Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life http://www.walkingoncustard.com A Guide for Anxious Humans Sat, 11 May 2019 11:26:11 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 Self-Esteem, Self-Confidence and Anxiety http://www.walkingoncustard.com/self-esteem-self-confidence/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/self-esteem-self-confidence/#respond Wed, 29 May 2019 08:03:31 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=3077 Just something I’ve been thinking about…

I just spent five minutes doodling this graph. I don’t know how universally true it is, but I find it helpful to remind myself that self-confidence and self-esteem are separate.

Self-esteem is, roughly, “how much we like ourselves” Self-confidence is, roughly, “how much we imagine others like us” …

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Just something I’ve been thinking about…

I just spent five minutes doodling this graph. I don’t know how universally true it is, but I find it helpful to remind myself that self-confidence and self-esteem are separate.

  • Self-esteem is, roughly, “how much we like ourselves”
  • Self-confidence is, roughly, “how much we imagine others like us”

Of course, these are certainly related concepts. But there have been many times when I’ve felt confident about others while disliking myself, or vice versa.

They don’t always move perfectly in step.

Sometimes people appear outwardly confident, but we have no idea that they’re struggling with negative feelings about themselves. Meanwhile, people who love themselves can feel unconfident around others.

It’s hard work to make it to the top-right hand corner of this graph!

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The 3 Ways My Ideas Die http://www.walkingoncustard.com/the-3-ways-my-ideas-die/ Thu, 23 May 2019 10:55:53 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=3085 [This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

Sometimes I grow tired of the constant hum of random failure. Most of my dreams end up as flops. I’m sure I’m not alone in this—we all struggle with the guilt of not finishing from time to time.

It might be unambitious, but occasionally I think …

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ideas by emiliokuffer, on Flickr

Original Photo © Emilio Kuffer, emiliokuffer on Flickr.
CC BY-SA 2.0

[This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

Sometimes I grow tired of the constant hum of random failure. Most of my dreams end up as flops. I’m sure I’m not alone in this—we all struggle with the guilt of not finishing from time to time.

It might be unambitious, but occasionally I think it would be nice to fail more predictably, so I’ve been searching for patterns in how my ideas fizzle out. What’s different when I persevere, and when I don’t?

Instead of mentally filing all my unsuccessful ideas under “failure,” I’ve realized it’s useful to break them down by when in the process the plan was abandoned.

Failure Reason One: I Never Start

Almost every idea I ever have… never even gets born. Writing a musical? I think I might have talked about it once or twice. Taking dance lessons? I’ve never so much as spoken the thought aloud.

Sometimes I feel guilty that so many ideas go untouched, but perhaps it’s for the best. A generous interpretation would be that I’m filtering for the projects I’m most passionate about. Revealed preference theory suggests that if I don’t care enough to take action, then I never cared about it as much as I imagined.

And this is okay. We don’t have to follow through on every idea that passes through our minds, or even on every idea we actually like. Passions fluctuate, and perhaps I’ll be sufficiently drawn back to a dream someday.

Of course, lack of passion explains why most ideas never get off the ground, but there are infinite reasons why it’s hard to take the initial action on a project. Again, it helps to break down more specifically than “I can’t get started.”

How to Overcome the Failure to Start

If you can’t seem to just begin, here are some ideas that might help:

  • Write about (or imagine, or tell someone) why you’re excited to do something. Whether it’s “I’ll get fitter,” “I’ll have built my own furniture,” “I’ll have my own podcast,” “I’ll have my dream job,” that initial surge of motivation is helpful to overcome inertia.
  • List everything that is blocking you from starting, and then work through the list one-by-one. Can you dissolve, circumvent, or pass over each block? If you’re not sure WHAT is blocking you, list anything that conceivably could be, no matter how silly.
  • Don’t just focus on the negative. List all the advantages, skills and experience you have in attempting this.
  • Attempt the smallest possible version of what you want to achieve. Do a 2-minute workout. Write 10 words. Update a single section of your resume. Apply for one job.

Failure Reason Two: The Initial Struggle

Starting is hard enough, but after starting is honestly my least favourite part. Now I have to actually DO something—yikes.

Periodically I get back into fitness… usually after months (or years!) of accumulated guilt for neglecting my physical side. Each time the first few workouts feel like a trip through actual hell. My lungs ache, my muscles complain, and it seems impossible to survive to the end.

Similarly, the early stages of any new project, phase or job are the most frightening. We have to discover a mountain of new concepts to learn, and develop a whole new framework to fit them together. This is even true within the same domain: learning to write a nonfiction book is different from learning to write a fiction book is different from learning to write a graphic novel is different from… and on and on and on…

During these early phases, my biggest problem is self-doubt. I feel inferior to everybody who’s ever already done what I’m attempting. Often my projects get strangled by this fear as I nervously nibble at the edges but never quite manage to get deep enough to build confidence that I can do it.

