Of habits

Right now I am bringing a few new habits into my life. One of them is a dramatic change to the way I eat. Another is adding movement exercise back into my life.  

I have found a couple of things useful as I develop these additions and enhancements to my life.

The first, ironically, is not to think of them as new habits. For me the word habit implies that something is a chore; I am not going to have fun incorporating this into my life. It also implies that it is something I can gain, but also something I can lose.

The things I am now building into my life are not negotiables. They are my new 'MO'; the way I am going to live from this point onwards. These will then becoming building blocks for other things. They may change and grow, but they are so important that losing them as a habit is no longer an option.

The second is that I do not have to nail these new habits (or perhaps I should say practises or something else instead of habit!) right from week 1. Changing my eating means changing my shopping, how I cook, where I eat out. Learning new movements involves different coordination and new daily routines. These are not insignificant changes, and especially early on I will not be able to incorporate all the change I want to.

The important thing is that I start pointing myself in the direction I want to go. Small changes are key at this point, and all the incremental changes will be of benefit and move me closer towards the new state of being. Mistakes and failures do not mean I should give up on my 'habits'. They do not mean I am never going to make it. It means that I am in the process of learning and incorporating, and they are to be celebrated.

Deciding with mind or body

I am picking up my son from kinder. He is playing with four different wooden trucks. I walk up to him and lay down beside him.

He asks me of the four trucks, 'Which one is your favourite, Dad?'

I look at each of the trucks in turn. When I look at one of them it seems to leave me with a nicer feeling than the others. I struggle to understand why this is the case. There is nothing too different about it. I grasp for reasons. But all I am left with is an intuition that for whatever reason, this one is my favourite.

I have coffee with a friend I used to work with at a big 4 consulting firm. I am sounding him out about work opportunities. He starts describing the areas he is now working in, and most of it is around decision making and how to provide the right data for managers to make decisions, and how to understand how customers are making decisions. So much of what he talked about was about making decisions using rationality: sifting through data, weighing up pros and cons, looking at numbers.

As he talks I remember the four trucks, and  wonder if it could ever be taught in corporate circles to listen to your body when making decision.

It seems that over the past 18 months one of the big changes for me is in understanding the different ways I can make decisions. How my whole body seems to be some kind of brain, able to interpret and process information, and provide me with an answer that I don't often have words to justify.

There are times when it is best to use our rational minds for making decisions, and times when it is best to use our whole bodies, our feelings or our intuition. Trusting my body, having faith in what it is telling me even when it doesn't seem to make rational sense, is leading me in an exciting direction.

The uncertainty of now

One of the hardest things for me to write about is the uncertainty of looking for a job, which is what I am experiencing right now.

It is hard because in the back of my mind I am wondering 'what if one of those people who I am looking to work with reads this post?'. This then changes what I write about.

So what I am writing is slightly moderated; safe for work as they say.

The matter is pretty simple: I want to earn some income. I don't know the manner in which I am going to do this. It is causing me angst. I am doing all kinds of things to distract myself from the discomfort.

What I want to do is to be able to sit with the discomfort. And that is what writing about this reminds me to do: sit; be; feel; observe. See where it leads. Observe where it has come from.

The truth is anything can happen. Things change quickly. I have faith.

If I had no bin...

I have been conducting a thought experiment recently about what would change in my life if I did not have a bin. I love my bin. I love the design of it. I love the feeling I get when I put something in there, expunging it from my life.

The catalyst for thinking about this was spending a weekend at a permaculture farm where they do not have a bin. Everything that comes onto the property stays on the property, and needs to be re-used as an input into another process in some way. All of a sudden I was conscious of everything that I was using that had a byproduct that would not help this farm.

In thinking about it though, it seems that many of my actions, many of the things I buy, many of my decisions, come about because the bin exists. Because every week a truck comes along and takes away the things I no longer want in my life.

Nature does not quite work like this. In reality the things that get taken away do not disappear. They are buried in a big pit and covered with dirt, not being of any use to anybody. In nature, everything that is an output becomes and input for another being, organism, process. The bin is putting my out of sync with nature.

