Category: Commentary

5 Myths I used to believe when I was 18

1. Money will make you happy
This is not the case – certainly not in and of itself. The research is showing us that there is a correlation between money and happiness, up until a certain point – i.e. until basic needs are met, and with a little surplus (this has been reported as, on average, $75,000 in the US, and £40,000 in the UK). Above this threshold, money makes little – if any – difference. What has been shown to be more important is how you manage your money, and what you spend it on.

2. Having a high-powered job will make you happy
Somewhat tied in with the previous point. Having a nice corporate title in just any field won’t make you happy; though if it’s in the right field, it just might. The key is the right field. Not necessarily the one(s) that society and everyone around you is following. (e.g. Law, Finance, Medicine)

3.  You should definitely go to university
As an 18 year old, there are a very small few who absolutely know for sure what they want to do with their life. For the rest of us, the truth is that we simply have no idea whatsoever. Previously, university provided the perfect opportunity to spend 3 years away from home and indulge in all the fun in the world; at £9,000 per year in fees alone, and so at least £30,000 of debt by the end, this is now an incredibly expensive way to spend 3 years having fun. Another irony is that then we are then faced with grabbing any reasonably-paid graduate job that comes along, to begin paying this burdensome debt off. In a field that we might end up staying in for several years, or even the rest of our lives…

Scott Dinsmore: “I mean, you spend more time picking out a dorm room TV set than you do picking your major and your area of study.”

4. Go to university, and you’ll get a job at the end of it (especially if you have a 2.1)
At one point, this was true. In 2015, this couldn’t be further from it – just ask anyone who’s graduated in the last 10 years. So now, £30,000 (or more) of debt later, you can’t even find a job with this prestigious degree from that reputable university. Not even a job you can blindly ‘fall into’ and haven’t given much conscious thought to…

4. After your education (whether secondary/further/higher), you’re a fully-fledged being and ready to go and live a remarkable, happy and healthy life doing the work you know that you were made for.

Or, for the last 10-15+ years you were put through a system that has:

A) Subjected you to a pressure-cooker environment of constant tests and exams (contributing to the mental health problems growing year on year)
B) Failed to even mention that there are, in fact, multiple forms of intelligence (not just the one) – let alone actively develop these
C) Spoon-fed you with information in a factory-like manner – the vast majority of which you will never use again (even with ‘bells’ ringing throughout the day, just like they used to have in the good ol’ factory days) 
D) Failed to teach you any crucial life lessons – e.g. around money management, emotional intelligence, living in the real world…
E) Taught you little about wellbeing – either psychological (mental) or physical
F) Cared largely for it’s own reputation/‘performance’/‘league tables’ – rather than you and looking after you in the best way possible.

We’re now living in the 21st Century, and the world has moved on a long way from when schools and universities first came into existence. Something is clearly going wrong here – this old model isn’t working.

(PS. There are some outstanding teachers and educators out there. I was privileged enough to have been taught by some of them. The above is aimed at the system as a whole, rather than pointing fingers at individuals in particular.)

Lessons from the last 7 days

With Marlene, one of the many new friends I made at #WorldEscapeDay.
With Marlene, one of many new friends I made at #WorldEscapeDay.

In a recent post, I made reference to the last few days forming the best week of my life so far. Quite a grand statement to make, and often the sort made in the sheer excitement of a ‘buzzy moment’ (what positive psychologists might call a ‘hedonic moment’).

For example, I might say – “Wow, that was the best pizza I’ve ever had!” This might be something I’d say having done a particularly intense gym workout, not having eaten in several hours, and not having eaten pizza in six months. The combined effect producing a euphoric moment, which would lead me to make such a profound statement. Also known as – getting carried away in the moment. We’re all guilty of that :)

However, reflecting on the ‘best week of my life’ statement (as, I assure you, I have done on each of the last few consecutive days) – I am in no doubt that this is, in fact, true. It really has been. Rather than a getting-carried-in-the-moment sort of feeling, this comes from a deeper sense of knowing. (That said, I would be lying if I said that there haven’t been a good few hedonic buzzes in these last few days too!).

