It’s the little things.

We get caught up with trying to add value to other people’s lives. It’s a great ambition to have, but sometimes trying to focus on the big changes, means that we end up not doing much of anything.

A little gesture can go a very long way- a sincere thank you when someone does something nice, a friendly smile or a word of encouragement at the right moment- these little things add up to make a huge impact.

Bringing positivity into the world, one small step at a time, will make the biggest difference.

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The Books I Read in January

In 2017 I’m going to read more books. I haven’t set myself a monthly or total goal of reading x number of books, but I’ll always have one on the go. I travel over 2 hours a day on the train for work so finding the time is not an issue for me. Where previously I’d watch any old thing on Netflix, this year I’m going to use that valuable time reading, and writing. To make sure I keep my reading habit up, I’m going to post what I read every month, and a few thoughts on each book. So, without further ado, the books I read in January…

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

This was a Christmas present from my fiancé and I had been looking forward to reading it ever since I saw the quote on the front cover in the bookstore – “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix” – what’s not to love?! A couple chapters in and I was feeling a little underwhelmed. The conversations between the young characters seemed a bit forced, like an older person trying to think of how the youth speak these days but once I got past that the story took hold and I was gripped. I ended up getting through it in about 4 days (a quick pace for me). It did seem quite YA – think Hunger Games, Maze Runner etc.- but at the same time was jam packed with lots of geeky references to 70s and 80s video games and movies. Overall I’d recommend this book as a fun, light read for fans of sci fi and the 80s.

The City of Mirrors – Justin Cronin

The 3rd book in the Passage trilogy from Justin Cronin about a dystopian future world taken over by vampire like creatures. The 1st book in the series, The Passage, is one of my favourite books of all time – and reignited my passion for reading. I really couldn’t recommend this series enough. They are all pretty meaty reads (700+ pages each), but if you give your time to them, you will not be disappointed.

It’s Only a Movie – Mark Kermode

I’m a huge fan of the Kermode & Mayo film review podcast, especially Mark’s epic rants on films he hasn’t enjoyed (listen to his reviews of The Entourage movie and Sex and The City 2). As one of the most well-known film critics in the country he has some great stories to tell, and this book- part biography, part cinema history lesson – is full of them. I found it in the clearance section at Smiths for £1 (not sure I would have paid the original £10 asking price) so a real bargain for me. If you’re a fan of the podcast, or enjoy cinema then I think you would enjoy it.

Everything That Remains – The Minimalists

The Minimalists opened my eyes to minimalism. I have been listening to their podcast for nearly a year now and get a lot of value out of their message. Before Christmas, they were giving this book away in PDF format for free on their website. I’m not sure if it is still on there, but if you are interested in reading this, then get in touch and I will send it to you. This is the 2nd book written by them (following ‘Minimalism: Lead a Meaningful Life), and is described as a memoir. If Minimalism is the ‘how to’, then this is the ‘why to’ and describes Joshua’s life, and the events that led him to change his life and discover intentional living. If you have read Minimalism, or have listened to their podcast then there isn’t anything new here, but if you are new to the movement, or are just interested to know more then I would recommend.

Neuromancer – William Gibson

Neuromancer is often described as one of the most important Sci Fi books of all time. Gibson pretty much spawed ‘cyberpunk’, the film The Matrix probably wouldn’t exist without this, and there is even a feeling that this book influenced the internet’s development. This book had been on my list for a very long time, but for some reason I just hadn’t got around to reading it, and so the anticipation was high for me. Unfortunately I just never managed to get into it, despite my best efforts. It is written in a way that is very hard to follow. I often found myself having to re-read chapters, or refer back to earlier in the book to catch myself up on what was going on. From speaking to a work colleague who loved this book (but had read it when originally published in 1984), he felt that added something to the experience, like having to really work for it made it somehow more rewarding. I would struggle to recommend this book, but appreciate the influence it has had on the genre.

