Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life http://www.walkingoncustard.com A Guide for Anxious Humans Wed, 04 Sep 2019 18:27:15 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.3 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/face-square.jpg Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life http://www.walkingoncustard.com 32 32 The Shop Before Life – PREORDER NOW! http://www.walkingoncustard.com/the-shop-before-life-preorder-now/ Thu, 05 Sep 2019 08:30:44 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=3120 Most people don’t remember their visit to the Shop Before Life. Somehow, we forget the time we spent in the prelife, perhaps nervously traipsing through the long, dusty aisles of the Shop, choosing from countless jars of human traits while deciding who to become during our upcoming lives on Earth.But even if you don’t remember […]

The post The Shop Before Life – PREORDER NOW! appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
The Shop Before Life - book cover

Most people don’t remember their visit to the Shop Before Life. Somehow, we forget the time we spent in the prelife, perhaps nervously traipsing through the long, dusty aisles of the Shop, choosing from countless jars of human traits while deciding who to become during our upcoming lives on Earth.

But even if you don’t remember your own visit to the magical place which all humans visit before being born, you might remember the short story from Walking on Custard which was set there.

Either way, you might be excited to know that the world of the prelife is now ready for you to explore.

(If you just want the link to preorder, it’s right here: PREORDER The Shop Before Life RIGHT NOW—click here to reserve YOUR copy!)

The Novel Is Now* Available to Preorder!

I’m incredibly excited to share this story from the prelife with you.

I can’t wait for you to meet the characters, discover the Shop and explore the prelife. There’s all sorts of things to come: magical jars, a kindly Shopkeeper, ancient mysteries, huge, sprawling, beautiful gardens… and even goats.

And while you’re counting down the days until October 28th, why not click here for more info, and a proper synopsis!

* “available now” applies to MOST countries where readers of this site live, anyway. If it’s not available for you right now, it will be soon… either ON October 28th 2019 or sometime BEFORE. Sign up at the Occasional Email Experience if you want to be reminded.

But I also need your help!

As a professionally obscure person, I need assistance to spread the word—so if you know anybody who likes this sort of thing, please share the links above with them.

I’ve included a couple of images in this post that you might like to share, like this one:

And please, leave a comment and let me know what you think of the book cover, the synopsis on the linked pages, the images, or anything else!

Love, Neil


Click here to preorder your copy of The Shop Before Life, or click here to learn more

Click here to preorder your copy of The Shop Before Life, or click here to learn more

The post The Shop Before Life – PREORDER NOW! appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
You Might As Well Do The Thing: How to Make Decisions While Anxious http://www.walkingoncustard.com/you-might-as-well-do-the-thing-how-to-make-decisions-while-anxious/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/you-might-as-well-do-the-thing-how-to-make-decisions-while-anxious/#respond Tue, 03 Sep 2019 20:56:27 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=3116 [this article was originally written for Puttylike] As a standup comedian who talks a lot about anxiety, I frequently get asked the same question: “how are you SO great?” But after that, people often ask how anyone with anxiety can possibly do something as terrifying as standup. For a long time this confused me, too. […]

The post You Might As Well Do The Thing: How to Make Decisions While Anxious appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
[this article was originally written for Puttylike]

As a standup comedian who talks a lot about anxiety, I frequently get asked the same question: “how are you SO great?”

But after that, people often ask how anyone with anxiety can possibly do something as terrifying as standup.

For a long time this confused me, too. It’s not like I’m immune to the fear of public speaking. There’ve been plenty of times before gigs when my brain has tortured me with images of failure and humiliation. I’ve often wondered why on earth I do this to myself.

Eventually, though, I stumbled on the answer. (Or, at least, on an answer.)

If I weren’t performing I’d be beating myself up for not doing it.

I’d go to gigs and watch others and think “I could do that. I should be doing that.”

I’d feel guilty at wasting my potential, and it would suck enjoyment out of all other comedy for me.

In other words: if I’m going to suffer either way, I might as well DO the thing.

Once I realized this, it turned out to be a helpful heuristic in many other situations. Choices can become simpler when the emotional cost of not doing something is added into the equation.

Consider this highly scientific graph:

Doing a scary thing might involve a quick spike of ‘suffering’ (by which I mean the inherent anxiety or stress of doing it). But if I then spend every day for the rest of my life regretting not doing it, then the total amount of suffering might well be considerably higher.

(In graph terms, this means the light blue area eventually grows much larger than the area filled by the red spike, as time trundles on and I continue to beat myself up with regret.)

A Sucky Marathon is Better Than No Marathon

This works great for something scary which you can get over with (relatively) quickly, like a public speech or a parachute jump. But what if we’re holding off on doing something massive, like writing a book or becoming a lawyer?