How to Get Past the Initial Struggle

If you’re struggling with the overwhelm of a new project, try these:

  • Remember and renew your initial motivation.
  • Remind yourself this is a temporary phase. Given enough work you will learn everything you need.
  • Think of your past successes. Don’t write them off as “but that was doing and now I’m attempting y”—you proved you can learn everything you need to achieve something difficult.
  • Break down all the skills and knowledge you need into ever-smaller chunks and reward yourself for picking up each chunk.
  • Work doesn’t have to be perfect! Don’t compare yourself to people who’ve been doing this for decades—compare only to your own work from last week (or month or year).
  • Give yourself permission to quit if you need to.

Failure Reason Three: The Slow Drift Into The Void

Eventually, we adapt. In the case of physical activity, our body literally adapts: those workouts that seemed death-defying become a matter of simple routine. In other domains, new concepts which once seemed incomprehensible become obvious, and we start combining them together as we produce ever-better work.

Unfortunately, we now require commitment. This is a dangerous phase, as the initial rush of passion has drained, and the goal is often far away. For example, writing a book is a tedious plod of putting words down (and, usually, immediately deleting them) again and again and again—often without reward.

This slow plateau is deathly but incredibly important, as this is where all the real work is done. Assuming we started this project with an end goal, it’s crucial to constantly renew motivation during this phase.

How to Stay Committed

If you’re struggling to stay committed:

  • Boredom is the enemy—you no longer have the frightening thrill of grappling with new concepts. Find ways to keep it interesting. Watch videos while you workout. Dance after every 100 words. Call a friend after working for an hour.
  • Be gentle: allow yourself space to recuperate and recharge.
  • Be harsh: get someone to be your drill sergeant and scream “WRITE SOME WORDS / RUN SOME MILES, SOLDIER” until you do it.
  • Focus on the end goal—how good will it feel to finish?
  • Focus on intermediate goals—what’s the next milestone? Enjoy your improvement—remember how impossible everything seemed when you began? How impressed would past you be if they could see you now?
  • There will be hard days, when everything feels impossible again and you feel like you’ve regressed. You haven’t. It’s just an ebb day.
  • Make progress an automatic habit, so it becomes hard to imagine a day where you don’t work out / study / practice / write.

Stay in the Right Gear

Each of these phases brings a different struggle, but until I thought of them this way I didn’t differentiate between them in my mind. When a project enters a new phase, I need to update my strategy to survive the new phase. The techniques that got me started won’t cut it when things get overwhelming, and, in turn, those techniques will need replacing once I hit the plateau, and boredom becomes the main obstacle.

Hopefully, next time I fail to finish a project, it’ll be because I chose to stop, and not because I hadn’t noticed my project had changed gear and I didn’t keep up.

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How to Change Your Life with One Small Move http://www.walkingoncustard.com/how-to-change-your-life-with-one-small-move/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/how-to-change-your-life-with-one-small-move/#respond Sat, 11 May 2019 10:55:49 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=3080 [This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

Recently, the principles of Feng Shui—an ancient Chinese art which advocates a system of placement within a space to harmonise various energies—became incredibly important to me.

(By sheer coincidence, there was an unpleasant job I didn’t want to do, and spending the afternoon rearranging my office seemed …

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IMG_1760 by Robert Couse-Baker, on Flickr

Original Photo © Robert Couse-Baker, Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr.
CC BY 2.0

[This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

Recently, the principles of Feng Shui—an ancient Chinese art which advocates a system of placement within a space to harmonise various energies—became incredibly important to me.

(By sheer coincidence, there was an unpleasant job I didn’t want to do, and spending the afternoon rearranging my office seemed preferable.)

After some time browsing Feng Shui websites, I ended up rotating my desk 90 degrees. From now on, I would sit in what one of the websites referred to as the “position of command.” (Basically, my desk would face the door instead of the wall.)

To my astonishment, this actually helped: as soon as I sat down, I felt more in control of my life.

This was during a period of great suckiness in my life, and I think there’s some interesting lessons to be drawn from it.

My aim isn’t to convince you that Feng Shui is important (after all, a potentially valid conclusion from this story is that human brains are extremely silly and perhaps we’d be better off putting the dolphins in charge). It’s simply to illustrate that change begets more change.

And sometimes, when we’re stuck, any change will help.

Proving to Yourself that Change is Possible

My brain is always convinced that whatever’s happening at this moment is going to go on happening forever.

When I get a lucky break—a job opportunity, an exciting new client, a booking, a new project—I am subconsciously convinced that the good times are here to stay. Equally, when something goes wrong I might sink into a deep malaise, instantly convinced that doom is eternal and my earlier optimism was misplaced.

Clearly, both of these are equally wrong.

