It Really is Better to Give Than to Receive

I confess I have been a bit slack over the Christmas period, as well as not jumping straight on to the New Year’s message bandwagon. I have however, enjoyed reading other people’s insights and experiences.

One of my favourite stories to have emerged over this time of giving and receiving was about the couple in Northern Ireland who won a record-breaking £114,969,775 lottery prize. You may well have seen the headlines and realised that the story is not about how much they won but how they plan to spend it.

They are going to give the vast majority of it away to friends, family and a few favourite charities.

Wow, what a way to begin the year!

Whilst it is of course, always lovely to be given a beautiful gift by someone you love, it is surely true that it is even more pleasurable to be the giver of the gift and watch the recipient’s face light up and often be overcome with emotion at the sheer thought that has gone into such a gift, or the effort it must have required to produce it.

So, if I am going to yield to the temptation of giving you a challenge for this New Year, how about this for size:

What could be the best thing you could give to someone else?

It may be a gift that costs you a fair bit of money but it could also be something that requires your time, energy and thought.

Or simply means giving your very best in such a way that will truly bless that other person.

The Day Mobile Phones Stopped Working

Last week, I travelled to Edinburgh to visit my client who lives there and while I was waiting at Gatwick airport, I noticed I wasn’t getting a 4G signal. I don’t know why but any time this happens, the first thing I think of in some mild panic is, “Did I forget to pay the bill?” Then I quickly remind myself that the rolling, Giffgaff SIM only contract costs just £10 a month and auto renews anyway. So, no, that is not the problem.

I logged on to the airport’s two hour free wifi and didn’t let the absence of any network signal bother me. I bought a bottle of water that comes with a free copy of The Daily Telegraph and enjoyed reading a hard copy for once, instead of the electronic version I have been enjoying recently – what with all the political shenanigans surrounding Brexit.

When I arrived a bit early at our meeting place, there still wasn’t a signal and by now, I was suspecting some sort of network problem. Instead of becoming increasingly frustrated however, I chose to take advantage of the situation and instead, invest some more time into my relatively recently acquired learned behaviour of ’embracing boredom’ at any opportunity. I have written about this before on the subject of Deep Work and it simply involves resisting the temptation to grab your smartphone within a millisecond of finding yourself waiting for anything. In a queue; TV paused while your friend or partner leaves the room for a minute or two; at a table in a cafe while someone else gets the coffees, the list goes on and is very familiar to all of us.

This new habit is designed to help you remain focussed on a Deep Work task when you inevitably hit that wall where the ideas appear to have dried up, or you are struggling to resist the temptation to check your emails barely ten minutes after last checking them.

It is still a struggle for me and I am in complete favour of the idea of embracing boredom but on this day of the O2 collapse in network functionality, it got me thinking about how excruciating it must have been for the estimated 32 million people up and down the country.

I read the following day about one person, a well known journalist who was due to appear on the BBC programme Question Time that evening and was out of his office and home all day. He was relying on his smartphone to keep him up to date with the day’s events ahead of his appearance. Other examples which when you read them, sound a bit comical but must have been extremely frustrating for the people involved included people not being able to use the famous ‘Boris Bikes’ in London, bus timetables crashing (at least it didn’t cause the buses themselves to crash!), thousands of smart meter installations were cancelled and so on.

All of which causes me to wonder what would happen if one day, more than one network went down, or, if as so many, silly celebrity-led headlines tend to claim, someone managed to single-handedly “break the internet”.

Imagine if that actually happened?

What would we do?

Well, for a start, I think you would see people all over the place holding their phone in their hand, staring at it in disbelief. Then, because there was nothing on the screen to keep their attention from anything else, they might look up and notice they are not the only one suffering such outrageous lack of service. This in turn, would give them something to discuss with their fellow sufferers and then…they would actually talk to each other about the sheer inconvenience of it all.

