Secret Mondays

Firstly, apologies for this very long post! I wrote it straight after the session and was quite inspired…

I’ve become aware recently that I need to take a bit of time to address the way I think, the way I work, and even just the way I spend my time away from the office. Working long hours in social media has fried my brain. The constant switching from task to task has shortened my attention span, broken up my thought patterns, and left me with this insistent tugging feeling at the corners of my brain, like there’s always something I’ve just forgotten to do. I have a screen in front of my face for most of the day, I’ll sit in front of the TV with my laptop out, balancing a phone in my hand and skipping from app to window to remote. I’m in so many different places at once, and yet not really in any of them. My thoughts are half-formed, always about to turn to the next thing to deal with.2015-02-09 09.26.26 1

I read a while ago that while you think you may be multi-tasking by constantly switching between what you’re working on, your brain actually stops and has to restart again to address the next thing. It’s harder to get anything finished, you’re overloading your brain with too much information, and you end up feeling overwhelmed. Growing up, I spent a lot of time outside or reading books. I could retreat into my own head for hours. These days, I watch as notifications pile up on my phone, emails flood into my inboxes, and I am further trapped behind screens. I’ve been trying to implement two hours without any screens every weekend, and the first time I tried it, it felt like days. Then it suddenly started feeling lovely, and I was conscious of everything I was doing, not numbing myself with a phone.

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I’ve been questioning the way I do things for a while, and looking for a better path, but it was by pure coincidence that I stumbled across Calmworks. Last week, I’d just tried a Vivid Matcha drink, and was dancing around with giddy joy at how delicious the Pear & Rhubarb juice was, and how I couldn’t taste the unbearably grassy classic matcha taste. I took to Twitter to share my delight, and on the Vivid page I spotted something about mindfulness. I’d heard about it, vaguely, and admired the principles of slowing down and being in the moment. A few clicks later and I’d signed up for a very mysterious #SecretMonday event with Calmworks. This is due to be a monthly event at secret locations across London, features a talk and various exercises, plus a perfect opportunity for networking. Tonight we were at the House of St Barnabas, and the crowd included journos, techies, PR types, captains of industry etc.

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Despite a childhood spent barefoot wandering around fields, reading poetry and whatnot, I’ve traditionally been very dubious about things like meditation and yoga. I’ll be the first person to yell BORING, running off to my fast paced cardio or my loud music. I’ve never had any inclination to look introspectively, and if anyone has forced me to meditate, I’ve spent the entire time thinking about what to have for dinner. Lifestyle improvement programmes, self-help and general surrounding jargon freak me out. The tiniest hint of patchouli oil and you won’t see me for dust. So let me be clear – mindfulness is not the same traditional meditation, and encourages you to pay close attention to what’s happening in the present moment. It’s more like an exercise for your mind, training yourself to think in a certain way, and taking a step back to reflect. The Calmworks website reassured my hardened, cynical heart, looking as it does like the beautifully designed homepage of some tech startup.

Even so, I was worried we’d be greeted by some tie-dyed, brain-fried old dude, telling us to imagine invisible threads and clear our minds. Thankfully not – there was wine on arrival, and two excellent chaps (Malcolm Scovil and Alexis John Bicat) to welcome us in. No one had the sheeny light of the born again in their eyes, no one was talking about chakras, and there was absolutely no incense. Instead, we were told to choose a coloured envelope, which contained a handwritten, uplifting quote, and a question to ask at least three people by the end of the evening. In case you were wondering, my question was ‘Growing up, what was your favourite toy?’

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The atmosphere was inviting, friendly, and accessible, and Malcolm was a wonderful and entertaining host. I cringed at precisely zero moments. We had a talk from neuroscientist Dr. Tamara Russell, which was absolutely excellent, and dispelled any remaining fears I might have had about the hippieishness of the night. In short, she talked a LOT of sense, both in scientific and emotional terms. Alexis then took us through some mindfulness exercises, which were a million times better than normal meditation. For one thing, he explained that getting distracted was perfectly normal, and that the aim was just to try and slow your thoughts down. This got easier with each exercise, and I found myself getting surprisingly emotional at one point as I filtered through thoughts. It’s alarming how rarely most of us pause. Alexis was a brilliant teacher, not least because his final exercise involved eating chocolate. I can see why he’d be the ideal person to lead mindfulness sessions at various high profile companies.

