Tuesday, 11 October 2011


"Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy." Norman Vincent Peale

When you become a parent for the first time you’re aware of what an awesome responsibility now rests on your shoulders. You want to give your son or daughter the best childhood possible and provide opportunities for them to develop and shine as they grow up. If there is  one thing though that I want to try and inject in my daughter  more than anything else it’s confidence. If someone has confidence life becomes a lot easier . They're not afraid of taking risks,  making mistakes, pleasing everybody  or receiving criticism. They will have belief in their abilities and a conviction that they can achieve whatever they want to.

My daughter, like most small children, appears to have bags of confidence at the moment. She’s  always exploring, touching things, falling over and picking herself up. The world seems to fascinate her and she just wants to get up and explore. This confidence comes from the fact that she doesn't know any different and she's no idea of what she can and can't do, so she just does it. As she gets older though other people and the experiences she has are going to shape her confidence. If her experiences and interactions are positive then her confidence and self belief are going to grow. However sadly the world isn't always a forgiving place and other children, adults and even some teachers aren't necessarily going to always be full of praise. It’s going to be hard for her at times not to loose the confidence she has when she encounters negative reactions and the knocks life inevitably is occasionally going to throw at her. I just hope that the fearless attitude that's she's blessed with now remains and she keeps picking herself up and believing in what she is capable of.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Earning the Cheesecake

There are occasions when a meal or the first sip of an ice cold beer are just that little bit more satisfying than usual. For me those occasions are when I feel I really deserve them. I’ll have delayed having them until completing something and for that simple reason they seem to taste better. I might have worked hard, exercised or completed a long journey and when I’ve finished the need to eat or drink is great. I therefore  appreciate it so much more than I normally would, my senses are heightened and I enjoy every mouthful or sip.

I first remember encountering this phenomenon when I was training for my first marathon, quite some time ago now. Running up and down country lanes for what seemed like forever all I could think about was what I was going to eat when I’d finished.  I’d dream about demolishing  one of my mum’s blackcurrant cheesecakes, such was my lust for calories. It was these thoughts that got me through many of those long long runs. Alas, I never did actually get to devour a cheesecake. I wasn’t that good at planning ahead and there was never one waiting for me when I finished. Any meal I wolfed down when I got back still always tasted amazing though, I certainly remember that.

Since then I’ve somehow, without any conscious decision to do so, adopted a similiar kind of reward system when it comes to undertaking something that's going to be hard. If I’m going to do some vigorous exercise I always like to plan it so it finishes just before I need to eat. The reward of a nice meal helps motivate me as I toil away. The meal I had in the pub recently  after walking 18 miles with some friends was immensely satisfying and delicious simply because we’d walked all that way to get there. Similarly I find that a beer really slides down my throat better if I’ve had a long day, worked hard and I’m back home and ready to relax. 

There’s an argument that life is short and you should try and enjoy every moment, which I wholeheartedly agree with. I also think though that you can have too much of a good thing. You need the tough days and to suffer occasionally to give you a bit of perspective and make you appreciate the good things in life. In this ‘have it now’ world in which we live we can get almost anything we want whenever we want, and rarely have to  defer doing so. Instant gratification is the norm.  If  our treats are commonplace we don’t really appreciate them and sadly they loose the magical quality they should have. I want my cheesecake to remain special, it tastes so much better if I’ve worked hard to get it.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The choices we make

The willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life is the source from which self-respect springs.
Joan Didion

Radio phone-in shows are I guess by there very nature designed to provoke debate and provide a forum to voice opinions. I’m fully aware of this and yet I found myself on two consecutive days recently screaming at the radio as I drove along. Although the topic’s were quite different, on each occasion the reasons for my annoyance were essentially the same – the unwillingness of many callers to accept that everyone has to be held responsible for their own behaviour. The topics up for discussion were  the UK’s obesity problem and the punishments dealt out to people who rioted in cities across England in August. In both cases caller after caller phoned in  looking to blame other people and organisations.  If people were fat it was the fault of McDonald's who, if it were to be believed, dragged people kicking and screaming into their stores and forced them to eat happy meal after happy meal.  If people were organising riots on their Blackberries and smashing shop windows to steal designer clothes it was because of the greedy banks and corrupt politicians!

It’s very easy to blame other people when things go wrong. If we have a scapegoat we're going to feel better because we can tell ourselves that we are not responsible. We all have choices to make however and it’s those choices that determine the direction our lives take and often they are the cause when things go wrong. Of course there are elements of luck (both bad and good) that effect our choices and some things we cannot control. Most of what happens to us though is because of actions that we do or do not take and we have to hold ourselves accountable for the results.  We choose to  work or study hard, we choose how much effort we put into maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we choose to obey the laws of the land and we choose to take care of our finances. There are so many choices we make. Why should others be blamed when things are not as they should be? It’s probably because it’s a lot easier than looking inside ourselves and saying ‘Could I have done better?’. If we're going to rely on others to shape our lives for us and thus place our destiny in their hands, then this in itself is a choice we've made and we've only got ourselves to blame. 