One person may say they are desperate to get through to their loved one as today is their birthday or they had a driving test and are desperate to find out how they got on. This in turn, would prompt another person to proudly but humbly at the same time somehow declare that taking the time to teach their son how to drive was one of the best investments of time he has ever made (that would be me) as well as recalling the enjoyment of being taught by his own Dad alongside the same driving instructor he learned with also. (That would be me again.)

It is easy to see how the world could grind to a halt if and when another network crash comes colliding into our world of ubiquitous distraction and treadmill activities. Amid all the very understandable frustration at such a situation, hopefully most of us could appreciate the opportunity to embrace a bit of boredom by turning it into a rare glimpse into the lives of other human beings sat right next to us.

In the spirit of openness, here’s my latest Screen Time headline statistics:

 

The Blessing is in the Detail…

Claudio Ranieri is an Italian football manager who will never, ever be forgotten. For anyone who has no idea who he is, I am sure you will have heard about Leicester City winning the football Premier League at the end of the 2015/16 season.

It is widely acknowledged as the most shocking sporting team result in the history of sport. At the start of the season, they were 5000-1 rank outsiders to win the league but by the end of it, most people like me who had been following them with increasing amazement as the season progressed, as well as those who have been supporting them their entire lives were awestruck by what they had achieved.

All that to say, Claudio Ranieri is starting low all over again – this time with south-west London club Fulham. Now I’m not saying they will win the league this season or even next season but my attention was captured by a simple story about the wise Italian’s instant impact at the club who currently sit at the bottom of the Premier League.

With their previous manager in control (or not as the case may be) the Fulham players would eat their lunch in the club canteen and then get up and leave.

Not with Ranieri around they don’t. He has insisted that no one leaves until the last person has finished their lunch.

It may sound simplistic. It may even sound legalistic.

It is neither of these.

Even their warm up routines have been subtly but dramatically changed to increase the cohesion and harmony in the team. If the player leading their warm-ups leads with his right leg for the first move, everyone has to move with their right leg.

This is what is known as ‘cognitive cohesion’. (Actually I just made that up but it sounds quite good I think!)

Whatever you may want to call it, whenever and wherever you encourage, or even dare I say it, force people in a team to come together to build a greater sense of unity and togetherness, great things can potentially happen.

In Fulham’s case, that will mean simply staying in the Premier League for next season, Beyond that, who knows but I’m not sure I would bet against Claudio Ranieri doing something extraordinary again.

And while the headlines are what we tend to remember, for the players and those closest to the real work behind the scenes, the blessing is in the detail.

 

How Much Time Do You Have?

“How much time do you have?” When you hear someone say this to you it usually indicates they may have quite a lot to say.

What about if you ask yourself the same question?

There is no accurate answer of course.

Not if you’re thinking about how much time you have until you die.

I find myself coming back to this question more often than perhaps I care to consciously admit. The work I find myself doing is rich and varied but it all comes down to the same thing in the end…

What are you going to do with the time you have in your possession?

Many people’s lives are dictated by the extreme time constraints they have become accustomed to as part of their work or simply, their expectations of life in general.

“I don’t have time for that…”

“It takes too much time…”

“If I only had the time to do…”

You and I all have our own version of this familiar, almost daily script.

A little which ago, I heard a story about Ed Sheeran and Paul McCartney. Apparently, Ed Sheeran heard about something that his hero, Paul McCartney had said about his obsession with guitar playing.

Many people have heard about the ‘10,000 Hour Rule’ which stipulates that in any given area of expertise but especially in the area of performance of any kind – you need to have practised for 10,000 hours to get into that revered space of ‘expert’ or ‘world class’.

Anyway, Ed Sheeran heard that Paul McCartney reckoned he had chalked up over 100,000 hours – simply because throughout his life at any opportunity, he keeps picking up his guitar and plays.

Ed Sheeran was so blown away by this accomplishment that he apparently decided to get rid of his XBox and any other form of ‘gaming distraction’ and instead, use the time he would have spent playing on these things to apply to his own guitar-playing. In addition to his presumably regular practise sessions.

