Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life http://www.walkingoncustard.com A Guide for Anxious Humans Mon, 04 Dec 2017 14:49:51 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 the battery level doesn’t help either :D http://www.walkingoncustard.com/battery-level-doesnt-help/ Mon, 04 Dec 2017 14:49:51 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2791

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Being an Adult Child (in a Good Way) http://www.walkingoncustard.com/adult-child/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/adult-child/#comments Fri, 17 Nov 2017 08:10:45 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2743 [This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

I never really grew out of childishness.

It’s just so fun. Children get to be curious, silly, and playful. And there’s something delightfully mindful about the capacity they have to get absorbed in an activity for hours on end.

Naturally, we can’t remain entirely childlike forever, …

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[This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

I never really grew out of childishness.

It’s just so fun. Children get to be curious, silly, and playful. And there’s something delightfully mindful about the capacity they have to get absorbed in an activity for hours on end.

Naturally, we can’t remain entirely childlike forever, but I’ve been thinking lately about which parts of childishness we might benefit from, even now we’re Definitely Responsible Adults. (Which I am.) (Honest.)

Growing Out of Wonder

What strikes me when I think back to my own childhood is a powerful sense of wonder. The world seemed massive, too big to even begin to grasp. Everything seemed possible. To a child, magic and electricity and dragons and computers are all equally likely.

But unfortunately, I grew up, and that sense of wonder faded as I learned what is actually real, and what isn’t.

Once you develop an accurate model of the world, wonder necessarily fades. New facts no longer create whole new categories in your mind—they’re just details. Learning about Viking sea burials is cool… but it’s less exciting than discovering that Vikings existed in the first place.

That feeling of discovering a whole new category is still one of my favourites. That moment of “wait, that’s a thing?!” is the closest I come to that childish feeling of constant wonder.

Believing You Know Everything

Of course it’s necessary to develop a more accurate model of the world. But, as well as decreasing the sense of wonder, it brings some other traps. For example, like many teenagers and young adults, I fell into the common trap of thinking I knew everything.

With hindsight, it’s obvious why that trap is so tempting. We grow up from total helplessness and dependence to being able to—pretty much—look after ourselves. Of course that makes us feel more confident: we’re finally getting a grip on how this world works! As kids our minds were blown by a light switch, but now we’re mature teenagers, we’ve pretty much got everything sorted…right?

On top of that natural confidence in our growing abilities, there’s a huge social pressure to signal that we’ve grown out of our weak, dependent childish stage. It becomes very tempting to act like we know everything to signal confidence. (And from there, it’s easy to start to believe our own hype.)

But, luckily, I learned an important lesson: we don’t actually know everything.

More than that: and we never will.

And even more still: and that’s okay!

These turn out to be fun lessons, because they re-open us to the possibility of childish openness. There’s loads more to learn, and that’s exciting!

Childishness as an Adult

Thinking about childishness has made me more determined to keep embracing that natural childish curiosity.

It’s easy to forget that I don’t know as much as I think I do. There’s a constant temptation to be dismissive of new knowledge, to assume that what we don’t already know isn’t worth knowing.

But, to state the obvious, we don’t know what we don’t know. Dismissing everything we don’t already know freezes us into position—often positions we formed, ironically, as children.

The worst combination is a child’s understanding of the world with an adult’s unwillingness to learn… but that’s an easy combination to accidentally fall into.

Ideally, I think we should aspire to be the other way around: a child’s willingness to learn, informing an adult’s (growing) understanding.

Rediscovering these positive aspects of the childish state isn’t about the trappings of childhood – the clothes, the toys, the silliness, or the self-centeredness. It’s about embracing a childish attitude – being open, curious and, above all, believing that there’s always more to learn.

And this attitude remains within us, if we want it.

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When Should We Run Away From Our Problems? http://www.walkingoncustard.com/when-should-we-run-away-from-our-problems/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/when-should-we-run-away-from-our-problems/#respond Tue, 31 Oct 2017 08:08:51 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2716 [status: pretty obvious stuff, but may be helpful to people – like me – who tend to overthink things]

Recently, somebody asked me for advice about making a big decision.

Obviously, the fact they were asking me demonstrates terrible judgement, so I told them whatever decision they THOUGHT they should make, they should probably do …

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I run away by Simy_Orifici, on Flickr

Original Photo © Simy_Orifici, Simy_Orifici on Flickr.
CC BY-ND 2.0

[status: pretty obvious stuff, but may be helpful to people – like me – who tend to overthink things]

Recently, somebody asked me for advice about making a big decision.