The issues that relate to the subjects of both obesity and the riots are undoubtedly complicated, but when you really look at them and break them down to the bare essentials, individuals have made bad choices. They may have eaten too much, exercised too little or in the case of the rioters simply behaved badly. Accepting responsibility for the situations these people find themselves in has to be the first step to breaking out of their destructive behaviour. Everybody makes mistakes, its not surprising given the high number of choices we have to make. How we react is what's important. Do we accept what’s happened, learn from it and move on or do we dwell on things and spend our time trying to work out who’s fault it is? There are so many  people who have had really tough lives and cope with adversity with great dignity and strive to make the best of the situation they are in. The video of  at the end of this post will introduce you to one such person - Nick Vijicic (pictured above). We need to try and follow the example of  people like Nick, not seek to blame others or dwell on things that have happened to us. It shows us just what a difference positive choices have made to the life of someone who had every reason to find excuses not to make them.

Watch and be inspired.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Living with Less

" Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying.  The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things."  Elise Boulding

Last summer I took myself off on a long pre-baby bike ride knowing this was something that I would have limited opportunity to do once I became a parent.  I was away on my bike for 11 days and as with all trips of this nature there were a mixture of mainly high moments and a few lower ones. When I got to the end of the ride and reflected on what I’d done I realised that one of the things I enjoyed most was how simple my life became for those 11 days. Essentially all I had to do every morning was jump on my bike and get to my destination in one piece by nightfall.

An element that really contributed to the simplicity of my life on the ride was the fact that I had so few possessions with me. Obviously the more things I took, the more I had to carry and the harder my trip would have been, so I took hardly anything. I had just 2 small bags filled mainly with bike tools and gear,  my phone, a netbook, a few toiletries and one change of clothes. I loved it.  Carrying  less stuff meant  fewer things to worry about loosing, fewer things to break, fewer things to tidy and fewer things to pack when I moved on each day.

Following the trip, I started to cast a critical eye over my possessions back home to see if there were things I could cut out.  There were a lot. The first change was in my office where I condensed 2 full shelving units down to one and I was able to turn my desk round so it looked out at the garden. Less stuff meant more space to play with and hence a nicer view whenever i am working.  Next I started on my wardrobe. Obviously, a long bike ride is a bit of an extreme situation and if I were to only have one change of clothes in real life my wife might have something to say and friends would probably become a little thinner on the ground. I did however get rid of all those clothes that 'I might wear one day' realising that in all probability I would never wear them. In order to maintain the increased space I decided to adopt a new policy of getting rid of (recycling) an old piece of clothing every time I buy a new one.

Since the ride I've also started to become more conscious of my purchases, trying not to buy things that I don’t think really serve a purpose or which I can borrow. This isn’t always easy as I don’t want to impose my new found lust for simplicity on my family and with a young baby there is a constant influx of new items that we seem to need. But progress is been made and it’s a very liberating process to go through.  By surrounding ourselves with things, we make our lives much more complicated and stressful. All the stuff we accumulate not only costs us money but we have to maintain it,  store it,  and clean it. I’m no where near where I want to be yet and my mission continues. I’ve yet to start on the garage and the thought of tackling that is a bit scary, but i know I'll be glad when I've done it. Every time I get rid of an item or resist the urge to purchase something I don’t really need I feel my own little world is all the better for it.

If your interested in simplifying things check out The 100 Thing Challenge  to find out about Dave Bruno's  rather more extreme de-cluttering experiment. It’s an interesting read.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Reasons to Run

"I always loved running...it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs." - Jess Owens

I went running today. Nothing unusual in that. I took my 9 month old daughter in her very un-aerodynamic buggy despite been told not to by her mother. Nothing unusual in the latter part of that, but I’d never taken her running with me before.  I knew i wouldn’t get a chance later on in the day, so I decided to go for it. Everything turned out just fine.

Sometimes I just have to run. I’m not particularly quick, and I don’t always go very far but I do love to run. If scientists could come up with some kind of pill that contained all the benefits that running brings into my life then I guess this afternoon would have been the perfect time for me to take it. It would have been far more convenient, taken less effort, and given me a greater amount of  time to get the things done I needed to do.

This pill would have had a lot of work to do though.

It would need to give me lots more energy – I feel so much more alert and alive after I’ve run . If I haven’t been out for a few days I start to feel lethargic and lazy.