It remains to be seen if Mr. Sheeran maintains this high level of commitment to his craft but I thought it was yet another reminder about how we choose to spend our time.

In my own life, I am developing a passion for helping others find creative ways to use their time – especially while they’re at work – in order to become more productive, more effective and hopefully, more satisfied with how they spend their daily allotment of time.

Here I am delivering a workshop about just that and hopefully, all of the attendees will put into practise even one change that will enable them to feel more fulfilled by what they do every day.

 

 

 

Be More Snail

I’ve unashamedly stolen the title of this blog – based on a charity piece of art I walked past in Brighton this week.

I was on my way to meet a friend for lunch when I suddenly saw a giant snail…

To be honest, I didn’t have time to stop and read the blurb about the local charity that was being represented but it did give me a reminder about something I am interested in.

Namely, we do well to take a minute, assess the speed we tend to live at, and see if we can at least try and slow down.

Even if it’s only for an hour.

Or a day.

You may have heard of the ‘Slow Movement’ – which was spawned by the book by Carl Honoré called In Praise of Slow.

I read the book a few years ago and many of the ideas contained within it fascinated me.

Did it radically change me?

Probably not.

Do I still walk fast more often than slow?

Yes.

Do I like to take time out and slow down whenever I can?

Absolutely.

With the passing of time, I like to think there are at least some areas where I am practising being slow…

Slow to anger…

Slow to taking offence…

Slow to interrupt…

Slow to being irritated…

Conversely, there are one or two things I would actually like to speed up from time to time…

Speaking to relative strangers…

and falling asleep at night (although I suspect I’m often out for the count faster than I think!)

 

More Beautiful to Look Through

Last Saturday, my wife and I went to visit Chartwell, in Kent – Winston Churchill’s famous country home.

I am a huge Churchill fan, so this was an occasion I had been looking forward to for some time.

It did not disappoint.

Among many things that I was fascinated by and thoroughly enjoyed gazing at was a beautiful window etched into a wall outside the house. In fact, the whole patio area where it was situated was one of my favourite parts of the property.

It simply made me realise once again, how many different perspectives there always are when it comes to anything. It also made me realise that if you ever get the opportunity to see more than one perspective, you should grasp it eagerly, simply because it will present to you something that is far closer to the truth than you can ever muster on your own.

It is also invariably more beautiful to look through.

Road Trip Playlist

There are certain times in life I have found, when someone else makes you feel incredibly worthwhile.

Or cool.

Or just plain good.

It is lovely when the compliment comes from a relative stranger – probably because they are blissfully ignorant of your not so obvious flaws.

It is far, far better however, when it comes from someone who has known you for a considerable amount of time and are probably related to you – if not by blood – by some other, virtual umbilical cord of connection.

When it is one of your children and the compliment comes in an area of life that you thought had long since been surrendered to them and their corresponding generation, it is a truly satisfying moment and you had better savour it because the chances are, it will almost certainly be pretty rare.

One such moment came for me on a road trip back to Brighton recently.

We had spent the entire day driving up the M1 to Leeds, moving her furniture and seemingly endless other bits and pieces into her new flat, ahead of her permanent move in a few weeks, for her university course.

In the end, by my reckoning, I had clocked up around eleven hours of driving a long wheel base Mercedes van and by the end of it, I was truly exhausted.

But it was so worth it, just to listen to my daughter saying on more than one occasion that based on what she was currently listening to, she would need to look up my Spotify playlist – aptly entitled Road Trip.

Which songs had impressed her so much you may well wonder?

Well, I could lie and pretend that I remember which ones she loved so much but the truth is, I cannot remember now.

Besides, it doesn’t matter to me which ones she loved.

The fact that she loved songs I loved meant a great deal to me and reminded me of the beautiful cycle that never stops evolving between parent and child.

Parent teaches, child learns.

Child teaches, parent learns.

