Here's a couple books I read in March:
Tattooist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris. A real page turner that grips you right from the start. The story behind the creation of the book is remarkable. The lead character, Lale, had a story to tell and waited a long time and the right person to tell it. Heather does it fantastically, and in a gripping fiction read.
Cylka’s Journey - Heather Morris. A follow up on the above, with the life of another character explored in yet again, thrilling fashion. A fiction tale following Cylka’s life in the Soviet Gulags, directly after a few years in Auschwitz!
Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz. A nice easy read with deep truths based on ancient Toltec wisdom. A lot of valuable advice on dealing with Muck, or the parasite as he refers to it as, and how simple agreements can make a profound difference, if implemented.
Brown Baby - Nikesh Shukla. An interesting memoir of a father writing to his daughter explaining difficult themes around family, grief, race and big topics in the world that are often hard to discuss.
Skin In The Game - Nassim Taleb. This is one of the best business books I’ve read in a long time, and it’s not actually a business book. Filled with models of thinking, framing, and understanding behind how so much of society works, it’s probably a book I need to re-read a few times to truly understand. The key point: beware of anyone with no skin in the game. I thought of the fitness industry a lot when reading this.
The Almanack of Naval Ravikant - Eric Jorgenson. I was gifted this book a few weeks back and read it twice on a weekend. It’s a fantastic resource and collection of Naval’s thinking on navigating business, health and happiness.
I’m currently reading Think Like A Monk by Jay Shetty (non fiction) and Da Vince Code by Dan Brown (fiction).
Drayton Fencing is fixing the fences.
A few young mothers are walking their prams.
An old man is keeping his blood flowing.
A few trees are starting their spring blossom.
A rugby player is doing drills to keep his game sharp.
A few birds are playing their soundtrack.
A couple walk by texting into their phones.
A few kids are playing on the seesaw.
Every other person is walking their dog, letting them roam and smell the other dogs nearby.
A personal trainer is adapting with a few kettlebells and rings, with the hard working client.
And there I am, downloading what I see, another typical day in the local park.
Like salt in a pond of water.
You quickly dissolve into the mix.
The music fades.
The guard drops.
You’re left with undivided attention.
And a pleasant sound, keeping you in rhythm.
I like to repeat Nocturnes in B Flat Minor.
As I let myself dissolve with absolute focus.
I write. Then I delete it all.
I write again. Then I delete it again.
I stand up, sit down. Go for a walk. Make a coffee. Read a random article.
I take a break.
I then try again.
I write. Then I delete it all.
I take a step forward, then two steps back.
Waiting for a giant leap with persistence.
It’s the end of January, which means it’s a month of daily blogging. Here’s seven learnings:
The Tudor Period. Pythagorus Theorem. Long division.
When was the last time you thanked your school for teaching you how many wives Henry VIII had?
Or for the mathematical mantra of sohcahtoa (sine, cosine, tangent)?
Here’s what will make a real difference, if done properly:
I am being biased to what I experienced at school in terms of curriculum, choice and awareness, but from my understanding, nothing has really changed (I did a quick Google search).
Expanding on the last point, creativity is more or less stifled at school because of:
There’s more I could speak on this (I sense a follow up blog), and I’d love your thoughts in the meantime on this.
The government school curriculum is likely not changing any time soon, but we can still do a lot for the younger generation to learn real life skills, keep creativity alive and build an applicable foundation of education.
I’m back on the court. The smell of the acrylic paint and sealed synthetic is fresh. The lines are all freshly drawn, and the net is wound up to the top.
I dust off my Babolat racket from my bag and await the first ball. I’m excited and feeling confident. Coach Eastwood is on the other side of the net, ready to feed.
"Shall we start with an easy warm up from the service line?", he asks.
I reply back, "Nah, let's just get straight into it from the back".
The first comes to my right. I miss it totally.
The second comes to my left. I shank it behind me.
The third makes me run a little, before I smash it right in the net.
I’m confused and frustrated. Under my breath I murmur, “What’s going on!”
Coach Eastwood is under no illusion. He shouts back across the net, “What do you expect, this isn’t 2008 anymore!”
