Writing this blog is something I do to stretch a muscle. I start with “nothing” – the blank page – and as I type, and delete, and type, and delete, I end up with “something.” That’s as much as there is to it.

Even when I think I know what I’m going to write about, I – more often than not – prove myself entirely wrong. I can be certain of my topic, but as soon as my fingers hit the keys, something else comes out – something completely different and unintended. This unintended thing that comes, however, always feels far more real, far more pertinent – as though made of flesh and blood – than the original intention. I learnt a long time ago that when I ignore whatever speck of inner wisdom I have, I suffer. So I listen to that voice, and I pivot toward writing what’s coming out, not what I thought I was going to write.

Thus, what comes out has a certain organic quality. Whatever I find myself writing about – that must be what I care about, what I’m curious about, what is bugging me, what I’m straining to understand. And overwhelmingly, it seems that I am straining to understand human nature – both the parts we deem positive, and the parts we deem negative. I want to understand the whole picture.

Afraid of your own shadow

When confronted with the elements of human nature that seem at first glance to be “bad” or “negative” our initial response is to run away from them, to hide them, to deny them. And why not? They are scary, after all. They represent the unknown.

The problem is that denying something only serves to make it stronger. When you deny and repress any element of human nature, you don’t stop it existing, and you don’t stop it from causing you harm. You simply divorce yourself from reality, and far from living happily in denial, you are more likely to live in fear of your own shadow.

If, on the other hand, you can develop the courage to look your best and worst qualities square in the eye, especially these darker, harder-to-accept parts of yourself, then you put yourself in a position to transmute them into their positive equivalent. You cannot destroy energy, but you can change its state.

Own the negative, discover the positive

That’s why this blog tends to focus on the negative aspects of human nature – becoming aware of them is the necessary first step to transcending them. If all we do is think of the positive aspects, and deny everything else, we become half-humans, living half-lives. I don’t want that.

The writers I love the most are the ones who have held up a mirror, allowing me to see myself and my fellow human as we truly are – as beautiful or ugly as that might be. Hemingway. Bukowski. Denis Johnson. Robert Greene. If I have an aim with my writing, it’s to pay that forward.

I Gave up Drinking for Lent

I haven’t had a drink since the 5th of March – just shy of five weeks. I am completely transformed. The absence of alcohol in my bloodstream has solved all of my problems – both personal, and professional – and has left me with a slimmer waist, a glowing complexion, and an unwavering feeling of benevolence toward my fellow man.

So long as I live, I never want to so much as look at another glass of wine, let alone allow it to pass my lips.

Or, at least, that’s what I’d like to tell you. But I’m afraid it would be the biggest pack of lies I’ve ever told.

The truth is that when next Thursday rolls around, and Lent is officially over, I am going to congratulate myself with a delicious bottle of Pinot Noir. And I’m going to take it from there.

Why did I give up drinking for Lent?

Let’s start with why I decided to abstain. There were two reasons – neither one of them concerning religion, and only one of them concerning the effects of alcohol on the body.

A quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald states the first reason better than I could.

“First you take a drink. Then the drink takes a drink. Then the drink takes you.”

That was reason one. Drinking had become far too non-negotiable for me. It’s not that I couldn’t possibly refuse a drink, or that I spent the day not quite feeling like myself until I could indulge. But I had grown increasingly wary of the way – unless there was a very good reason not to – pouring myself a drink had become a firm fixture in my day, like showering, brushing my teeth, or taking my medication.

Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t drinking against my will, and wishing I possessed the strength to quit. But the wires were getting crossed. Did I actually want a drink, or was I just accustomed to having one? Wednesday night with no real plans? A glass or two of wine whilst I cook dinner, then. Hmmm, it’d be rude not to finish the bottle. Don’t need to be up early tomorrow? Be rude not to have a whiskey. They serve beer at this cafe? Be rude not to order one.

I had lost the ability to consciously decide whether to drink or not, and I wanted to claw it back.

Reason two was nothing more than garden-variety curiosity.

Like I said, whilst never graduating to alcoholism, I have enjoyed a lot of drinks over the last ten years. A few months ago, I tried – and struggled – to remember a single sober period of longer than a week in the last decade. There was one time in 2014 when – just to prove to myself that I could – I went a week without drinking. But other than that? Maybe. But I don’t think so.

That got me thinking – what if there was a better life that I was missing out on? What if I was sapping my potential, perhaps severely? What if I drinking was worsening my ADHD symptoms?

I don’t really get hangovers. I don’t spend all our money on boozing. Drinking hasn’t been silently ruining my life. But without taking it out of my life for a bit, how could I ever know what – if anything – awaited me on the other side?

So… what’s it been like?

I hate an anti-climax as much as the next guy, but I’m afraid that’s all I am able to give you. It’s been fine.

It’s actually been a hell of a lot easier than I thought it would be. The few times where I’ve actually wanted a drink, or where I’ve been in a situation – like having friends over, or being out at a bar for a gig – it really hasn’t bothered me that much that I couldn’t have one.

My sleeping has changed. In general – my body clock forever ruined by years of getting up for school – I can’t sleep past 8 or 9 o’clock, no matter what time I go to bed, no matter what time I actually need to get up. In general, I’ll get about 7 hours of sleep. A few days after my last drink – a very generous birthday present Scotch – I slept for about 11 hours, and this happened a couple of more times. After about a week, I starting waking up with what felt like a hangover. This went on for about two weeks, and then stopped.

My moods are different. I feel slightly calmer, slightly cleverer, slightly sharper. I feel as though there’s a little more time and space for my thoughts. I feel – in the most subtle way – as though more things are possible.

My famously weak bladder certainly prefers sobriety. I’m drinking plenty of water and not going to the toilet anywhere as often – even throughout the day.

The hidden benefit

Perhaps I just wasn’t getting pissed enough – though I doubt it – but I expected for this experiment to be a lot more difficult than it was, and for it to result in more dramatic changes to my mind and body. I should be glad it wasn’t and didn’t, I suppose.

But am I glad I did it? You bet. Why? Well, whilst not getting what I expected out of it, I got something even better.

I got the pride and satisfaction that comes from deciding to do something and following through on it. And to me, that’s priceless. That’s worth so much more than than improved liver function, or fewer trips to toilet, or an extended life-span.

I am shocked and surprised that I could hold it together to not have a drink this long. Not because I was hopelessly addicted, but just because I am not somebody who can normally stick to things. Easy things, hard things, after two or three days, I’m onto something else.