Progress—whether positive or negative—is never a straight line. It just feels that way.

And that’s where making a small change comes in handy. It proves to our silly monkey brains that change is possible. Rotating your desk won’t solve your actual problems, but it might just give you the emotional boost you need to solve them yourself.

A Small Change Can “Rewire” Your Brain

I’m no neuroscientist, but let me grossly oversimplify some neuroscience anyway. A couple of decades ago, scientists weren’t sure whether the adult human brain was capable of much change. But nowadays they say it’s “neuroplastic”—that it rewires itself constantly.

However, the brain is also super lazy, so it avoids rewiring unnecessarily. And so we end up with habits and repeated patterns of behaviour… and we get stuck. Making even small changes to our routine or environment opens up new neural pathways.

Putting It All Together

In the light of all this, my reaction to the little change in my office makes more sense.

My perspective had gotten stuck. My brain had almost forgotten what it was like to experience anything new. Sure, my actual work was varied, but I’d become used to that variety. Making a small adjustment to my environment got my mind flowing again. And this opened me up to new possibilities. Suddenly, bigger changes seem less scary and more enticing.

Try a Little Change Yourself

A new route to work, a different lunch, a furniture rearrangement… small changes can bring us a mood boost and a sense of greater control, which we can then use to make bigger changes.

Of course, change isn’t always great. When things are going well, I become very scared of change. I grasp tightly to everything, hoping that I can just keep the entire universe the way it is right now.

Naturally, I can’t prevent the universe from changing around me. But making my own little changes helps me manage my own corner of it a little better.

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Mental Health Awareness Using Humour (I’m Scared) http://www.walkingoncustard.com/mental-health-awareness-humour/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/mental-health-awareness-humour/#respond Tue, 05 Feb 2019 08:45:58 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=3032 I’m doing something scary.

(Technically, living with anxiety makes lots of things scary, I guess. BUT this is actually terrifying.)

This new project makes me feel very vulnerable and exposed, and it activates my Inner Critic like you wouldn’t believe. But hopefully it’ll help many others to be less anxious, so facing my fears will …

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Mental Health week, DCU by Marie. L., on Flickr

Original Photo © Marie. L., Marie. L. on Flickr.
CC BY 2.0

I’m doing something scary.

(Technically, living with anxiety makes lots of things scary, I guess. BUT this is actually terrifying.)

This new project makes me feel very vulnerable and exposed, and it activates my Inner Critic like you wouldn’t believe. But hopefully it’ll help many others to be less anxious, so facing my fears will be worth it.

Here’s the plan:

I want to offer comedy mental health events for free (to places that can’t afford them), and to create much more online resources and videos which combine comedy & anxiety—like the book and TED talk already do.

So I’m launching a crowdfunder to make this possible.

If you’re willing to throw in a few dollars a month, I’ll be able to do some really great work for mental health awareness. (And if you support me, you’ll get a say in how the work develops.)

Details are available at the link, but the rough plan is to do as many events and create as many resources as I can afford from this support.

Naturally I’m going to continue writing here for free and doing my other mental health engagements—this is simply to fund additional good work.

Please CLICK HERE to find out more.

Thanks, and I hope you’re having a lovely day.

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A Simple Idea to Help With Repetitive Anxiety http://www.walkingoncustard.com/repetitive-anxiety-tally-system/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/repetitive-anxiety-tally-system/#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 09:06:15 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2979 [content: a quick tip for repetitive anxiety]

In the past, I’d regularly get trapped in the exact same worry over and over.

Often, it would be health anxiety. For example, I’d experience a symptom of some kind. And I’d immediately imagine that this symptom was coming from the worst possible cause. Perhaps a pain would …

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[content: a quick tip for repetitive anxiety]

In the past, I’d regularly get trapped in the exact same worry over and over.

Often, it would be health anxiety. For example, I’d experience a symptom of some kind. And I’d immediately imagine that this symptom was coming from the worst possible cause. Perhaps a pain would be in my leg, and I’d think “that’s a blood clot, travelling to my lungs to kill me”.

For the rest of the day—week? month?—I’d struggle to concentrate on anything else, constantly fighting to keep my attention from the impending doom.

After years of living through this exact cycle, I realised I wasn’t learning anything. It was just the same thing, over and over and over again.

So, I started a tally chart.

Each time I DIDN’T die of a blood clot—and, so far, this is literally every time!—I added a mark to the tally. I simply kept count of the cycles.

After a few months, whenever I experienced a similar pain, I’d remember the chart. I’d recognise that this was just like every other time. The symptoms were no different. So this was most probably the same thing again.

My brain stopped jumping straight to the worst case scenario, and the most likely scenario—”it’s just a passing pain”—felt more real. As a result, the anxiety was reduced… to the point that I no longer experience it.