Or as my Dad announced recently after we had conversed about something (I remember not again!)

“Dad teaches son, son teaches Dad.”

Simple Lessons From a Bit of Watching & Listening

Yesterday morning, I went for a two hour hike, or rather, a bit less than a two hour hike with a good half hour sat on a concrete platform. Where would that be you might ask? I live very near to Ditchling Beacon, a beautiful vantage point where all kinds of people go – some more regularly than others. Joggers, mountain-bikers, dog-walkers, and people like me, who simply like to go for a good walk, clear their head and have a good think about things coming up in the not-too-distant future.

As I’ve written before, there’s nothing quite like a beautiful blue sky to get you thinking creatively and yesterday, I felt the need to get some mental preparation in for a couple of important work projects that are coming up.

I knew I would see a lovely blue sky and the panoramic view across the South Downs but while I sat down on the incongruous piece of concrete (that had some water running underneath it by the sound of it) I was surprised by how much I really saw and heard.

Simple things…

Like two men walking and talking, enjoying the countryside…

A flying spider (I have no idea what it is really called!) that I was absolutely captivated by as it advanced towards me and then leapt into the air and landed on a different piece of grass…

I listened to the buzz of the ubiquitous flies, the distant murmour of conversations between walking as well as cycling couples, the gentle ‘pat, pat, pat’ of the jogger’s trainers on the dirt track. It felt to me like life had slowed right down and allowed me to absorb some really simple things.

Eventually, after having scribbled down a few possible ideas, I began walking back the way I had come and took in even more of the not-so-obvious sights.

Like the view beyond a section of barbed wire. We can all be restricted by the wire, the fence, the wall, whatever it is in front of us but most of us are able to look beyond that potential hindrance and begin to get a vision for what could be…

It’s a pretty subtle difference on this occasion but then that’s the point.

Some stuff mars our view, our perspective and much of the time, we don’t even know it’s there.

Invariably, all you have to do is take a few steps forward and look at the thing but this time without the subtle hindrance…

Isn’t that so much better?

I watched an old man playing with a model aeroplane. He had a unique way of throwing it up in to the air and then it would fly for a few seconds. It didn’t even look like he had a remote control box. I was heartened to see someone so relatively old playing like an innocent young boy. (He was however, a bit far away for a candid photo!)

I saw a sign for the South Downs Way and thought about the signposts I have tried to follow during my own life and how amazingly blessed I am to see all three of my children follow their own road map as well as get paid to help others do the same.

I came across another sign shortly afterwards but this time there was a racing cyclist hurtling down towards me. I remembered how I used to take photographs of a pub football team and sell the best ones to those who were excited to see themselves scoring a goal or heading the ball. I wondered if I still had it in me to capture the cyclist as he flew past…

 

As I came to the end of my return to the car, I saw three friends – older men again, enjoying their retirement by the sound of it – and was reminded once again, of our desperate need to do this journey we call life, with our friends and other loved ones. Anyone who thinks they can do it all on their own is deluded…

Finally, as I came through the gate, I saw another racing cyclist who appeared to have just finished riding up to the top of a ridiculously steep section of road that runs from Ditchling village all the way up to the Beacon. He was taking a well-earned rest, refuelling with some food and drink. If I ever needed reminding again…the journey can be extremely tough, it can take a lot longer than we imagined and cost us more than we planned but in the end, it is definitely worth it.

 

The Road Looked Narrower Than the Car!

Occasionally, as a driver, I come across roads that look ridiculously narrow or steep. Very occasionally, I have come across a combination of the two but I have never, in all my thirty-four years of driving, come across a road that is both narrow and incredibly steep, and is littered with genuine hairpin bends!

I was away last week with my family in Italy, where we stayed at a truly beautiful Airbnb in Tuscany. I hesitate to reveal too much about the location as I would almost prefer we keep this little bit of heaven to ourselves.