It would need to make my head clearer – I always get back feeling better mentally and ready to take on the world once more, the run having blown away all the cobwebs away.  

It would need to give me a sense of  accomplishment – If I’ve had a frustrating day and not really achieved anything I know that if i go for a run,  I’ve done at least one thing that day that’s productive.

It would need to stop me feeling guilty when I indulge – Great for someone with a  sweet tooth like mine. If I have a chocolate bar or ice cream I don’t feel guilty eating it. I’ve earnt it if I've run.

It would need to give me time to think – When I run there are no phones, computers or other  distractions and for a while I'm free to let my mind wander. I find I get lots of my best ideas when I run.

It would need to help me with any angst I have  – Because I feel better, I view any problems I have with a bit more perspective when I’ve run. I always feel more relaxed when I get back and in a better place to deal with them.

It would need to encourage me to explore and find new places – You see the world from a different perspective when you run. You go down different paths and you're much more aware of your surroundings than when you're in a car. I notice things I've never noticed before and discover new routes occasionally that i never new existed before.

Finally, obviously this wonder pill would also  need to keep me fit and healthy.

Quite a lot to ask of a pill I think, and as much as it would have been convenient today it  just would not have been the same as actually lacing up my shoes and getting out. Running is all about the the sweat, the rain in your face, the pain, the hills, the mud, the barking dogs and the mind games you play with yourself en route. It's one of those things in life that you truly  get back from it what you put into it. That’s why I love it and that's why i hope to keep on finding opportunities to run for a long time to come.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Unleashing The Creativity Within

"We don't stop playing because we grow old,  we grow old because we stop playing."  Satchel Paige

Over the fist 8 months of this year there have been two new great joys that I've been lucky enough to experience. Firstly I've had the privilege of watching my daughter grow and discover the world around her during the first year of her life. Running almost in tandem with this has been the reigniting of the creative spark inside of me that has lay dormant for some time. I’ve been fortunate to have two jobs that give me opportunities to be creative, but the ongoing creative process that I have lost myself in when putting together my ideas for Lets Go Make has been quite exhilarating. I didn’t realise I had so much repressed creativity inside of me and it’s great to let it out. There must be a lot of other people who have a creative side just waiting to burst out and  for whatever reason it never happens.

As children we were actively encouraged to be creative, to paint, draw and make things and when we did so, we did it without inhibitions, not really caring what anyone else thought. If we got some positive feedback from a teacher or parent it was a bonus, and made us smile, but that wasn’t the reason for doing it. Somehow as we get older, and we start to care more what other people think of what we do, this creative innocence can get sucked out of us. We can be embarrassed about showing what we’ve done to other people for fear that they won’t like it.

Upon returning from a run the other night, a friend of mine opened his car boot to reveal a treasure trove of new art equipment he had purchased. He explained that he wanted to draw a picture of his young son and the excitement in his voice, as he described how he had started sketching again, was wonderful to behold. He used to be a fantastic artist in his youth but with the onset of adulthood he had let this side of him go.  As we get older it gets harder to fit creative pursuits into our lives and it can be even more difficult to justify if we are not that confident. I would urge anyone who has suppressed any urges to draw, paint, photograph, play an instrument, knit or do whatever they might long to do, to just start. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it, possibly even feel like a child again. Don’t worry about the end result, it’s all about the process – just have fun and enjoy.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Changing Direction

Photo Credit: manostphoto

"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading." Lao Tzu

Having finally completed Lets Go Make and  made a few tentative steps into the world with it, I have decided to change direction. I'VE MADE ACCESS TO ALL THE PROJECTS FREE! I’m going on instinct here and these are the reasons why i decided to make the change at this stage:

1.The overriding reason is that I want as many people as possible to see and enjoy the video clips and templates that I spent along time making. I've got lots of other ideas that I'm excited about adding to the site and  I don’t want all that content to be hiding behind some wall on the website where not many people will see it. 
2.There is a lot of free stuff all over the Internet. I believe mine is at the higher end of the quality spectrum but I’m not sure if a subscription model would really  have worked with this kind of material. There are other ways to support the site that I’m going to explore.  

3. It makes the process of developing the site a lot more relaxed. Creating Let's Go Make for me is all about doing something I love and I've got a lot to learn about creating and marketing a website of this nature. I want to give myself room to make mistakes and try different things and if I've not got the pressure of trying to persuade people to subscribe I feel I'll have more freedom to do that.
    Starting Lets Go Make is really, I hope,  the beginning of an adventure for me. I’m not really sure where it will take me, but  I want it to keep on evolving and so long as I continue to enjoy the journey I'm going to be happy.