I don't think I am ready to get rid of my bin yet. I am ready to start living more in line as if it did not exist. Here are some thoughts/questions this has raised for me:

- I would be very mindful of purchasing anything made of plastic, metal (ie anything made of stuff dug deep out of the ground), as once I had finished with it it would be hard to know what to do with it

- I would have to have a garden and a composting system

- This would mean I would probably grow more of my own food

- Overall I think I would spend less money on material stuff

- I would think carefully about giving things away for which I no longer had a use

- I would spend more money on experiences, books and relationships than things

- I would make more things from scratch, especially food

- I would spend more time outdoors

Perhaps I am overplaying it; the only way to know would be to get rid of the bin and see what happened. Part II in this series is how my life would be different if I did not have a smart phone.

No going back

When I am in a rut, or going through the thrash, I often find myself thinking 'I need to find a way to get back to where I used to be'. Nostalgia of an earlier time, when I meditated with more depth, was fitter and happier, and felt more connect to others, come flooding into my memory.

As I hit these inevitable periods where my life seems to be shaken up, I am starting to learn that they are a necessary part of my growth. There is no going back; there is only going through, and going forward. 

The thrash I am working through now is not because I need to return to old times and routines. They were for an earlier period in my life, and enabled me to get to this point of greater awareness and challenge. The thrash I am working through now represents something new, something that needs its own courage and patience and routines. 

A while moving forward is important, I am encouraged when I look back to see that I have hit these periods of thrash before. That I have survived. That they did not last forever. And that I came out stronger on the other side.

Cold showers

Each morning I have a cold shower for 30 seconds after my piping hot shower. While I never enjoy this experience, I get so much out of it, like the following:

1) It would be so easy to dread going into the shower each morning knowing that I am going to have an uncomfortable experience at the end of it. I remind myself to enjoy each part of the shower, making the most of the warmth and comfort while it is there.

-- Broader lesson for the day: live in each moment, even when knowing that there is discomfort ahead, there is no need to let that deprive me of what is happening in the current moment.

2) As soon as the cold hits me I am tempted to switch off from what I am feeling and ignore it, or to try and act as if I can handle it without overt expression or emotion. Both are not helpful. The truth is I can't help but move around; my breathing gets heavy; sometimes I even yell. But as I allow myself to feel the unpleasantness of the cold shower, the feelings somehow pass right through me and my body experiences a flow and release.

-- Broader lesson for the day: feelings and emotions are there to be felt. As the appear through the day, no matter what they are, I acknowledge them and let them do their thing as they pass through my body.

3) Just before I turn the shower from hot to cold, I start telling myself that I don't want to do this. That it will be too painful. That I can't handle it. And then I do it anyway. The truth is I can handle it. It is 30 seconds of discomfort, and I can stay with that discomfort for as long as I need to.

-- Broader lesson for the day: even when I know something is going to be uncomfortable, I have the power and agency to choose to enter into it, and the will to stay with the feeling until it ends.

4) Once I count to 30 and turn the shower off, the energy the is running through my body is joyful. Sometimes I start giggling. I always feel ready for the next thing, despite how lethargic I was feeling before getting into the shower.

-- Broader lesson: I have energy reserves available to me that I don't always access. When I am feeling down or lethargic, the positive energy I need is not actually that far away, and can be quickly unlocked.

I'm not sure I will every really enjoy the cold shower. However I am starting to value what I get from the exercise.

Who is serving who: blog v blogger

Last week I had some sick kids at home with me. Added to this were work stresses (mainly my difficulty in finding some), and I found myself in the position where my focus was getting through the bare essentials.

And I think this is okay. Writing this blog is a vehicle for me, not a chore. It is something I do to express myself, and I have been putting pressure on myself to produce something almost every day.

There will be seasons when I write daily, and seasons when I don't write for a week. That is the nature of this medium for me, and how it best serves me.

And this week I am really looking forward to writing about some current thoughts I am having.

I haven't written for ages...

It has been over a week since I have posted something. My energy levels have been low for writing as I have had to put them into some other pressing things. 

Writing this blog is important to me for expressing what it is like to be alive now, and that includes the times when I feel I have nothing to contribute, or no energy to put to print what is going on inside.

I apologise to readers, and will be back to posting daily this week!

Thoughts on food

Two things are changing in the way I feel about food and eating. 

The first is that I am going from a base assumption that I eat for pleasure and that good food is food that makes me feel good when I have it in my mouth. What I am moving towards is a base assumption that I eat for function, and that good food is food that makes me feel good for the day, week, and year after I have had it in my mouth.