Obviously, the fact they were asking me demonstrates terrible judgement, so I told them whatever decision they THOUGHT they should make, they should probably do the opposite.

I kid, of course. But I was interested in why they were asking: they weren’t sure if the big change they were considering was a good idea, or if they were just trying to run away from their problems.

I think their worry was confusing a few separate issues together, but I can see where it comes from.

You know the old saying “wherever you go, there you are”? It’s the folk-wisdom way of saying you might THINK moving to a tropical island will solve all your problems, but it won’t if the issue is within you in the first place.

And it’s obviously true! If I’m always unhappy, then wherever I go won’t solve the problem.

But, also obviously, sometimes making a big change IS helpful. A genuine fresh start in a new city or job can be huge!

To an overthinker, well-meaning advice like this can become an extra thing to worry about.

Making a big decision is stressful enough, and this adds an additional voice in the back of the mind saying “hey, wait, does this count as ‘running away’?! OH GOD I’M DOOMED AND TRAPPED WHERE I AM FOREVER BECAUSE ALL CHANGES ARE RUNNING AWAY”

So, in different contexts, the same action – a big life change – could be us burying our heads in the sand, or a heroic and brave new start.

HOW DO WE TELL WHICH IS WHICH?!

Clearly, It’s Context

Honestly, sometimes it seems like “it depends” is the answer to almost every human problem, from “should I eat this out-of-date yoghurt” to “is it a good idea to quit my job and move to Gloucestershire”.

But let’s break down the context to see WHAT, exactly, “depends” in our particular situation.

In this case, I think the most helpful divide is “internal/external”.

If you have an external problem – like noisy neighbours, an unpleasant boss, or a wild squirrel living in your garden that hates you – then of course it’s possible to solve the problem by changing the circumstances.

This isn’t “running away”, it’s making a positive change to fix a negative external situation.

(And, depending on the exact problem, making the change might even be the best solution.)

But internal problems – like anxious brain habits, negative attitudes, unresolved trauma – can’t be escaped by changing external circumstances.

Of course, even with internal problems, external changes can still help. Moving somewhere you like, meeting someone new, getting a pay rise, trying new medication, a better exercise regime… any positive change can reduce our burden, which gives us more energy to address any internal issues.

And sometimes a change is the kickstart we need. If we’re currently unhappy, then doing the same things isn’t going to suddenly bring us happiness.

But, fundamentally, if the issue is internal, then we can only sort it by doing the work required – whether that’s emotional processing, changing our brain habits, learning a new technique to manage anxiety, or any of the other ways to take more charge of our own brains.

The Relevant Questions

Of course, even the fact someone is worrying about this at all suggests they’re not the kind of person to run away from problems in the first place.

It seems FAR more likely to me that they’re overthinking it and generating problems by searching for them with a tiny, detailed microscope. (I speak from years of experience of doing exactly this.)

Still, even self-generated problems are still problems. And I usually find it reassuring to have processes for figuring this stuff out, so here are a couple of questions that might be useful to explore if you find yourself worrying about this sort of thing:

  • Does this potential change have a decent chance to be positive, i.e. might it make my life better, even if only a bit?
  • Am I expecting this change to magically fix everything? i.e. are my expectations realistic?

If our expectations are realistic, and the change might reasonably make things better, then great! If not, then perhaps there is an element of ‘ignoring the real problem’ going on, and we need to figure out what that is, and how to solve it.

(Obviously, for any big life change there are far more important questions than these! But if you’re caught in the “oh god am I just trying to run away” trap, this might help you out so you can contemplate the really important questions.)

My friend is still deciding, but hopefully they’re not worrying about this anymore.


No major life decisions were harmed during the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch the custard-based TED talk, if you haven’t already! (And if you have, why not tell your friends about it?!)

Or check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

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It Might Not Matter “Why” We’re Anxious http://www.walkingoncustard.com/might-not-matter-why-anxious/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/might-not-matter-why-anxious/#respond Fri, 20 Oct 2017 16:35:50 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2291 At my most anxious, I spent a LOT of time asking “why”.

If only I understood the reason for my anxiety – if I could understand it, explain it – then I could solve it.

But this was just a distraction. In fact, it made things worse.

Every time I wondered why, my brain came …

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good question by e-magic, on Flickr

Original Photo © Eric, emagic on Flickr.
CC BY-ND 2.0

At my most anxious, I spent a LOT of time asking “why”.

If only I understood the reason for my anxiety – if I could understand it, explain it – then I could solve it.

