The first punch of resistance

In his book the War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks a lot about Resistance, that unstoppable, unceasing force that does all it can to prevent you from doing the work. Yesterday I wrote

The real test of any habit is in its sustainability, so we’ll see how long it lasts. The intentions are good, we’ll have to see is the practice bears up.

and this morning that sustainability has been tested. The Resistance is strong.

On Tuesday it manifested as a challenge with my laptop 1 and this morning it’s come along as much stronger doubts.

Why am I writing this, who’s going to be reading it, what’s the point of blogging every day and is it really sustainable? If it’s not sustainable, why carry on, why not just stop now because there’s no point in pushing forwards only to fall down later.

Luckily, I’ve managed to overcome Resistance and sit at the kitchen table, coffee in hand, to write this post. Writing about it is the only way I seem to be able to beat resistance.

I’m writing this blog precisely because it’s hard, precisely because it’s a bit uncertain and it might not work, precisely because there’s a challenge to the habit and discipline that I want to practice and get better at.

Tim Ferriss’ interview with Seth Godin has had a big influence on me, where Seth (of whom I’m a massive fan anyway) says that everyone should blog every day because everyone should put things out into the world to be seen. It’s not about whether the content or predictions contained in it are right or wrong, it’s about just being comfortable putting yourself out there.

I’m not confortable with that yet. I’ve not shared any of these blog posts on my social media channels as it stands, althought they are all public for people to see. So the Resistance is still strong, but I’m still writing, still publishing, still putting myself out there. Baby steps, but always moving forward.

Creating habits

I’m a real stickler for the power of positive habits, for finding the ‘right’ routines to follow every day. The trouble is, I’m terrible at actually forming and following productive habits.

Take this blog. This post will be my second in as many days, drafted between 6-7am in the morning and posted straight away2 because I’ve been energised by working on revisions to my book and wanted to get back to a daily, public practice of noting things.

For two days in a row I’ve got up, put on a pot of coffee, grabbed a protein shake and a protein bar as a breakfast and sat at the kitchen table to draft a post to share on here 3. It seems like a good plan, and one that I know a lot of creatives – especially writers – follow, writing first thing in the morning when the world is quiet and their brain is still rousing and it’s been enjoyable so far, so naturally it’s a habit I’d like to stick to.

It’s almost inevitable that I’ll fail, though. The ‘nice to haves’ are always the first thing to go when things get a little bit difficult. It’s only Tuesday, which means my mind and body are still quite fresh from the weekend, and the exertions of my commute and daily meetings etc at work have yet to take their toll.

The real test of any habit is in its sustainability, so we’ll see how long it lasts. The intentions are good, we’ll have to see is the practice bears up.

Finding space

I’m creating a 10th-anniversary copy of Smile Through It, the book I self-published back in 20124. It’s going to be fully revised and updated – there were a disappointing number of spelling and grammatical errors in the current version (that’ll teach me to be my own copy editor) that I’ve been keen to correct for a while, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and correct the errors while expanding some of the copy.

In the process, I’ve realised how helpful writing the old blog was to me as a place to work through things. It was a space to talk through what I was experiencing and try to explain my own feelings and reactions as I went.

When I rejigged my online presence at the start of the year and shift my blogging over here I wanted to create a space for comments and lessons about storytelling and how it can be applied to everyday life or used in the right situations for significant effect. There will be posts like that here going forward, but what I’ve realised is that this needs to also be the space for me to give voice to the thoughts and experiences of life, things I shouldn’t shy away from.

I’ve learned over the years that being open can really help people (including me), and while there are obviously things in my life that I’ll not be able to share, I still need (and want) to be able to talk about things that matter to me and why.

So that’s what to expect from here on. A return to a space that I’ve found to encourage me to share things that are happening and explore my own mind, as well as notes from the books I’m reading 5 and tips and techniques of storytelling. It’ll be something of a smörgåsbord of content, but that’s because that’s who I am as a writer and creator and that shouldn’t be hidden behind some half-hearted attempt at ‘branding’ myself as something specific. I hope you’ll read on.

Moneyball, Michael Lewis

The Art of Winning An Unfair Game

I’m not going to lie, I read this book mostly just because I really like the film, but it turns out I actually took away a huge amount from it. I did have to stop reading fairly often to Google baseball terms, though, because I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about at times.