Building upon this, the second is that I am being challenged about the quantity and quality of the food I eat, and therefore the amount of money I spend on food. Food has been an area I have tried to minimise spend on as much as possible. In moving to a different foundation, I realise that money spent on food is not money wasted. It is actually an investment in myself and how well I am able to show up in each moment.

I have no idea how to take my kids along on the same journey...but that can be a topic for another day.


Writing Fling #8: Changes in appearance

Part 8 in 2015's writing experiment.


It was usually the eyes that got him first. Shining in the dark. From the eyes he could start to make out the rest of the face. The distinguishing marks. The creases. The signs that a life had been lived. That experiences had been felt, and feelings timely felt.

He made judgements based on these observations, and they were not always right. Were they useful? Only as a starting point. A stake in the ground to start the negotiations. Starting and stating was as important an act as any, even if he got it wrong. He knew his thought process well enough to be aware and flexible in his judgements and quickly formed conclusions.

He would then make his second move, towards the face, the person actually. Sometimes physical movement. Sometimes through words. Always with compassion and gentleness. And humility.

As his words were slowly received by the recipient they would gently become receptive, disarmed even. The shape of their face would change; tension would be removed. They may even start to speak. To reveal a little of their truth. The fact was the journey was usually long; the journey to trust. And it was never fully arrived at. But bit by bit they would open up. Reveal. Expose.

A remarkable thing would start to happen during this process. People's faces would drastically change. It was not a physical change. Or perhaps it was. Sometimes people started twitching less. Allowed their smiles to appear with less constraint, less consideration. Tension would lift from their eyebrows and forehead. It was an actual physical change.

The change he noticed most was more about how he understood their face. The grooves, twitches, bumps. As people talked, the story of their faces made sense and became rich and deep. He developed affection for them. Their faces became beautiful as they revealed themselves. They may have been attractive or unattractive, it did not matter. As much as they were willing to reveal themselves, and connect with him, was the level to which their beauty came forth. 

Memories washed away

I open the dishwasher as the kids are eating breakfast. We had people over for dinner the night before, and it is filled with dishes that are now clean. I start to unpack, first the bowls, and then the plates.

I pick up one of the plates and notice that it is a different shape to the others. I look at it, and a moment of familiarity rushes back to me. I have pulled this plate out of the dishwasher before. I have had this feeling of confusion and dread before. This plate was not always blank.

My son had once drawn a picture on this plate. Twice now. And twice it has been efficiently washed off by the dishwasher. It was the plate he drew on as one of the last things he did at kindergarten. Both times he drew a picture of all four members of his family, who now live across two houses.

I am devastated. The first time it was me that put the plate in the dishwasher. The second it was a well-meaning guest who somehow used the plate and put it into the dishwasher without me being aware.

I am devastated because today is mother's day, and day of remembering the family. I am devastated because the plate represented a memory my son has of a family together, a picture he said he would like us to put on the wall when we are all living together again.

I shed some tears, and wonder whether to tell him about it. I decided that it is better that he knows. Even if he is deeply disappointed, it is a good thing for him to feel, and I can apologise for my carelessness. 

I tell him. He seems to only vaguely remember it, and to care that it is gone even less.

I wonder then about losing that picture, and why it affected my so much and him so little. Perhaps it is because he is able to feel what he feels in the moment, and then move on to deal with the next moment without nostalgia. I seem to be still processing my grief, and my son's picture a trigger for nostalgia and a reminder of what is lost.

When the long awaited thing arrives

When I am waiting for something, it seems so far away and out of reach. When it arrives it seems like it was inevitable.  

What is more surprising is that I don't feel very different. I am not changed by it. I am the same person. 

I understand then that my work is not to make things arrive. Rather it is to prepare myself so that when they do arrive I can be my best to make the most of it and its consequences.  

The first moment the hardest moment

I had coffee with a friend recently and we were talking about a camp we were both at, and the difficulty in walking up to a group of people we don't know.

He offered this little pearl that he tells himself whenever walking up to a new group: The first moment will be the hardest moment, and then every moment after that will be a little bit easier.