I’m not used to feeling proud of myself. It’s nice. But I still have nine days or so left. Then I can crack open that bottle of wine. Mmm.

Living With Intention

Have you ever felt completely at peace? Imagine for a moment what it would be like.

Imagine being able to just sit, and watch the world go by – no nagging thoughts, no need to fill the silence, no need for anything, except this moment, right here, right now.

Do you feel like this very often? I know I don’t. But I’m trying to figure out how to get there more often. I think I might know how.

I’m on a mission to live with intention.

A balancing act

Every single thing that crosses your path throughout your day – everything you have your attention on, whether consciously or not – has an effect on you. Each thing is bringing you closer – or taking you further away – from that peaceful state that you imagined a moment ago.

The people in your life, the objects that surround you, the responsibilities and obligations you feel, even the town you live in… none of these things are ever neutral in their effects on you.

However – and this is key – whilst all that is true, the solution is not as black-and-white as “if you want to be happier, bring in more positive things, and get rid of more negative things.” You see, each individual thing is not merely “a positive or a negative” – each individual thing is itself a combination of positives and negatives, a balance of blessings and curses.

What’s more, each individual thing affects each individual person differently. Whilst some things are more universally good or bad, it’s way more nuanced than that. What bothers you might delight me, and vice versa.

Living with intention means looking at the things you have let be in your life, and measuring the net effect they have on you personally – when you weigh its benefits against its drawbacks, does each thing overall make you more happy, or less happy? From this vantage point you can then decide what to keep and what to get rid of, or never to allow in in the first place.

Maximalism vs Minimalism

By default, we are, unfortunately, maximalists. This means that we tend to – unconsciously, of course – err on the side of letting into our life anything that might bestow upon us some kind of benefit. We act on the premise that if it has some positive aspect, it must therefore be positive, and therefore if we don’t have it in our lives, we are somehow… losing something.

The problem is that if you look hard enough, almost everything has some kind of positive aspect to it. Hitler was a vegetarian. Enough said.

Minimalism, on the other hand, is simply a little being more discerning and discriminatory, and looking at the bigger picture. Playing 3D chess instead of noughts and crosses.

It means weighing up the balance of positives and negatives of a thing – calculating the net effect of bringing something into our lives. A thing can have as many positives as it wants, but if they don’t outweigh the negatives, it’s gone. Simple.

You can be more intentional

Sure, you can’t choose everything, you can’t control everything, you can’t make everything bend to your will. But you can certainly put the numbers on your side by being a little more discerning.

You can decide what the overall effects of having something in your life are – whether the positives outweigh the negatives, or vice versa – and start to lead a more intentional, deliberate life.

Do the Right Thing. Today.

Procrastination. That dirty word, most often used to describe putting off some unpleasant but necessary but cosmically unimportant activity, like homework or doing the dishes.

Procrastinating in this domain is doing some other activity – watching one more episode of this, playing one more level of that – in the place of the thing that needs doing, until you eventually do the thing you needs doing.

The good kind of procrastination

We can sum this up as follows:

“Putting off busy-work until later.”

We all do it. All the time. And it’s really not a big deal. It can even be a good thing.

Because I felt I had better things to do with my time – like play guitar and read – I used to generally leave all my homework until the night before. Not only did my grades not suffer from this approach, but I got my work done much quicker than whenever I took a more leisurely approach.

Procrastination became almost a productivity hack for me – every minute of avoiding the work was like coiling a spring, so that when I finally sat down to do it, the spring uncoiled with great force. I attacked the work with energy and attention that I couldn’t normally find, because I didn’t give a shit about the work.

So long as you eventually get round to whatever you need to get round to, there’s no need to see this kind of procrastination as the kind of productivity cancer it’s often made out to be.

It’s not worth fearing, especially because there’s another form of procrastination – one with a much more serious threat.

The bad kind of procrastination

We can sum this type up as:

“Putting off doing the right thing until tomorrow.”

Unlike the first kind of procrastination, this one can wreak an incredible amount of damage and destruction. What makes it so dangerous?

It’s simple – it presents a harmless front.

Tomorrow feels very close – it seems very reasonable to put something off until tomorrow, whatever it is. It doesn’t feel like you’re saying “I’m not going to do this.” It feels like “I am going to do this. Just not yet.”

And that’s where it gets you.

Because tomorrow never comes. There is only the present moment. Tomorrow never becomes today – it’s eternally “tomorrow.” It’s a moving target. A mirage. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

If you feel like you don’t quite have it in you to do the right thing today, what makes you think tomorrow is going to be any different?

It’s a muscle

Doing the right thing is a muscle. Which means that with use it will grow, and with neglect it will shrink – either a virtuous cycle, or a vicious cycle.

In every moment, you are presented with a wonderfully binary choice – do the right thing, or don’t do the right thing. Putting it off until tomorrow might feel like it’s somewhere neutral, somewhere in-between. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s really just a tarted up way of choosing “don’t do the right thing.”

Every time you choose to do the right thing, the muscle grows. Every time you choose “don’t” – whether you realise that’s what you’re doing or not – it shrinks. It’s as simple as that.

Don’t confuse putting off busywork with putting off doing the right thing. One is of little to no consequence. One is as important as life or death.

This try probably doesn’t matter

I like to get things right the first time. It’s a real problem.

It’s a problem because, well, it’s generally impossible to do.

To learn, you must “fail” a bit

The majority of life’s tasks – from walking, to talking, to making an omelette, to writing a symphony – involve an unavoidable learning curve. You are born with the potential to do these things, but not the ability.

In order to do them, you must shift from ignorance to knowledge – you must learn. And in order to learn, you must try. And if you try, there’s a pretty big chance that you’ll fail – at least the first few times.

But if failure doesn’t kill you – and it almost never does – and you keep trying, then before long, you will be a person who can now do the thing you set out to do.

For most things in life, the specific outcome of each try doesn’t matter.

It’s the big picture that matters.

My mistake is forgetting that. I make getting it right this time far too important – so important, in fact, that it scares me away before even make my first attempt.

And yet… no matter how hard I rack my brains, I can’t recall a single time in my life where this time genuinely mattered – where straining to get this moment right, or else… got me a better result than just trying my best and if it didn’t work out trying again later.