This technique isn’t magic, and it didn’t solve anything on its own. (I was also doing lots of other work to unpick the habit of catastrophising.)

But it helped.

By the way, I’m not saying I was wrong to worry about this! After all, blood clots (and other objects of repetitive fears) do exist! But it wasn’t helping me to assume that every single weird pain I experienced was a blood clot. My feelings and fears ought to be in tune with reality, and I was blowing them out of proportion.

This little technique simply helped get my emotions into proportion with reality.

It may not work for everyone, or for every situation, but if you find yourself in a similar cycle of “repetitive worries that never turn out to be true” then perhaps keeping count of the times you’ve passed through the cycle might help.

If nothing else, it’ll remind the brain that “hey, we’ve been through this cycle a few times before”. It might even increase confidence that this time we actually should take action or seek help. Sometimes, that is the right thing to do!

As ever, feel free to disregard the idea if it doesn’t sound relevant or helpful.

I hope you’re having an excellent day ❤


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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How to Recover After a Setback http://www.walkingoncustard.com/how-to-recover-after-a-setback/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/how-to-recover-after-a-setback/#comments Sat, 05 Jan 2019 08:43:47 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=3002 [This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

This year I’ve experienced a constant stream of setbacks, of varying degrees of seriousness: minor administrative life hassle, major family tragedy, missed career opportunities, painful emotional entanglements, idiotic breakages, unexpected financial demands.

At times, it’s felt as if the universe was sending me regular doses …

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wer glaubt dass schweigen probleme löst by Daniel Wehner, on Flickr

Original Photo © Daniel Wehner, Daniel Wehner on Flickr.
CC BY 2.0

[This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

This year I’ve experienced a constant stream of setbacks, of varying degrees of seriousness: minor administrative life hassle, major family tragedy, missed career opportunities, painful emotional entanglements, idiotic breakages, unexpected financial demands.

At times, it’s felt as if the universe was sending me regular doses of deliberate punishment.

Each problem on its own wouldn’t be so bad. Especially since I recognise that I’m actually pretty lucky—I have my life mostly together, along with strong coping strategies and a solid support network.

But when problems come thick and fast—and, this year, another one kept appearing before I’d had time to process the last one—it can be too much for anyone to handle. When you’re already struggling, the smallest setback can tip the scales and dump thousands of final straws onto the camel’s back*.

*with hindsight, putting all those straws on scales above a camel was an avoidable mistake

How to bounce back better

So perhaps it’s a major design flaw in the universe, but everything doesn’t happen exactly the way we want, at the precise time we would prefer. What’s funny is that even though I know this to be true in general, I’m still terribly surprised whenever any particular setback shows up. Whether a minor inconvenience or a major depressive spiral, I’m often left reeling by unanticipated obstacles.

I’ve recently decided it’s time to develop an improved process for recovering from such setbacks.

My existing process is… not great. It includes elements like cursing, shouting, looking sadly out of windows, complaining, binge-eating, and thinking about writing terrible poetry (but never actually inflicting that on the world, mercifully). I don’t recommend any of this.

Of course, what you need to do will depend entirely on the particular circumstances of whatever setbacks come your way. But here are some lessons I’ve learned lately, which will hopefully be helpful to you too:

1. Let Go of What Might Have Been

It’s easy to imagine a universe where this setback didn’t happen. You got the job, or secured the date, or you didn’t drop your wallet on the way to work, or you packed your suitcase better so you didn’t break your laptop during a five-minute walk down a flat street (this particular one might have happened to me very recently).

But we only get to live in one universe, and it’s this one. Unless we’re able to learn specific lessons from these regretful thoughts (like: pack your suitcase more carefully in future, you fool), then they serve no purpose.

We must accept that this setback happened—which is far easiersaid than done, particularly for larger setbacks. Acceptance is tough, and everybody’s process will be different. I find it helpful to consciously sit and feel the emotion (regret, sadness, anger, frustration)—then clear my thoughts, breathe, and acknowledge that the bad thing has happened and there’s nothing I can do to change that—I can only change my response to it.

2. Ask: Can It Be Fixed?

With the initial wave of emotion out of the way, it may be possible to see a comparatively straightforward solution.

Sometimes things are simply over—a failed job application is going to stay failed, and turning up at their office to desperately sing the company song isn’t going to improve things.

But if we’ve received an unexpected bill, or broken something, or upset somebody, then perhaps we can simply take action: pay the bill, fix or replace the thing, or have a conversation to clear the air. Sometimes the situation may not be fixable, exactly, but perhaps it can be improved. If there’s some practical action to be taken, then do it.

The sooner we put the difficulty behind us, the sooner we can get on with our lives. (And ignoring a lingering problem will only make things worse.)

If there’s not an immediate action to be taken, it may be helpful to revisit the “let go” stage above. For a big setback, it could take many revisits.