But this was just a distraction. In fact, it made things worse.

Every time I wondered why, my brain came up with a new possibility:

Perhaps it’s nuclear war?
Or you’ve secretly got cancer?
Maybe it’s some buried trauma you’ll never dig up?
Or is it that thing you said to someone the other day?
Perhaps it’s an upcoming deadline…
Or death. It might be death.

You see what happened? I instantly came up with hundreds more reasons to worry. Asking “why” only ADDED to my anxiety.

Instead, I tried to just accept it: “okay, I feel anxious. Doesn’t matter why, I just do.”

And then I focused on fixing it, calming down, doing something else.

Then, later, when the acute anxiety had faded, I could spend some time looking into the root cause.

This isn’t a foolproof plan, and it may not be true for everyone. But if you fall into the same endless anxious rabbit hole of “why”, then it might be helpful for you.


No question words were harmed during the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch the custard-based TED talk, if you haven’t already! (And if you have, why not tell your friends about it?!)

Or check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

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A Short Thing I Will Develop Properly Eventually http://www.walkingoncustard.com/short-thing-i-will-develop-properly-eventually/ Thu, 05 Oct 2017 14:30:38 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2731 Don’t hold onto a certain bad due to fear of an uncertain good

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Don’t hold onto a certain bad due to fear of an uncertain good

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Experimental Rule for Handling Difficulties http://www.walkingoncustard.com/experimental-rule-handling-difficulties/ Wed, 20 Sep 2017 14:24:26 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2720 I haven’t yet figured out when to keep pushing through difficulties, and when to give up, stop and recharge.

But I’m trying this: if one approach isn’t working, use the other one.

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I haven’t yet figured out when to keep pushing through difficulties, and when to give up, stop and recharge.

But I’m trying this: if one approach isn’t working, use the other one.

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Links IV: Link and You’ll Miss It http://www.walkingoncustard.com/links-iv-link-miss-it/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/links-iv-link-miss-it/#respond Tue, 05 Sep 2017 09:24:37 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2509

It’s time for the (very irregular) roundup of a few of the more interesting things I’ve come across on the internet lately:

This interactive game theory game is fantastic, and well worth 20 minutes of your time.

Why clouds aren’t messy, and what makes a mess a mess

Apparently

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It’s time for the (very irregular) roundup of a few of the more interesting things I’ve come across on the internet lately:


This interactive game theory game is fantastic, and well worth 20 minutes of your time.

Why clouds aren’t messy, and what makes a mess a mess

Apparently laying the transatlantic cable in the 1800s led to the rising popularity of mermaid erotica

I love this YouTube channel about music theory more than I can possibly say

Fascinating, albeit possibly depressing and rather long, story about a 15-year missing person hunt for a party lost in Death Valley

This is a relaxing map of all of mathematics

Really interesting story about the FBI hunt for a Russian gang which was responsible for almost all stolen bank accounts in 2012-14

The psychology of falling for con artists

Very good long read about “premium mediocrity” and generations and how we’re all lying to ourselves about how precarious the new economy is

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Why Good Advice Might Be Bad Advice (and vice versa) http://www.walkingoncustard.com/good-advice-bad-advice/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/good-advice-bad-advice/#respond Tue, 22 Aug 2017 14:10:57 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2686 [post status: a little rough, but there’s something useful buried in here!]

Here’s some advice you might hear if you’re dealing with anxiety:

“It doesn’t matter WHY you’re struggling, accept the feelings and focus instead on the present”

Sounds great. But, then, so does this: “we should confront and heal our past traumas so …

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Go to Italy. by QuinnDombrowski, on Flickr

Original Photo © Quinn Dombrowski, QuinnDombrowski on Flickr.
CC BY-SA 2.0


[post status: a little rough, but there’s something useful buried in here!]

Here’s some advice you might hear if you’re dealing with anxiety:

“It doesn’t matter WHY you’re struggling, accept the feelings and focus instead on the present”

Sounds great. But, then, so does this: “we should confront and heal our past traumas so they stop bothering us in the present”!

And these good-sounding bits of advice seem to be contradictory..!

How are we supposed to know WHEN to confront past traumas, and when to let go and focus on the present?

(And I bet you’ve come across loads more of these seemingly-contradictory pairs of advice.)

Here’s an answer I often return to:

It Depends On Context

Obviously, this is cheating. Everything depends on context.

But the confusion – over which advice to listen to – melts away if you split mental health recovery into two phases: coping in the moment and long-term healing.

These phases are the context in which these pieces of advice make sense.