Should we still just do the thing when there’s such a huge time investment?

The truth is that there’s no right answer. What matters isn’t so much which thing we choose to do, but that we choose to do something.

In other words, the only true waste of time is beating ourselves up for not using our time properly. If I spend fifteen minutes every day beating myself up for not getting ‘round to writing a book, then by the time I’m dead, I could have written a whole series. Even if the books were the worst ever written, at least there’d be something to show for all that accumulated time!

The trick is to commit one way or another: either do the thing, or let go of it. Beating myself up and not doing it is the worst of all worlds.

Decide, One Way or Another

If you find yourself suffering due to not doing something, try channelling that ongoing suffering into motivation to act.

Whatever it is—making music, painting, words, performance, cleaning your house, going for morning runs, whatever!—you’ll reap untold* benefits from that time you’re otherwise wasting.

* technically now I’m telling you about them they are ‘told’ benefits, but that doesn’t sound as good so…

Whether you land on “I’m going to DO the thing,” or “I’m going to let go of the thing,” you’ll be better off either way.

Your Turn

Do you waste time suffering over NOT doing something? How do you channel that into something positive? Share with the community in the comments.


Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at enhughesiasm.com, his mental health blog, and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

The post You Might As Well Do The Thing: How to Make Decisions While Anxious appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
http://www.walkingoncustard.com/you-might-as-well-do-the-thing-how-to-make-decisions-while-anxious/feed/ 0
How to Tolerate Uncertainty When Waiting http://www.walkingoncustard.com/how-to-tolerate-uncertainty-when-waiting/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/how-to-tolerate-uncertainty-when-waiting/#respond Thu, 22 Aug 2019 08:55:23 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=3112 [this article was originally written for Puttylike] Ding. You’ve Got Mail. Later, you will think, “I really ought to turn off that notification. It’s not 1997.” But right now, other things are on your mind. Your throat is tight, your heart is thumping, and you’re nervously staring at that bold subject line which has appeared […]

The post How to Tolerate Uncertainty When Waiting appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
[this article was originally written for Puttylike]

Ding. You’ve Got Mail.

Later, you will think, “I really ought to turn off that notification. It’s not 1997.” But right now, other things are on your mind. Your throat is tight, your heart is thumping, and you’re nervously staring at that bold subject line which has appeared on the screen:

Result of Your Application

This is it. The answer you’ve been waiting for. After all that effort of studying, applying, working, interviewing, it’s time to discover if you’ve succeeded… or failed.

If you can bear to click, of course.

Opening the Envelope

Recently a friend of mine was about to receive feedback from Big Important People on a scary new project which is dear to their heart. Before the results arrived, they told me how they and their partner had planned in advance how they would handle bad news.

It turned out not to matter: the feedback was positive. Obviously, I was pleased to hear the Big Important People liked my friend’s work! But as they told me the story, that planning ahead was the detail I seized on, as I thought about similar situations I’ve experienced.

These days, I often send out creative work for feedback. Afterwards I inevitably scan my inbox a little more nervously until I gradually forget. Eventually, the reply arrives, and I’ll hesitate before opening it.

That moment of hesitation sometimes reminds me of something I read in the book Love’s Executioner. A therapist tells the story of a patient who refused to open a collection of envelopes for YEARS because he couldn’t bear to discover what was inside.

But I’m willing to bet that most of us could never tolerate that much uncertainty. Usually, once the envelope or email has arrived, there’s no question that I’m definitely going to open it. Even if I feel nervous as I physically click the subject line, I can console myself that it is always better to know.

The news is either good or bad: the sooner we know, the sooner we can either enjoy it or do something about it. For me, I’ve either celebrated wildly (with a massive cake) or cried (perhaps onto a massive cake), as appropriate.

But somehow it had never occurred to me to make an actionable plan for either eventuality. 

Planning for Good News

Naturally, planning for success is usually easier—after all, we’ll have what we were aiming for. But victory can bring its own anxieties. A new job might mean upheaval. An acceptance might lead to greater exposure. We don’t need to plan in advance for every possible emotion—especially if you have a tendency to overthink and talk yourself out of acting in the first place—but it helps to be aware that you might not feel entirely celebratory even if the news is great.

(I do try to enjoy successes when they come, honest. I’m not naturally such a pessimist!)

To plan for success, try asking yourself:

  • How will I feel if I actually get the good news?
  • How will it affect my other plans?
  • What changes will I need to make? And how might I feel about those?
  • Will new responsibilities come with this good news? How can I make sure in advance that I’ve got the resources to handle them?