He’s right. It’s been 12 years since I played. The glory days are long gone.
I walk towards the net and suggest, “shall we start from scratch again?”
I’m at the top of the boardwalk with my nearest and dearest. We’re floating down the coast of Los Angeles. No use of our feet, vehicles or any transport. Just floating.
We’re moving from the local gym to the best steakhouse in town. And we’re all ordering chicken today. As we sit down, the waiter puts a bag of chalk on the table. We chalk up, ready to eat.
As I clap my hands, I find myself into a room full of business associates. It’s an award ceremony to recognise who worked the hardest this year. I immediately clap my hands again, nothing happens.
I turn to the side and a mentor says to me, “No use doing that, you’re chalked out, my friend”. The award ceremony ends, no one in the room won. The host tells everyone to try harder for next time.
I leave the room and for a £2 loan at the reception to take a train home. I’m told to run instead.
So I ran. Then I clap my hands. It’s 6.30am.
I open my eyes. Where was I? I was in the land of the middle. The special place every morning where I’m in a hypnopompic state: neither asleep or awake. The unique time in the day where my subconscious is screaming at me to listen, have faith, and ignore ration and logic for a tiny period.
The beautiful daydream we should never ignore.
The gong strikes. It’s midnight. The lady in the caged cubicle by the gates shouts out the next number on her list:
“Ticket number 2405”.
It was time to meet the gatekeeper. Admission was individual; everyone in line had been scored.
One thought dominated: “Have I lived up to the mark?”
It’d been a long voyage to the gate. A car ride, two planes, and a long, 62 mile vertical elevator.
I had to get to the other side.
The gatekeeper pulled out a paper scroll. It was stained and ancient, with a paleness that made it see-through.
I read it reverse:
“2405 is not ready yet, he has more to do before he is admitted to our land”.
My heart sank because I knew what was coming.
“You must go back. Turn around and take the blue and green elevator. You have done a lot, but you have missed some specific elements required for your unique admission”.
Deep down I wasn’t surprised. I was kidding myself I was ready, when I’d yet to find the singular focus needed to get to the other side.
I’m on all fours, and I’m running with a pack, struggling to keep up. Sunset is approaching. The mission is nearly complete and we need to make it back to our territory before it gets dark. A respite before we go again tomorrow.
I still don’t know what the mission is. It’s a blur. I’m just about keeping up with the pack, but I have no idea why, what or who I’m with. The chase today was over before I knew it.
We're close to basecamp now, and I feel an itch on my arm. I look down to see what it is. My skin is darker and there’s fur. My cheeks feel funny. I’ve lost all my clothes. I’m stripped to my core feeling anxious. I move away from the pack to find out what’s happening. They briefly look back to see why I’ve stopped, but don’t care and relentlessly continue.
I see a puddle close by and stumble over to look at the reflection, and there lies my answer.
I’m a monkey. I’m lost in a pack trying to keep up. And I don’t know what with, or why. I look up to see if my pack is in sight. They aren’t too far, but there’s bad news. A shadow of jaguars loom. They're on the kill.
The pack full of strangers I was running with have no chance. Despite this, they don't change their path, they run faster into the danger. I decide to turn the other way and find a better path home.
If you’ve been telling yourself you’re not a creative, stop.
Truth is, we’re all creatives to a degree. It’s our conditioning that determines the degree of its expression.
Think back to when you were a child. You were probably creating some pretty cool things: whether it be messy (yet strangely artistic) drawings, something interesting out of playdough, or even, fort-like sand castles on the beach.
What happens as we trawl through life is that school, society and work beats it out of us. It tells us to stop creating. It tells us to stop thinking out of the box.
Perhaps more accurately, it just removes any opportunity to be creative.
But here’s a way to turn the childhood lights on again: start coming up with ideas daily and write them down.
It can be about anything. For example:
Or, what may be most apt: turn the way you do your next piece of work upside down. If there's a set way you normally work on a project, try coming up with ways to rewrite the rules.
You might just surprise yourself. Those people you think of as 'more creative' are probably the ones who've spent more time turning these lights back on.