Maybe it’s me, but putting pressure on myself to get it right this time actually takes me in the wrong direction – it seems to ensure that I not only get it wrong this time, but I continue to get it wrong, and worst of all, I have an incredibly stressful experience.

But doing my best over time? Trial and error based on the best information I currently have? Well that seems to get me where I want to go much quicker.

What to do

If you are living a life – as I have far too often – where every throw of the dice feels like life and death, relax. It’s not. It’s not even close.

Your life might contain a billion throws of the dice – the outcome of this one throw doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is the overall pattern.

Are you consistently trying to do what you think is right for you? If you are, then you’re sorted – you’re learning. Over time – even accounting for all your mistakes, failures, and fuck-ups – you’re going to be in a vastly superior position than if you avoid trying because you’re trying to avoid failing.

A perfectionist is not someone with high standards. A perfectionist is somebody so afraid to make one little mistake that they won’t even try, wearing the mask of someone with high standards.

Time is the beat. You are the rhythm.

I’m a music teacher. That means I spend a lot of my time sitting side-by-side with a student, both of us staring – with equal parts disgust and contempt – at a sheet of paper with a load of black dots on it.

I – for the most part – understand the dots, and so it’s only fair that I show the student how to decipher these dots, and to free the music within.

Now, when confronted with this page of what can sometimes look like nothing more than hieroglyphs, you don’t always know where to start. So you ask questions? “What’s the first note?” “Are they any sharps or flats?” “What does dolce e cantabile mean?”

These are all questions we’ll have to answer at some point, but there’s one question that – if we can answer – will unlock more doors than any other.

“What is the beat?”

The beat of a piece of music – as opposed to the rhythm – is the constant, unchanging, invisible temporal thread that runs through the music.

If you’re playing “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees, then it’s an obvious, disco-inflected, foot-stomping 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4.

If you’re playing the Blue Danube Waltz, it’s an elegant 1-2-3, 1-2-3.

If you’re playing Zappa, or Stravinsky, then it might be something madder, like 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, 1-2-3…

“So what is the rhythm?”

The rhythm is everything you play – or don’t play – on top of that beat.

It’s “aah, aah, aah, aah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive…” It’s “da-da-da-da-da… da-da… da-da…” It’s “Watch out where the huskies go, and don’t you eat that yellow snow…”

The most crucial thing to understand about rhythm is that without a beat, it is nothing. It’s just a series of notes. Rhythm needs a beat underneath it to give it context and meaning.

Perhaps it would be easier to explain by example.

The beat is a wooden table. The rhythm is the table cloth, the napkins, the cutlery, and the fine china you put on top. No wooden table? Just a load of crap on the floor.

The beat is the motorway. The rhythm is all the different vehicles driving on it. No motorway? Just a load of cars crashing into each other at 70mph.

The beat is the sun. The rhythm is the planets orbiting it. No sun? Nothing to orbit. Planets veering off into the far reaches of the galaxy.

Simply put, the beat comes first, and the rhythm is what you decide to put over it.

And this, my friend, is exactly how I think about time.

The beat of life

Time has a beat far more constant than any piece of music ever composed.

Time – like the tide – waits for no man. It marches on, never changing its speed, never stopping to rest or refuel.

And time is fair. Every day, for every man, woman, child, and beast, there exists the same 24 hours. Nobody gets more hours in the day just because Daddy was rich, or Mommy paid off the admissions board. If there is any equality in this life, then it is surely through time.

So if time is the beat of life, then what is the rhythm?

The rhythm of life is your actions

Rhythm is what you do or don’t do, against the backdrop of time.

There’s a reason – when you exclude privilege and silver-spoon-ism – why some people live richer lives than others, getting more things done that matter to them, feeling a sense of purpose. It’s simple – they master time.

They don’t control time, because you can’t, any more than you control the wind, or the sea. Time just is – it’s non-negotiable. But what you do against the backdrop of time, with your thoughts, words, and deeds, is extremely negotiable.

You have more than enough time in the day to do what you need to do. It is impossible not to have enough time, because time is the thing that you must orient yourself around – it doesn’t work the other way round. What you must do to master time is simply become more intentional about how and why you’re spending time the way you’re spending it.

Amor Fati & Everything Is a Bonus

Have you ever been to Pizza Express? Well, many moons ago, it was my job to roll the big balls of dough into pizza bases. I would stack them in their black pans as quickly as my little hands could manage, ready for the next guy to sauce them, top them, and throw them in the oven.

I had a manager. I liked my manager. One time my manager was away for a few days, and so a different manager – someone from one of the Pizza Express branches in Leeds – took over. I remember almost nothing about this man. Just one thing.

The curse of expectations

You see, part of the manager’s job was to keep tabs on how well the restaurant was doing – how much money it was bringing in – and we had a target each day. It wasn’t a purely arbitrary target – someone from head office had worked out how much, based on past performance, all being well, the restaurant “should” be making on a given night.

Most managers would keep that number in the back of their mind, and just get on with their job – there was a lot to do – and if, by the end of the night, we hadn’t hit the number… oh, well. It could usually be explained away by one thing or another, and unless the target was consistently not reached – which probably showed that the target was a little bit high – then it really wasn’t anything to worry about.

If we made £1800 one night, then we made £1800 – that’s what happened – it didn’t matter whether head office expected £10 or £10,000. We made £1800.

The replacement manager’s attitude, however, was different. In his eyes, that number was gospel.

If £2000 was our target, and we hit it, then we were now at zero – reaching the target wasn’t winning, it was the bare minimum, it was everyone simply “doing their jobs.” And if instead we made £1800, then to this manager we had actually “lost” money. We were “down.” Never mind that throughout the day customers had put £1800 into the tills – £1800 that wasn’t there this morning – what we’d actually done was “lost” £200.

He was obsessed with the target. He spent the whole shift anxious about reaching the target, but didn’t seem particularly happy if we did reach it, and became truly despondent if we didn’t.

I was glad to see the back of him.

There is no “supposed to”

Now, that manager wasn’t stupid. He was just playing a very dangerous – but unfortunately very popular – game.

He had made up his mind – as well all do – that things were supposed to go a particular way. And if they didn’t? Well then he had lost, he was down, something had been taken away.

The problem with this is that there is no “supposed to” in life. There is just whatever happens. If you get less than you were expecting, it’s not because life wronged you. Life didn’t make a mistake. You made a mistake – you expected wrong.