A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking

If you have an interest in physics, or space then there is a reasonable chance you have read this book. The subject matter (the universe, black holes, The Big Bang) is incredibly complicated, but Hawking does a great job of making it more understandable for the non-scientist, although some of it is still pretty hard to follow. I’m not sure this book could be described as entertaining, but it’s certainly informative, and an important work that I would encourage everyone to read.

 

That’s it for January, have you read any of these books? It would be great to hear from you about what you’re reading. While I clearly have an interest in sci fi, I’m looking to expand my horizons, so if you have any recommendations in any genre please get in touch.

Too busy or too distracted?

We always feel the need to be ‘doing something’, as our lives are seemingly too busy. Next time you have the TV on in the background, catching up on some show that isn’t entertaining enough to give your full attention, while scrolling through various apps/articles/feeds on your phone, think about why. Would you rather be doing a few things that don’t warrant your full attention, or would you rather just do one thing, but do it right, and do nothing else at the same time?

Digital Detox

I don’t like social media. It annoys me, it stresses me out, it makes me feel worthless, and it wastes countless hours of my time. I used to think it was a great way of staying in touch with friends and family when they are far away, that I could keep up to date with everything where previously I would be in the dark, but it doesn’t really work out like that, not for me anyway. I’m not sure if it’s just the way I am, but I actually feel further away from these people than I ever was before. Liking a picture, or commenting on a status has replaced real communication. No need to phone or email to find out how everything is going now, I just saw that status update, and ‘liked’ it. Job done.

I’ve decided to have a digital detox. It started a few months ago with me getting rid of my shiny iPhone 6s, a device it seems which exists only to waste time, and make you buy things. I became convinced that everything needs to have an app now, simply going to the website isn’t enough anymore. So I sold it and replaced it with a Blackberry Passport – certainly not the phone for everyone. It’s massive, with a square screen, actual keyboard and most importantly for me, less apps! Now if I had strong willpower then I would simply delete the extra apps, or not download them in the first place, but I’m not that strong (yet) so I needed to take it that step further and take the choice away entirely. A few years ago I tried switching back to a ‘dumbphone’, but this didn’t last me too long, there were just too many things that I was losing out on, from music and podcasts (which i LOVE!), to travel information and maps I lasted about 4 days before making the switch back. But this I can do. I still have all of those things, but I’m getting rid of the distractions. No more games, and a serious adjustment to the social media platforms that I use.

First up, Facebook- with nearly 2bn users every person I know is on it (except my dad who staunchly refuses to step into the digital world wherever possible, though mainly because he doesn’t understand any of it), which makes for some serious FOMO – the main weapon these sites have in the battle against our free time. I made the decision to ‘unfriend’ anyone who isn’t a very close friend, current colleague (because that would be awkward), or family member. If I wouldn’t go for a drink with them, then they were gone. Lots of very nice people, but when going through the list I realized that many of them I hadn’t spoken to in years, and some I hadn’t had any interaction with at all, since we became FB friends. Some were easier than others, but eventually the list was complete and I now have a much smaller list. At the same time I also turned off all the notifications (except birthdays). The little nudges throughout the day, designed to keep your mind tied in, even when you’re not using it. Now, I go on there once a day, and have a quick scroll through and see what my nearest and dearest have been up to, and so far I’m feeling a lot less need or desire to constantly go on there.

Next, Twitter, which is probably my favourite social media platform. Like religion it seems to bring out both the best and worst in people. So many accounts on there exist purely to be spiteful and negative to anyone (everyone) else, but there are also a lot of really great accounts on there too, providing a daily dose of interesting thoughts, inspiring quotes, new words and bitesize current affairs. I swept through my ‘following’ list and got rid of any that no longer add value to me. Gone are the mindless celebs, timewasters like Buzzfeed and entertainment news. Now my timeline feels like it really enriches my life, rather than just something to read through when I’m bored and can’t think of anything else to do.