This book isn’t really about baseball, though. Well, of course it’s about baseball, but it’s not about baseball. It’s really about innovation and finding new ways to do things that have been done the same way for years. I took away a very timely lesson to question everything and work hard to take assumptions for what they are: someone assuming they know the best way of doing things without having tried any other way.

Key highlight: “If you challenge the conventional wisdom, you will find ways to do things much better than they are currently done.” p98

“The difference in Billy wasn’t what had happened to him, but what hadn’t. He had a life he hadn’t led, and he knew it. He just hoped nobody else noticed.” p15

“People always thought their own experience was typical when it wasn’t.” p18

“That Erik had never played even high school ball was, in Billy Beane’s mind, a point in his favor. At least he hasn’t learned the wrong lessons. Billy had played pro ball, and regarded it as an experience he needed to overcome if he wanted to do his job well. “A reformed alcoholic,” is how he described himself.” p24

“A person willing to rethink everything he learned, or thought he had learned, playing baseball.” p24

“Foot speed, fielding ability, even raw power tended to be dramatically overpriced. That the ability to control the strike zone was the greatest indicator of future success.” p33

“That was the moment when the scouts realized just how far Billy Beane was willing to go to push his supposedly rational and objective view of things.” p35

“‘You take a guy high no one else likes and it makes you uncomfortable. But I mean, really, who gives a fuck where guys are taken? Remember Zito? Everyone said we were nuts to take Zito with the ninth pick of the draft. And we knew everyone was going to say that. One fucking month later it’s clear we kicked everyone’s ass. Nobody remembers that now. But understand, when we stop trying to figure out the perception of guys, we’ve done better.'” p39

“The Mets scouting department had badly misjudged Billy’s nature. They had set him up to fail.” p44

“He decided that his talent was beside the point: how could you call it talent if it didn’t lead to success?” p55

“The new, outsider’s view of baseball was all about exposing the illusions created by the insiders on the field.” p62

“It is because baseball statistics, unlike the statistics in any other area, have acquired the powers of language. —Bill James, 1985 Baseball Abstract” p64

“Possessions entrap men, and wealth paralyzes them.” p65

“After all, wrote James, ‘you have to do something right to get an error; even if the ball is hit right at you, then you were standing in the right place to begin with.'” p67

“Fielding statistics made sense only as numbers, not as language. Language, not numbers, is what interested him.” p67

“‘When the numbers acquire the significance of language.’ he later wrote, ‘they acquire the power to do all of the things which language can do: to become fiction and drama and poetry.'” p67

“But the details of the thing didn’t matter. What mattered was James’s ability to light a torch in a dark chamber and throw a new light on a dusty problem. He made you think.” p69

“What got counted was often simply what was easiest to count.” p70

“A hitter should be measured by his success in that which he is trying to do, and that which he is trying to do is create runs. It is startling, when you think about it, how much confusion there is about this.” p76

“‘The people who run baseball are surrounded by people trying to give them advice,’ said James. ‘So they’ve built very effective walls to keep out anything.’ p85

“People in both fields operate with beliefs and biases. To the extent you can eliminate both and replace them with data, you gain a clear advantage.” p90

“Think for yourself along rational lines. Hypothesize, test against the evidence, never accept that a question has been answered as well as it ever will be.” p98

“‘What you don’t do,’ said Billy, ‘is what the Yankees do. If we do what the Yankees do, we lose every time, because they’re doing it with three times more money than we are.’ p119

“Highly trained mathematicians and statisticians and scientists who had abandoned whatever they were doing at Harvard or Stanford or MIT to make a killing on Wall Street. The fantastic sums of money hauled in by the sophisticated traders transformed the culture on Wall Street, and made quantitative analysis, as opposed to gut feel, the respectable way to go about making bets in the market.” p190

“Bill James’s work had been all about challenging the traditional understanding of the game, by questioning the meaning of its statistics.” p133

“His coach was creating an alternative scale on which Hatty could judge his performance. He might be an absolute D but on Wash’s curve he felt like a B, and rising. “He knew that what looked like a routine play wasn’t a routine play for me,” said Hatty. Wash was helping him to fool himself, to make him feel better than he was, until he actually became better than he was.” p168

“No matter how successful you are, change is always good. There can never be a status quo.” p193

“The power of an imagination can arise from what it refuses to foresee.” p224

Amazon link.