So let me try to break down the key ingredients of this magical week, and draw upon some useful learnings:

1. Spending time with people
… can be a really good thing. As Dalai Lama keeps repeating, we are a social animal. Regardless of skin colour, height, weight, male, female – we are all human with human brains. This transcends everything else. We all need each other, full stop.

2. Spending time with the right people
…can be a really, really good thing. Someone once said you are the product of the 5 people you hang around with the most. I have spent a lot of time with likeminded people in this last week. The word ‘likeminded’ is key here. I may be in a small group of people who all are deeply passionate about football; this feels pretty good, there’s a common interest here. Common interests are great, and we do need them – they bring us together, and they help move our interactions along and help foster connection. All good stuff.

However, common beliefs and values…wow, way more powerful. I may have a particular friend who has many similar interests to me, but our beliefs and values might differ. Sharing common beliefs and values beats everything else and creates an incredibly powerful connection.

3. Doing more things of personal enjoyment
Seems like a no-brainer; doing more of what you enjoy will make you feel better. No sh*t sherlock. It seems so obvious. But then I think back to my days of Monday to Friday work in an office job, and I used to whittle large parts of my weekend away lounging about in front of the television. Get out, do stuff. It doesn’t even have to be stuff outside, you can stay inside and do stuff. The key word is do. And stuff. Just do it!

4. Using strengths
All of us have a unique and specific set of strengths. Quite often, the meaning of ‘a strength’ can seem obvious, but I have also found it’s been a little distorted and so needs clearing up. I consider a strength as something you are not only good at, but also enjoy doing (and vica versa). For example, communicating (e.g. presenting) may be something you’re really good at, perhaps due to lots of practise over some time. However, you may still despise doing it with a vengeance. In my view, this is not a strength. Love it + Good at it = Strength.

5. More instances of flow
Ah, my favourite word in the world at the moment. Experience more flow, and you’re onto a winner. Using your strengths helps a lot with this. As, I’ve found, does spending time with the right people. (In fact, all of these points tends to overlap in some way). The theory of flow says that when you are conducting an activity with just the right amount of challenge and using just the right amount of skills (neither too difficult nor too hard in either case), this creates the best conditions for flow. Whack on some form of meaning and purpose there (that is individual to you), and bam! Flow will come to you in leaps and bounds. You’ll lose yourself in the activity, time will fly by, and you’ll derive huge enjoyment from it.

6.’Authentic’ self
Arguably, this is the most key ingredient of my magical week of all. All of the above 5 points contribute towards this and, paradoxically, being your most authentic self contributes to those 5 points also. i.e. When being more of your authentic self, you will naturally be using your strengths, be doing what you love, be experiencing more flow, be spending your time with people (and with the right people!).

And there is no feeling better than being your most authentic self. Unfortunately, our lives and environments and patterns of thought beat this ‘authentic self’ out of us over time, so then we have to find it again. As such, we spend much of our lives (e.g. at work) being our ‘adaptive’ selves.

What could have gone better?
As magical as it was, no week will ever be perfect. Here are a couple of things which could have gone better:

1. Sleep
With my schedule particularly busy (or, rather, busier than I am used to) I had a lot to fit in. On top of that, I was enjoying my waking hours so much, and that was getting in the way somewhat. As such, my sleep hasn’t been ideal – in terms of sticking to a rigid patterns (i.e. sleeping and waking at set times) nor getting the right amount I need each night.

2. Meditation (mindfulness)
Equally, I didn’t do my mindfulness every day. With late nights and early rises (e.g. sleeping at midnight on Sunday morning and then being up at 5.30), going to the park was going to be tricky. I did do my mindfulness on the train a couple of times, which was a good thing – better than not at all – but my daily mindfulness routine was certainly disrupted overall.

In summary: overall, I had enough ‘filled pots’ contributing to my happiness that the net effect was pretty good. With a couple of extra pots filled (e.g. the ‘sleep’ and ‘mindfulness’ pots), this could have helped even more with my overall mental state.