You are allowed to have hopes and dreams. And you are allowed to be disappointed when things don’t go your way. But you must realise that as far as life is concerned, there is no “your way.” There is just “the way.” Things happen the way things happen.

There is no such thing as loss

You can either go on expecting everything to work out just the way you want it to, and continue being disappointed when inevitably some part of it doesn’t, or you can start throwing your expectations out of the window and accepting what actually does happen as what was meant to happen.

Friedrich Nietschze called this Amor Fati.

“That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it….but love it.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

I’m trying to live a life where I don’t need things to be a certain way. I want them to, sure – I’m only human – but the more I try to actively embrace how they actually are, I’m getting happier and happier.

As far as I’m concerned, life itself is a bonus. It was extremely improbable, statistically, that you or I would have ever been born. And we’re going to throw our toys out of the pram when one thing we thought “should” be a certain way isn’t?

Come on…

Live Well Because You Can

Sometimes – and I speak from experience – you can drink yourself into a stupor, smack your head on the toilet seat throwing up on yourself, crawl off to bed, sleep for five hours, and wake up feeling pretty much daisy-fresh.

Other times, you can be stone-cold sober, enjoy a light and healthy dinner, avoid caffeine and blue light, go to bed at a reasonable hour, get more than the recommended eight hours of sleep, and still you wake up feeling like the Devil had his wicked way with you in your sleep.

It’s maddening, I know. But the lesson here is that no matter what lengths we go to in our quest for control over our lives, we are – more than we’d ever dare admit – in the hands of fate.

We can get seemingly everything wrong, and then by sheer, dumb luck, have everything turn out great. Or we can get everything as right as humanly possible, and for no particular reason, it can all go to shit.

So if there’s no guarantee that doing the right thing will even get us what we want, what’s the point? What’s there left to do?

Live well for its own sake.

If you’re only in it for the spoils, you’ve got it all wrong. Because the spoils might never come – it’s entirely up to the spoils themselves how often they visit. But if you can learn to play the game for the joy of playing, and make the spoils nothing more than a cherry on top, well now you’re cooking with gas.

You can put the numbers on your side – and I implore you to do so – but you can’t make the world do what you want it to. So just do your best for no other reason than because it’s the right thing to do.

So, you say, what good do I get [from virtue]? But what more good do you want than this? Instead of being a shameless man you will become a dignified man, instead of chaotic you will become organized, from being untrustworthy you will become trustworthy, instead of being out of control you will become sane. If you want anything more than this, keep on doing what you are already doing: not even a God can now help you.

Epictetus (Discourses, 4.9)

Maybe You Don’t Know What Everyone Else Should Do

Quite often, I find myself thinking – normally in my head, though more often than I’d care to admit, out loud – about all the things I think people I know should do differently.

If only so-and-so would do this thing more carefully, for example, or stop wasting their time worrying about that thing, or if they just sat down for an hour and got their goddamn priorities straight… I can concoct entire mental laundry lists about how everybody else could and should live their lives better. (Better, in this case, being code for “the way I would prefer it.”)

Of course, it’s rare – if ever – that I tell these people my grand ideas for their betterment, and I’d like to think that that’s because I’m tactful, and compassionate – I’m a good guy. But it’s not that.

The truth could be that I avoid telling them because I’m a coward, or because I’m afraid of confrontation, or – as is most probable – because I fear that they will, in retaliation, open up a veritable Pandora’s box of all the things they think I ought to change about my life.

I wouldn’t enjoy that. So I try to keep schtum, and confine my efforts to improve the people around me to doing it behind their backs, instead of to their faces.

What about my foibles?

You might think that where this piece is going next is me denouncing us foolish humans for yet another one our terrible habits.

But actually, just this once, I’m going to let us slide. So long as you temper presuming to know what’s best for everyone else with the innate knowledge that, in fact, you don’t – and you learn that even when somebody asks “what do you think I should do?” they are hoping more for you to say something kind than fishing for the painful truth – I don’t think you’ve got too much to worry about.

But what splashed me in the face like a cup of cold coffee this morning on my way to the pharmacy was when I started to wonder that if I am going around arrogantly presuming to know best what everybody else should do – no matter how wrong I am most of the time – then so too is everybody else. Worse, they’re doing it about me.

“What are they saying about me?” I thought, waiting for a red light to change. What are the things I do that everybody thinks I shouldn’t do? Who am I inadvertedly pissing off with my charming idiosyncrasies? Are they really charming idiosyncrasies, or just annoying habits?

I pondered this for a little while. Before the light could turn green, plenty of possible options presented themselves, but then, I thought, how could I even be sure? There’s no way to get reliable feedback. If I ask people what they really think of me, surely they’ll just do what I would do in their shoes, and tell me whatever I’d want to hear…

When I was almost home, I’d turned a corner – figuratively, and metaphorically. I asked myself whether my harmless vices and little quirks were just that – harmless. And whether the fact that some people might be pissed off by things I do was just as much their problem as it was mine? Maybe more, sometimes.

After I got home, I made myself some breakfast and, to be honest, forgot about the entire train of thought until a moment ago.

The conclusion I came to?

Everybody thinks they know what everybody else should or shouldn’t do, and yet what’s funny is that the same people somehow make all manner of bad decisions in their own life – some more, some less. That in itself is enough to make me suspicious. If we really possessed such wisdom that we could foresee and foretell the things we claim to be able to – when it comes to other people – wouldn’t you think we’d make much smarter decisions in our own lives?

In the same way that 90% of drivers think their driving skills are above average, even though that would be mathematically impossible, we imagine ourselves to be omniscient when it comes to other people and what they should or shouldn’t do, whilst sporting a mammoth-sized blind-spot when it comes to ourselves, and the things we should or shouldn’t do.

I suppose the solution, as with all these things, is nothing more fancy than to accept. Accept yourself just as you are – foibles and all – including your tendency to see yourself as some kind of modern-day Oracle at Delphi, pre-eminent solver of the world’s problems… except the ones that have got anything to do with you.

When you get busy accepting yourself, you’ll find fewer things that other people need to do. You’ll find them to suddenly be just exactly what you need them to be – themselves.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

Carl Jung

You Are Not a Blank Canvas

If you put a gun to my head, I would wager that the uniquely human tendency to oscillate between perceiving yourself as omnipotent, of limitless potential, able to do anything – given the requisite time and resources – and perceiving yourself as a fixed, unchangeable, lump of flesh, has been going on since… well, forever.

