Recently, I experienced some nerve damage that threatened my livelihood.
A trifling thing like a tingly pinky finger may not seem much of a threat; to a writer, it was existential.
Bad typing habits and slouching over a desk for ten hours a day for seven years had taken their toll.
The left hand was colder; the left side of it numb. Every time my pinky rapped against the keys, jangling pins and needles would fizzle up to my elbow.
It was clear that unless something changed, this problem was only going to get worse.
Not writing wasn’t an option. That would mean Death.
The only thing to do was to learn how to write. Again.
The first week of writing with a new keyboard layout was painfully slow. The second was pretty rough too.
Going from typing as fast as you can think to 15 words a minute is like running backward on one leg.
But it got easier, as all trials do.
And that suffering now will make it easier later too — hopefully, until all my bones grind to a halt.
Even longer ago than you realize, a death squad boarded a helicopter fleet under cover of darkness.
The team of 79 commandos (and a very good boy) had a simple task: assassinate the leader of a covert Pakistan Army unit. You probably knew him as Osama bin-Laden.
The flight would take over an hour and a half, and there was little the soldiers could be certain of except that death was waiting for them at the end, likely in the form of a hail of rusty nails.
Yet, many of these battle-hardened marines did what any good soldier does when given a moment to sit; they fell asleep.
For those of us who struggle to sleep on a transatlantic flight, catching forty-winks in a tank hurtling 2,000 ft over the desert towards certain death sounds impossible.
But the US Marines have a secret weapon that allows them to relax in the middle of a suicide mission.
It’s called Yoga Nidra.
And every marine learns it right after they learn how to meditate because control of our mind and body is the single greatest weapon we can arm ourselves with.
Celebrate your joys,
And celebrate your sorrows.
Celebrate your friends,
Celebrate your haters,
Celebrate the real ones,
And celebrate the fakers.
Celebrate it all because
These are the things that make us
Which is better, breathing in, or breathing out?
Is that a weird question?
Every inhale and exhalation from now until we die is 50:50.
Another small part of the Universe’s perpetual balancing act, the constant to-ing and fro-ing that occurs at every level from a wave of light to the spaces between galaxies.
Success comes from failure and must eventually go back to it.
We can have good health and happiness because we must be sick and unhappy sometimes.
If we get too attached to one way or another, when the time comes for change — as it always does — we won’t enjoy it as much as we should.
If we do that with breathing, we’ll die.
Why would anything else be different?
The best plan of action is rarely the most attractive.
Change rarely looks the way we think it will when we start looking for it.
It might even look exactly the opposite of what we want to do. Mostly, change just looks very different from what we expect.
When the plan we get doesn’t look how we want or expect it to, that’s probably a sign it will work — and bring the change we seek.
For best results, execute the plan you least want to.
There are two ways sunken costs can trick us.
The first is believing that because we’ve already bought something — invested time or money into it — that we must use it to get our money’s worth.
That’s not to say we should be wasteful, but it does mean that we have to drink the rest of the bottle.
The second way they get us is when we think that we’ve put in enough.
We think that we’ve invested enough to be sure that another minute won’t achieve anything.
Often, that’s the moment when a little extra push would bring success.
Sunken costs hurt us both ways. There’s no way to tell the difference.
The best we can do for ourselves is ignore them altogether.
Because as much as we like to draw lines between the past and present, the only connection they have to the future is the one we choose to make right now.
The words “Jesus is coming” are scrawled across the grimy cardboard hung over his chest.
Passers-by squeeze themselves around his eager cries and shaking fists, intent on shutting this loud, dirty intrusion out of their day.
Nobody wants to listen because whether they realize it or not, deep down, we all already know that “the end is nigh,” at least on an individual level.
And whether we’re expecting to meet St. Paul on a cloud or slip into a blissful eternal nothingness, the reality is the same. That unignorable, unknowable finality is what drives us to do anything — or prevents us from doing anything.
The fear of it drives us to survive on a physiological level. When that’s covered, we devote our efforts to surviving beyond the grave, in whatever way we like. Most often, we survive through other people.
As my turn comes to squeeze past the pavement prophet, I get lucky. He spins and leaps away to berate those walking in the other direction. One young woman lets out a small yelp of surprise.
As I barrel away I glimpse the other piece of cardboard, slung over his shoulders with a knotted rag.
It reads, “Look busy.”
If only things were different,
I wouldn’t have to be the same.
I could be tall or short or fat,
Or get paid for playing a game.
If only things had been different,
If I’d done that instead of this,
I’d probably be sat on a beach right now,
Immersed in perpetual bliss.
If only things had been different,
If I had been there or then,
I could’ve been stupidly rich and cool,
But then I wouldn’t get to be Ben.