3. Find Support, if you Need It

If you’ve stubbed your toe, you might be able to vent via a pithy tweet or a text. But if you’ve suffered a serious setback, don’t be afraid to lean on friends, family or even appropriate professionals for help. Carrying it alone only makes it harder to deal with.

Perhaps it would help to find somebody who’s been through this themselves. For example, after your first rejection from a publisher, it might be reassuring to hear from a veteran writer that this is totally normal.

It often feels as if we’re the only person ever to suffer a misfortune, which is why it’s so valuable to build community to share our joys and struggles with.

4. Find Some Joy

As famous comedy character Alan Partridge says, we need some positives after a disappointment.

It doesn’t have to be big, but finding some joy will distract us from the desire to wallow in self-pity and remind us that there’s still some good in the world, even if this particular good thing didn’t work out this time. Time for a treat, scheduling something to look forward to, taking time with a friend or family or pet, or whatever will cheer us up.

5. Reconsider Your Goals

Persistence is often crucial, and—once we’re ready—it’s good to get back on the horse and try again, aiming to achieve whatever it was we didn’t quite manage this time.

But sometimes a failure is a good moment to reconsider the direction we’re travelling in. Do we actually want this thing, or have our priorities changed?

There’s no need to go too deeply into it; too much questioning can be paralysing. However, a few minutes of reflection is always helpful for allowing ourselves the possibility of change.

6. Take New Action

Hopefully we’ve accepted the loss, done our best to improve the situation, found some support, and done some nice things to cheer ourselves up. Now it’s time to look to the future and actually take action to get whatever we want.

That might mean applying for more jobs, rebooting or replacing a project, finding another date, whatever it takes. If there’s something we want, and it’s worth trying (again) to get it.

All Our Problems Are Solved Forever (Ha!)

Obviously, I’d like to wish you a life free of setbacks, but we all know that’s impossible. I’m trying to move forward in the certain knowledge that more things will go wrong… and that hopefully I’ll be better placed to handle it when they do.


Only one laptop 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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Why Goals Aren’t Enough—You Need to Set Directions Too http://www.walkingoncustard.com/why-goals-arent-enough-you-need-to-set-directions-too/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/why-goals-arent-enough-you-need-to-set-directions-too/#respond Wed, 12 Dec 2018 15:43:44 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2994 [This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

Recently, I caught up with a friend I don’t get to see often enough. Neither of us were in a Major Life Crisis, so we were doing that thing where we swap minor problems back and forth—everything from busyness to boredom to the various …

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Directions by Luis Marina, on Flickr

Original Photo © Luis Marina, Luis Marina on Flickr.
CC BY 2.0

[This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

Recently, I caught up with a friend I don’t get to see often enough. Neither of us were in a Major Life Crisis, so we were doing that thing where we swap minor problems back and forth—everything from busyness to boredom to the various ways our ageing bodies are mysteriously misbehaving.

Naturally, we share that delightful human instinct for wanting to share solutions we’ve found. But after the conversation, I reflected on the advice we’d swapped, and I realised we had mostly both been talking to our past selves, rather than each other.

We were sharing things that had helped us, as opposed to things that we thought would actually solve each other’s problems. For example, imagine saying something like:

“Yoga helped me so much… you should do yoga too!”

There’s nothing wrong with this. If something helps us, it’s only natural to want other people to try it too.

But what you get out of yoga might not be what I would get out of it. Perhaps you loved it for the quiet reflective time away from the busyness of life, while I really need a vibrant new community. (Of course, yoga can be both, but that’s not the point.)

Instead of focusing on the object which helped, it might be better to explain why it helped:

“Yoga helped me [connect with a cool community / become stretchier / spend more time with rubber mats]. Is there an activity which could help you in the same way?”

Instead of pointing my friend specifically towards yoga, I could help them meet their underlying needs.

I realised I could give better, more personalised advice if I focused on why something might help, rather than on what my recommendation was.

This idea stuck with me, and I found myself applying it in other areas of my life.

Finding a Underlying Direction…

I feel like I’m constantly revising what I’m aiming to achieve. At any one time, I’m juggling a few different projects, and my goals can usually be expressed as “finish this, then finish that, then finish the other thing.”

But if I focus on why—on what grander, deeper purpose the goal is supposed to achieve—then my perspective broadens and I realise there are many more options open to me than I first perceived.

For example, imagine I wanted to star in a local amateur musical. I practice, I work hard, and eventually I go to the audition and do my best.

If I didn’t get the part, I would be sad: I failed to meet my goal.

But if I look deeper at my underlying goal—my why—I might see that, actually, what I really wanted was to get out of the house, to meet some people, and to improve at performing. This part was only one specific way I could have met those needs. Now, I can look for another activity—or activities—which fulfil those underlying desires.

