Blocking Time

Do you ever feel there isn’t enough time to do the things you want to do outside of your day job? Are you often just so tired at the end of the working day that all you want to do is lie on the sofa and watch crap TV just to relax your mind? But then the guilt sets in, because such activity feels like it actively diminishes your intelligence rather than bolstering it, and if you don’t use your time wisely how will you ever finish that novel/Open University course/improving tome etc.?

If you do feel that way, you’re not alone. I for one experience this cycle of worry and guilt on a daily basis. Even though I know that being a published writer is my goal, somehow it seems that writing at the end of a full day’s work (and, when I can be bothered, a post-work gym session) is always the last thing I want to do.

But then, yesterday, I struck on the most blindingly obvious and simple concept: Instead of telling myself that I had to spend the whole evening writing, with no time to do anything else (the usual mantra due to guilt at not having written enough in the preceding days/weeks), I told myself to spend just one hour working on my screenplay, at the end of which I could spend an hour watching any TV programme I liked. And at the end of that, I would go to bed and spend an hour reading my book (because, in my experience – and somewhat ironically given the benefits – when you’re feeling overtired and too busy the first thing to go is the luxury of reading before bed).

And you know what? It worked. I didn’t do a huge amount of my screenplay, but I did more than I had done in the past few days. And, more than anything, it felt like I had removed a big obstacle that had been standing in my way. I no longer felt scared of the enormity of the task I was facing, because I had broken it down into a manageable task. Moreover, I didn’t feel (as I so often do) that writing meant having to sacrifice all other enjoyment, or that I had to choose between writing and reading (a horrendous choice for a writer because without reading how can you improve your writing? Catch 22).

So often we tell ourselves that we are useless, that it’s impossible to realise our dreams. But what if we’re just framing things incorrectly? What if the problem is not our lack of talent, or even commitment, but rather the very simple and easily corrected issue of time management?

We all know that if we want to do something we must make time for it. But what makes so many people stumble at the first hurdle is the misguided view they must devote every spare moment to the pursuit of that goal. Wrong. Start small, with ten, twenty, thirty minutes a day – whatever feels achievable to you. And make sure that you stick to doing it – simple. It takes time to form a habit, and it isn’t always easy. But if you don’t start, the only person you’ll have to blame for not achieving your potential is yourself.

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The Never-Good-Enough Club

What is it about the human condition that makes it so damn hard to celebrate our achievements yet so easy to lambaste ourselves for our failures? Take my experience of today as an example: After waking at 8am still feeling exhausted from my friend’s (amazing) hen weekend I decided to have extra hour’s sleep to ensure maximum productivity for rest of day. When I re-woke up at 9am feeling good I not only wrote my morning pages for the first time in weeks, I also wrote a ‘to do’ list for the day which comprised the following: 

  • Do physio exercises
  • Write short exposition scene for sitcom class homework
  • Devise comedy sketch show idea (as above)
  • Write first episode of sitcom
  • Write dialogue piece for tomorrow’s sitcom class (homework set by guest speaker)
  • Update short story competition spreadsheet
  • Write a new short story
  • Go to shops (to purchase shampoo, floss, Brita filters and dinner, should you be interested in the mechanics of my banal daily existence)
  • Go to gym for twenty minute cycle
  • Do washing

By 10am I had showered, completed my physio exercises, eaten breakfast and written the exposition scene. By 11am I had come up with an idea for the sketch and put the washing on. By 1pm I’d done my shopping and been to the gym. By 2pm I’d written the dialogue piece, and by 5pm I’d written three quarters of the first episode of my sitcom. As I sit here at 8pm I’ve all but finished (bar a few closing lines) the sitcom episode, updated the short story competition spreadsheet, caught up with my best friend in the US (on the phone) and my good friend in Hawaii (on Whatsapp), and am now writing this post. But do I feel a sense of satisfaction? Not really, because of the ten things on today’s to do list, I only managed to complete nine. And that one outstanding task (writing a short story) is hanging over me like a dark cloud – so much so it may as well be a neon sign over my head saying ‘FAILURE.’ If only I’d got up at 8am and used that extra hour instead of sleeping in, my inner critic reasons, I might have ticked that final box and ended the day with a very different sign over my head: A sign that said ‘SUCCESS.’