To put it differently, you’re either seeing yourself as a blank canvas – bestowing upon yourself the potential to be shaped and moulded into just about anything – or you’re seeing yourself as a finished product – you simply are what you are. The End.

Of course, as with any duality or dichotomy, the truth is more: “a little from category A, a little from category B.”

The reality is that, no, you can’t be, do, or have just anything. But that’s not a bad thing. Actually, that’s a very, very good thing. Now you don’t have to waste your time on a load of shit that was never gonna work out anyway. You can cut away the non-essential 99% – the stuff you were only doing because everybody else was – and chow down on what’s left, because the stuff that’s left – the stuff you can be, do, or have – that’s the best stuff anyway.

Move towards what is beautiful, and away from that which is not beautiful.

Move towards what is beautiful…

Figure out what you love. What you’re good at. What makes you lose track of time. What makes you feel transcendent. What makes you feel connected to something bigger than you.

And run at it full-speed. Get it under your fingernails. Let it kill you.

… and away from that which is not beautiful.

Figure out what leaves you cold. What was never in the cards for you anyway. What everybody else seems to think is essential in life.

And forget it. Put it behind you. Have nought but disdain and four-letter words for it.

The paradox of choice

It’s funny – when you think you’re going to live forever, and thus have all the time in the world, you don’t know what to prioritise, what to make important, what to spend your time on. And yet if you got given three months to live, I don’t think you’d spend them playing Candy Crush, reading tweets that make your blood boil with righteous indignation, or giving a shit what shade of lipstick is “in” this summer. I think you’d more likely feel an urge to fuck all that and do something that actually matters to you. Death – the ultimate limitation – would focus you on what mattered.

And the same is true when you assume you are a blank canvas, and that you can do anything you want to. If you’re not careful, this ignorance of reality will turn into an inability to pick from the infinite buffet of vocations, goals, and ambitions. You might think you can do anything, but in thinking that, you make doing absolutely nothing of any consequence much more likely.

What you must do instead is get up close and personal – make friends – with how shitty you are at most things, just how unsuited you to almost every path, and simply decide that you don’t care. Then sink your teeth into whatever’s left.

Life is never about quantity. Only quality.

My “Medici: Masters of Florence” experiment

I recently did a little experiment.

I’ve been getting into Medici: Masters of Florence on Netflix. I like to watch to it with a coffee as I start my day. One morning last week, I put it on.

After a couple of minutes, I had the urge to check my phone, and from that point on, throughout the whole episode, I sort of flitted between watching Medici , and scrolling on my phone – with no particular aim – through Reddit, Instagram, The Guardian, my emails…

After 45 minutes or so, the episode finished, and it hit me that although I’d spent plenty of that 45 minutes looking at the TV, I couldn’t remember hardly anything that had happened. How could that be?

So I decided that – since I had the time, and the curiosity – I would switch off my phone, put it in the kitchen, and start the episode over.

The difference was night and day.


There are a few reasons why the results of my little experiment surprised me so much.

The first is a matter of intention – if somebody had phoned me and said “what are you doing right now?” I would have answered “watching Medici: Masters of Florence. It’s great.” And yet… that’s not really what I was doing, is it? Part of me was. But not much of me, if I could hardly remember anything when it finished. I was basically fooling myself.

The second is how little enjoyment or fulfilment being on my phone gave me. It’s not like I sat down to watch Medici and instead had an amazing time on my phone. I can’t recall a single thing that I did, looked at, looked up, scrolled through… I just know that for 45 minutes, I was generally “on my phone.”

And the third thing is that I would have assumed watching TV – the thing I was trying to do – to be fairly low on a scale from “needs almost no attention” and “needs your full, undivided attention.” And yet when I diluted my attention by being on my phone, it made an incredible difference to the experience.

If it needs your attention, give it your attention

By trying to kind of do two things, I didn’t really do either of them – I never really got into the episode of Medici, and I certainly didn’t do anything of any real worth or value on my phone.

Compared to how I could have spent that 45 minutes, it was a total waste. It wasn’t relaxing. It wasn’t enjoyable. It wasn’t satisfying. It was pointless.

Yet when I allowed myself to only do one thing, then something as mundane as “watching TV” opened up and became a genuinely pleasurable and engaging experience.

Why am I telling you this?

Am I telling you this to preach the evils of being on your phone whilst you watch TV? No.

I’m telling you this to encourage you to explore what difference being intentional about what you’re doing can make.

If single-tasking could transform my experience of watching TV – something that you wouldn’t required much attention – just think what it could do for something that actually required a decent amount of attention?

If something needs any of your attention, try giving it all of your attention. See what happens.

Generosity and attitude

Photo by Suraphat Nuea-on from Pexels

Many seemingly nice people are afraid to give any more of themselves than they absolutely must. However much they have, they don’t really like to share it with others. They see generosity as a nice ideal, but more for other people to concern themselves with. They always find a way to rationalise not doing it.

They can always give you a great excuse as to why, though they might extol the virtues of generosity verbally, they personally can’t quite stretch to it right now. Maybe they’re swamped at work, perhaps they’re short on money… whatever the excuse, they convince you that it’s temporary, and that one day soon, they’ll be in a position to be really generous. Who knows?Perhaps they even believe it themselves.

Of course, once work quietens down, once they have some free time, once they have a bit more money in the bank… they’re armed with a new reason why it’s still not quite time.

And that’s because it was never about not having enough time or enough money. The obstacle was not “out there.” The obstacle was inside – it was their attitude.

A closed attitude

There’s a brilliant chapter in Robert Greene’s “The Laws of Human Nature” about attitude. Basically, your attitude is the lens through which you view your life. We don’t see anything objectively – it is filtered through our attitude. As such, our attitude has the power to greatly colour the way we interpret events, and to ultimately become a self-perpetuating cycle.

If you have a closed attitude, you are much less likely to be generous, because you don’t see how it could possibly be work out in your favour. You’ve been screwed over too many times, people are always out to scam you… You live in fear of losing anything, and so you avoid any situation with the slightest risk of that. You see giving as fundamentally losing something – having it taken from you.

You are ultimately crafting your own cycle of diminishing returns – the less you sow, the less you reap, and the more you feel you need to guard and protect the little you do have, making you much more fearful about sowing in the future. And on, and on, and on.

