Saying f**k it to goals

My goal, ahem, for what’s left of 2016 is to try and put up all my publications online.

This article for Together magazine focused on goals. Is it good to set goals? Yes, they give you direction, a target, and a sense of achievement once you’ve reached them. On the other hand, no it’s not good, as you can become goal crazy, putting your health, self or others at risk just to achieve them.

Sometimes, it’s really nice not to have a goal. It’s great to just drift along and see where life takes you. You may be pleasantly surprised. I’m quite partial to the “go with the flow” attitude, but once and a while, I check in with myself and stay conscious of where I’m going. When it no longer feels like the right direction, I pull over and get my map out (or ask someone)!

So I hope you enjoy the article.

Finally, you may have noticed that the citizens of the US did something quite spectacular on Tuesday. There’s been a lot of fear mongering since and it’s true, we really don’t know what’s going to happen. But just with Brexit, maybe the best thing is to focus on today, rather than on what might be, and on what is beyond our control. Let’s do what we can: protest peacefully, hold our politicians to account and be part of the citizenry.

P.S I’m with Dilbert.

dilbert_unmentioned-goals

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The shy Iranian

“There is the shy Iranian in all of us who dances in quick bursts of energy.”

– Omid Djalili

“Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” This quote from Oscar Wilde has chimed with me for many years. I have often tried to be myself, but I am never really sure what this means. There is also another “be yourself” quote which I hear regularly, attributed to Marilyn Munroe: “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

Growing up, I was frequently told to “be myself”. Especially when it came to dating, my friends encouraged me to stay who I was, and that the right guy would inevitably love and accept me for me. My favourite boss told me to never change who I was. These were lovely sentiments that made me feel very good.

I also had friends, family and colleagues telling me what I was like. A former colleague of mine once described me as a “thinker, not a doer”. A loved one told me that I am sometimes “too nice” and that I try too hard to please others. In my early twenties, a forty something singleton friend of mind told me that I reminded her a lot of herself when she was my age.

It’s funny to think that on the one hand people tell you to be yourself – the uniqueness that is you, and yet on the other hand, they tell you who they think you are.

One of the keys to happiness, says Tal-Ben Shahar on his Happiness 101 lecture, is the permission to be human: to express your emotions, frailties and vulnerability. I think that we all should do this, but only to a certain degree. I believe we have an obligation to one another to bring our best selves to the table as much as we can. And sometimes, bringing our best self means being someone we usually aren’t.

I used to find it very hard to temper my emotions. I got great joy from raising my voice and shouting people down. I used to fall in love quickly and deeply, and then be brought down to the depths of despair when it all went horribly wrong, which was most often the case. I believed in confrontation, in righting the perceived wrongs done against me. Somedays fear and self-consciousness would paralyse me in anxiety. Other days I would bounce off the walls, full of extroversion and energy.

The F**k It philosophy says that we have many sides to our personality, character and behaviour, and that it’s far better to just accept these different sides and not attach any positive or negative associations to them. The danger in fully accepting this philosophy is that it excuses the behaviour which prevents me from living freely. The philosopher Immanuel Kant believed that when we are a slave to our emotions, we are not truly acting freely, because we are letting them rule us. When I let my emotions overpower me, I wasn’t being my authentic self, because my authentic self would chose to act in a more responsible way.

I think we can be many things and we can change or adapt behaviour to become someone different. We can fake it until we become it. And how do really we know what we are like until we test the boundaries of what we are capable of? For instance, I didn’t think I was a particularly good flirt, but actually since I’ve been practising, I’m becoming quite good at it. I didn’t think I was particularly artistic but since I’ve started making cards, I consider myself a bit of an artist!

My nephews (who are 9 and 11 years old) brought the British comedian Omid Djalili’s quote to my attention when they wrote it in my birthday card. At the time, I had no idea why they chose this particular quote. With hindsight, I realise that they are geniuses. We all have shy, dancing Iranians inside of us. We just have to dare to bring him or her out.

Let’s not believe in who we think we are, and let’s not be overruled by our emotions. Let’s play, and test, and dance. And let’s always bring our best selves to the table, even when we don’t think we can.

Last week was Living room philosophy’s first anniversary. Thank you, dear readers, for this wonderful year.