The reason I’m sharing this is because I know I’m not alone; there are many others like me. Perhaps it would be better if we lowered our expectations of ourselves and set easier targets that guaranteed success. But, in doing that, would we not just be letting ourselves off the hook and accepting there are limits to our capability? True, it’s no fun always feeling like you’re underachieving because you don’t meet your own high targets, but at least you have the ambition to set high targets in the first place, and the inherent belief that, in exceptional circumstances, you are capable of meeting them.

I think the real answer to this conundrum lies in acceptance; of ourselves, of our abilities and, perhaps most importantly of all, of the distance between our dreams and our realities. We may not always manage to tick everything off our daily lists, but as long as we’re keeping up enough forward momentum to inch ever closer to fulfilling our potential, that might just be okay.

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Defining Potential

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Reading this article on the BBC News website today really struck a chord. Rumination is something I have always excelled in (shame I couldn’t have excelled in something more useful, like academia for example). Not to the point of falling into a depression, you understand, but often to the point of being paralysed by feelings of disappointment in myself – for not working harder, not being more assertive etc. (trust me, the list goes on and on).

In recent months and years, however, I have begun to develop a coping strategy in response to this. It’s gradually becoming easier to recognise when those familiar feelings of self-doubt are creeping up and to nip them in the bud. Perhaps this is a positive result of the ageing process (there have to be some, right?), whereby we come to know ourselves that little bit better as each year passes, so that over time we realise it’s not worth beating ourselves up for our failures, and is far better to just accept them and move on.

Instead of wallowing when we feel we have failed, we should celebrate when we have succeeded, because only then will we start to positively re-affirm who we are and what we can achieve. It makes me sad to see so many people failing to realise their potential in life – myself included. But what is ‘potential’ really? Maybe part of the problem is our definition of that word, and our perception of how much we are really capable of. If we were kinder to ourselves and other people perhaps it would be easier to put our failures behind us and stride into the future unencumbered?

Nurturing the garden of the soul

Discipline with writing (amongst other things) is something I’ve struggled with throughout my life, which is the very reason for my setting up this daily blog nine months ago. I’ll admit the quality of the posts has varied wildly depending on my state of mind and situation but, irrespective of that and in spite of some close calls, I’m proud to be more than two thirds of the way through the year and to have, thus far at least, fulfilled my challenge of posting something every day.

Whilst I can’t say I feel all that different, per se, as a result of my writing challenge to date, I am starting to notice a quiet confidence building inside me, a sense of inevitability as, dare I say it, I inch closer to fulfilling my writing ambition. I’m not sure I can even now surmise what the depths of that ‘ambition’ might be. All I know is that the need to write is as much a part of me as my limbs, my synapses and my brain cells, and even if I never reach the heady heights of success as a published author I will at least have always stayed true to what I am.

I still have moments of gross and almost paralysing self-doubt, and I still kick myself daily for not trying harder, writing smarter, being better. But the fact is this: I DO write every day, and that’s more than many self-proclaimed writers can claim. And, slowly but surely, I’m beginning to understand the importance of nurturing the seed of potential with self-belief, rather than letting it wither and die among the weeds of doubt and disappointment.

Psychosynthesis Essentials course – Reflections on day one

It’s been hard deciding what to write about today, because I’m at the start of a process I don’t yet fully understand and I’m not sure even as I write this that I really want to share my feelings about it. And yet, as my feelings about it are all I can currently focus on I find in actual fact I have no choice. So, for better or worse, here goes…

Today was the first day of a four day intensive course I’m taking in Psychosynthesis, which is a type of transpersonal psychology that’s focused very much on the concept of the whole “Self” as a product of its past, its present and its future potential. As this was day one I won’t even attempt to explain the principles behind it further. What I will do, however, is touch upon how it’s made me feel.