You don’t need to channel Dr Strange and envision 14 million possible timelines, but a little forethought to how good news could affect you will make any changes smoother to manage.

Oh, and don’t forget the most important question: exactly how will I celebrate this excellent news?!

Planning for Bad News

Failure and rejection are harder to take, which is why my friend planned specifically how they’d spend the evening with their partner after opening their feedback.

There is a sense in which bad news can be relieving. When my old company used to fail at a pitch to a new customer, I would joke with my boss that at least we’d all have less work to do as a result. But while this negative humour can lighten the load, it’s important to have a plan for dealing with the very real negative emotions which come from an important rejection.

First: can you plan an emergency morale event? Perhaps you could have a favorite movie and some ice cream on standby, or save up some cash to treat yourself to a gig ticket or some new shoes. Maybe you could warn some friends in advance that you might need cheering up, and they’ll be ready to take you out for a slice of cake and a vent.

You know yourself best! In the immediate moments after getting the bad news, you can put your plan into action.

As well as the immediate plan, you might also prepare yourself for the days that follow. When everything else is going okay, a rejection might fade rapidly. But when we’re struggling, even a small perceived failure can be the final straw. Again, planning ahead for bad news will help, as we take into account our current mental and emotional state.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help plan for the potential bad news:

  • How strong is your ability to cope right now? Does everything else feel like it’s going well, are you in a rut, or are you somewhere in between? Depending on how you’re feeling, the same bad news can hit with different force. Expecting how it’ll hit you might help to soften the blow.
  • How do you normally process negative emotions? Some of us are more prone to anger, others to sadness, or frustration, or a mixture. How do you expect this bad news to hit home?
  • If you think you’re likely to need it, perhaps you could even plan to handle each type of emotion. Which pillow will you punch to let out the anger? Which sad movie could help you cry? Have ideas in place so you can just try them if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  • What do you have to look forward to? It might be completely unrelated, but it helps to have something good to focus on. If the answer is currently “nothing” then that’s a great opportunity to think of something—large or small—that you can plan for.
  • If this fails, what’s plan B? Even if this seems like the final roll of the dice, there’s always another option. This failure or rejection might mean licking your wounds and trying again, or it might mean a change of direction. You don’t have to have the answers right away, but if you can mentally prepare for another option then you’ll be better placed to handle the bad news and move on quickly.

For most bad news, this level of preparation will be overkill. But if this news comes after a run of bad luck, it can feel like everything is riding on getting good news. In those circumstances, having a detailed plan in place for channeling the negativity into something positive can save us from an extended struggle.

But Before All This… Even The Waiting is Hard

The patient who refused to open the envelopes got addicted to the uncertainty. But for many of us, the waiting is the hardest part. There’s no easy answer, but the general principle is that focusing on the wait only makes it worse. Whether we throw energy into other projects, or idle our time with fun and games, doing anything is better than thumb-twiddling and rumination.

It might even be worth planning for an outcome which remains forever unknown. When pitching work or applying to popular programs, it’s a sad truth that we don’t always get a reply. After a long enough time we’re supposed to simply presume we didn’t get it. But there is a period in which we have to live with that uncertainty.

Again, where possible, focus on channeling the wait into positive action. If you use the waiting time to spin up other projects, you might never even notice that you never got a rejection on this one.

Next time your mouse cursor is hovering over a scary subject line, I hope you have an awesome backup plan—and, more so, that it never has to be used at all.

Your Turn

How do you handle waiting for news? What about disappointments or rejections? Share your tips and stories with the community in the comments.


Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at enhughesiasm.com, his mental health blog, and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

The post How to Tolerate Uncertainty When Waiting appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
http://www.walkingoncustard.com/how-to-tolerate-uncertainty-when-waiting/feed/ 0
A Simple Trick to Sidestep Self-Criticism http://www.walkingoncustard.com/a-simple-trick-to-sidestep-self-criticism/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/a-simple-trick-to-sidestep-self-criticism/#respond Fri, 16 Aug 2019 15:49:47 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=3103 [this article was originally written for Puttylike] Sometimes I’m ashamed to share my work. You might think that’s understandable (particularly if you’ve been exposed to many of my posts before!) but this isn’t just a healthy sense of shame at my evident limitations.  Often, it’s fear of my own unoriginality. That inner voice of shame […]

The post A Simple Trick to Sidestep Self-Criticism appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
[this article was originally written for Puttylike]

Sometimes I’m ashamed to share my work. You might think that’s understandable (particularly if you’ve been exposed to many of my posts before!) but this isn’t just a healthy sense of shame at my evident limitations. 

Often, it’s fear of my own unoriginality. That inner voice of shame tells me to scrap my work, and to only return when I’ve finally created something truly original.

It’s hard not to listen to that voice, but over the years of living with it I’ve developed a technique that helps me to manage it when it speaks up. And I call this technique the Absurdity Principle.*

* I actually don’t call it this at all, but somebody suggested this name and I’m not original enough to come up with anything better.**

** I kid, of course.

This trick is to agree with the voice, and to exaggerate it to the point of absurdity. For example:

“Oh no! Someone else has already done work similar to mine! This is unacceptable! I must only do work which is 100% wholly original and in no way related to any other work. Even working in English is cheating, as it builds on my ancestors’ achievements in creating the language. In fact, using my internal organs is cheating, as it builds on the previous work of nature. I must become a being of Pure Reason, transcend my earthly form, and only then will I be able to create something unique and original that isn’t at all similar to anything anyone else has ever done.”

Exaggerating the voice helps me to see the irrationality underlying my worries. Usually there’s a kernel of truth behind the concern—of course there is such a thing as plagiarism—but this inner voice often applies this truth way beyond the scope of what is reasonable.

In this case, it helps me to recognize that I don’t have to contribute something wholly new, as there’s arguably no such thing. It’s valid to simply bring a new perspective to something which already exists. 

This Goes for Any Inner Criticism

I shared this technique with a friend on the Puttytribe, and their response was “I am very much here for personal growth through extreme sarcasm.”

They were—mostly—kidding, but there’s truth in what they say. After all, this critical voice pops up in all kinds of situations and, instead of arguing with it, it might help to agree and exaggerate until the criticism seems absurd.

For example, multipotentialites often straddle multiple spaces, and it’s easy to end up feeling like an outsider in each of them. If we exaggerated that critical voice, it might say something like:

“I haven’t spent a lifetime studying this topic, so I have nothing to contribute here. Even if I spent the rest of my life devoting myself to it, I’ll have nothing to contribute here. In fact, even if I spent many lifetimes reincarnating there’s no chance I could ever be welcome in this space. ONLY EXPERTS ALLOWED!”

Now, this might free me to recognize that everybody struggles with feeling confident to be part of a group from time to time, as of course I’m not expected to be a literal world expert on something.

However, this example might illustrate a danger with this trick. It relies on recognizing the absurdity through the exaggeration, so my brain can take a step back and notice the inherent flaw. 

But if I don’t exaggerate far enough—or if I’m in such a negative mental space that no matter how far I exaggerate I’ll just accept it as further criticism—then I’m in danger of accidentally fueling my anxieties to greater heights.

That’s okay—no technique works in all situations. This is just a helpful strategy for defusing the inner critic who pipes up so often as we leap from passion to passion.

And I’m sure it’s not an original idea… but, as I can now tell my inner critic… that’s fine, too.

Your Turn

How do you manage your inner critic? Share with the community in the comments.


Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at enhughesiasm.com, his mental health blog, and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

The post A Simple Trick to Sidestep Self-Criticism appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
http://www.walkingoncustard.com/a-simple-trick-to-sidestep-self-criticism/feed/ 0
Self-Esteem, Self-Confidence and Anxiety http://www.walkingoncustard.com/self-esteem-self-confidence/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/self-esteem-self-confidence/#comments 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” Of […]

The post Self-Esteem, Self-Confidence and Anxiety appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
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!

The post Self-Esteem, Self-Confidence and Anxiety appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
http://www.walkingoncustard.com/self-esteem-self-confidence/feed/ 1
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 it would be nice […]

The post The 3 Ways My Ideas Die appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
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.

The post The 3 Ways My Ideas Die appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
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 preferable.) After some […]

The post How to Change Your Life with One Small Move appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
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.

The post How to Change Your Life with One Small Move appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
http://www.walkingoncustard.com/how-to-change-your-life-with-one-small-move/feed/ 0
Support Humour about Anxiety 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 […]

The post Support Humour about Anxiety appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
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.

The post Support Humour about Anxiety appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
http://www.walkingoncustard.com/mental-health-awareness-humour/feed/ 0
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 […]

The post A Simple Idea to Help With Repetitive Anxiety appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
[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.

The post A Simple Idea to Help With Repetitive Anxiety appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
http://www.walkingoncustard.com/repetitive-anxiety-tally-system/feed/ 0
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 of deliberate punishment. […]

The post How to Recover After a Setback appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
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.

The post How to Recover After a Setback appeared first on Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life.

]]>
http://www.walkingoncustard.com/how-to-recover-after-a-setback/feed/ 1