More about my reading list.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

This book shows the power and purpose of revisiting books. I first read it as part of my GCSE curriculum way, way back in the late 90s, and haven’t really thought about it since. It made almost zero impact on me other than vaguely remembering something dystopian about it.

Re-reading it, especially in today’s climate, showed me just how much I missed from it because either a) I was a teenage boy who couldn’t connect with the first-person narrative and so dismissed it, or b) I was taught it really badly. It’s probably a combination of the two, to be honest.

“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from.” p24

“When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.” p30

“The red is the same but there is no connection. The tulips are not tulips of blood, the red smiles are not flowers, neither thing makes a comment on the other. The tulip is not a reason for disbelief in the hanged man, or vice versa.” p34

“This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.” p34

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.” p56

“You can wet the rim of a glass and run your finger around the rim and it will make a sound. This is what I feel like: this sound of glass. I feel like the word shatter.” p103

“His face is beginning to fade, possibly because it wasn’t always the same: his face had different expressions, his clothes did not.” p104

“I didn’t much like it, this grudge-holding against the past.” p201

“Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some.” p211

“People will do anything rather than admit that their lives have no meaning. No use, that is. No plot.” p215

Amazon link.

More about my reading list.

Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse

This book had a genuinely profound impact on me. Having heard it talked about so often, I finally decided to give it a go and I have to confess I almost gave up after the first few chapters and it’s not the kind of storytelling I really engage with. Much like life, however, the power of the lessons in the book and the wisdom that it imparts is genuinely transformative.

This book is often mentioned in the same breath as Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, but where that book totally failed to connect with me, Siddhartha is already a book I know I’m going to read and reread time and time and time again. These highlights don’t do it justice at all, but are useful reminders for me of what I took away from the book.

Most importantly, a deeper understand of the value of everything in our lives, whatever it is. They are all a part of us, who we are, what we believe and how we see the world. Nothing and no one should ever be dismissed.

“That was how everybody loved Siddhartha. He delighted and made everybody happy. But Siddhartha himself was not happy.” p4

“We find consolations, we learn tricks with which we deceive ourselves, but the essential thing — the way — we do not find.” p15

“The rumours of the Buddha sounded attractive; there was magic in these reports. The world was sick, life was difficult and here there seemed new hope, here there seemed to be a message, comforting, mild, full of fine promises.” p17

“Opinions mean nothing; they may be beautiful or ugly, clever or foolish, anyone can embrace or reject them.” p27

“It is not for me to judge another life. I must judge for myself. I must choose and reject.” p28

“Meaning and reality were not hidden somewhere behind things, they were in them, in all of them.” p32

“It was beautiful and pleasant to go through the world like that, so childlike, so awakened, so concerned with the immediate, without any distrust.” p37

“Why should I not attain what I decided to undertake yesterday?” p44

“From the moment I made that resolution I also knew that I would execute it.” p49

“He is drawn by his goal, for he does not allow anything to enter his mind which opposes his goal.” p49

“Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait and fast.” p49

“He only noticed that the bright and clear inward voice, that had once awakened in him and had always guided him in his finest hours, had become silent.” p61

“I am not going anywhere. We monks are always on the way.” p72

“Now, when I am no longer young, when my hair is fast growing grey, when strength begins to diminish, now I am beginning again like a child.” p74

“I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace,” p75

“Was it not his Self, his small, fearful and proud Self, with which he had wrestled for so many years, but which had always conquered him again, which appeared each time again and again, which robbed him of happiness and filled him with fear?” p77

“The water continually flowed and flowed and yet it was always there; it was always the same and yet every moment it was new.” p79

“The eternity of every moment.” p89

“‘You have suffered, Siddhartha, yet I see that sadness has not entered your heart.'” p90

“Siddhartha began to realize that no happiness and peace had come to him with his son, only sorrow and trouble. But he loved him and preferred the sorrow and trouble of his love rather than happiness and pleasure without the boy.” p91

“Could his father’s piety, his teacher’s exhortations, his own knowledge, his own seeking, protect him? Which father, which teacher, could prevent him from living his own life, from soiling himself with life, from loading himself with sin, from swallowing the bitter drink himself, from finding his own path? Do you think, my dear friend, that anybody is spared this path? Perhaps your little son, because you would like to see him spared sorrow and pain and disillusionment? But if you were to die ten times for him, you would not alter his destiny in the slightest.” p94

“Perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.” p108

“‘When someone is seeking,’ said Siddhartha, ‘it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal.'” p108

“Many people have to change a great deal and wear all sorts of clothes. I am one of those, my friend.” p108

“Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom.” p109

“The world itself, being in and around us, is never one-sided. Never is a man or a deed wholly Sansara or wholly Nirvana; never is a man wholly a saint or a sinner.” p110

“Every sin already carries grace within it, all small children are potential old men, all sucklings have death within them, all dying people — eternal life. It is not possible for one person to see how far another is on the way; the Buddha exists in the robber and dice player; the robber exists in the Brahmin. During deep meditation it is possible to dispel time, to see simultaneously all the past, present and future, and then everything is good, everything is perfect, everything is Brahman. Therefore, it seems to me that everything that exists is good – death as well as life, sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly. Everything is necessary, everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding.” p110

“This stone is stone; it is also animal, God and Buddha. I do not respect and love it because it was one thing and will become something else, but because it has already long been everything and always is everything.” p111

Amazon link.

More about my reading list.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Having started the year with some Graham Greene, the next stop on my ‘books/authors I really should have read by now’ was Huxley and his rightly-lauded Brave New World. I found it hard going to start with, but it gets better and better as it goes on.

“A man can smile and smile and be a villain.”

“One’s different, one’s bound to be lonely.”

“One of the principal functions of a friend is to suffer (in a milder and symbolic form) the punishments that we should like, but are unable, to inflict upon our enemies.”

“Stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”

“Happiness is a hard master – particularly other people’s happiness.”

“Providence takes its cue from men.”

“The tears are necessary. Don’t you remember what Othello said? ‘If after every tempest come such calms, may the winds blow till they have awakened death.'”

Amazon link.

More about my reading list.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, Mark Manson

A Counterintuitive Approach To Living A Good Life

I adored this book 1, and it’s one I really needed to read. I’m a people-pleaser by nature, always looking to take the path of least resistance and steer myself away from conflict because I’ve been terrified of people not liking me. This book helped me realise how pointless, absurd and unhelpful that is as a way to go about living life.

I want to be really clear for anyone reading this who thinks it sounds like a big, brash, “don’t give a sh*t about anyone” kind of American self-help book that it’s very much not that. Instead, the big lesson I took from this book was simply that you have to choose what you want to care about in life, and then follow up on that by not attributing disproportionate weight to the things that aren’t important.

“It’s what the philosopher Alan Watts used to refer to as “the backwards law”—the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place.”

“Albert Camus said (and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on LSD at the time): ‘You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.'”

“You must give a fuck about something… The question, then, is, What do we give a fuck about? What are we choosing to give a fuck about?”

“You can’t be an important and life-changing presence for some people without also being a joke and an embarrassment to others.”

“It then follows that finding something important and meaningful in your life is perhaps the most productive use of your time and energy. Because if you don’t find that meaningful something, your fucks will be given to meaningless and frivolous causes.”

“Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a fuck about what’s truly fuckworthy.”

“We suffer for the simple reason that suffering is biologically useful. It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change.”

‘Don’t hope for a life without problems,’ the panda said. ‘There’s no such thing. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.'”

“To deny one’s negative emotions is to deny many of the feedback mechanisms that help a person solve problems.”

“An obsession and overinvestment in emotion fails us for the simple reason that emotions never last. Whatever makes us happy today will no longer make us happy tomorrow, because our biology always needs something more.”

“What determines your success isn’t, ‘What do you want to enjoy?’ The relevant question is, ‘What pain do you want to sustain?'”

“The true measurement of self-worth is not how a person feels about her positive experiences, but rather how she feels about her negative experiences.”

“This flood of extreme information has conditioned us to believe that exceptionalism is the new normal. And because we’re all quite average most of the time, the deluge of exceptional information drives us to feel pretty damn insecure and desperate, because clearly we are somehow not good enough.”

“The Internet has not just open-sourced information; it has also open-sourced insecurity, self-doubt, and shame.”

“The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement.”

“People who become great at something become great because they understand that they’re not already great—they are mediocre, they are average—and that they could be so much better.”

“You will have a growing appreciation for life’s basic experiences: the pleasures of simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, laughing with someone you care about. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? That’s because these things are ordinary. But maybe they’re ordinary for a reason: because they are what actually matters.”

“Freud once said, ‘One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.'”

“Some examples of good, healthy values: honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility, creativity.”

“We should prioritize values of being honest, fostering transparency, and welcoming doubt over the values of being right, feeling good, and getting revenge.”

“Growth is an endlessly iterative process.”

“We cannot learn anything without first not knowing something. The more we admit we do not know, the more opportunities we gain to learn.”

“The narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you. For that reason, define yourself in the simplest and most ordinary ways possible.”

“It’s worth remembering that for any change to happen in your life, you must be wrong about something. If you’re sitting there, miserable day after day, then that means you’re already wrong about something major in your life, and until you’re able to question yourself to find it, nothing will change.”

“We can be truly successful only at something we’re willing to fail at.”

“The problem was that my emotions defined my reality. Because it felt like people didn’t want to talk to me, I came to believe that people didn’t want to talk to me.”

“If you’re stuck on a problem, don’t sit there and think about it; just start working on it. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, the simple act of working on it will eventually cause the right ideas to show up in your head.”

“Don’t just sit there. Do something. The answers will follow.”

“Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.”

“Absolute freedom, by itself, means nothing.”

“Ultimately, the only way to achieve meaning and a sense of importance in one’s life is through a rejection of alternatives, a narrowing of freedom, a choice of commitment to one place, one belief, or (gulp) one person.”

“Acts of love are valid only if they’re performed without conditions or expectations.”

“We’re all driven by fear to give way too many fucks about something, because giving a fuck about something is the only thing that distracts us from the reality and inevitability of our own death.”

“Without acknowledging the ever-present gaze of death, the superficial will appear important, and the important will appear superficial.”

“Our culture today confuses great attention and great success, assuming them to be the same thing.”

“You too are going to die, and that’s because you too were fortunate enough to have lived.”

Amazon link.

More about my reading list.

The Comedians, Graham Greene

I’m trying to read more of the ‘golden oldies’ or at the very least more works by the kind of authors who are thought of or talked about as greats. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that Greene is one of those authors whose work I’ve never ventured near, so I thought I’d pick something (pretty much at random) to get started with.

I enjoyed this – it lulled a bit in places and isn’t quite what I’d call a page-turner, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Here are my highlights:

“Cynicism is cheap – you can buy it at any Monoprix store – it’s built into all poor-quality goods.”

“We have standards to which we do not always rise.”

“The confused comedy of our lives.”

“This is one of the pains of illicit love: even your mistress’s most extreme embrace is a proof the more that love doesn’t last.”

“Distance lends enchantment to the view. Mr William Wordsworth.”

“We have failed – that’s all. We are bad comedians, we aren’t bad men.”

“In port (she was the only ship there) the Medea seemed oddly dwarfed. It was the empty sea which gave the little boat her pride and magnitude.”

“I flung myself into pleasure like a suicide on to a pavement.” Dark humour at its best.

“I felt the premonition of jealousy like the first shiver which announces a fever.”

“We can’t even talk to you, can we? You won’t listen if what we say is out of character – the character you’ve given us.”

“There is always an alternative to the faith we lose. Or is it the same faith under another mask?”

Amazon link.

More about my reading list.

A fresh start to 2018

If you’ve followed anything I do online you’ll know I’m somewhat inconsistent in my publishing schedules, so I carry no illusions that this place will be updated on any kind of dependable basis, but I do promise I will try to keep it updated regularly.

2017 was a bit of a year of stagnation for me, it didn’t carry a feeling of moving forward, just of doing the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and I have no intention of stopping, but I know there is a creative itch I need to scratch.

I have a head filled with possibilities and last year I didn’t manage to make any of them come to pass, probably because I couldn’t narrow it down to one thing I could focus on enough to gain a bit of traction and get it over the starting line.

Laughter for Life in November proved that I can still make things happen. The entire gig came together over the course of just a few short months and was a roaring success, so I just need to be able to find that intensity of focus and delivery that I adopted there and apply it to the other things buzzing around my head.

So in 2018 I’m going to be trying to focus more directly on the things that I know I can do, and pushing myself to make them happen. I’m letting go of the more whimsical, overly-ambitious stuff (maybe more on that in another post) and embracing the still-ambitious but achievable side of the things I want to see in my life.

I’m also going to be paying more attention to my mental health and making time for myself: time to recharge, to properly rest when I need it, and to not let myself slip into the black cloud that descended at times in 2017.

I believe 2018 can be a great year, but I also know that great things don’t happen on their own, so I’m gearing myself up for the hard work and hustle that’s going to be needed to make this all come about.