My week in brief
Friday
18th: Induction Day at UEL (for MAPPCP course)
Saturday 19th: 2nd Day at UEL
Sunday 20th: 3rd Day at UEL
Monday 21st: “Creating a happier world” – ‘Action For Happiness’ event with Dalai Lama and others (Lyceum Theatre); Sir Alex Ferguson with Michael Moritz, for launch of SAF’s new book ‘Leading’ (Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre)
Tuesday 22nd: Weekly ‘Escape Tribe’ session (Escape The City HQ)
Wednesday 23rd: ‘The Happy Startup School’ online session (home!)
Thursday 24th: ‘World Escape Day: London’ with Escape The City (The Proud Archivist)

Fun times with new friends of the MAPPCP variety. (Photo credit: Lindsay Rutland)
Fun times with new friends of the MAPPCP variety. (Photo credit: Lindsay Rutland)


This post is dedicated to all of you who have made this week so awesome. You know who you are. xo

HAPPY WORLD ESCAPE DAY!

Today, Thursday 24th September 2015 is World Escape Day! Find out more here.

Folks are gathering in cities all over the world – check which locations here. It’s going to be a blast! :)

I’ll be celebrating at the event in London, and will be posting about it in the coming days.

In the meantime, find out exactly why you’re better off doing what you love here.

Creating a #HappierWorld

To start with, this last week has been the best week of my life so far. I’ll be explaining more in the coming days. It has been full-on (hence the radio silence), but has been nothing short of extraordinary. Watch this space.

On Monday, I attended a fantastic ‘Action For Happiness’ event, with: Dalai Lama, Daniel Goleman, Richard Layard and several others. I will soon be posting summaries (long- and short-versions) of the day and it’s content.

This event was for an amazing cause – to launch a fantastic new course and to help create a ‪#‎HappierWorld‬. Please take a look at the short video here: www.createahappierworld.com – and do support if you feel the inclination.

Additionally, each ‘free’ coaching conversation I have will still take place at no cost; however, I will be suggesting a voluntary donation (entirely voluntary), 100% of which I will be donating to the cause. To find out more, click here.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Would you like to experience a ‘coaching conversation’?

Today, I am delighted to make 2 important announcements:

Firstly, I finally begin my Masters programme tomorrow. I am doubly-excited, as this particular course is the first of it’s kind – globally.

Secondly, I would like to invite you to experience a ‘coaching conversation’ (session), at no cost.

You can find out more by reading here.

Note: For future reference, I have also now incorporated a ‘Coaching’ tab at the top of the blog, where I will post all things coaching-related.

Why I’m Leaving the Booze Behind

Since I resigned from my corporate job back in June, strange things have been happening. Aside from having (a lot) more time on my hands, I felt freer and more contented. Those around me also noticed the difference – to recall 2 particular conversations I had in the couple of weeks following my ‘new life’:

  1. With my aunt at a family meal – “You seem really different, much better, like you’re finally doing what you want to be doing”.
  2. With one of my best friends from school – he had also recently resigned; one of those rare individuals who was academically phenomenal as well as good at every sport back at school, went on to gain a 1st in his Degree from Cambridge University (in one of the top courses there), and then started working for a law firm – before resigning from said firm. Our conversation was one of the most animated and memorable I’ve had. We both got it. (Admittedly, the Nando’s half-chicken play it’s part, too).

So what’s this all got to do with alcohol? With this newly found space and freedom, I have been given the headspace to really think about who I am, the values and beliefs I hold and – arising from those – the choices I make and actions I take.

One of things I have been thinking about is alcohol (though, paradoxically, I haven’t!). I often used to have a drink or two after work, or at the weekends. However there has since been a growing feeling that I just don’t need to drink anymore, for several reasons. I have to tried to summarise these, below:

1.  “I never really loved you anyway”
In the words of The Corrs, my relationship with alcohol started for one reason: I went to university and it’s what everybody else was doing. [Aside – doing something because everyone else is doing it is often easy, but very foolish indeed. With that mentality, I may well not have resigned and taken control, and I certainly wouldn’t currently be doing mindfulness most days in Bushy Park… two actions which have had a profound effect on me – and still are.]