What I will say is I am so glad we arrived during the daylight hours, as the drive up to Andrea and Laura’s place was truly terrifying (and I don’t scare easily when driving). On one side of the car, I had passengers pleading with me to create more distance from the sheer drop down the mountain, and on the other side, I was acutely aware how close I was driving to the wall. We came onto one stretch of road where it literally looked like the road was narrower than the car! I promise you, I was hugging the left hand side as much as I could but from the dashboard, it looked like we were about to go off the other side of the road…

Just in case you’re wondering, my wife took the photo from the passenger seat on the right.

But it was worth the risk. The view is always worth the risk. I trust you will agree…

So what? You may say; lovely view from a Tuscan kitchen window. And indeed it is.

My point is this: Many times, it takes a huge effort on our part to secure the view we now enjoy. That may be a financial view, a relational view or something even higher – that gives us the necessary vantage point to be able to offer something back to those who could do with a hand up, or a word of encouragement to keep moving along that narrow, steep, terrifying road that keeps throwing blind bends at them when they least expect it.

Someone has to have gone before them in order to tell them it will be okay, even when it doesn’t look okay. Someone has to have bothered to have made the ascent themselves and then offer the unique encouragement that comes with having had the experience.

That can make all the difference between someone giving up or pushing through and then seeing the view for themselves, and perhaps deciding that they too, can offer some perspective or encouragement.

Beauty, Rubbish and Danger

I am currently in the middle of the first two week, summer holiday I have had for a very long time – soaking up the sunshine in Greece and making the most of the time to relax and do… next to nothing.

Whilst I could share many images, a few stories and one or two restaurant reviews, no one really wants to read about that. I do however, want to share three personal images…

The first image is a picture postcard view.

It is, of course, a beach.

And the scene before me was so similar to hundreds I’ve seen before of idyllic holiday destinations that I just had to share it.

The location is ‘Kathisma Beach’ and it is quite simply, stunning. There are no jet-skis; no water-skiers (though I love to do both of these activities!).  There is nothing that can disturb the tranquil beauty of the turquoise sea – apart from those who can’t resist cooling off, swimming or just splashing about.

As some of you know (from my experiences last year), I can now swim front crawl ‘properly’ (head down, mouth up every third stroke) and I can swim further and faster than ever before, using a fraction of the energy. This holiday has given me the opportunity to push through and actually swim like this in open water for the first time. After struggling to swim through either misty or reed-infested water in the UK, swimming here has been a totally different experience, providing clarity like I’ve never seen before. My wife counted thirty-three strokes before I stopped to see how far I’d got. Previously, I’d never swam more than about six strokes in the sea!

The second point to note, on the walk back up the hill from a taverna the other night, was that of a collection of rubbish that caught my attention. I was extremely impressed with not only how much rubbish had been squeezed into a relatively small, twin public street bin but how much care must have gone into the final few pieces that had been added.

We all have rubbish in our lives (even if we think we don’t!) and – of course – it’s good to try to be a bit careful with it. Some of us however, for whatever reasons, find it difficult to be at all tidy about our rubbish – that’s okay too – but we could take inspiration from this bin.

Whilst taking some time out, and reading a challenging book, I’ve been considering how I for one, can be a little bit more patient with others, regardless of whether their rubbish is obvious or not.

Third point.  On our second trip to the beach, we took a wrong turn and ended up driving on some hair-raising, dangerous narrow roads that contained no barriers and a sheer drop down several hundred feet of mountain ravine.

It wasn’t a massive problem to me as I was driving (!) and for the most part, the drop was on the passenger side! I can’t say the problem was as small for my wife… but we survived, and eventually made it to the beach. (No photos were taken during this particular road trip for obvious reasons).

Coastlines are special places for me and so – facing a bit of danger – maybe even dealing with a bit of rubbish along the way – is always worth it. I’m tempted to say, ‘Life is a beach’… but (as detailed above) not always in the way you might think it will be.

We should all take time to sit with our fellow travellers and enjoy the view: