Habit Change: 500 words a day

January was a terrible start to 2015, but when it comes to the habit change I was looking for, I actually achieved quite a lot and am now meditating regularly.

For February, I’m looking to upgrade my writing practice and stop myself slipping, so I’ll be trying to get into the habit of writing at least 500 words per day.

Writing has taken something of a back seat for me in recent years, subsumed beneath the dense foliage of the working world where the lengthiest pieces I compose are emails on strategy and execution. I miss writing for the joy of writing, I miss writing to solve problems and I miss writing to get people to think, to provoke reactions whatever they may be.

Writing is where my passion lies, that’s where my talent lies, where I’m happiest – pouring out words onto a page to eventually engage and impact, in some form or another, the eventual reader, listener or viewer.

So this month I will be writing something every day. I don’t know yet whether I’ll come to focus on just one writing project or flit from thing to thing, but whichever it is, I will make progress one day at a time, 500 words at a time.

The only rule I’m setting myself is that the words I write must be easily countable (ie, written in a writing app of some kind) and therefore social media posts don’t count and nor does journalling at home, which I hand-write. Emails definitely don’t count.

If things go to plan I’ll be back here in 28 days with at least 14,000 words written for something, somewhere. Stay tuned!

Lessons from a month of meditation

It’s the end of January and the end of my first month of habit change.

What with everything that’s been going on for the last few weeks, I’m actually surprised at how well my meditation practice has been going. I’ve missed a couple of days here and there, and some of the days I did it my mind wouldn’t let me focus, but that’s not a bad record.

What I love about the Headspace app is the way it guides and supports you in achieving what you need to, as well as the way it explains meditation. Here’s what I’ve learned in the last few weeks:

Meditation can be a habit like any other

I meditate first thing in the morning, before I do anything else. It’s 15 minutes of my morning that sets me up for the rest of the day. The days I struggle with it are when my routine is disrupted for some reason, like at the weekends.

If I don’t have an alarm set and wake up naturally, I find it harder to settle myself and do a meditation session. I suspect this is because on weekdays my habit trigger is the alarm going off – I know what my first 2 hours of my day looks like and it’s kicked off with the alarm followed by meditation. Perhaps I need to find a different trigger so I don’t lose momentum when I’m not setting an alarm.

It’s OK to think

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that meditation is not about not having thoughts, but rather about noticing those thoughts and bringing your focus back to the breath.

The problem I always used to have with meditation was getting cross with myself for thinking things and losing focus. Now I just recognise that I am thinking and bring my attention back to my breath. This has been particularly useful when I’ve been trying to meditate at times of high emotion and stress.

Anyone can do it

If you’ve ever thought that meditation just isn’t for you, give Headspace a try for free – their Take 10 programme is perfectly formulated to ease you into the process and learn more about yourself and the practice.

You will feel calmer

I used to be a very short-termpered person. It really didn’t take much for my fuse to be exhausted, and I’m not going to pretend that my new-found calmness is due to the last 30 days, but it is thanks to the collective experience of meditation in fits and starts for the last months.

That’s also not to say I’m now a picture of zen or incredibly boring; I still have the same passion and drive, the same energy and enthusiasm I’ve always had, I’ve just learned how to let things that I can’t do anything about slide past me without letting them annoy me or make me angry. And that makes commuting a lot more pleasant.

Give it a go

You’ll have gathered that I’m a fan, and I’d love you to try it. Check out Headspace or any other guided meditation app, or just read up on getting started from someone like Leo Babauta.

In February, I’m going to make sure I’m writing 500 words a day. Read more in tomorrow’s introductory post.

In the days that followed

It seemed like a great chance for closure. It would be a final, wonderful send off, a chance to mourn but be grateful for the gift we had in the first place. It seemed that it would be a full stop.

And it was. But no one mentioned that the full stop would be the end of a sentence and not the story.

During the days that followed the finale, the sadness seemed to sink even deeper. Perhaps it was the stark reality of being in the room overwhelmed by the collective grief, yet leaning on each other for support. Perhaps it was the virtual friendships made – relationships forged in the intimate remoteness of the internet made tangible by the tactile bond of tearful embraces.

Whatever it was, everything got harder.

