The world of work

This year, I’ve learned some interesting things about working for a living, mainly through stress, anxiety and good old fashioned despair. I’ll share them with you now – for free – so you can ignore them and subsequently find out yourself that I was right all along.

  1. The company does not care about you. If you work for someone else, that company does not give a shit about your physical, mental or financial wellbeing, because that’s not how (most) businesses work. They pay you as little mental or physical rent as they have to in order to maximise profits for the owners/shareholders
  2. Working hard is pointless unless it’s visible. Bang your own drum as hard as you can or you will be taken for granted
  3. Never work harder than you have to. Unless it’s your own company, and even then I think this applies
  4. Only work hard at things that matter. Put your effort into things that enrich and enliven your soul, because that’s the only guaranteed return you can count on.

Dreams for the Dying

Once, when I was a child, I dreamt my own death. I think I must have been 10 or 11, and in the dream I was sitting on my best friend’s parent’s bed. I felt myself falling and everything went black before I hit the ground. I knew I was dead and paradoxically I was aware it was the end and there was nothing after it.

This stayed with me for quite a while and I think about it quite a bit. It’s certainly not the strangest dream I’ve ever had – that award goes to the recurring nightly dream about the little people that lived in my bathroom, but that’s another blog post.

Dreams, science will tell you, are the brain defragging its hard drive after a hard day thinking. But of course, we know different don’t we?

In fact, dreams are liminal escapes into the true reality of being, unfettered by material reality, corporeality, physics (quantum or otherwise – who cares if it’s a wave or a particle when it’s got your first grade English teacher’s face) or that pesky logic bullshit we’re tied to.

Dreams are real. More real than your office job or what people think about your new haircut. Truly, the only place you’re free from other people and – critically – yourself.

They say you dream more often than you remember doing so. I wonder how many other times I’ve died in the real world.

I Am a Genius

It’s time I came to terms with something you’ve probably known for a while. I am a genius. Every single idea I’ve ever had has been brilliant, revolutionary and genre defining. If you disagree then you’re probably not smart enough to understand.

Everything I’ve ever produced has been of the utmost objective quality, there can be no denying this. Any negative reviews I’ve had have been in error. Any ambivalence towards my creative output is due to a lack of imagination in the viewer.

If I’ve ever said anything to offend you, then you were probably just being too sensitive and I was likely being ironic anyway. You need to lighten up.

Where a decision I’ve made seemed questionable, you have to understand that I’m amazing at seeing the bigger picture, and you are not. Don’t worry, it will all become clear in the end.

And if you disagree with any of the above, then you’re just a hater and I’m going to ignore you.

Why I Stopped Watching the News

Of all the changes I’ve made to my lifestyle in recent years as part of my endless quest for happiness, none have been more effective than this: I stopped watching, reading and taking an interest in the news.

There are a number of reasons for this, and each speaks to a different benefit from cutting it out of my life:

Firstly, there is rarely any good news. A vast majority of news is bad. I am worried enough about everything as it is, thanks. Good things happen every second all over the world, but the news won’t tell you about them, because:

Secondly, it’s profoundly manipulative. The ‘Mainstream Media’ is specifically incentivised to keep the populace of the world angry and in fear. Angry at itself, in fear of itself. Be that terrorists, people of a different class, religion, or social strata. Conflict brings a (completely human and understandable) need for more information in an attempt to feel safer. Who provides the information? The media. Clicks are clicked, newspapers are bought, businesses stay in business.

Thirdly, it’s disempowering. While I have empathy for the victims of Ugandan genocide and wish with all my heart I could do something to stop it, it’s pure hubris to think me tutting and shaking my head makes any difference whatsoever. The news gives you the impression that being informed is the same as being empowered, when in fact the opposite is true. The global news cycle distracts you from the problems outside your door, the ones you can actually affect – but what’s the point in picking up litter in your street while dogs are being eaten in Korea?

Fourthly, it’s divisive and insulating at the same time. The news perpetuates the concept of us being “Mr Potato Heads” created from a curated selection of prescribed narratives. We choose these narratives from a thin strip of beliefs we’re already comfortable with. I used to avoid right-wing media and only get my information from liberal and left-leaning sources, because this was more palatable to me. But what wasn’t I being told? There is no such thing as an unbiased news source, and if you’re just choosing one bias over another, you might as well make up your own reality.

Am I saying ignorance is bliss? Certainly not. But in the same way it’s my responsibility to police what food I eat and be aware of the consequences of those decisions, so it is with my intake of information. For my own sanity, and to ensure my own personal impact on the world is one of focus and net benefit, I must be my own mental gatekeeper.