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I don’t want to reveal too much about the night, as I think it’s something everyone should experience for themselves – and after all, it is called *Secret* Mondays. But it’s so important to develop techniques like this to become stronger, happier and more capable in life, and to understand how to live in the moment.

A huge thank you to Calmworks, to Malcolm, Tamara and Alexis for a truly incredible experience. I feel very lucky to have been a part of it. IMG_20150209_214008

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It’s always better on holiday…

On Friday, I grudgingly came back from Cornwall, smashing back into the real world. I’m not entirely sure how to write a post about this without it being the 2013 equivalent of showing you my holiday slide show (‘how did THAT get in there?!’) so I’ll do what I can to keep it lively.

I spent two weeks with the fam in St Ives in Cornwall, mainly just eating, reading, walking and cooking, and very occasionally thinking. It was my first holiday in a year, and I desperately needed to take a bit of time out from pressures at home, and come back with a fresh perspective. For me, that’s what a holiday should be for – in a way, a break from yourself and a break from your routines.

I was stagnating a bit before I went away. It was a stressful start to the year, and I went from knowing exactly what I wanted to do to being more or less completely lost in a matter of weeks. Circumstances around me changed and I found it hard to change with them. I’ve been freelance for nearly two years now, and I hit a wall. Projects wrapped up and I suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of having to come up with a slew of new ideas to get going on.

Nearly two years of pressured deadlines, answering emails at 11pm, constantly seeking new clients, projects not coming off…and more than anything, the ALL-ENERGY-ALL-THE-TIME aspect of freelancing. I was exhausted. I was fed up. I lost all motivation and found myself questioning what I wanted to do. I hated writing, didn’t want to do, couldn’t do it, most terrifyingly of all. I couldn’t pick up a pen, couldn’t open an empty Word doc. I’ve been craving photocopiers and office gossip and leaving work at 6 and drawing a line under it. No messy overspill. Defined days. Measured time.

Two weeks away gave me time to reflect on all of those ragged, half-formed thoughts. I was so cross and frustrated with myself. While I was away, I put down my phone(s), zipped up my laptop bag, and just tried to ‘be’ for the two weeks. I read a lot, went for long walks, cooked meals over a period of several hours with a glass of wine in hand. I’ve come back ready to address things properly instead of running away from them. This Monday, I’ve been excited again, keen to work hard, wanting to get things done. I feel a million miles away from the way I did before the holiday, and it’s a relief.

If you’ve been feeling a bit lost or a bit confused, try and take some time away if your circumstances permit it. Get away from social media and the relentless tide of everyday communications. Try and remember who you are and what you’re doing. Step back before you jump in again. What a sappy post – I’m sorry for the fortune cookie wisdom I appear to be spouting, so I’ll wrap up right here. If you’re anything like me and you tend to run away from things, then try running a little further then coming back more prepared.

And if you found that the most saccharine pile of old rubbish, then here are some pretty pictures and photos of food wot I ate to cheer you up. Coming up soon: more recipes, and watch a shirt magically transform into a skirt.

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Just Do It

I’m sorry for being quiet on here of late – there was LFW, and then a crazily busy week, and then a couple of really exciting things happened which I’ll tell you about soon. But in the meantime, I felt like writing a post on something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. For those of you hoping the title means this post is about sex, you’ll be tragically mistaken. What I’m actually going to discuss is the extraordinary amount of people I know who aren’t happy with their lives, or who want to do something else, but just don’t do anything about it. They talk endlessly about their dreams, how much they hate their job/boss/colleagues,  constantly use the phrase ‘when I get my new job/my new place to live/some money/some free time’ etc but they never seem to move on.

Look, I’m not going to get all dewy-eyed and ‘Climb Every Mountain!’ about this, but really, now. Young people today, eh?! Obviously the job climate isn’t conducive to just leaving your job and pursuing your dreams, I understand that. But what’s wrong with putting a little bit of hard graft in during your spare time? We live in 2012, so much can be done remotely. I’m a bit sick of people telling me how ‘busy’ they are, when they actually clock off work before 6 and have whole weekends free.  See, right there! That’s heaps of time!

