Thank you (fallettinme be mice elf agin)

view-from-the-terrace-outside-the-edgemoor-innA week or so ago I was fortunate enough to have the time to get out on my bike whilst the UK was bathed in unseasonably warm sunshine (the warmest Halloween on record).  I was conscious that I hadn’t posted a blog for a while and tried to direct my thoughts to create  the structure of a piece.  I did have a couple of great ideas – now I cannot for the life of me remember them, they were great ideas though!

I have just reviewed the ride in my training log as it was a great, flat route.  The headlines as captured for posterity by Strava were 56km in 2:18, averaging 24.4kmh, total elevation gained 220m (it is pretty flat around here), on my 16 year old Scott Vail MTB.  The weather was a sunny 22.2 C and I burned up around 1,900 calories.

If I had been using my heart rate monitor, cadence meter and a power meter I would have captured more data about the ride.

That evening I was finalising a presentation and I came across the old maxim:

what get’s measured get’s managed

That of course leads to various conclusions around “measures that matter”.  Reflecting on the day I wondered what really mattered. The data captured was of use only from a training perspective.  The bare facts don’t come close to describing the experience.  If asked why I run, cycle and swim my Strava account is the wrong place to start looking.

The truly important things about the ride were the things that can’t be directly measured: my emotions and feelings.  I started out in a fairly flat mood, a few opportunities I had been pursuing were looking less likely to come off and those that were promising were not the most exciting.  I finished feeling energised, relaxed and renewed.

We keep a jar in the kitchen into which all of the family put small notes of gratitude on a regular basis (we’ll review them over New Year in a celebration) and I found I had a whole list of notes to write:

Thanks for the time and fitness to be able to get out;

the glorious sunshine;

the privilege to live in the Cotswolds;

the wonderful views;

the Autumn colours…

None of which can easily be measured.  Maybe if what get’s measured does get managed, do we fall into the trap of simply managing what we can measure? I wonder if we should really focus on those things that defy simple measurement?

Dance to the music
All nite long
Everyday people
Sing a simple song
Mama’s so happy
Mama start to cry
Papa still singin’
You can make it if you try

I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
(Different strokes for different folks, yeah)
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

Thank you (fallettinme be mice elf agin) – Sly & The Family Stone

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Who’s got a match?

matchIslamic State are sweeping across the Middle East, Ebola rages across parts of Africa, there are signs we are headed for a global economic slowdown, climate change seems unstoppable, UKIP have an elected MP, I think I am getting a bit of a sniffle…I could go on.

Recently I found myself raging at the radio and television as crisis after crisis unfolds and our collective response appears to be inadequate yet again.  I know that anger is a useless emotion and hurling insults at politicians on the television only serves to increase my own stress levels (and make me appear more than slightly unhinged).  I know that simply feeling overcome with sadness for the victims of war, disease and poverty achieves precisely nothing other than upsetting my own emotional well being.

And yet it’s all so complicated and so overwhelming that there is nothing an individual can do, is there?

Thinking about this I was reminded of an old Quaker saying:

“It is better to light one small candle than rage against the darkness”.

Of course, but where is the candle? And who’s got a match?

Again an old favourite came to mind – Stephen Covey, in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People encourages us to only focus on concerns that we have control over. He outlines the “circle of concerns” as all of the things that worry us – and then a smaller “circle of influence” (within the larger “circle of concerns”) that only contains things that we can actually control.
His point is that we should only spend our energy on stuff that we can do something about. Focus only on problems that lie within your “circle of influence.”

By attempting to address every “concern” your energy becomes dissipated and is wasted as you start to obsess over details and situations that are beyond your control. Ultimately, you achieve nothing.

Does this mean that we should do nothing about these complex global issues and ignore them?  I don’t believe so.  My personal view is that we should stop shouting at the television and instead identify some tangible actions, within our control.  Worried about global warming?  Then lobby your MP, drive less, invest in renewable energy.  Taking small actions is likely to expand your circle of influence, so you can take ever bigger steps.

Identifying and taking tangible actions an individual can take to address these huge issues is not always easy, but it beats impotent raging.

Now, who’s got a match?

Who’s got a match I’ve got the petrol to set it to
I know I shouldn’t have trusted you
It’s making me tense when you’re telling me
It’s just the facts that don’t compute the classic way
I guess I’m wrong again anyway

I’m a fire and I’ll burn burn burn tonight
I’m a fire and I’ll burn burn burn tonight…

Biffy Clyro – Who’s got a match?

Different People

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We’ve recently returned from holiday. As a family one of our favourite things is people watching and a holiday provides the perfect blend of time and interesting people to watch. I say interesting, all people are fascinating of course and all human life was there. Or at least that slim section of life that can both afford and choose to lie by a pool in the Mediterranean.

There was this one guy, big, overweight, bald headed, no neck and tattoos including a crude England (or should that be Engerland?) flag across his distended gut.  He looked like a builder who had done well, you could imagine him on the terraces roaring the team on.  He spent all day from around 8.00 am under an umbrella, head on a pillow.  He was a hard man for sure, no one was going to invade his space. I wondered how he felt about being surrounded by well heeled Germans and Russians.  Not my kind of guy looking like that.

One guy spent most of the day on his laptop. He lay by the pool tapping away on the laptop or yelling at people down the phone while his younger ‘trophy wife’ baked in the sun.  It was clear that he was utterly indispensable (or he had hired a bunch of muppets and/or was unable to delegate). Twice a day he would swim a lap of the pool with his partner before she went and brought him a cocktail and he returned to his laptop. In his Vilebrequin shorts and designer sunnies he was making sure that we all knew who was the alpha male. I wondered how his partner felt about the lack of attention. Again not my kind of guy behaving like that.

Then there was this guy who had the most loving and tender conversation with his daughter.  He was a bit loud and then repeated it all to his partner (presumably not the mother from the way it sounded).  They were arranging to meet up and he sounded like a truly loving father.  More like my kind of guy expressing feelings like that.

As I said all human life.  And these three blokes all came together – in the same body.  Which just goes to show that appearances can be deceptive, first and even second impressions don’t tell the full story.

Different person, different argument
In my shadow, no more compliments
One more person breaking the rules again
I’m still waiting for someone else to join in

Stand where the others stand
We’re alive tonight
Land where the others land
We’re alive tonight

Different People  – Biffy Clyro

Get on with your short life

There’s a huge amount being written at the moment about positivity.  And there seems to be a rising backlash against this.

The critique goes that it may well be possible to cultivate an attitude of acceptance.  It is indeed what it is.  Acceptance may take away the negative emotions but it does not change the situation for the better.

Certainly we can choose our mood and we can choose to be happy.  We can picture a future in which we are successful and feel very positive about ourselves.  Happily sitting and positively hoping for something to turn up may feel good but it is not going to create success.

Surely a dose of reality, a little suffering, acts as the motivation to take the necessary and possibly unpleasant steps to actually change things.

It is not possible to think yourself successful and people should ‘get real’.

I agree with the logic but not the conclusion.  A happy fool watching daytime TV dreaming of ‘making it big’ is not my idea of positivity.

My view of positivity says that accepting that ‘it is what it is’ takes away unnecessary suffering.  The issue still exists but we can stop the futility of worrying about it.  Thus in a calmer state we can seek to address the issue and if it is something we cannot change, we can move on.

My view of positivity says that if you accept that you are the cause of everything that happens to you, you become much calmer, more likely to make changes and are more agreeable to be with. If you choose your mood and choose happiness you are much more likely to engage positively with others.

If you have a positive goal you are much more likely to take action.  By putting images of future success in our timeline we are asking our unconscious mind to find ways to achieve the goal.

The key certainly is taking action. And I prefer to get on with my short life with a smile on my face rather than a grimace of pain.

You keep saying that one day things could
Be fabulous,
If only you had the right shoes, new
Clothes, the dream team doing your hair.
Why do you have to waste time on your
Waistline when you could be having
Dinner with me?
Will you really be the winner
If you’re thinner?
How can I make you see?

Get on with your short life,
Get on with this sweet precious time,
You know you’re only dreaming
So why don’t you wake up and get on
With your short life

You keep praying that some day things
Will be different
If you only had the right lips, killer hips,
A sun kissed permanent tan
But does it really matter if you’re fatter
Than everybody else on the screen
It’s more important to be truthful than just
Youthful on the cover of some magazine

Get on with your short life,
Get on with this sweet precious time,
You know you’re only dreaming
So why don’t you wake up and get on with
Your short life 

Brian Kennedy

One hand in my pocket

On the one hand it has been a depressing week:

Firstly I have been waiting to hear from a potential client regarding a pitch for a large project.  The pitching process took months of effort. I’ve been on tenterhooks and can’t settle, checking my email constantly.  I can’t understand why they are delaying the result and am starting to be convinced we haven’t got it.

Secondly I heard that a number of friends have lost their jobs. This made me very angry at the people that did this and I spent a whole afternoon in a bad mood.

The incessant wind and rain and ever rising flood levels (I live by the River Thames) has been a real worry. I am increasingly frustrated by the politicians who seem to offer nothing but platitudes.

Finally I have an injury and after 6 weeks of rest I am still only able to run 3 – 4 miles a day very cautiously.

On the other hand it’s been a good week:

Firstly I have been waiting to hear from a potential client regarding a pitch for a large project.  We did great to get through to the final round and learned loads in the process.  I had weaned myself off constantly checking email and being on tenterhooks has lead me back into bad habits, it’s noticeable how it distracts you and prevents you from fully attending to the here and now which I hadn’t really appreciated before.