An open attitude

With an an open attitude, on the other hand, you will actively embrace generosity, because you know that you can’t help but reap what you sow. Sure, you might have occasionally – or frequently – been screwed over, or taken advantage of, but you know that in the long-run, being generous puts the numbers on your side. And when the positive effects of sowing liberally massively outweigh the negative ones, it’s a no-brainer.

You are creating a cycle of accelerated returns – the more you sow, the more you reap, and the more you have confidence to sow again, and since you sow more, you inevitably reap more.

Attitude is both the cause and the effect

Generosity has nothing to do with the amount of something you have to begin with, and everything to do with your attitude regarding it. How else do you explain a world where we have tight-fisted billionaires and dirt-poor philanthropists?

Open yourself up. Be generous of your time, money, energy – whatever small amount you might have. It will come back to you a thousandfold – not necessarily in the form it left you in, but certainly in the spirit in which you gave it.

“I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Matthew 19:23

Do you need to get a job?

There isn’t time in the day to question every little thing we do, or think, or say. But the difference between questioning nothing, and questioning just a little bit, is profound. Life-changing.


“Get a job, you fairy…”

I grew up with the sense that – whether I wanted to or not – in order to be a real person, one day I’d have to get a job. Sure, I could dream about being a famous musician, or maybe a writer, but unless I “got lucky,” and “made it,” I’d need a job.

I didn’t want a job. Getting a job seemed like something that would really eat into my playing guitar and reading books time. But as I looked around, I saw that almost everyone over a certain age had one. Most of them didn’t seem too taken with what they were doing, but they turned up every day anyway. Perhaps they knew something I didn’t…

Still, the more I thought about it, the more it all seemed like a dumb idea. Trade my time for money, at a rate not of my choosing? Do something I might not like – or be any good at – that might not pay well at first – if ever – and that might not provide any benefit to society, maybe even actively worsening it?

What confused me the most was that at school I was always being preached at that intelligence, creativity, contributing to society, these were the best things, the things to value above all else. And yet all I saw around me was people violating that – doing things they didn’t want to do, that didn’t make the world a better place, in exchange for just enough money not to starve. Oh, sure, there were people who liked their jobs, there were people who were making the world a better place, and there were people making a lot of money. But they were a distinct minority.

I wish I could say that I ran with this line of questioning, and never got a job, finding a way round the system, becoming an icon for free-thinkers everywhere… alas, the truth is much less heroic.

I’ve had good jobs, I’ve had shitty jobs, I’ve had no job for long stretches of time. I don’t have it all figured out.

But the one thing I am 100% certain about is that nobody needs a job.

Everything a job gives, you can get some other way

I don’t think most people ever question the logic of getting a job – it’s so baked into our culture that to question it feels like raping a sacred cow.

Jobs do serve several functions, and I explore three of the biggest ones below – making money, a sense of purpose, and contribution to society – but these things can be had other ways.

Both a deep-fried mars bar and a tuna steak with three-bean salad will fill your belly for a while, but only one of them will provide real nourishment and nutrition to your cells. Similarly, whilst a job might give you certain things, it’s generally a fairly weak and ineffectual way to go about getting them.

Making money

Everybody needs money. To buy food, drink, shelter, and everything that makes life groovier above and beyond the bare necessities. But are there not other ways to make money than with a job – ways that are completely legal and ethical?

Money is nothing more than a form of social exchange. Essentially, you make money when you provide a service to the world and get paid for it. The amount of money you make depends on how valuable society thinks your service is at the moment, and how much you of it you give.

A job is one way to do that, sure. But the only way? Not by a long shot. Nor is it even a remotely good way. In most jobs, you don’t have much, if any, control over how much money you make, you don’t get rewarded for doing a better job, you stop making money if you stop turning up to work every day, and if you put a foot wrong and piss off the wrong person, you might find your job (and your income) drying up pretty quickly.

There are literally millions of ways to make money – all you have to do is provide a service, find somebody who wants it, and charge them. A job is merely one way to do that, and if money is the only reason you’re staying in your job, sit with a pen and paper for a bit, and see if there isn’t some other way you might make some money.

A sense of purpose

Many people, sadly, die not long after they retire. I suppose it’s because they suddenly don’t feel needed any more. Either way, there is no denying that getting up in the morning and doing a day’s work gives you a sense of purpose. But who says that has to come from your job?

I’d say that unless you have a really wonderful job, you are playing with fire if you allow your sense of purpose to come solely from your job. You don’t control the world – what if you get let go, or fall ill for a while? You can’t afford to put all you purpose eggs in one job basket.

The more regular activities you can cultivate outside of work that give you a sense of purpose – raising your children, pouring yourself into your music or writing or painting, picking up the litter in your neighbourhood, belonging to a community or society of some kind – the less you will require from your job.

Contribution to society

This is a very interesting one, because you hear it a lot, usually as a soundbite on the news: “Get a job! Contribute to society!” It’s as though one equals the other.

On the surface, especially if you think back to when most people’s jobs involved growing food or working in factories making stuff, this checks out – your job is a way for you to actively give something to society.

Except it’s now 2019, and I would argue that unless you are working specifically for a company you know to be ethical in their practices, that your job is most likely taking from society, and contributing instead to your company’s bottom line, and to the bank accounts of the shareholders. Remember, publicly-traded companies operate out of an obligation to increase shareholder profits at any cost they can get away with. Whilst there might be some accidental, side-effect benefit to society, that is certainly not their priority, whatever their spin might suggest.

Now, you might instead work in the public sector, or for a genuinely ethical private company. Fantastic. In your job you are indeed contributing to society, making the world a better place. It’s just that… again, a job is just one way to do this.

Why not get involved in local politics, adopt a child, start your own company that is specifically trying to contribute to society?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Mahatma Ghandi

Jobs are not bad. They’re just misunderstood.

There are good jobs. And I am not saying you are stupid if you have a job. I have a job.

I’m just saying that we should think twice before we act as though “GETTING A JOB IS UNQUESTIONABLY THE RIGHT THING FOR EVERYONE TO DO.”

We should intead look at the many benefits that jobs do provide us, and instead of blindly assuming a job is the only route to those things, see if there aren’t other routes.

You are as powerful as your ability to say “no.”

It’s easy to say “no” to the things that are an obvious a waste of your time, or are in clear violation of the things you hold dear – a 1 or 2 out of 10.

And it’s easy to say “yes” to the things are obviously perfect for you, that fit you like a glove, that you feel you were born to do – a 9 or 10 out of 10.