I suppose what I’m trying to get at here is the people who constantly blame circumstance or other people for not being able to do the things they want. I’m not being idealistic: of course, you’ll come up against problems. But you also need to look to yourself. I often have quite a few nice opportunities I like to pass on to friends or Twitter chums, purely because I think that if you can help someone get some valuable experience, you can get them to meet some potential contacts, and ultimately they can actually try out the thing they’re always saying they want to do. I had someone actually ask me to be involved with one of the days of London Fashion Week, only to cancel on me the very morning we were supposed to be working together, due to ‘busyness’. Look around. We’re ALL busy.

Maybe the reason I’m coming down so hard on all of this is because I used to be a dreamer. I’m still frequently quite shocked and proud of myself that I’ve done the things I said I was going to do. When I was younger, I was very much of the ‘talk about it LOADS then actually probably don’t do it’ school. I was full of ideas, some insane, and some which I actually could have done if I’d worked through it. These days, I’ve worked really hard to be reliable, trustworthy, and to actually finish the ideas I’ve started.

I’m not saying ‘go and quit your job this very morning and live your dreams! Sparkles and rainbows!’ No no no. I’m saying, hang on to your job, do things in your spare time. Yes, you do have spare time, by the way. If you keep saying you want to be a writer, start a blog. If you want to be a photographer…take some photos! Too many people think that there is a dream job that they’ll walk into and everything will be fine, and then they grow despondent when it doesn’t come along. You’ve got to work hard first, put in the extra effort and hours, and ultimately don’t turn down opportunities. Think about what you can do RIGHT NOW to start making your dreams happen. I bet you there are lots of things.

I’ve made a list of ideas that you can start with. Don’t expect things to happen overnight. Just over a year ago, I left my job in advertising with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do next. I’ve worked hard, put my heart into what I’ve done, and now things are really paying off (touch wood). More than anything, I’m very happy. I’ll be telling you more about what I’m up to very soon, but for now, here are some tips on pursuing your dreams, even if you’re currently working in a job you don’t want to be in:

1. Start with a list. Write down any abstract ideas about what you want to do, who you want to be, and any ideas you might have had. Don’t worry about making them too grounded in reality at this stage, the important point is to let your mind be a bit creative. Jot down any ideas that come into your head at first. Wait a day or two, then start to shape them into workable plans. Lists are your friends.

2. Don’t be afraid of hard work. This is a biggie. Not to get all ‘in my day!’ about it, but I see far too many other young people who just expect things to magically come to them, without any effort. This will not, I repeat, NOT happen. So best get cracking, ok?

3. Take every opportunity you think might help. As with the point above, you’ve got to put in the hard graft before things start happening for you. If you’re really serious about following your dreams, then yes, take every opportunity possible.

4. Engage with people. This is a huge one. Get to know as many people as possible – you never know who might be able to help you out. Be friendly, be interested, and be professional. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of people you admire and who might be doing the kind of job you want to do.

5. Be reliable. This is a huge one. I’m self-employed, so if I don’t get my work done on time for my clients, they can just walk away. Or walk away, refuse to work with me ever again, and I’ll start to get a reputation for being rubbish. But it’s not just with clients – learn to be reliable in every part of your life.

6. Keep positive. Things will go wrong on this journey. There have been times in the past year that I’ve been exhausted, stressed and unsure of where I’m going. I’ve kept going, and things have often sorted themselves out. Have faith. If it really isn’t working, you can always step away from it.

7. Manage expectations. In other words, don’t make promises you can’t fulfil, just to keep someone happy. Many times, I’ve been tempted to just say something I know I can’t do, just to avoid disappointing someone. Well, you’re only going to disappoint them more if you promise something and don’t come through. Be honest about what you can achieve and in what kind of time frame, and trust me, it’ll be much better than empty promises.

8. Be grateful, be gracious. Nobody owes you anything just for being you, ok? I am so thankful for all the amazing opportunities I’ve been given, and all the chances people have taken on me. I will never stop being grateful for that, no matter if I’m a multi-millionaire one day. Thank people for those opportunities and for having faith in you.  

9. Ultimately, just go for it. What have you got to lose?