If we can express why we have a particular ambition, we can usually find multiple paths to achieving it.

Instead of ‘goals’, I’ve come to think of these whys as ‘directions‘: not a single, specific future, but a whole host of potential futures which all contain something I desire.

… So You Can Move Toward Concrete Benefits

Directions have another advantage over specific goals: we don’t have to complete them in order to see the benefit.

Let’s take another example. Imagine I had the ambition to own a yacht. (It probably won’t be surprising that this isn’t an example from my own life.)

Like before, I could look for the underlying needs I’m trying to meet. Perhaps I want to show off, or to spend more time on boats, or simply want to have more excuses to say the word “yacht.”

Even if I don’t make it all the way, any movement in this direction still brings me the benefit of more disposable income.

It also encourages me to search the broad space of possibilities which move me in this direction. Focusing on the end result—the yacht—doesn’t suggest any concrete actions. But thinking about this direction suggests specific, attainable actions:

  • “I will spend less this week”
  • “I will find temporary, part-time work”
  • “I will write 500 words on my novel”
  • “I will find another three clients for my business”

Thinking about the direction naturally leads me to smaller, more achievable goals, which themselves help me meet my underlying desires and needs.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having goals, but sometimes it helps to zoom out and consider what the point is. This process might help you revise the goals, or it might help you achieve them.

The post Why Goals Aren’t Enough—You Need to Set Directions Too appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

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Exhausted and Unproductive? This Might Help http://www.walkingoncustard.com/exhausted-and-unproductive-this-might-help/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/exhausted-and-unproductive-this-might-help/#comments Wed, 26 Sep 2018 08:12:18 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2986 [This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

As a kid, I never understood why adults were so slow. Surely it would be more natural to run around and bounce and clamber – what was wrong with them? Why were all adults so lazy?!

Now I’m (allegedly) an adult, I get it: We’re …

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[This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

As a kid, I never understood why adults were so slow. Surely it would be more natural to run around and bounce and clamber – what was wrong with them? Why were all adults so lazy?!

Now I’m (allegedly) an adult, I get it: We’re not lazy… we’re just exhausted.

That seemingly infinite energy just isn’t there anymore. Inspiration comes and goes as it pleases, and it’s hard to predict whether I’ll wake up and feel like climbing a mountain, or if today I won’t make it out of the house.

Even worse… it turns out adults are supposed to use this highly unpredictable energy supply to actually get things done.

(I can’t help but think that a more sensible design for humans might have made the children lethargic and the adults energetic, so it’d both be easier to look after the kids and adults could be more productive. But I digress…)

For a long time, I saw it as a frustrating fact of life that each day was a lottery. Perhaps I’d be full of motivation and would write 5000 words, or a song, or find a bunch of new clients to code websites for. Or perhaps I’d fritter the day away fruitlessly tapping at a keyboard without achieving very much at all.

But last year I came across an awesome idea by Naomi Dunford which changed the way I relate to these energy fluctuations entirely.

Don’t Fight It…

In Naomi’s original post (which I absolutely recommend reading), she says that high energy days—”flow days”—and low energy days—”ebb days”—are simple facts of life, and we’re better of accepting them than fighting them. She compares attempting creative work on an ebb day to someone insisting on going to the beach on a freezing cold winter’s day.

Her recommendation is incredibly simple: save low-energy tasks for low-energy days, and high-energy tasks for high-energy days.

When I heard this, something clicked into place for me. Previously, I’d treat a low-energy day as if I had personally failed. I’d imagine that everybody else in the world was successfully powering through their to-do list while I failed to dent mine. Naturally, this self-criticism only made it harder to get anything done… which further fed the negative cycle.

It’s freeing to treat ebb days as an inevitable fact of life, like the weather, rather than as an indication that there’s something wrong with me. Even better – working with the ebbs and flows means I can get a lot done no matter which kind of day it is.

Make a List of “Ebb Tasks” and “Flow Tasks”

In practice, this means keeping a list of “ebb tasks” and “flow tasks”. Flow tasks require creativity and energy, while ebb tasks are busywork: replying to emails, data entry, mindless editing, chores, etc.

Most mornings I begin by attempting whichever “flow task” is my current highest priority. If it goes well, great! I make progress on my highest priority.

But if it becomes obvious that I’m struggling, I allow myself to acknowledge that it might just be one of those days when I physically can’t do anything creative. Instead of insisting on sitting on the snowy beach, I immediately switch over to my ebb task list and start on whichever chore feels most doable.

This means I still get something done, no matter how I feel. Occasionally this even triggers a feeling of accomplishment, which gives me the inspiration I need to switch back to the trickier flow task.

If Possible, Save Busywork for Ebb Days

Importantly, implementing this system requires resisting the temptation to spend precious energy on busywork.