Last up, I had Instagram and Snapchat accounts, though didn’t really use them much anyway. I disabled my accounts for both (because it’s practically impossible to actually delete a social media account) and haven’t missed them at all since I’ve been without them. Instagram I enjoyed for a while when I first got it, and initially it encouraged me to take more photos, but I soon realised it made me a lazy photographer, using filters to cover up poor shots.

It would be great to hear from you about your experiences with social media. Do you feel overloaded by it all? Which platforms do you use, and which ones do you find can add value to your life?

Patience

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu

My writing isn’t very good at the moment but I’m OK with that. The start of any journey is always the hardest part, but it does get easier. The key is not to get frustrated and give up. It takes time to get better- that is true of everything in life- relationships, hobbies, work. The real pleasure in life comes from knowing you are growing, really seeing and appreciating every breakthrough that you make and enjoying every step of the way. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself straight away to be the best you can be. Sometimes that internal pressure can be useful – it separates the good from the great but if life is a journey then it doesn’t always have to be a sprint.

I enjoy writing, and I will get better at it the more I practice. I don’t need to be the best writer in the world, and I won’t get annoyed that I struggle to put the right words on the page sometimes. But I will enjoy the journey.

Multitasking

“You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once.”
Gary Keller

I’ve never been one for multitasking, in fact most of the time I struggle with doing one thing at a time. We’re told constantly how this is the key to achieving maximum productivity, but I don’t buy it. How can dividing your attention between things possibly help improve either task?

I think it comes down to time, and our perceived lack of it. What I would say is that if something is really worth doing, and is important to you then it really deserves your full attention. Have you ever tried having a meaningful conversation with someone while they’re looking at their phone? Looking up occasionally, giving a nod and then getting back to whatever it is that’s clearly more interesting and important than what you’re saying. It’s very annoying.

We’ve somehow convinced ourselves as a society that we are a lot busier than we actually are. “I don’t have time to take a lunch break today, so I’ll just grab a snack and eat at my desk”. “Sorry Mum, no time to talk. I’ll call you in a few days when I’ve finished this project.” We never seem to have enough time… Yet we have seen that funny cat video that’s gone viral on YouTube, and read that BuzzFeed article about the 200 most amazing things from reality TV, and caught the latest ep of Game of Thrones, and played Grand Theft Auto 5. It’s not that we don’t have enough time, but that we get pulled into all these distractions – our attention is constantly being taken by all these things that don’t matter. Next time you’re on a train, look at how many people are on their phones. How many are playing Candy Crush? My guess is quite a few. Or scrolling mindlessly through a social media feed – not really taking anything in but just endlessly scrolling.

Some of these ‘distractions’ might bring you joy, they may really add value to your life and that’s fine, but you need to ask, am I missing out on something more important? Is my attention being taken away from something else that is far more deserving of my time? The next time you feel like you’re too busy have a think about what has been taking your time away from you, and if it has really been worth it.

Find something you love, focus on it above all else, and see whether or not that brings you more joy. I bet it will.

An introduction

I want to live a more meaningful life with less. These are the words I heard when I starting reading and listening to ‘The Minimalists’; a couple of guys who tired of the rat race and wanted to change the way they live their lives. I thought that sounded pretty good, but what do they mean?

The Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

I have always been addicted to ‘stuff’, you know, the latest games, gadgets, clothes, accessories. All the things you are convinced from an early age will bring you joy and meaning. I would crave the latest phone, wowed by all the extra things it would be able to do. The excitement of opening the box and seeing this shiny pebble of happiness staring back at me. After a few days of getting it all set up, perusing the app store and downloading all of these essential little buttons of pure joy it just became the phone that I knew it was, not really all that much better than the last one.

Like a lot of people I don’t use technology to make my life simpler and more productive, but as a way of passing the time. I would sit on a train and play games, or trawl through various social media feeds, oblivious to the world around me. If you look up you would see everyone else doing the same thing. But why? What do we get out of it? The problem is that possessions have come to define me, and to define my happiness. I want to change this and I’m going to start now.