As I’m taking this course through work (the founder of  the Psychosynthesis Trust is also the CEO of my charity, Teens and Toddlers) and others have come to it for more personal and profound  reasons I initially felt a bit of a fraud. But after the initial sessions I realised just how much I could benefit personally from the experience.

At the end of each day we have the opportunity to observe our fellow students having a counselling session with a psychotherapist and we, in turn, each have the opportunity to have a session ourselves. My session is tomorrow – I chose not to do it today because I was nervous about going first, and because I wanted to learn more about Psychosynthesis before I did it.

But I found I learned such a lot just by observing the two sessions this evening. The therapists were so skilled at navigating their way through the maze of the clients’ minds and feelings, all the while making them feel respected and understood. They knew when to tread further down a path and when to step back. They didn’t lead the clients into discussing anything they weren’t comfortable with, and yet the clients still revealed so much-and were often themselves surprised by their own revelations.

I’m not sure I want to say much more than that this evening. It’s been such a long day and I’d just like to process what I’ve learned, seen and experienced. Suffice to say it’s been a tremendously rewarding and enriching day, and I’m looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.

Give young people a chance

Yesterday afternoon I popped into the office to meet some of the members of our Youth Led Consultancy Board (YLCB for short). We’ve been grappling with what the charity’s strapline should be for a few weeks and all felt it was important to get input from the young people – who have themselves all completed the Teens and Toddlers programme – because without it we’d be hypocritical to call ourselves a truly youth-led charity.

Within minutes of starting the brainstorm they’d come up with a better suggestion for the strap line than any of the ones we devised in the staff brainstorm meeting last week. It was so inspiring to meet them and find out what they’re all doing now-mostly about to finish college exams and waiting for results to find out if they’ve got university places. They’re living proof our programme really does work at helping disadvantaged young people get into further education and employment, and it was a joy to see how bright, motivated and enthusiastic they all are.

Working with the young people is teaching me so much about the dangers of preconceptions and stereotypes. So many people write off vast swathes of today’s youth as being wasters who refuse to do the necessary work to succeed, but for most that’s categorically not true. They want to achieve, they just need extra help to believe that they can.

This one was taken in 2007 when I made a banoffee pie and brought it into the orphanage for the kids to try – they couldn’t get enough of it!

Is there a cost to reaching our full potential?

So many of us spend our lives rushing around, jumping from one task to the next with scant regard for the strain we’re putting on our minds and bodies by not giving them a rest from time to time. But if we spend too much time resting will we ever achieve our full potential?

According to Dictionary.com, potential is defined as “possible, as opposed to actual,” or “capable of being or becoming.” Would it not follow, therefore, that to reach one’s full potential one must be entirely capable of becoming their best self? And that to be entirely capable one must be entirely focused all of the time – thus relinquishing leisure pursuits and anything unrelated to the ultimate goal?

Take wanting to be a published author as an example; it’s all very well wanting it, but if you don’t have the drive and determination to stick at it when the going gets tough how can you expect to succeed? It’s a well-known fact that even JK Rowling herself was rejected countless times before finally reaching the heady heights of success. She achieved her potential only by working through the low moments instead of giving up, and rising, Phoenix-like from the ashes of the rejection pile to come back stronger and more inspired than before.

Of course the danger of not resting enough is burn-out. It would clearly be unwise to never take a break from your desk, because your productivity levels would suffer due to tiredness. Nobody can concentrate for eight hours in a row – well, maybe David Blaine, but apart from him no one (surely?)

The key to achieving your potential, then, is simple (and best said in the words of the great Winston Churchill himself): Never, never, never,never give up. Unless, that is, you are in dire need of a rest. And, perhaps, an accompanying glass of chilled Pinot Grigio. And on that note…

I think this is the best photo I’ve ever taken, and it perfectly encapsulates the concept of never giving up. This was part of an exhibition at the London Zoo – ants are just the most amazing creatures!