Getting comfortable with discomfort

Dear All,

My next article for Together magazine out. As I’ve tried to become more open, put myself out there more, and express a more authentic self, I’ve definitely felt the discomfort and felt like retreating. Read how I deal with it. It’s on page 13 & 14 of the PdF version. Enjoy and let me know what you think!

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January

A year from now, you’re gonna weigh more or less than what you do right now.”

– Dr Phil

For the last seven years or so, I have written in my journal on New Year’s day, or as close to it as possible. I start this ritual by reading what I wrote on the previous New Year’s day. I then take stock of what has happened over the past year and compare it to the previous year. In my journal I reflect on this process and I then make resolutions for the New Year. Except for last year; that journal entry ended up being some irrational rant about the trials and tribulations of romantic love – the subject for a future blog post.

So I actually did no stock-taking, no comparing and no resolution-listing. I began 2013 with no expectations of the coming year.

Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. Because I made no resolutions, I had no demands or targets to meet. I put no pressure on myself to be a better person, to be more loving and charitable, to strive in my career or even to be in a relationship. I did not reminisce about happier times or ruminate about regrets, which is something I would often do in my stock-taking – comparing – listing ritual. The first of January 2013 was very much another ordinary day.

The F**k It philosophy talks about how plans and goals can be troublesome. One reason for this is that they can keep you too rigid and inflexible, and – to an extreme – chained to something which instead of bringing you satisfaction, may end up bringing you the opposite. In her book ‘Flourishing’, clinical and academic psychologist Maureen Gaffney states that a key element to living a flourishing life – that is a life that has meaning, that brings out our best selves, that makes us happy and positive – is to have three life projects, preferably one that relates to work, the other to family or friends and the remainder to a personal interest. A life project is bigger than a mere goal, it has to be something that fits with our values and emotions, and is something that we freely choose to do, rather than it being an obligation. Gaffney advises that life projects do not need to be big, noble nor public.

In order to choose a life project, Gaffney sets out the following criteria:
– It must be freely chosen;
– It must have meaning to us;
– We must believe that it is achievable;
– We must set goals in relation to it;
– We must dedicate enough time and effort to achieve these goals;
– We must have adequate resources to pursue it (like commitment and drive);
– There must be a reasonable chance that we can achieve the goals in the specified time.

Last New Year’s day, I made no goals, not to mention life projects. And what resulted was a year where I achieved many things, some of which I have spoken about on this blog. I began reading Gaffney’s book a year ago and was extremely put off by the idea of having life projects. I much preferred the F**k It philosophy, it seemed to work for me.

I returned to ‘Flourishing’ again during this Christmas. I was less daunted by the thought of having life projects, probably because I had already started some unwittingly: writing this blog is a life project for instance. Another life project was my decision to eat more healthily and lose weight, thus prompting me into learning how to cook well.

To me, the F**k It philosophy and ‘Flourishing’ are not mutually exclusive. I think it’s important to leave space to be flexible and open to new ideas, as ideas of life projects may not come to mind straight away and neither should they be forced. I guess however the two can be contrary to one another – having a life project is about having a sense of control whereas the F**k it philosophy is about giving up control and going with the flow.

In the end, we must work out the best way to provide meaning in our lives. And I think that if we do set ourselves goals or projects or resolutions we must do so from a healthy starting point. Giving up chocolate or signing up to the gym because of guilt or feeling bad about ourselves should never be the driving force for achieving any of the above. This is because the motivation is focussed on the negative, rather than the positive. We are doing things out of punishment, not love. And because of this, the likelihood of us accomplishing our goals, resolutions, targets or projects are small, hence making us feel worse about ourselves.

Resolutions don’t have to start this week just because it’s the New Year. They can start whenever it feels like a good idea. Or like me last year, you don’t have to have any and you can just see where each day takes you. If there are things that you would like to do or achieve towards the good life, I encourage you to go for it! But go easy on yourself, take your time, leave lots of space and listen to yourself.

I wish you a wonderful start to 2014.

July 2012: My "F**k It" month

“I once asked a Jesuit priest what was the best short prayer he knew. He said, “F**k it,” as in, “F**k it; it’s in God’s hands.”

– Anthony Hopkins

When I came back from London after my interview (that I mentioned in my post 29), I decided that July 2012 was going to be my “F**k It” month. I would literally apply this glorious phrase to every decision I made. Every day, I noted down what I said this magical obscenity to and would just see what happened in the process. To celebrate the first anniversary of my new attitude, I would like to share with you some of the things I said “f**k it” to this time last year and how it began to change the course of my life.