Not many people want to hear this:
If you’re insulted by something, it’s your fault.
This is my favourite of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements because it’s so hard to agree with, and to put into practice fully.
How can it be our fault if we get insulted by someone who is screaming at us or calling us names?
The idea is that we always have a choice; we are the ones who allow words to carry weight, whether we’re conscious of it or not. And of course, often what people are angry about has very little to do with us or what just happened.
It’s one thing to know that it’s not our fault when someone is angry at us. But it’s far harder to remember that when we’re mad at someone else, that’s on us.
Much easier said than done!
Bill was a bit confused by all the fuss.
The journalists, bored of the wildfires and plague, had pointed out that he had just dragged the New England Patriots out for full training in the pouring rain.
Bill Belichick replied the only way he knew how: with a sentence stoic enough to have tumbled from the lips of Cato or Marcus Aurelius himself.
One that has been echoed over thousands of years by warriors and athletes and artists and anyone who ever wanted to get something serious done:
“If it rains, it rains.
If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
If it’s hot, it’s hot.
If it’s not, then that’s what it is.”
Circumstances are bound to change how we execute our plans, but we can’t let them get in the way.
The world is full of elements that are out of our control. Regardless of what they throw up, when we’ve got training scheduled, we train. Because that’s what training is.
Some people just love to crawl under your skin.
It’s one thing when they do it by accident. But some people definitely seek to irritate.
Getting under someone’s skin is a great way to get their attention – it’s not the sort of thing you can ignore.
One way not to be irked, not to fall into their twisted embrace, is to stop and ask: why does that irritate me?
The list might be longer than we think.
But the interesting part is that it rarely contains much about them.
We all wonder what life would be like if we’d done it differently.
We might even wish we could go back to the way things were, so we can do it better or make a different decision; if only I knew what I know now.
If only I’d accepted that Bitcoin back in 2011.
If only we hadn’t walked down that road that night.
If only I hadn’t said that to her then.
But we did. And there’s no going back to change that.
There wasn’t any going back after WWII. Nobody could pretend the housing crash of 2008 hadn’t happened. And the world hasn’t been quite the same since September 11th. Or Trump, for that matter.
But for some reason, people think this time will be different.
Even if we all wanted to, there’s no going back to normal. And the only people who stand to gain by going backward are those selling rear-view mirrors.
It’s time to stop dragging our heels and help push forward.
We’re going that way anyway.
For a long time, I wasn’t a writer.
I had dreamed about it, but I didn’t have anything that proved it. Nothing had been written.
Evading and denying my inner writer caused great anguish and uncertainty in my life. Later, I found some solace because my work involved writing, but deep down, that wasn’t enough.
It was writing, sure, but it wasn’t my writing. Copywriting is all about writing for someone else in someone else’s voice, after all. But it paid the bills.
Writing to you every day changed everything. Just that tiny bit of doing, and suddenly, I was.
It’s not like it’s easy writing every day. Some days, it’s not even enjoyable. But I write every day because that is what writers do.
Doing is being. Either we do, or we’re not.
But when we are, and we don’t, that’s when things get really messy.
The way it happens is rarely how we planned.
Even when we’ve planned how we’ll react if it happens, for some reason, that never pans out how we intended either.
But it’s important to remember that it happens because it happening is the whole point, not because we’re weak or lazy or stupid.
The best we can do is know that it will happen one way or another, and when it does happen, just be grateful that it did.
Because if it didn’t happen, something else certainly would.
And there’s no telling what that could be.
Usain Bolt isn’t always the fastest man in the world.
Not all of Stephen King’s books are good.
And even Novac Djokovic occasionally drops a few sets.
All lovers hate each other sometimes.
All parents make mistakes.
Up must come down.
Everything goes around.
Nothing is the same twice.
And everyone gets another turn.
That’s the rules!
Perhaps it’s 15 years of school summer holidays drilled into my biological clock.
Maybe it’s 25 years living on a wet, windswept island off the coast of Europe. Or the ice-walled winter that keeps Canada locked inside for six months of the year.
Whatever the reason, it’s tough to work when the sun is shining.
After a weekend soaked in sunshine, this damp and grey Monday makes it possible to sit down at a desk for six hours and tap tap tap out a living, without too much anguish.
So, I am grateful that today is cooler and damper and grey.
Another perfectly sunny day would have been too much.
Things have taken a turn for the worse.
We made the wrong call.
Wasted our time.
The plan is ruined.
We listened to bad advice.
Made unwise investments.
Trusted the wrong people.
They never loved us.
The world changed overnight.
Nobody saw it coming.
Everything is fucked.
Get over it.