While this is probably not always true, it is true often enough to be useful. And the use of it is this: in those seconds where I internally debate whether to walk up to a group of people, where I experience a flinch that would have me walk they other way, I can remind myself of this truth that it will be difficult for a second, and then it will start to get easier.

Here is to meeting more new people.

Stress and sickness as feedback, not defect

'The recognition of the role of stress in the development of illness leads to the important notion of illness as a "problem solver." Because of social and cultural conditioning, people often find it impossible to release their stresses in healthy ways, and therefore choose - consciously or unconsciously - to get sick as a way out....
'Examples of this (self-healing) phenomenon would be periods of ill health involving minor symptoms. These are normal and natural stages in the organism's process of restoring balance by interrupting our usual activities and forcing a change of pace.' --Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi in The Systems View of Life

These quotes combine a couple of things that I have been thinking about, based on the book above and Antifragile, which I have written about previously. 

The idea is that when we experience sickness, stress, temperatures, feelings of lethargy, this is our body's way of giving us feedback.

My approach in the past has been to pump in things into my body, to add more of something into the mix in order to rectify the 'problem'.

My evolving approach is to first stop and listen to the feedback, to observe it and consider what it might be trying to tell me, and then to act.

Usually it is telling me something like 'remove stress from your life', or 'you are sleep deprived', or 'put better things into your body'. Rarely is it telling me 'you need to take more Panadol or drink more coffee'.

A headache is not a defect, something to be numbed by a drug without thought. A headache is an indication that something about the way I am living is out of whack and it would probably be a good idea to rectify it.

Creation through expectation

'...all the data indicate athletes' expectations as important factors in physical performance, to be taken into account in training strategies.'  -- Placebo and nocebo responses, Fabrizio Benedetti

There is much talk about visualisation and manifestation and laws of attraction in some of the groups I hang out with. I see some of this in my own life - coincidences that seem too strange to be just that.

I read the article that the above quote comes from recently which talks about placebo, and how telling athletes they are going to perform well causes changes in the physiology, enabling them to tap into reserves in their energy and ability that are usually kept for crisis events. In essence if athletes have an expectation that they will do well, they will lift the cap on their physical limits, and perform better than they otherwise would.

I suspect that the same is true for other areas of our life. In relationships, work, wellbeing: if we have an expectation that we will do well, that good things will come our way, we will physically have more ability and more awareness of these things as we move through our days than we otherwise would.



In Australia ANZAC day (which was yesterday) is a national holiday where we commemorate those Australian soldiers who have serve the country in times of war, and particularly those who lost their lives in doing so.  

Although both my grandfathers served during World War II, I have had trouble embracing and understanding what this day is about. It could be because I have had difficulty understanding the purpose of the wars fought by my country during my life time. The Great Wars I can see were important to fight, and the outcomes seem to be positive. The Gulf Wars to me did not seem as important or necessary, and the outcomes negative. 

Then I read something recently that got me thinking about what a hero was. As I understand it, a hero is somebody who incurs personal disadvantage, or risks doing so, for the good of others. In my context this a notion not celebrated or encouraged outside of the battle field (with perhaps the exception of sport), and outside this realm heroes are often called failures and mistakes rather than acknowledge for making heroic sacrifices. 

So this ANZAC day I want to remember the heroes that I see, and don't see, around me: 

  • those who have fought in wars and served this country, sacrificing themselves for those of us who did not fight, regardless of whether the wars seemed important or necessary, or whether the consequences have been positive or negative
  • anybody who has put their life at risk for another, sometimes meaning the loss of their life
  • those who speak out fearlessly about the fraud they see, often to their personal ridicule and detriment
  • those who choose lower paid jobs across their career in order to serve society, sacrificing status and comfort and material for the improvement of others
  • to those who invest their money in low probability experiments, understanding that they may never see a financial return, but in doing this work we all learn something and have the opportunity to benefit

I know it is difficult to compare losing a life to losing quality of life. But I think that a hero can take a number of forms, and for those who take this on I admire.  

Single benefits

There are certainly positives to being a single, part-time parent. Although I consider myself a full-time dad, having my kids with me for one week, and then away the next week, means that I am not parenting all the time. And while I miss them terribly when they are not with me, it does open up opportunities for other things.

The things I am referring to are extended periods of time to do what I want to do, hang out with the people I want to hang out with, and generally use my time on understanding and expressing myself however I feel without anybody commenting or influencing me.