The F**k It Life was created by John C Parkin and his wife Gaia. They worked in advertising in London and had spent many years studying Eastern philosophy and meditation. Even though they liked their jobs, they had enough of their life in London and decided to leave it all behind them and move to Italy to start retreats. They claim that saying this phrase can be just as powerful as practising Buddhism and meditation, because when you say it, you immediately become detached and non-judgmental, which are some of the central tenets of Eastern philosophy.

I became instantly hooked when I read that little picture book last year. Since then I’ve devoured more of their books and passed them on to others (they are an excellent gift!).  I found these two simple words so liberating because essentially the philosophy is based around the idea (or the truth) that things really don’t matter so much. So when I started realising that things really don’t matter so much, I became less attached to lost dreams or what people thought of me. I became more forgiving of trespasses against me and those of my own doing. I worried less about what I should be doing and focussed more on what I was actually doing. And the great thing about all of this? I was actually having fun! I said yes more, I tried out new things, I stopped doing the things I disliked and I swore a lot!

So here are some of the things that were getting me down that I decided to let go:

1. Not having a life plan.
2. Not having any savings.
3. Failing to become a practising lawyer before I even started.
4. Seeking approval from others.
5. Caring about people who were just not that into me.

And on the flip side, I:

1. Ate more chocolate.
2. Wore pink jeans.
3. Did an Art Nouveau cycling tour.
4. Wrote articles about my life in Brussels and my failed legal career.
5. Revelled in the boring bits of my job.
6. Joined a musical theatre company.
7. Tried different dishes and new restaurants.
8. Let people go who were hurting me.
9. Enjoyed the rain (it rained a lot last July).

By just even saying it, I immediately relaxed: the tension lifted; my breath deepened; my pulse steadied. There is something really magical about it because as soon as you say it, the worry does disappear; it may be temporary at first, but just remember that feeling of relief and keep going.

I did not do any wild stuff during this month but I noticed the changes. I became more accepting of my lot, and yet at the same time more willing to expand my comfort zone and re-configure my lot. I became more trusting of my ability and consequently I felt like I used less brain power but achieved better results. I also realised that I didn’t need to be anyone or do anything to be ok. Perhaps that is what freedom is.

So, why don’t you take up the challenge? Let July 2013 be your “F**k It” month and see what changes it brings about? As one caption in the picture book says, “Be open to something spectacular happening today.”  But please keep it lawful; I take no responsibility for any f**k ups.

29

29 was the age when Buddha left his family, his palace, his old life in search for enlightenment. I have not taken such drastic steps but at 29 I realised that I was not being true to myself. A couple of years before, I was in a WH Smiths (a newsagent) in London looking at what to get my brother for his birthday. I am ashamed to say that in the bargain bin I came across a small picture book called, “The way of F**k It” by John C Parkin. I  flicked through it and thought it looked pretty funny. The book was about saying a big f**k it to things that don’t really matter so much and to encourage us to let go and be free. I bought it and gave it to my brother, not really thinking anything more about it.

Last summer, when I was 29, I came back to London for a job interview. I had convinced myself that this job was going to lead me to the career I wanted, a career that I had been building for the last six years. Six years spent doing internships; studying; working; seeing the world; and meeting extraordinary people. After the interview, which I knew wasn’t successful, I came back to my brother’s place and lay on the bed, exhausted. I noticed that on the bedside table was the F**k It picture book. Drawn to it, I picked it up and read it. After reading the funny yet bold captions, I decided that July 2012 would be my f**k it month and I would apply the principles of letting go, being honest with myself, enjoying the moment and not taking things so seriously to every situation in my life.

One year on and many great changes have happened in my life. Changes for the good. I am trying to live a life true to myself and be the best possible person I can be. I have realised that the more you give, the more you get back. So that is why I decided to write this blog. I was thinking about what themes or topics this blog should have and then I just thought, “Why not write about the things I have learnt over the past year and get the message out?”. So this blog is about self-help, philosophy, well-being, spirituality, health and anything else that I think is worth writing about! I hope that what I write can provide inspiration to those of you who want to live the fullest life possible.

At 29 years of age Buddha started his journey, and so did I.