2.   Much less of a ‘need’
With the lifestyle I had before – i.e. working several hours a day in a job I largely wasn’t passionate about – a Thursday/Friday evening drink often provide a temporary release, a pleasure spike. I no longer need that. My deeper-rooted joy/contentedness is more than making up for that, so I no longer feel the need to resort to such pleasure buzzes.

3.   The effects, both short-term (hangovers) and long-term (liver disease, depression, etc.)
Self-explanatory, really. With my 4-5 times per week exercise schedule, hangovers/tiredness brought on by alcohol really isn’t for me. It doesn’t sit well with my ‘waking up at a reasonable hour’ mantra either. And though I wasn’t often drinking excessive amounts, I really don’t like the look of the growing list of longer-term effects it can have.

4.   A waste of money
Just my humble opinion. This is one pleasure buzz that’s just not worth paying for. Especially not in London (£14 for a double-mixer, really?). And especially not when you’re taking it in turns to buy ‘rounds’. [Aside – positive psychology shows us that we’re better off spending our money on experiences rather than things, feeding our joy rather than pursuing short-lived pleasures]

[“But what about when it’s FREE?!” – I hear you cry. A slippery slope, my friend. Dabbling in a free Jack Daniels and coke here and there today, and before you know it you’ll be doing rounds of jagermeister and downing shots of tequila with some well-meaning strangers at a bar. No thanks!]
So there you have it. What started with a passing statement (“I’m giving up drinking!”) to one of my fellow Tribers at this Tuesday’s ‘Escape The City’ tribe session, has now led to a fully-fledged pledge (try saying that after a few beers – or rather, don’t! Sorry, couldn’t resist…) to you all.

Following the ‘habit-forming’ wisdom of Gretchen Ruben, Leo Babauta and others, I’ve decided to make myself accountable to you all. [See also – Resources for living better].

Crucially, I am becoming more mindful in the decisions I make and the actions I take.

I look forward to the undoubtable peer pressure and/or banter I’ll be subjected to next time I visit an establishment serving alcoholic beverages with some of my chums…

My afternoon of ‘Wellbeing Discussion, Dialogue and Debate’

(Hosted by ‘The What Works Centre for Wellbeing’ @WhatWorksWB)

GDP = Growth Domestic Product (existing, flawed global system)

GHP = Gross Happiness Product (new, system more human and more beneficial)

It must be said that this this week started better than most, kicking off with a rather memorable Monday. Beginning my journey just after noon from a slightly grey and cooler southwest London, a bus ride, overground (SouthWest Trains) train and Tube train (Jubilee Line) later, I found myself in Westminster, surrounding by many parliament buildings I hadn’t been this close to for quite a while. After a short walk through Parliament Square, I arrived at the venue for the ‘Wellbeing Debate’, Central Hall — an impressive building with, as Wikipedia later told me, Baroque and Edwardian architecture. Also courtesy of Wiki, the building not only serves as a Methodist church and a conference centre, but also an art gallery and an office building.

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Mental health: what everyone needs to know

This post provides what can be best-described as a ‘thorough snapshot’ of the recent special “mental health debate”, which featured on the Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC2.

The programme aired on Monday 20th July 2015, and is available to watch (in full) for a limited time on BBC iPlayer, here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0631kt8.

If you do not wish to have your viewing experience spoiled, it is advised that you watch the programme first prior to reading the account below. Watching the programme in full is highly recommended; no text can ever fully replace moving pictures and sound on a screen. For those of you unable to do so, for one reason or another, please do read on.

One of the advantages of taking an impromptu mini-sabbatical is that I have inevitably found myself with more free time on my hands, and thus more time which could be well-spent watching daytime television. Of course, it is a well-known fact that watching daytime television isn’t time spent well. Right?

Well, ‘mostly right’ as it turned out…

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Who am I?

We all have our own secrets, some big and some small. I wanted to share one with you that is fairly significant. Those who know me pretty well (and in fact those who know me at all), usually see me in my calm, content, sometimes-even-cheerful state.