Secondly I heard that a number of friends have lost their jobs, I was quite angry for a while.  Of course once I calmly looked at it I realised that raging is pointless.  Having compassion and finding ways to help would be more useful.  So I contacted them and offered to help.  By reaching out they know I care.

The incessant wind and rain and ever rising flood levels (I live by the River Thames) is a concern.  Yet there is nothing I can do about the weather.  Accepting the issue and getting on with what needs to be done in the short term is more productive.  And maybe if we keep the pressure on this will help the climate change naysayers see the truth.

I have an injury and after 6 weeks of rest I am now able to run 3 – 4 miles a day albeit cautiously.  If I do some cross training and keep healing I’ll still make a spring race or two.  And today a gentle 4 miler in a rare burst of sunny, calm weather felt just great.

I know which week I chose to have.  What will you choose?

I’m broke but I’m happy
I’m poor but I’m kind
I’m short but I’m healthy, yeah
I’m high but I’m grounded
I’m sane but I’m overwhelmed
I’m lost but I’m hopeful baby
What it all comes down to
Is that everything’s gonna be fine fine fine
’cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is giving a high five

Alanis Morrisette

Breathe

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On Sunday morning I was quietly drinking coffee and doing those Sunday things, my wife was at the gym and the kids fast asleep (it still being a few minutes before noon).  Suddenly I was shocked when my youngest almost fell down the stairs and wobbled into the kitchen.

She was in great distress, very pale, sobbing, breathing very rapidly and incoherently trying to say something.

“I can’t breathe”  or was it “I can’t see” ?

After doing what all Dad’s would do – wishing Mum was there – I started asking her to calm down, but that had no impact.  So I started breathing very noticeably, a little faster than usual and very calmly asked her to copy me.  As she did I slowed it down gradually until she was more or less in control.

Now she could tell me that she had felt a bit odd on getting up, gone for a shower and then had felt light headed, lost her vision and started to fall over.  At this she had freaked out.  I’m no medic but I figured she’d fainted and just needed to calm down.

I asked her to visualise the outline of a square and put a bright dot in the left hand corner, the dot moved along each side with each in and out breath.  In…along the top, out…down the side, in…along the bottom, and so on.  With her I gradually slowed the dot and with it her breathing until she was very relaxed (in fact she was in a light trance).

Afterwards she said she felt very relaxed, if still a little light headed.

Whilst not exactly rocket science it does demonstrate how powerful our breathing is on our emotions.  By focussing on our breathing and slowing it down we naturally calm down and get more oxygen to help us think.  Worth remembering next time you are feeling a little stressed before that meeting or presentation.

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care
Leave but don’t leave me
Look around and chose your own ground
For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be

Pink Floyd

PS – my wife, a trained first aider, has now told me what I should really do if anyone faints.  The breathing was good but I should have laid her down with legs up a little.

Perhaps vampires is a bit strong but…

I don’t want to worry you but we are surrounded by vampires.  They are sucking the very life out of you right now.  They are feeding on you and dragging you down.  If you don’t fight back you will become one of them.

I don’t mean the fictional blood sucking villains that have enjoyed such a renaissance of late.

These are real. they seem to be everywhere and often disguise their true intentions by posing as friends and colleagues who have your best interests at heart.  We all know the kind of person who, after a brief conversation, leaves you feeling emotionally drained and somehow ‘soiled’.  They are often easy to spot and so avoid.  But sometimes we have no choice but to interact with them.  And sometimes they seem like really nice people and then when you realise….it’s too late.

These emotional vampires lead fairly empty lives and so seek to feed on others’ emotions.  It works best for them if their victims are in a highly emotional state.  They seem to find it much easier to create a negative state such as a sense of unease, fear, tension than a positive state such as joy.   They come in a variety of forms but share a lot of common traits including believing that they are the most important person around, whose needs are the most important and by definition whose beliefs are correct.  They are always right, always know best and failure is never their fault.

It is easiest to avoid them but sometimes we all have to deal with them and as a wooden stake through the heart might be controversial these days there are other ways to protect yourself.

Remaining calm and measured is the equivalent of dangling a bulb of garlic round your neck.  By remaining calm and choosing our response rather than letting our animal brains hijack us into being emotional, we remove the very stuff they feed on.  Of course we all have negative emotions – even the highly trained Buddhist Monks recognise these emotions.  But we do not have to dwell on them, we can move on and choose another state.  Look for the positive in any situation and be accepting of the issues you are faced with. Feeling sadness or anger will not create a solution, but it will drain your energy and so make life harder.

Of course before we become vampire slayers we need to carefully reflect.  Are we infected ourselves ?  If so we have to work harder to create meaningful, positive goals and cultivate inner calm.  The good news is that if you recognise a tendency to be emotionally needy in yourself you can do something about it before you stop showing up in the mirror.