We don’t say MVP in the UK; we say Player of the Year and give them a golden ball.
MVP has another meaning: Minimal Viable Product. And it turns out that quite often, the simplest option turns out to be the best one too.
It’s easy to get tripped up adding bells and whistles when all we need is something simple that just works.
There was a rollercoaster that got us very excited when I was a kid.
One weekend, my friends and I mooched the entrance fee from our parents and set off down to Staines.
X No Way Out was at the top of everyone’s list. The queue stretched back up the M3 to Hampton Court Palace; a vast crowd, chattering away in the bright summer grey, flashes of blood-red stanchion posts the only sign it was a queue and not a block party.
When our turn finally came, we groped our way to the carts in the thin orange light. As soon as we strapped in, the lights went out and we were catapulted backward through the dark to throbbing bass lines and the occasional spray of lasers.
It was awesome.
And not unlike life:
Hurtling through time facing the wrong way, twisting over and around fate’s peaks and valleys, clenching the hand of the person next to you and screaming all the way.
Knowing that no matter how bad it gets, it’ll always change; enjoying every single second because it’ll all be over in a flash;
And ready to queue up for eternity, just to do it again.
Let’s not forget the basics.
We can read about how to do it better.
We can watch videos of others doing it.
We can talk about why it is.
We can dream of how it could be different.
But there really ain’t nothing like living life.
Life is full of fantastic sensations — many of them in the bedroom.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sliding between soft, clean sheets after a long day walking around town or playing in the woods or climbing up mountains.
Tired but happy. Feet gently throbbing. With achy legs and a big smile.
What better envelope is there to seal a day well done?
Clocks were a good idea but they’re not terribly helpful.
Maybe for catching a train or a movie. But time is squishy and malleable, unlike reliable forces such as gravity.
The less you have of it, the faster it goes.
The more you have to fill, the slower it gets.
The more you’re enjoying it, the less there is of it.
If you’re watching, it barely moves at all. And when something really bad happens, it just stops completely.
Time ain’t fair.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll never get enough.
But I’ll take every minute I can get.
Saying nothing is the most dangerous thing we can do.
We like to think that if we keep quiet and keep our heads down, we’ll be ok. But saying nothing could strip us everything.
‘Saying nothing’ is just as loud as screaming through a megaphone. Sometimes even louder. That’s why “your silence speaks volumes”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes in The Gulag Archipelago about how freedom is eroded, one small submission — one short silence — at a time.
When we say nothing against the mistreatment or abuse of other beings, we sanction it. When we say nothing of our own suffering or fail to advocate for our dreams, we bury deep within ourselves the seed of an all-consuming, bitter plant.
It’s all too easy to say something these days, and even easier to say the wrong thing.
But saying nothing in the face of injustice rips the future from under all our feet.
Hindsight is a funny old thing.
We rarely give ourselves enough credit for the great things we’ve done.
The trials of education, the stress of finding a job, getting punched in the face, heartbreak, or an early morning run are all hellish at the time.
But this pain fades pretty quickly, and before too long, we think it was easy. We might even think about doing it again.
A bloke called Seneca said something about this back in the day:
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it’s because we do not dare that they are difficult.”
Once we decide to take on — or are forced to take on — a challenge, it becomes a lot easier.
We’re capable of doing so many difficult things, even those we thought impossible. You’ve already done so many!
Weekends are funny old times filled with all sorts of odd happenings.
Whatever the plan, it often gets left by the wayside after a couple of mimosas and a splash of spring sunshine.
And that’s no big deal. It’s why they’re there.
Whether it was a workout or work that got abandoned among the Cantalope skins and crusts, at the time, it was the only thing you could have done.
And regardless, it was the thing you did.
There’s no more sense in fretting or punishing oneself for relaxing than there is in refusing a top-up on a bottomless mimosa.
It just doesn’t make sense.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson reminded his young daughter, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could.”
Today is a whole new day, in a whole new week, and you can do whatever you want with it.
And that’s all that really matters.
Have you ever been in love with a thing?
There are few things in my life that I treasure enough to cling to: a battered old flute; a guitar that doesn’t play; some trinkets that have been pressed into my palm over the years; a box of old cards.
We like to collect stuff, us humans; useful stuff, pretty stuff, and boxes.
We love boxes to put things in. And we love boxes even more if they come with a hidden box inside to put our secrets in.
Stuff is great, but boxes are heavy. We have to be careful not to collect too many.
I’ve always found that the more stuff I have, the heavier I feel; the more it weighs me down. It’s hard to love a lot of things at the same time.
So, once a year or thereabouts, anything that I’m not in love with or don’t use at least once a month, I give away.
And, you know, I never miss it.