On those rare mornings when I wake up brimming with creativity, I’m often tempted to knock out a bunch of little tasks before I start on the major project of the day. It feels like a good idea to clear out my inbox, do some laundry, and clean my office before I get started, but I have to remember that I could do those jobs anytime.

If I can, I’d rather save ebb tasks for a day when I can’t do anything else.

There’s Never a Single Solution

Of course, this technique doesn’t solve every problem, but I’ve found it to be a useful tool. (It’s also worthwhile trying to create better conditions for having more flow days, by doing things like getting enough sleep, eating well and physical activity.)

No matter what we do, we don’t get to live with a boundless supply of infinite energy, and there will always be times when we must delve deep into our reserves. I hope this idea helps you use your reserves more effectively.

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How Tiny, Unconscious Habits Can Lead to a World of Pain http://www.walkingoncustard.com/how-tiny-unconscious-habits-can-lead-to-a-world-of-pain/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/how-tiny-unconscious-habits-can-lead-to-a-world-of-pain/#respond Fri, 14 Sep 2018 10:07:51 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2984 [This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

“Look after yourself,” suggests a well-meaning friend.

“Um, thanks…” I respond—but privately, I bristle. What else am I going to do?! Not look after myself?

And yet… I absolutely need to be told this, because every single day I fail to take care of myself …

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[This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

“Look after yourself,” suggests a well-meaning friend.

“Um, thanks…” I respond—but privately, I bristle. What else am I going to do?! Not look after myself?

And yet… I absolutely need to be told this, because every single day I fail to take care of myself through dozens of poor, tiny decisions.

The Catalyst: Ouch

This May I experienced the worst neck pain I’d ever felt; so agonising that I looked back fondly on the time when I’d merely had all four wisdom teeth extracted at once.

And, just like every injury I’ve ever experienced, this pain occurred for stupid reasons.

(Other past reasons have included: a banana, a gentle pre-game warmup, and a fishfinger.)

(Not all at the same time.)

As usual, I didn’t hurt myself trying anything flashy or cool, I simply existed. Many small factors added up: Months of poor posture. Too many days hunched over a keyboard. Not enough breaks. Accidentally sleeping in a weird position. Ignoring warning signs. Over-exercising. Not respecting the recovery.

If I’d handled any of these differently, then I might have had a slightly stiff neck for a day or two. But all together these little factors sent me desperately crawling to a doctor for a cocktail of (extremely welcome) painkillers.

Small Things, Important Things

After a bad experience like this, I’m always highly motivated to prevent anything similar happening again.

But what changes are there to make after an injury without a clear, single cause?

Perhaps if I’d been testing home-made human wings, there would be an obvious lesson: find another volunteer to test them first don’t attempt that at all. But what’s the best way to address many factors which are individually not a big deal?

I suppose the good news is that this means I don’t need to make any big changes. Simply taking occasional breaks to stretch would likely have prevented this. Is it worth putting in that extra effort to avoid a fortnight of agony? Absolutely, yes.

Unfortunately, there’s some corresponding bad news: in some ways it’s harder to make such tiny changes to our habits. These behaviours built up over time because I fundamentally didn’t value good posture enough to put in even this minimal effort. I need to change my underlying values in order for a new habit to stick.

Luckily, recent events have very much convinced me of the value of good posture, so it’s been easy to motivate myself to act on this change in values. There’s two parts to this action: 1) notice when I’m doing something small that will come back to bite me later, and 2) to do it differently.

Could I Have Done This in Advance?

Having learned a painful lesson, changed my underlying value, and taken action to make the new habit stick is all very well. This particular problem hopefully won’t recur… but what about preventing it in the first place?

Could I have known in advance that these poor work habits were going to have painful consequences – and soon?

Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s not as if I didn’t know I ought to take breaks and work more healthily. I just didn’t believe that the consequences could be so severe and so rapid.

Perhaps I ought to generalise the lesson: it’s not enough just to stop this particular pain from recurring. Are there any other little decisions I’m making which may have consequences later?

Small Decisions Matter Everywhere

Indeed, there are lots of areas beyond health which operate like this. Small decisions add up in every area of our lives.

If you were feeling poetic, you could make a good argument that our lives are nothing but an endless succession of little choices. Every day I have to decide whether I should I take a proper lunch break, to socialise and recharge, or to skip lunch entirely and squeeze in more work.

I wouldn’t consciously choose to prioritise work over loved ones, but thousands of tiny unconscious choices of an hour here, an hour there, can mean exactly that. Whatever we choose in small matters adds up and morph into habits, and these habits form our true decisions about how we spend our lives.

All habits become invisible to us very quickly. For example, I barely notice my morning routine anymore – it just happens. And unless I consciously recognise what I’m doing, and put in the effort to change it, it will continue just the same.

