Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life http://www.walkingoncustard.com A Guide for Anxious Humans Thu, 05 Oct 2017 14:30:38 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 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

Continue reading »

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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 …

Continue reading »

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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 …

Continue reading »

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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 …

Continue reading »

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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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How I Got Hit in the Face & Saved by a Magic Bat http://www.walkingoncustard.com/i-got-hit-face-saved-magic-bat/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/i-got-hit-face-saved-magic-bat/#comments Sun, 02 Jul 2017 20:45:03 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2634 [This story was originally shared via the Neil Hughes Occasional Email Experience. Sign up for stories like this in your inbox.]

Image via Max Pixel, licenced under Creative Commons CC0

A story about life revelations in three parts:

I: Hit In The Face

Last week I got hit …

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[This story was originally shared via the Neil Hughes Occasional Email Experience. Sign up for stories like this in your inbox.]

A Magic Bat
Image via Max Pixel, licenced under Creative Commons CC0

A story about life revelations in three parts:

I: Hit In The Face

Last week I got hit in the face in a pub toilet at 1am.

As a mild-mannered, moderately introverted anxiety-sufferer, I don’t get into many fights…

… so you probably won’t be surprised to learn that it was a bathroom door that hit me, entirely by accident.

Luckily, the extremely apologetic young man who had opened the door into my face as he entered the bathroom turned out to be a medical student, so he was able to determine that all the bleeding (and there was a surprising amount of bleeding) probably wasn’t serious.

Still, we spent an awkward time together with my head tilted back and a tissue to my face as he did his best to help, in between apologies.

Meanwhile, a constant stream of men passed through the bathroom asking who I’d been fighting and then pissing themselves laughing at me.

None of this was part of the plan. I had an 8am meeting the next day. This was supposed to be a quiet early night.

Yet here I was at 1am, stemming blood from my face in a toilet and vaguely wondering if I needed to go to hospital.

And it all felt so much worse because…

II: A Magic Bat Was Hiding My Gloves

The night before the unfortunate bathroom incident I was lying awake, regretting each of my life decisions in turn.

That wasn’t the PLAN, obviously. I was supposed to be asleep.

But sometimes my brain decides to torture me with what-ifs and regrets and cringeworthy moments. And this was apparently going to be one of those nights.

I was resigned to a long unpleasant night when I suddenly had a freeing revelation.

For some reason, my brain reminded me of a few days earlier when I’d had the irregular urge to jump into a videogame.

In the game I ended up playing – a randomised version of a much-loved game from my childhood (A Link to the Past, if anyone cares) – all of the necessary items get mixed up and hidden around the world in a different place each time you play.

So the game gains an additional layer, an extra puzzle where you have to figure out how you can use whatever you’ve already found to explore the world and discover everything else you need. It’s all about quick decisions to calculate the best places to look.

I had recently seen a race between two people who were very good at this game, and it had encouraged me to try it. And I had fun… except as the game went on I became more and more convinced that I was terrible at it.

I kept making what I thought were good decisions, but each turned out to be a total waste of time. As each avenue I explored turned out to be dud I became convinced I’d made some horrendous mistake early on and I would pay for it forever.

But then, as I was on the verge of giving up, I found an item in a very out of the way place, which nobody sensible would have checked before now.*

And this hidden item led me to a magic bat that turned out to be holding the gloves I needed to finish the game.

(I am aware of how ridiculous this sounds.)

When the bat gave me the gloves, I laughed with relief – I hadn’t been making awful mistakes.

Now that I had all the facts, I could see I’d consistently made good, justifiable decisions. Unbeknownst to me, I HAD to make the crazy decision to follow the out-of-the-way chain of events which led to the magic bat.

But at the time I’d believed I was an idiot who couldn’t stop making mistakes, and that I, basically, sucked.

Days later, as I lay in bed chewing over actual life regrets, my brain reminded me of this silly moment with the magic bat from days ago.