(PS. I’m half way through the 30 day 'minimalist' challenge with my fiancé - today the goal is to get rid of 16 things! Check it out here to learn more.)
Waiting to be inspired to do the work is a futile thought.
Inspiration is fleeting. It comes and goes as it wishes.
A better way is to act and be inspired by the work.
Two ways to have more inspiration:
Creativity doesn’t come from magical droplets. It comes from showing up everyday, and programming the brain to know that at a certain time everyday, it’s time to work.
After I brush my teeth, I stumble into the kitchen to have a glass of water and put the kettle on.
As the kettle’s boiling, I put two tablespoons of coffee beans in the grinder, and assemble my Aeropress. The morning brew is set.
I then go to the sofa where my laptop lies. A journal sits on top of it, so I write for a few lines, before switching on my laptop.
Next, I play either some binaural beats, or some work from Chopin.
Then I do the work. It starts with writing here.
Each signal is a precursor for the next.
Each signal primes the brain for what’s to come.
These are my short stack of things I do in the morning to fire the brain up. It’s nothing sexy. It’s about 5-7 minutes from start to finish.
But it works, and I can do it everyday. That’s what matters.
Find your stack of signals.
Messy. Disorganised. Scattered overwhelm.
Until another one to two thousand steps go by.
Then something magical happens.
Compartmentalisation. Organised chaos. Clarity.
Thirty minutes later, the unplugged walk that felt so unattractive before the shoes went on, just gave all that's needed for the day.
The magic happens when the repetitive, ingrained activity of walking allows the conscious chatter to step aside, and the subconscious truth to beam through.
To qualify walking alone and disconnected is strange, yet it’s a forgotten practice that gives us a brief chance to unplug from the Matrix.
Take thirty today.
A website can always be more intuitive.
A blog can always have better writing.
A spreadsheet can always have better formulas.
A product can always have less bugs.
But no one will know if the project is still pending, or in drafts.
Knowing a bit more information, having a bit more time, or in other words, waiting for a clearing, is futile.
Nothing needs to be flawless.
In the quest for perfectionism, procrastination rears its ugly head. Because sharpening your pencils for the fifth time isn’t going to make your drawing any better. It's sharp, you're ready. Now go.
On Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, we’re in Mark Zuckerberg’s arena.
He dictates the rules. His controlling share power means one person can impact close to 3 billion users everyday.
But what if he pulled the rug?
He probably won’t, yet the possibility is always there.
Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t need any more money. While he has the ultimate control, he’s also governed by share price demands.
Investors, shareholders and the markets want to see Facebook, Inc. grow fast. So it needs to make more money from their products: us.
If we focus all our efforts on creating attention, audience and connection on Facebook, we’re doing it on rented land.
The landlord could throw us out at any time.
It’s a risk for anyone who has a message with a force for good. Facebook’s companies do a lot of good, but there’s equal, perhaps even greater, downsides.
The choice is ours. And it’s up to us, now more than ever, to decide: what and where do we want to build?
That’s why I love physical books (and believe they will only become more valuable), and why I started this blog: so I can be a customer (to Weebly) rather than the product (to Facebook), and so my words can be away from the noise, rules and algorithms of social media.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, “You have the right to work, but for the work's sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working.”
In the pursuit of anything, whether it be a physique, craft, skill, career or business, we must always remain focused on the work.
Ultimately, that’s all we have control over. We can’t create in anticipation of the reception, or hope of a (successful) tangible result.
In focusing on the tangibles, we can miss the magic of intangibles: the bits you can’t track, measure or see. It’s in these intangibles that we often find the most pleasure (and all we truly want). Yet, it’s in the tangibles we find ourselves as a society focusing on. It creates pressure, fear and anxiety in us as we worry if things will work out, if it will make any money, or if there even will be a result.
Modern society loves this, as it keeps us rushing and searching for meaning at new shiny objects. Ironically, the meaning can always be drawn internally. It’s why we must validate internally vs externally. There’s too many external forces out there to rely on them favouring you. Sometimes, you may put in years and years of work for no tangible result at all. That’s okay, because in the work you may have found joy and pleasure. And that’s something most tangibles fail to give.