Ideally, I would pay attention to as many little decisions as possible, and try to make a habit of varying them so I keep my habits comfortably balanced.

The Flip Side

However! Before we all dash off to do the opposite of everything we normally do, remember that the opposite of a bad idea is often a different bad idea.

In this case, the opposite of “constantly ignoring a tiny problem until it adds up to a big one” is “needlessly monotoring ourselves to get every tiny decision exactly right.”

Needless self-criticism is an easy trap to fall into, especially if–like me!–you’re prone to anxiety and perfectionism. But there’s no need to fall into a funk every time we fall short of perfection. Perhaps I worked a whole day today without taking a break. That’s fine. I’ll just have to try harder to remember tomorrow.

I’m aiming to live in a comfortable medium: being conscious of tiny decisions and trying to make better ones, but without expecting perfection.

What Small Decisions Do You Make Every Day?

It might be worth considering what habits you are currently building through small daily decisions. Is there anything you’re neglecting? Or something you’re choosing every time which might be a better option only sometimes? How about your balance of priorities: are you unconsciously spending less time on aspects of your life that matter to you?

When it comes to making a change, remember that it won’t stick unless it flows from your underlying values: what values are you promoting through the decisions you make?

Change doesn’t have to be a big deal, but replacing even one habitual small decision with a better one might save you a world of pain in the future.

Oh, and take it from me: if you’re working at a desk, stretch more often.

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What I’m Doing in July 2018 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/what-im-doing-july-18/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/what-im-doing-july-18/#comments Fri, 06 Jul 2018 10:53:47 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2969 [post status: a brief life update]

When  Walking on Custard came out in 2015 (aside: I cannot believe that was three  years ago! What on EARTH is happening to the flow of time?!), I needed some sort of online home.

I considered all kinds of wild, imaginative ideas, like interactive websites which would act as companions to the …

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[post status: a brief life update]

When  Walking on Custard came out in 2015 (aside: I cannot believe that was three  years ago! What on EARTH is happening to the flow of time?!), I needed some sort of online home.

I considered all kinds of wild, imaginative ideas, like interactive websites which would act as companions to the book, somehow procedurally generating both entertainment and life advice…

… but in the end I realised that simplicity was definitely the best option in this case. So I set up this basic WordPress site, and voila: a place where I can muse about anxiety and life without having to put in much effort.

A simple blog that exists is better than an all-singing, all-dancing web experience that doesn’t.

And this place has served its purpose well!

I’m constantly surprised at how many people manage to stumble into my little corner of the internet, AND at how many of those people bother to send me lovely emails about articles which resonated with them. (They can’t ALL secretly be my mum, right?!)

Anyway…Now that my new book is nearly finished (I’ll be sharing more on this soon, in case you haven’t heard already!), I’m starting to think about improving my online home.

I’m still planning to keep this blog as a hub for all my mental health and happiness-related musings, but I’d like to use some (not all!) of those more imaginative ideas I abandoned all those years ago.

And so, in between making the final edits to the novel (argh, please send help!), I’m coding a whole new website from scratch. There’ll be some fun collaborative games for visitors to play, and I have plans to gradually expand it as the years go by and future books and other projects get released.

(I also have some ludicrously ambitious ideas around interactive augmented reality phone experiences, but those might need to wait a lot, lot longer.)

What else am I doing?

Honestly, those two projects could easily expand to fill 100% of my time, but in keeping with my earlier post, I’m also taking steps towards finding some awesome, inspiring and satisfying regular work to add to my mix of activities.

And somehow I’m also juggling my social life and all my regular weekly or monthly work commitments, AND enjoying the heatwave here in the UK.

Why am I telling you all this?

Really, I’m not. This post is to tell myself. I’ve been feeling frustrated by my apparent lack of progress, but when I sat down this morning to analyse what I’m doing, I realised I’m actually taking great steps forward towards many of my goals at once.

Lots of these goals require a long wait for the payoff – I can confirm that writing a novel is the absolute worst way to receive short-term gratification – but there will be a payoff eventually.

And whether it’s a new website, a new novel, a new work situation or something else, I’m not far off several large payoffs at once.

Since I’m committed to sharing these frustrations rather than bottling up, I thought I’d quickly post about it. Most of the time we just see the end results of other people’s work: their new book, their new abs, their new yacht*, or whatever.

I don’t actually have any friends who own yachts but I’m very open to acquiring some, so feel free to get in touch…! 😉

But reaching any goal requires an investment, and I want to share some of my investment at this stage. In a few months (hopefully), I’ll be posting about the new book, the new site, the new work, and I’ll be able to look back at today and think “there was a time it felt that I’d never make it to this day, but I did”.

And hopefully next time I’ll remember more easily, and get better still at just putting one foot in front of the other and making my way towards where I want to be.

Hope you’re having a lovely summer!

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