And suddenly, I felt better. Maybe – just like when I’d been playing the game – I didn’t need to beat up my past self. Maybe my past self had been playing the cards I’d been dealt as best I could.

However…

* fellow nerds may wish to know the gory details: this out-of-the-way item was the powder, deep inside red pendant swamp.

III: Life Lessons from Annoying Places

After this revelation I did feel better. But I also felt actively angry at myself.

This soothing moment of revelation came thanks to a fucking non-existent magic bat?! Why do I have to be so constantly ludicrous?!

I was genuinely embarrassed – just to myself!** – about the absurd way my brain had tortured and then relieved itself.

** and now I’m telling loads of people, so I get to be actually embarrassed all over again, yay! 😀

So as I drifted to sleep I decided it was time to be grownup and serious and intellectual and impressive.

From now on, I would cease being a magnet for idiocy. I would Take Back Control (TM) of my brain and my life, and avoid future silliness.

Life revelations from magic bats were for the old, childish me. I vowed that the new, mature me would have no need of such things.

And so it came to pass that I went out for a quiet, sensible drink with a friend, and I told them about my plan for fewer silly things to happen in my life.

[some hours later]

“Hey mate… can you come in for a sec? Yeah, I’m bleeding all over this very friendly & apologetic medical student in this pub bathroom while passers-by cry with laughter… no, shut up, this isn’t silly at all.”

I think it’s time to accept a few truths.

Sometimes your quiet, sensible plans will be derailed by a swinging door to the face.*** We can’t control everything.

Sometimes it’s tempting to beat up our past selves, but what if we were doing the best we could? Either way, there’s no point lying awake regretting.

And sometimes, we have to just embrace who we are and accept the necessity of the fucking magic bat.

*** okay I realise I ought to also take some personal responsibility for not just going to bed early like I’d planned, but I feel that a late night catchup with a friend visiting from abroad isn’t THAT unjustifiable, and that it wasn’t unreasonable to expect my face to have made it out of the night more intact than it did.

[This story was originally shared via the Neil Hughes Occasional Email Experience. Sign up for stories like this in your inbox.]

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Have Fun, For Fun’s Sake! http://www.walkingoncustard.com/fun-for-funs-sake/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/fun-for-funs-sake/#comments Tue, 06 Jun 2017 08:20:55 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2618 [This relatively sensible post was originally written for puttylike.com]

I often feel pressure, like questions are burnt into my brain by endless repetition:

Am I contributing to the world right now?

Am I making enough money?

Am I deepening myself, learning new skills and growing as a person?

You might think that achieving …

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[This relatively sensible post was originally written for puttylike.com]

I often feel pressure, like questions are burnt into my brain by endless repetition:

Am I contributing to the world right now?

Am I making enough money?

Am I deepening myself, learning new skills and growing as a person?

You might think that achieving any of these goals would be sufficient, but sometimes even when I manage one of them feels like it’s not enough. While I’m learning something valuable, I still feel pressure that I’m not contributing, or earning, or… or… or…

Part of me sometimes feels like I need to be contributing to the world, earning money and bettering myself, all at once.

This makes relaxation a little tricky, to put it mildly.

Must We Do Anything?

Each of the pressure questions contains an implied should. And each of these shoulds is important. Of course we all want to make an impact on the world, to be financially successful, and to grow. But a life spent purely in service of should is draining.

It’s also important to give ourselves permission – at least sometimes – to simply have fun.

The prevailing culture looks down on fun. We’re made to feel like productivity is the most important goal, which all other goals must be subservient to. BOW TO THE GODS OF PRODUCTIVITY, O MEASLY HUMANS.

But productivity and self-care/happiness/fun (however we want to think about it) are equally important.

(Arguably, if it’s a happy life we’re after, fun is even more important than productivity. As Alan Watts points out, if we work to earn money just to finance our lives so we can go to work… what’s the point?!)