If we only focus on the work everyday, and showing up, we can be satisfied in knowing we’ve done our part. Let the rest take care of itself.
(I read the Bhagavad Gita in the middle of 2020 for the first time - an excellent read for people of all cultures and backgrounds. It gives a universal message that is important than ever, given the world we live in. This is the version I have)
200 crappy words a day.
That’s all it takes to move the needle forward in your writing.
I’m often asked the best ways to start writing, and then, how to improve it.
My answer is always the same: 200 crappy words a day.
I can’t remember where I originally heard it from. A quick Google search points to a story told by Mark Manson about a prolific writer who’d created 70+ novels. That amount of output is no mean feat. His answer to the method behind the madness was simple: 200 crappy words a day.
What happens is always something special. By lowering the barrier to ‘crappy’, you take away all expectations. All you need to do is write.
It also takes away the fear of bad writing. The hardest bit about writing isn’t writing. It’s sitting down to do it daily without fear. Fear of writing something you won’t like. Yet, it’s in this writing of 200 crappy words you always stumble across a few golden sentences, a ground breaking idea, and if you’re lucky, flow state to keep you writing for 1000+ words.
I always think to the best creative geniuses of our past, and their courage to ship daily. Tupac Shakur comes to mind. In the space of five years, he created a dozen albums (and in total produced somewhere around 700-900 songs), eight films, music videos and even two books of poetry – all by the age of 25. Mind boggling.
Tupac’s best work changed the face of the music industry. But what we forget is that he also had clunkers and flops. Bad songs that no one remembers, or lyrics that don’t make any sense.
Yet the real question is: would songs like California Love, Dear Mama and Ambitions Az A Ridah have come without these flops?
Probably not. The presence of the remarkable often renders the rest irrelevant.
That’s why 200 crappy words a day works. Because it gives you permission to produce bad writing. It also gives you permission to stop at 200 (I’m now at 339).
What will happen over the days and weeks is you’ll get a bit better each time, and most importantly, you’ll find your authentic voice.
Write 200 crappy words a day from the heart and watch the magic unfold.
A year ago I joined a workshop with one aim: to ship creative work everyday.
For the duration of the 100 days, I wrote everyday and hit publish in a designated community platform.
It became a habit, until it didn’t.
At day 101 something unexpected happened. The workshop finished and I didn’t see a reason to write.
So much for 21 days to build a habit.
For the remainder of the year, I wrote in a few ways:
As I was reflecting on 2020, it really hit me. I missed writing. I’d published a book in May but didn’t build on the momentum. In fact, I wrote a plan for book #2 in July, but didn’t act on it.
Introspection, no action.
However, I did let that plan marinate, and further developed it a few times. Around October time I said to myself, I’ll work on it in the New Year at some point.
Then Christmas came and I wanted a new book to read. I always feel that books call out to you when the time is right. I’d read Steven Pressfield’s War of Art a couple of years ago, yet I only remember one word: Resistance.
The Resistance, he describes, is the voice / being in your head that tells you not to create and hit publish. As I read it, I knew all these months I’d been kidding myself.
While I’d written some of my best work in the second half of 2020 (I’ll link some at the bottom here), I’d not worked on my craft by writing everyday.
I started the book at 8am on Christmas Day. By 11am I’d written 1500 words of my next book.
I was back in the game.
From the 25th to the 31st I’d punched out 15,000 words.
I realised on the 31st just how good proper writing made me feel. The flow I get into can only be replicated by the void I reach when training at my absolute hardest in the gym - but even that is fleeting.
So I made a promise.
No matter what project I’m working on - whether it be writing a book, report or article, I’m going to write and hit publish everyday here.
Because here there’s no agenda. It’s my form of practice. An opportunity to show up everyday and perfect my craft as a writer.
I’m going to talk about topics I enjoy, ideas I’m exploring, and observations I’ve made. From writing, creativity, transformation, entrepreneurship and high performance, I’ll be sharing my two cents on each throughout.
If it sparks a change in thinking for you, then that’s a bonus.
I’m excited to share this journey with you.
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