And what is good advice for one phase is terrible advice for another.

Let’s see how this resolves my earlier apparent contradiction:

When you’re in the depths of anxious struggle, the question “WHY” can be really, really unhelpful.

It took me years to realise that my response to anxiety was to search for reasons for it, and that my brain was happily obliging by finding a thousand things I could worry about.

Neil’s brain: “Hey, happy to help. Is it nuclear war? Or fear of getting sick? Or of being fired? Or worrying that everyone secretly hates you? Or…”

You get the idea. My brain just produced whole LISTS of things to worry about, which wasn’t helpful when I was already feeling anxious.

The phase of coping-in-the-moment was exactly the wrong time to be delving around in my past for the roots of anxiety. It turned out that in THAT phase, I was much better off accepting the negative feelings for what they were and finding ways to cope with them in the present.

But afterwards, when I’m feeling stronger, it’s really useful to delve around for the roots of anxiety. In that phase, I can figure out what patterns, habits or past experiences were creating the anxious feelings in the first place. And, ideally, I can use that phase to do some long-term work on preventing the anxiety from returning.

Perhaps this distinction between coping-in-the-moment and long-term-healing will help you to decide what advice is useful for you right now:

If you’re in an extra-difficult period, then consider (temporarily) pausing the long-term healing work. Usually that kind of thing only brings up more problems which are best faced from a position of strength.

But if you’re NOT currently in a difficult period, then perhaps it’s the right time to do some long-term healing work, to hopefully stop the difficult periods from arising again in the first place.

Just remember: what’s good advice for one phase may well be terrible advice for the other.

It doesn’t make either idea bad advice. Just not the right advice for right now.


No advice was harmed during the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch the custard-based TED talk, if you haven’t already! (And if you have, why not tell your friends about it?!)

Or check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

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‘Working Conversations’ Talk about Anxiety http://www.walkingoncustard.com/working-conversations-talk-anxiety/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/working-conversations-talk-anxiety/#comments Sun, 06 Aug 2017 12:23:57 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2680 You might be interested in this talk I was invited to give recently at the University of Liverpool.

The occasion was “Working Conversations”, a conference intended to discuss what a better mental health service might look like.

I was invited to share my experiences with anxiety, some thoughts about custard, and to …

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You might be interested in this talk I was invited to give recently at the University of Liverpool.

The occasion was “Working Conversations”, a conference intended to discuss what a better mental health service might look like.

I was invited to share my experiences with anxiety, some thoughts about custard, and to throw open a few questions for the ‘proper’ experts to consider during their discussions for the rest of the day.

Hopefully I did an alright job! You can see the talk via this link.

I’m very interested in your feedback, so please do let me know what you make of it below!

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Low Effort Post http://www.walkingoncustard.com/low-effort-post/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/low-effort-post/#comments Mon, 17 Jul 2017 20:32:23 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2653 Occasionally I wonder if I should post something of absolutely zero value, in order to demonstrate that it’s okay to do something totally rubbish and with zero effort from time-to-time.

(I think a cynical part of me genuinely sees a possible niche for myself: providing a helpfully low bar for everybody else to clear.)

The …

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Occasionally I wonder if I should post something of absolutely zero value, in order to demonstrate that it’s okay to do something totally rubbish and with zero effort from time-to-time.

(I think a cynical part of me genuinely sees a possible niche for myself: providing a helpfully low bar for everybody else to clear.)

The moral of this Deliberately Bad Post would be “sometimes it’s okay to just show up” or “even a bad post is better than no post”, or something like that.

But then I think about it, and realise this idea might accidentally have the opposite effect than intended. By definition, my deliberately lazy bad post would be – and this is important to recognise – bad.

And it seems unlikely that anybody is going to look at an awful post and think “wow, that sucks… now I feel inspired!”

I can see how that would be possible in theory, but the truth is that it takes a lot of effort to make a good bad post. It’s like a good-bad film… most bad films are just terrible, while creating something so-bad-its-good requires years of work.

And so I haven’t yet attempted to write a post that’s deliberately* low effort and bad.

This one is just bad because I’m tired.

Honest.

* this is an important distinction

The Moral(s) of this Post

Choose your own:

  • Sometimes it’s okay to just show up
  • Even a bad post is better than no post
  • Pointing out that a post is lazy doesn’t make it not lazy
  • Laziness is fine…
  • … sometimes
  • But it doesn’t matter much anyway
  • We should all relax a bit and take the pressure off ourselves
  • Still, though, I COULD have tried harder
  • Sorry

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