Try it yourself – ignore the news for a few weeks and see if you’re more content, see if you get more done, and see if the world goes to hell in a handcart because you don’t know what Donald Trump tweeted yesterday.

On Suffering

I have an injury to my psoas (one of the muscles joining the spine to the leg via the pelvis) that I sustained when training for a strongman competition in 2015. It comes and goes. Some days it flares up and triggers anxiety attacks (maybe it’s a hernia? Maybe it’s hip cancer?) then some days I realise I’ve forgotten about it.

Many clever people through time, from Viktor Frankl to Alain de Botton, have posited that ‘Happiness’ is a futile pursuit. Indeed, de Botton postulates that true happiness is impossible to sustain for more than 15 minutes, before our human neuroses pick it apart and destroy it.

Rather, it is said, we should learn to embrace the inevitable suffering that comes with being a human life form. Essentially, the meaning of life isn’t to pursue some nebulous, fantastical Instagram-post ideal, but rather to learn how to suffer well and find meaning in it. Given that sadness and bad times cannot possibly be avoided, and happiness cannot possibly be achieved permanently, what choice do we have?

Something I’m practicing is ‘sitting with’ anxiety, and ‘sitting with’ pain, rather than continually trying to flee from it. The aim is to avoid the external grasping for some resolution that only results in more pain, disappointment, disillusionment – the feeling that everyone else is having a better time than you.

Then, the actual good times, the 15 minutes where you are actually happy, can be enjoyed for what they are – part of life’s rich tapestry.

Why I Stopped Meditating

On my never ending quest to not be a miserable headcase, I’ve tried many things. Due to my ‘can-do’ attitude and general stubbornness, when I try something I go all out for the taste.

So, I took up mindfulness meditation.

I got an app (Calm), and goddamnit I meditated the shit out of it. Every single morning I would sit for 10 minutes, breathe deeply, try to let thoughts come and go.

Rewind two years – I tried meditation with an app called Headspace, which was also very good but perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind because sitting there concentrating on my breathing just gave me panic attacks.

But now? Hoo boy, I had this thing nailed.

711 meditation sessions.
A total of 124 hours and 30 minutes sat meditating.
Longest unbroken streak? 358 days.

But at the end of it, was I any Calmer? Was I any happier? Was I any less distracted, anxious and fearful of real life? Was the skinny dog tethered in the rain that lives in my head howling any quieter? No.

Why did I stop meditating? Because I got it wrong. I took meditating as something you have to do as part of your daily routine, part of your checklist of ‘I’m doing the right things’, the natural anticipation being that checking these boxes results in an outcome you’re intending. Life, largely, doesn’t work that way.

In making meditation a required daily activity, I robbed it of its meaning. I emailed Calm support and their very prompt and kind response was along the lines of “why not try not being a dickhead and boasting about your meditation stats like it’s fantasy football, and just use meditation as a tool when you need it?”.

So I stopped meditating every morning, and I don’t feel any the worse for it, in fact I likely feel slightly better because I don’t feel like I’m failing to get the benefits of meditation.

And I’ve saved £30/year in app subscriptions.

Why Wouldn’t You Even Try?

When I was a kid, at primary school, we used to play Rounders quite a bit during our PE lesson. For those of you not aware, Rounders is a bit like baseball but shitter.

In my class there were a group of girls who used to be made to play the game, who obviously did not want to.

They would stand there when it was their time to bat, holding the stumpy wooden stick limply by their side, then when the ball was thrown (underarm, of course – we weren’t barbarians) instead of swinging the bat, they would take a listless half-step forward, drop the bat and saunter to first base. It may not surprise you to learn that not one of them ever came close to hitting the ball, even by accident.

I remember very clearly, even at that young age, being both mystified and annoyed by this behaviour. I couldn’t understand how you could stand in front of a slow moving ball, with a bat in your hand, and not even swing at it.

Why wouldn’t you even try? No matter how little you want to win, why wouldn’t you move your arm?

Now, I’m not trying to shame these particular individuals, because I’m sure they had their reasons – or maybe they didn’t need a reason and maybe it’s none of my damn business and the fact this has stayed with me this long says a lot more about me than them.

But in life ever since, I’ve met people who won’t swing the bat.

These are not people who get things done.

I guess that’s the funny thing about your own personal value system, anything outside of it is incomprehensible sometimes. Now, for all I know, these girls could have grown up to be heads of industry, and if so I wonder what happened to make them realise the value of trying, even when you don’t see an immediate benefit.

All I know is, when it was my turn, I swung that bat as hard as I could.

The Problem With Goals

There is an ongoing, life-long process of ‘sorting my life out’. I’d love to be able to tell you I was making progress but I am plainly not.