Sleep was intermittent, disturbed by dreams of normality, of a friend who would still be at the of the phone or have an updated Facebook status first thing in the morning. Waking hours were spent flitting between periods of intense concentration on the work that must be done, the life that must be lived, and the emptiness that creeps back into the mind.

The story continued far beyond the day we said goodbye, and I’ve no doubt it will continue far into the future. Many lives were eternally altered with the passing of a friend, but we cling to the positive change that entered our lives at her side.

Clichés abound when death visits our cosy lives and none does justice to the true feelings: to their intensity and to the constant, desperate wishing for more time, more smiles, more life.

Why I love stories

Everyone has a story. If you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “But I don’t,” – you’re wrong.

If someone asks you where you were born, do you have any brothers or sisters, what you do for a living, you answer them with the start of a story.

How you got to where you are today is your story. Everything we do in life is part of our story, each individual moment just waiting to be put into the context of a whole life.

So don’t try to tell me you don’t have a story.

How interesting your story is depends on many things, not least how good you are at telling it. In the hands of a masterful storyteller even the most uneventful of stories can be fascinating; the phone book can surpass War and Peace.

But stories also depend on living a life worth telling people about.

That doesn’t mean we all have to drop everything and go skydiving or bungee jumping just to have a story to tell. A life worth talking about is simply a life filled with rich experiences, things that make us grow and develop as people, whether they’re good or bad.

Vulnerability can be one of the most powerful storytelling devices. We’ve all read (and got bored with) stories of people doing amazing things, of achieving incredible heights in their lives, or splashing their success on fast cars and globe-trotting. But failing creates powerful stories, too.

Stories are all about connection – connection between the teller and the listener (or reader, or viewer) – and connection comes from creating emotional empathy. So making yourself vulnerable and sharing the things that haven’t gone so well is something we can all relate to: at some point or another we have all failed.

It’s that connection that I love most about stories. They give us the benefit of other people’s experiences to empathise with and learn from. I get so inspired by other people’s stories and I love to share both theirs and mine with the world.

I would love for Smile Through It to become a place for stories of change, of people who are embracing their second chance at life regardless of whether it came about through a huge, dramatic, external force (like mine), or through sheer force of will where they recognised a need to change and set about doing it.

Do you have a story to tell (see above: of course you do). Email me and let me know; I’d love to share it with my readers.

Pressing reset

When I started this blog it was about trying to keep on top of things, those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Shakespeare told us about. It was about charting my journey up to and beyond transplant and all the weird emotions and exciting opportunities it brought.

Now, though, I want it to be more than that. Partially because I’m now blessed to have a life that’s much like anyone’s: I have a full-time job making a real difference in people’s lives, I have a loving wife and a beautiful home to come home to every night, I have everything I ever wanted from my extra time in life, bar a few of the more outrageous and/or longer-term goals I came up with beforehand.

So I want this blog to be about more than just me and my journey, but to stay true to the principals under which it began.

This year, I’m going to set out to make Smile Through It a place where you can come for inspiration and education of all kinds. (Except the bad kind of ‘education’ that just made you suddenly wonder if you want to come back here at all, I won’t be doing any of that stuff.)

I want this blog to become a place where you can discover and share stories of living life in the most honest way possible. That doesn’t mean people going on crazy adventures: an honest life is simply about living authentically to yourself. And if that’s a little too ‘new age hippy’ for you, think of it like this: happiness comes from living the life that fits you, nothing more.

This, then, will be a period of adjustment for me as I work out how best to make all of this happen, but it will involve lots more storytelling (because I’ve not done nearly enough of that on here in recent months), it will involve a lot more of other people’s stories, and it will hopefully involve more than just reading.

I’d love to hear from you to know what you get out of this site and what you’d like to get from it. What posts really inspire you and make you want to do things, what bores you to tears and never makes you want to come back, and what would you love to see more of from me?

Please get in touch however you’d like: you can email me (or use the contact form on my personal website to be sure of passing spam filters), you can Tweet me, you can even find me on that weird and lonely place they call Google plus (however amazed you may be that it’s still going).

Smile Through It is a philosophy on life that I’ve let slip in recent weeks and months, and it’s time we got back to what mattered. So here’s to a 2015 full of growth and development for me, for this blog and, hopefully, for you, too.