It’s just that most things in life don’t fall into these easy categories. Most things in life fall into a third category – the things that don’t seem that bad, or that actually seem fairly good – a 3 to 8 out of 10.

It’s infinitely harder to say “no” to these things. That’s what makes them so dangerous, but it’s also what makes saying “no” to them so powerful.

How are they dangerous?

Two reasons.

One, because they steal your time away from the things in life that truly matter to you.

And two, because whilst they are doing this, they present a harmless front with which to distract you from what’s really going on.

You must reject the “okay” things in life

The point of life is – surely – to spend as many moments as possible doing things that are a 9 or 10 for you, whatever they might be.

But in order to do this, you must have the spare time. Without your vigilance, your time will quickly become filled to the brim with these seemingly harmless activities, leaving no room for the things you value the most.

To get to the 9s and 10s, you must therefore actively disengage from – cut out of your life – things that are a 1 to 8 for you.

It feels incredibly counter-intuitive to reject something that might be really quite good, objectively, but isn’t quite right for you. And, as I alluded to earlier, this gets harder and harder to do the higher the number gets – it’s easy to reject a 2, but very strange to consider rejecting a 7 or 8.

The problem is in the way we are raised.

We expect scarcity, so that’s what we get

Our culture has not yet learnt to deal with choice, because we haven’t spent long with the need to.

For most of human history, things were truly scarce. Opportunities, connections, resources. Unless you were a King, you literally couldn’t afford to say “no” to anything, because there wasn’t generally an alternative. It was “this thing” or “no thing.” So you chose “this thing.” You had to.

Times have changed. In just the last few decades, the opportunities and possibilities open to the average person have exploded. Now, it’s “this thing” or “that thing” or “the other thing,” multiplied, squared, cubed…

We must say “no” to hundreds, thousands, millions of things that we could quite easily say “yes” to, if we want to live any kind of fulfilling life, if we want to get anything of any substance done.

And still we walk around with this hangover from the “get what you’re given and be happy with it” era. You can choose to tell yourself a different story, though.

Exercise your power to say “no”

At different moments in history, different traits have been rewarded, bringing the individuals possessing such traits the ability to thrive.

In the backstabbing 17th century environment of Louis XIV’s court at Versailles, for example, the trait that saw you rise to the top was mastering the art of indirection – if anybody knew what you were up to, you were toast. As Robert Greene writes in The 48 Laws of Power: “The successful courtier learned over time to make all of his moves indirect; if he stabbed an opponent in the back, it was with a velvet glove on his hand and the sweetest of smiles on his face.”

In 2019, there is no ability more worthy of your cultivation than exercising your power to say “no.” This is a world of abundance. If you own the technology to read this post, you have more options at your fingertips than anybody has ever had before, in the entire history of humanity.

Figure out what you ought to say “yes” to, sure, but much more importantly, actively say “no” to everything else.

The “Ham and Worming Tablet” School of Marketing

Mmmm, ham.

The biggest lie your teachers ever told you was “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.”

Don’t get me wrong – I agree with the metaphor, because what we’re really saying to kids, when we warn them against judging a book by its cover, is “you shouldn’t judge a human being merely by their outward appearance.” And what could be a more valuable lesson – for kids and adults alike?

The problem is that – unlike people – books have covers specifically for your judgement. The author wants you to read her book – why else did she write it? – the cover is a handy little way for her to hint at what might be inside, and seduce you into opening it.

Are you seducing people into checking out your work? If not, why not?

So much art, so little time

If you don’t learn to market your work – to make your target audience both aware of your work and willing to give it a taste – you’re done for.

All the people that could potentially love the things you do are being bombarded, every day, by new movies, new songs, new books… If you don’t give them a damn good reason to check out your work, why the hell would they bother?

Which brings me back to book covers. And to illustrate the power of a book cover, here’s an analogy involving a German Shepherd.

The ham and the worming tablet

A German Shepherd isn’t stupid – he won’t entertain the mere thought of eating a little white worming tablet if you just put it in his bowl. He’ll laugh in your face.

But he will scarf down the delicious piece of ham you wrap it up in sooner than you can say “Here, boy! Look – some innocent ham!”

Your audience is no different to that German Shepherd. If your marketing is off – if it doesn’t make your intended audience want to know more – then it really doesn’t matter how great your work is.

If you don’t wrap your work up in ham, then all they will see is a worming tablet. And they’ll go watch Love Island instead.

All steak, no sizzle…

Most artists – out of a well-intentioned but ultimately misguided sense of pride – take the position that our art is our art, our work is our work, and that it shouldn’t matter how it’s presented. To think about things like marketing is seen as crass commercialism, as selling out… at the very least, as dumbing down. And we don’t want to do that. Never. We’d rather starve.

And… more often than not, people like us end up on a fast train to nowhere. We might genuinely believe our work is the greatest thing since The Marriage of Figaro, but since we were too proud to wrap it up in ham – we believed we were above that – nobody bothers to check us out. And since nobody bothers to check us out, nobody tells their friends about us, there’s never a buzz created around us… we die on the vine.

What’s even more frustrating for us proud types is the proliferation of the other type – artists whose work is banal and facile, but who at least know how to market their particular brand of tripe. This is the singer-songwriter who wears the right hat, and has the right beard, and takes the right sensitive selfies, and uses the right hashtags, and knows how to make the kind of music that daytime Radio 2 listeners wouldn’t find offensive…

They’re all ham, no tablet. And they’re everywhere. Not wanting to go down their road of “all sizzle, no steak,” we proud types tend to go down the other one – “If nobody likes our work, fuck ’em.”

Except that… they might have liked it, if we’d given them a sporting chance.

Make great work. Learn how to market it.

The happy news is that this is a false dichotomy – you can do exactly the work you always wanted to do, and you can market it without feeling like a common street-walker.

You don’t have to dumb down your work. You don’t have to make it lowest-common-denominator. You don’t have to move it to the middle of the road. I beg you, I beg you, I beg you on bended knee, please, don’t…

But you do have to find a way to make it appetising to your target audience.

Your marketing should make the right people want to taste your work. Your work should make them glad they did.

Everyone is trying their best.

It might not be what you want them to do.

It might not be what you think you would do, were the shoe on the other foot.

And it might not be the best they could maybe, possibly do, one day, potentially.

But right now, in this very moment, no matter how much it seems otherwise, everyone is trying their best. Including you.