To counterbalance valuing productivity above all else, here are some ways to give ourselves permission to have fun. Fun for no reason. Fun for it’s own sake.

NOTE: This isn’t so we can re-energize ourselves in order to be more productive. That kind of thinking is part of the problem: it still makes productivity the highest goal! We don’t want to put fun in service of productivity. For a moment, I want to allow fun to be the Highest Good.

Learn for No Reason

Do you have an interest that you never let yourself play with because you “can’t justify” it? Ever say to yourself, “learning to sew would be fun… but it won’t help me,” or “dance classes won’t make me better at my job”? Or anything like that?

Take the pressure off, and stop justifying every use of your time in productive terms. Give yourself an hour. Learn something for no reason at all. It’s alright!

Create Without Purpose

There’s something beautiful about monks creating mandalas – amazing artistic works made in sand – only to destroy them afterwards. The mandalas serve as a reminder that nothing is permanent. I like that the monks decouple the act of creation from any need to be anything in particular.

In a similar vein, you could:

  • Write without worrying if anyone will like what you’re writing.
  • Paint without wondering if anyone might pay for your painting.
  • Create without fearing that anyone might even see your creation.

It’s freeing, healing, and inspiring to create without purpose (and if you accidentally create something amazing to share with the world, that’s a fantastic bonus).

Rest Without Guilt

I’m sure we all know this, but guilty rest isn’t restful.

It can be hard to truly switch ourselves off, especially if we’re in the habit of living with constant internal pressure: that litany of shoulds in our heads.

Of course, rest can be difficult for external reasons too – juggling work, family, and routine. But whatever your circumstances, you can surely find at least a few minutes (or hours, or even days) to allow yourself to rest.

However long it is, try marking that time out in your schedule, vow to ignore any internal pressure, turn your phone off, and have a little guilt-free rest.

I’ve noticed just how resistant I am to this idea, even though I know it’s good for me. Sometimes we have to get over our resistance in order to live more healthily.

Free Yourself from “Should”

If we’re in the habit of shoulding ourselves, it feels unnatural to stop justifying everything we do. But there’s no justification needed. There’s no must. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just play.

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Work = Accomplishment – (Creativity & Nourishment) http://www.walkingoncustard.com/work-accomplishment-creativity-nourishment/ Wed, 31 May 2017 20:05:26 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2594 “Work is accomplishment without creativity or nourishment”

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“Work is accomplishment without creativity or nourishment”

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You Can’t Not Do Things, You Can Only Do Them http://www.walkingoncustard.com/cant-not-things-can/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/cant-not-things-can/#respond Wed, 17 May 2017 15:16:30 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2589 [Another quick post today.]

Sometimes it seems as if the solution to a problem is to NOT do something.

For example, if our problem is “I can’t stop thinking about this person” it might seem that we simply have to stop thinking about them.

Obvious, right?

No. Actually, that’s impossible.

“Stopping thinking about somebody” isn’t …

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[Another quick post today.]

Sometimes it seems as if the solution to a problem is to NOT do something.

For example, if our problem is “I can’t stop thinking about this person” it might seem that we simply have to stop thinking about them.

Obvious, right?

No. Actually, that’s impossible.

“Stopping thinking about somebody” isn’t an action you can do. It’s an absence of an action, not an action itself.

So when we try, we are doomed to fail. We focus on the one thing we can’t do, and end up doing it.

(The classic example of this is: ‘don’t think about orange elephants’. If you really manage it, you’re not actually paying attention to the instruction.)

Instead, we have to reframe the plan as an action you CAN do.

For example, “stop thinking about this person” becomes “think about something else”, which IS an action.

Instead of focusing on NOT thinking about this person, we consciously put our minds somewhere else (perhaps by getting absorbed in a film or a book or a conversation or exercise or whatever).

This works for all kinds of negative actions.

If you’re ever trying to STOP doing something, remember you can never NOT do something… but you CAN do something else.

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