I see this as a contrast to when I was married and living with my wife and kids all the time. It was as if we felt we had to do everything together. I can't really remember doing many things by myself during that period, apart from going to work. I don't think I gave my wife the freedom to explore and express herself; I am not sure I could have handled it. And I did not take that on for myself either.

Now that I have been forced into it, I can see that I am able to handle being a solo parent for extended periods of time. It is difficult for sure, but it is possible.

The question that comes to my mind then, is whether this is possible for people who are still in a relationship? Can they give the other parent extended periods of time to explore projects, hang out with friends, go on holidays, while they look after the kids by themselves?

I think it is possible, and could even be better. My retrospective guess at why this is not commonly practised is that there is a fear of losing the other person; that in giving them room and space to be explore themselves, it could mean the end of the relationship. They might discover they want even more freedom, or we might find out we don't like who they truely are.

In having a week to myself every second week I have found great freedom in following my curiosities without constraint. I can imagine that this would be even more exciting and fulfilling (and risky and scary?) if conducted within a relationship.


Subtracting to create more

My first ever disclaimer: I am not a medical practitioner. The opinions expressed below are entirely my own.

Another thought that circulates in Taleb's Antifragile is that if smoking were removed from our society, ever other current medical intervention and action would be a footnote in describing improvement in the health of humans across our planet. His point is that the human body is very good at sorting itself out - it has been refining its defences and health over a very long time, and anything that we choose to add to it (like smoking, like unnecessary surgery) is probably going to be worse overall than better. Removing unnecessary interventions into our system can only be good for our health.

Intervention needs to be saved for the situation when there is a massive upside, and a small downside (for example if somebody has cancer and only surgery/chemo will prolong their life). When there is a small upside, it is highly likely that there is the potential for a massive downside (for example elective plastic surgery that provides a small improvement to the nose, but could introduce and fatal infection into the body).

This has got me thinking about my own life and also that of my kids, and the number of interventions I think are necessary, and whether they actually are. Here are a couple I am thinking about:

- when my kids have a mild temperate: I often think they need Panadol or Nurofen to help them feel better. Is this the case? Could the temperature actually be good for them, helping their body recover, and allowing them to flow with their lethargy and rest?

- prescribing antibiotics to speed up the rectification of infections: Could this mask the cause of infections, rob my body's ability to learn how to fight infections, and also kill the necessary good bacteria of my gut?

I leave these as questions because I am not qualified to know the answers. And that is Taleb's point. Actually none of us really know the answer to these questions; we can't predict all the short and long term consequences of medical intervention. He advocates not trying to work them out but to use a heuristic to help guide us (not just for medical instances but for many of life's decisions): Big upside and small downside? Intervene. Small upside and unknown downside? Leave it be.

The good moments

There seems to be so much of my writing that is focused on pain and grief and sorrow and struggle. In many ways this is easier for me to write about than the opposite - the moments of joy and happiness and release. 

I may just have more of this kind of material to write about. Or perhaps there is something else, something about the way I want to be seen. 

So in this piece I want to write about today, and this week, and the good that has happened.

Today I kicked four goals playing social soccer in the park at lunch time, my best personal effort. One of my podcasts passed being listened to by 190 people. I received an email encouraging me about the podcast. I bought my son some new clothes. I have two hopeful and exciting job interviews next week. And I have an awesome week of catchups planned for next week. 

I feel a sense of joy. I feel connected and like I am letting go and flowing. 

True Wealth

Instead of adding things to our life to improve it, Nassim Nicholas Taleb encourages the readers of his book Antifragile to consider what they can remove. 

He suggests a list of things that true wealth consists of (which I quite like):

  • worry free sleeping
  • clear conscience
  • reciprocal gratitude
  • absence of envy+
  • good appetite
  • muscle strength+
  • physical energy
  • frequent laughs+
  • no meals alone+
  • no gym class
  • some physical labor+
  • good bowel movements
  • no meeting rooms
  • periodic surprises

In thinking about this list he makes that call that achieving true wealth is therefore more about what one takes away from their life, as opposed to what they add to it.

I have started to think what I could remove from my life, like the things I do, the things I have, and the food I eat, in order to improve it. The crosses on the dot points above are where I think I could improve (not that I would admit to the third last point in public!).