Recently, something the dead guitarist said hit home and I began to wonder why we bother to ‘remember the moment’ at all.
That punk philosopher said:
“I realized that so many moments in my life I’d been trying to ‘capture,’ to remember and enjoy later. But there was no point in doing that anymore because I was going to die. Every moment, I just had to enjoy for itself because that was it. I wasn’t going to be able to remember them.”
We’ve all done this — trying to ‘capture a memory’ to savour later. I thought that was being present but it wasn’t at all.
Because that’s really it.
That moment exists and then it’s gone forever.
But isn’t the fact you got to see it just fucking marvellous? And not just see it.
You got to feel it.
You got to hear and taste and smell and live it all.
Nobody else will ever live what you lived.
Who needs memories when we get to live them every day.
Some blokes smell powerful.
It’s like they have so much mass that it leaks into the air around them.
Jocko Willink is one of those blokes.
He was a Navy SEAL officer for many years in the Middle East, and he told me this trick to flip the switch on adversity.
And when Jocko tells you something, you listen.
Anytime something bad happened, he would just say, “Good.”
Sand in your gun? Good. Now you can practice cleaning it.
Shot in the leg? Good. Now you can get some time off.
Lost your job? Good. Now you can find something better.
Didn’t get a date? Good. Now you can go out with your mates.
Gym closed? Good. It’s about time you got into running.
Stuck at home? Good. Maybe it’s time to write that book.
Didn’t get funded? Didn’t get a raise? Sprained your ankle? Got rejected? Got locked-in? Got locked-out?
Because when things go badly, some good will always come of it.
One evening a few years back, an old Super-Bowl winner told me about a prayer his college coach made him repeat every morning.
It struck a chord so I began to repeat my own little version of it.
It’s quite long so I won’t repeat it all now. But the message that would often send a shiver down my spine is short:
Whatever you do today is important because you are about to exchange a whole day of your life for it.
Make sure you don’t regret the price you pay.
And that usually got me out of bed pretty quick.
Once upon a beach, a girl with one eye said something about pain that still rings in my ears today.
She’d been flung off a speeding motorcycle and had faceplanted a tree stump. It was a miracle she’d survived. The impact took out half her skull, and I could still feel the steel plates in the back of her head.
Typically insensitive, I asked how she’d dealt with losing half her face at sixteen. She said,
“The worst thing that’s ever happened to me is the same as the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. You just get on with it.”
It wasn’t until many years later that I understood.
There isn’t a human alive that hasn’t suffered. And anyone’s hurt is just as valid as anyone else’s.
We might not be equal in wealth or status, but we’re equal in our experience of suffering. Our individual experiences of pain might be different, but we all share in our knowledge of it.
We all share in our trauma, one way or another.
That’s just what it means to be human.
Did you know that ‘motivation’ is a pretty new word?
It’s only been around for about 150 years, probably less.
Shakespeare had no idea what it meant, and he made up a bagful of silly words.
Before the English picked it up, nobody was motivated to do anything, and so nothing got done. Everyone just sat around in their top hats, feeling sorry for themselves…
Ha! Of course, they didn’t.
They just didn’t rely on motivation to take action. In the past, people did things because that was the thing that needed to be done, even if they didn’t want or agree to them. There was no choice. You just did.
We’re so lucky that we get to be ‘unmotivated’ because that means we’re doing something that we don’t have to do. We have a choice.
Choose to take a step forward today.
Choose to do the hard thing, and you’ll find that your motivation isn’t too far behind.
You’ve probably heard that scars are sexy.
Some psych students even ran an experiment and found it to be true enough.
Scars are sexy because they’re a sign that we’ve lived. That we’ve tried; we fought for something we care about.
They’re a visible reminder of a mistake.
Shakespeare wrote, “A scar nobly got, or a noble scar, is a good [badge] of honour.”
We don’t just have courage or wisdom. We develop it by taking on challenges, making mistakes, picking up scars, and surviving.
They might hurt at the time, but they usually make a pretty good story later.
And they make you sexier.
So, be proud of your mistakes, whether they left a visible scar or not.
They’re what makes you, you.
Not many people saw the pandemic coming. And nobody predicted what actually happened in 2020.
Don’t believe anyone who says they know what’s going to happen in the future. At best, it’ll be a lucky guess.
We can’t predict what happens to us, but we can decide what we do next.
We always get to decide how we react.
When you know how you’ll react before the Universe throws the shit — that’s what we call ‘having values.’
And having values is how you predict the future.
So, if kaizen is one of your values, it means you’ve decided to improve: To take a little step forward every day. To learn something new. To leave our beautiful home a little better than when we arrived.
And to me, that’s greatness.