I’ve read just about every self-help book on the planet. I’ve studied NLP, undergone CBT, ascribed to Stoicism as a personal philosophy. I meditated daily up until recently, I journal, I do Yoga. I’m vegetarian. In case any of these things are relevant.

But I’m still no closer to being happy, and for one reason – any ‘goal’ requires an aim, and the aim needs to be specific enough to be manageable. ‘Being happy’ isn’t really an actionable goal one can strategise for as it’s too vague.

So when Tony Robbins tells me I can design my best life by starting with what I want, I’m stymied – because I just don’t know. If I could write down ‘massive house, fast car, 100 guitars’ with any kind of conviction I would, but that isn’t it.

I have a fantasy of moving to a small coastal village where nobody knows me, introducing myself to the locals as an artist and living a simple life, painting and being eccentric.

But is that a goal? I guess I’m the only one who can answer that, and at the moment, my answer is a bewildered “I don’t know”.

The Observer at the End of Time

Of the many startling ideas to emerge from Relativity and Quantum Physics (time dilation,gravity lenses,black holes, sub-atomic particles etc.) possibly the most startling of all is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle which suggests, in simple terms, that nothing can be said to exist until it’s observed.

Electrons don’t spin sedately around the nucleus, as Newtonian mechanics would have it, but rather exist as a sort of haze, representing the probability of their being in any one place at any one time.

Some scientists see the involvement of the observer as the most important feature in quantum theory. Until the observer observes, subatomic particles can be said to exist anywhere, or not at all. Only in the act of observation is the particle brought into existence, so to speak.

How does this relate to us? Well this is where the Participatory Anthropic Principle comes in. On a subatomic scale, quantum phenomena are only brought into existence by observation; but the entire universe is made up of nothing but a vast multiplicity of quantum events interacting on a monumental scale. Do we need any other explanatory device for the whole of the cosmos? If not, then the universe has been brought into being by countless acts of observation, by all the observers who have ever existed, exist now, and will ever exist in the future.

Unfollowed

Something I posted on facebook last week

Alright, this is going to be a very long post – so buckle up. On April 3rd I left social media, ostensibly because I was too busy to spend/waste time posting memes. Like many of you I struggle a great deal with my mental health – namely depression, social anxiety and health anxiety. I find social media to be very unhealthy for me in this regard, for the following reasons:

1) Twitter especially, but facebook also, tend to be an arena of people being offended by things, and other people insulting them for being offended about those things. It’s constant adversarial rhetoric from all sides, with ideologues seeing everything through the prism of their specific bias, and none of this has any bearing on reality as I experience it

2) Mass media controlling thought. All mainstream media is fed by an agenda, and there are no ‘good’ agendas – not even the ones you happen to agree with. Every piece of ‘news’ is carefully selected, groomed and manipulated to make you feel a certain way (usually scared). It’s all designed to drive a wedge in between people, because this is how money is made and companies, countries and factions stay in business

3) Privacy. As I predicted in my best-selling novel ‘It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter’ (available on Amazon) we have become our data, we are bought and sold and marketed to relentlessly and largely without our full cognisance. Your phone listens to your conversations and serves adverts to you based on them. Facebook, google etc scrape your life and use it to perniciously pump ‘tailored content’ into your eyes. It leads to more confirmation bias and manipulation of your reality – you are the product.

So I thought deeply about what I actually gain from social media – I give them my data, what do I get in return? Twitter was easy to dispose of, I deactivated my account by default by refusing to accept their new T&Cs in light of GDPR. Facebook is harder, because all my friends are here.

But then it hit me – that’s the problem.

Because all my friends are here, I’m drawn here regularly, refreshing my news feed, kidding myself that I’m learning something, keeping connected, being a ‘good friend’ by liking your posts, or pretending I’m popular when I post a funny joke and a few people lol.

You are the logs in facebook’s furnace of attention.

So am I.

So why haven’t I deleted my facebook account? Well, I find the groups and pages useful for finding creative opportunities and self-development content and support. There are still certain content providers that supply links to interesting long-form articles. I don’t read the news, I don’t visit news websites, the only magazines I read are Wired and Positive News. I need some fresh content occasionally.

To this end, I’ve done something drastic. I’ve unfollowed every single last man jack of you. This is not a commentary on your content or our friendship or anything like that. But you are the logs in facebook’s furnace of attention. I remove the logs, and I don’t visit as often or stay, and when I’m here I’m benefitting in an amount commensurate with the price I pay for it (my data). I remove the logs, and I pay a lower price, by interacting less and giving less data.

I urge you to do the same – unfriend/unfollow me by all means, it’s unlikely I’ll be posting much if at all and when I do it will be sporadic and self-serving.

Peace.