Instead of treating people as evil when they commit the crime of not living up to your expectations, seek to understand them instead. Life opens up when you cast aside your need for people to be anything other than exactly what they are.

Err on the side of action.

If it’s not going to start a war… do it.

If the only risk you run is of looking foolish… do it.

If you’ve wanted to do it forever, but you never took the leap… do it.

In a life defined by its limited quantity of time, we have far more to lose erring on the side of caution than we do erring on the side of action.

All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger… Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527)

Concentrate your forces

How you ever noticed that – with a great deal things in life – the harder you try, the more difficult what you’re doing seems to become? As though you were trying to lift a weight, but for every extra ounce of energy you put into lifting it, the weight got an ounce heavier.

We could explore just which kink of human nature makes this phenomenon true, but for now let’s just assume I’m right, and it is, and look at what we can do with this information.

Try harder at everything?

The most common strategy, upon trying to do something and having it resist you, is to assume that what’s needed is that you try even harder. And to try as hard as you can on as many different things as you can – totally indiscriminately. Throw enough shit at the wall and some of it will stick, as the saying goes.

You see this kind of vague, macho, armchair guru stuff everywhere on the internet. “Try, try, and try again.” “If you’re not a success, it’s because you don’t want it enough.” “If you’re not going to give 110%, don’t even bother showing up.” Piss off.

The problem I have with this approach – besides finding even thinking about it stressful – is that if you treat everything you come across as worth giving your absolute best shot at, then you are not brave, ,strong or courageous, but stupid. Most things in life are not worth giving your absolute best to, and most things wouldn’t be moved no matter how hard you tried.

Not only will you exhaust yourself living this way, you won’t even get the results that might render the exhaustion somewhat worth it. You did a shitty at job at prioritising – by not prioritising – and then you probably did a shitty job at everything you tried your hand at.

So… don’t try hard?

The common conclusion you’ll come to as result of trying really hard on everything you come across, because you think it’s somehow weak not to, is that trying hard simply doesn’t work. And you’ll have the evidence to prove it. How can it work? After all, you tried really hard, and you got nowhere.

The problem, however, was not in your trying hard, but in your promiscuous selection process.

Concentrate your forces

To do truly extraordinary things – the grand audacious things you were born to do – your only option is to pursue them with the most aggressive energy you can muster. If it can be accomplished without your most aggressive energy, you’re not aiming high enough.

There is an object you want to move. To move it, you must try your absolute hardest. So do it. BUT… only that object. Forget about all the other objects. Forget everything else in the world. Focus everything you have on moving that one object.

When you limit the things you deem worthy of giving 100% to, you suddenly gain the potential to actually give 100%, and only then will you realise what you’ve been missing – either by trying hard at all kinds of things, or not trying hard on anything.

We have no idea what our limits are generally, because we never allow ourselves to get anywhere them. We live shallow, diffuse lives, focusing a little bit here and a little bit there. Concentrate your forces instead. You’ll seem like a superhero by contrast.

Forge the path only you could forge

Whatever it is you want to accomplish with the time you have left on this planet, getting a clear picture of it in your head is an important first step, but it’s just one half of the puzzle.

The other half is forging your path – figuring out just how you’ll get from where you are now to where you want to be.

There is an ideal path

Whilst there are an infinite amount of paths available to you – an infinite amount of ways you could get where you want to go – only one of these possible paths is the right one for you.

We can call this path your ideal path. Your ideal path is the one that not only gets you where you want to go, but also takes into account your unique character, temperament, and inclinations.

Like Cinderella trying on the glass slipper, you will know when you are on your ideal path – it will fit.

Trying to get where you want to go by following just any path – even one that seems totally logical, and would make sense for the average person – is a waste of time. When you do this, you’re not Cinderella – you’re Cinderella’s step-sisters, who also tried on the glass slipper. And it didn’t matter how much both tried to cram their grotesque feet into it, the slipper did not fit.

Discovering your ideal path is a path in itself

Your ideal path is not something that magically presents itself to you one day – and if you sit around waiting for it to happen, it definitely won’t – but one that you forge yourself, piece by piece, by taking action. By exploring different avenues and being awake and alert to what you do and don’t respond to, you slowly but surely illuminate the perfect path for you to achieving your life’s work.

Some people work best under lots of pressure. Other people work best in a relaxed environment.

Some people need plenty of social support to keep on track. Other people prefer to keep themselves on track – other people would only get in their way and annoy them.

There is no right and wrong. There is just your character. You are a completely unique blend of likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses, and the path you forge must be yours and yours alone.

What is school for?

Your school years are meant to be the apprenticeship stage of your life – you are supposed to spend thirteen or so years at school, and emerge at the end of it prepared for whatever adult life throws at you.

If that’s what school is for, then why do we as a culture insist on teaching young people almost nothing that will be of any use to them once they’ve left school?

Shall we just leave that one to chance?

The funny thing is we recognise that certain things can’t be left to chance. We’ve made it the law that kids must go to school. We produce entire curricula, and then test kids rigorously on them, making sure that no apparently vital bit of information goes untaught.

We’ve just decided that instead of teaching young people anything of actual benefit to their adult lives, we’ll impress upon them the importance of arbitrary trivia.

Some examples

Photosynthesis? We can’t have kids not knowing about that. Don’t be ridiculous!

Knowing how to manage your personal finances? Probably not that significant to their futures. Leave it to chance.

Pythagoras? God, can you imagine a world where that name wasn’t on the tip of every tongue? Makes you shudder, doesn’t it?

How to raise healthy, happy children? I dunno. Let’s just let them figure it out by themselves. What’s the worst that could happen?

Henry VIII and the fate of his six wives? I can’t think of anything more crucial for our youngsters to get to grips with.

Understanding human nature, and how to deal with the people around you? You can’t teach social intelligence, mate – you’ve either got it or you haven’t. And if even you could teach it, shall we… yeah, we’ll leave that to chance. Best not to get involved.

I could go on all day. But I won’t.

School is too important to waste on trivia

It’s not that the stuff we learn at school is irrelevant. It’s just that, compared to a whole host of things that would actually help you navigate the world as an adult, the stuff we learn is way down the list.

Why not reverse it? Learn the important stuff first. Why not teach actual life skills, why not teach kids how to teach themselves, and why not teach them how to be healthy, happy humans? Then if there’s any time left, study the feminist subtext in Jane Eyre.