However, I have previously gone through my phases of quiet distress, especially during my school and university years when I was struggling to figure out who I was.

The truth is, I often felt strangely disconnected and, at times, even downright different to the ‘norm, or – at least – what I had believed was the norm at the time.

To give some examples:

1. As a child/early teen, I enjoyed things like reading, chess, cartoons, science – i.e. “geeky stuff” which was certainly not considered ‘cool’ back then. I have since embraced my ‘geekiness’ and am actually now proud of it (in the non-egotisitical sense of being proud, of course!) Conclusion: geeks rock. As do scientists, book nerds, anime enthusiasts, cartoon lovers (guilty as charged), and all other such tribes.

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How it all began

I was lucky to have been given a very fortunate upbringing, with plenty of positive family experiences and holidays to remember, not to mention a very comfortable lifestyle. I also went to reputable primary and secondary schools; I consider myself fortunate.

Quite early on, I realised that I was fairly ‘academic’, and I proceeded to have a head in my book up until the age of around 16 – willingly, I might add. After 2 more years at school, this is when things became interesting; I started two different degrees at two different Universities, and didn’t finish either. Truth be told, I was very confused for these few years.

Not knowing what I wanted to do, I had made the ‘shortlist’ even smaller – in the world of 2010, there were only certain paths one could take without a degree, no matter how ‘bright’ I might have been in my school days. At that point, things just ‘happened’… I feel into a recruitment job with one of the largest firms globally (I am pretty sure everyone else in the intake had a degree, so this gave me marginal satisfaction at the time). The competitive world of sales in a large corporate world was only me second office job, and certainly opened my eyes a little bit. Due to several reasons, things didn’t completely work out there; however, I took a hell of a lot away with me – I’d spent over a year there, and being thrown in the deep end was difficult, but served me well. The next company I joined was far smaller, and the culture was refreshingly different. It was here I realised how much more nimble a smaller firm can be, and just how different these outfits were to the large, corporate behemoths.

In my second full year at this company, I had establish myself as one of the top fee earners. I earnt more that year than the majority of individuals my age – even my peers from my secondary school, many of whom had found themselves in well-paid legal and banking positions.

I loved the satisfaction of getting to really know the sector I recruited for, and the people (both clients and candidates) working within that. I found it really rewarding and satisfying building long-term relationships, and becoming the person that people trusted for their recruitment needs.

Despite this, something didn’t feel quite right. I was doing well financially – I was more than comfortable in that regard, I would be taken on nice client lunches at fancy City restaurants, I often go out drinking with colleagues and clients after work – this is what it was all supposed to be about, right?

This wasn’t the case, and this empty, dissatisfying feeling only grew. Being honest with myself, it was a feeling that had been there for a couple of years at least. The feeling would grow and shrink at different intervals, often dependent upon how much I had ‘billed’ that month (i.e. how much I had earned for the company, and therefore for myself – the more I made for the company, the more money I would ‘take home’ the coming quarter) – quite often, the good months in terms of billings would give a temporary sense of joy which temporarily numbers the dissatisfaction that I felt deep down.

The feeling came to a real climax early in 2015, when I went away for a week’s holiday to the Barbados; so often, it is when you remove yourself from the situation at home and away from all of ‘the noise’, that your true feelings really come to the fore and become amplified and clearer.

Whilst all of this had been going on, I was somewhat going through a real journey of self-discovery. I had also, for a time, been reading various books and blogs, and watching various videos.

It finally dawned on me that I was living the life I wanted to live. I was spending time in a job that was no longer giving me fulfilment, I was feeling more stressed than ever before, and I was growing increasingly disillusioned with where my life was heading, and the path I had found myself on, to date. I realised I was far from being happy, and I needed to take action.

I came back from Barbados, and began getting my affairs in order. On Friday, 19th June 2015 I resigned from my job, shortly after receiving an offer to study a Masters in Positive Psychology and Coaching* (*in fact, the official, unconditional offer actually arrived in my email inbox whilst I was handing my resignation in to my Director).

This was to be the start of a better life, and the catalyst towards a lot of other changes – including starting this blog.

It felt good putting my foot down.