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How to win the battle with addictive behaviours

We have lots of things in our lives, that it’s worth finding the right line for.

A few examples are alcohol, social media, caffeine, sugar, Netflix, screen time etc. The list goes on.

I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff like this. I’m ultimately trying to get to what the right level of consumption is for me.

On one hand, most of these types of things bring pleasure in the moment, and they do add value to our lives. But, it’s very, very easy to over-indulge. And when we do, it ends up doing the exact opposite of bringing pleasure and value (the pleasure wears off and it has negative consequences).

The trick is in finding the right line. That’s the place where we can still experience things that bring pleasure, but without the negative consequences. Or, at least if there are some minimal negative consequences, it’s easily worth the trade off.

Over time, I’ve settled on a three step process for how to find the right line for these types of things. I wanted to share it, aswell as a recent example from my own life.

3 step process for finding the right line:

Step 1. Self awareness

As usual, it starts with self awareness. Without self awareness, we tend to passively drift into things, or just fit in with the norm.

Instead, it’s worth sitting down and spending some time thinking about what you’re trying to work out the right line for.

  • Why do you do it?
  • Does it actually bring you value? (be brutally honest with yourself)
  • How much time do you do it (be brutally, brutally honest with yourself)
  • Can you experience it in different ways, which influence the value and pleasure you get from it?

Social media is a good example. I’m convinced most people use social media because everyone else does. People feel they will miss out if they aren’t using it. It’s rarely used intentionally.

Instead, people jump blindly into things like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They loosely follow / become friends with anyone. And before you know it, you’re spending hours every day scrolling through a feed that adds very little value to your life. It ends up becoming a form of distraction, and an addictive habit.

So, it’s really important to take a step back and think deeply about what you’re trying to find the right line for. This will be useful when it comes to making a decision for where the right line is.

Note: If you’re interested to see how I found the right line for social media, check out – Social media: The one thing I did, which finally got it under control.

Step 2. Do a Reset

This step is critical and essential. You’ll be tempted to skip it, but don’t.

It’s hard to work out the right line for something, if you don’t experience what it’s like to go without it (and how good it feels to go without it).

Often, it’s surprising just how good you feel without it. And that becomes a huge part in the decision for where to set the line for it.

I find that 14 days is the minimum period to eliminate something from your life – 30 days is even better.

Let’s not beat around the bush – it’s super hard to go cold turkey. If you drink multiple cups of coffee a day, it’s a big jump to cut it out entirely. If you eat a lot of crappy foods, it’s going to be hard to just stop. If you drink wine every night, the evenings are going to feel long without it. The first few days are always the worst.

There’s not much else to say – you just have to do it. You have to ride it out. After a few days, it does gets easier. Then, around the 7 day mark, you will start to get a feel for what it truly feels to not have it in your life. That’s why I think 14 days is the minimum period to go through a reset. It allows for 7 days of getting used to things, and then another 7 days to truly experience what it feels like to be without it.

Step 3. Decide the line

You now have to set some very clear rules / boundaries for how you will bring this ‘something’ back into your life.

DO NOT make this decision after the rest period is over. If you do this, you risk ending the reset without a plan. This is super dangerous. The likelihood is that you’ll just slip back to how you were before.

Make the decision on the last couple of days of the reset. This allows you to prepare for a smoother transition to the line you want.

Where the line is, is totally up to you. It goes back to being self aware of why you want it in your life, the pleasure it brings, and the negative consequences of over-consumption. Reflect on this.

The only thing I will say is that there’s usually no middle ground (phew, I finally got to the title of this post!). In my experience, the right line is usually closer to elimination.

For example, let’s say you drink 5+ cups of coffee a day. The right line will probably look more like one cup of coffee – before noon (not 3 cups, whenever you like). In some cases, it might even be right to eliminate it forever.

A recent example:

As I headed into 2019, there were a few things that I wanted to figure out the right line for.

The first was alcohol. I wouldn’t say I drink a lot, but I do find it easy to slip into over-consumption. A few too many consecutive nights of a few glasses of red wine. Or, the odd night out night out where I drink too much.

The second was eating a paleo diet. Recently, I’ve been hitting 70/30 consistency at best, and sometimes even treading closer to the middle ground (50 / 50). I’ve also had a few consecutive days of getting completely off track.

Lastly, I drink over 5 cups of tea at any time of the day – sometimes as much as 10 cups (hey, at least I’m in good company!). Until recently, it didn’t quite click that it’s a lot of caffeine to consume on a regular basis.

So, after some thinking about it (step one), I went into the new year committing to the following reset (step two):

  • No alcohol
  • Strict paleo eating (no wheat, dairy, legumes, sweeteners, chocolate, soft drinks or any processed foods)
  • 1 cup of caffeine per day – before noon

It’s been hard. Mostly, because I didn’t take the advice I often give and tried to change more than one thing at the same time (don’t do this!). Limiting caffeine was probably the hardest (I really do like my cups of tea 😉 ).

I ended the challenge this weekend just gone. I had originally decided to go the whole of January, but I found eliminating multiple things pretty tough. I came to the conclusion that I’d reached the period where I truly felt what it was like to eliminate these things from my life. I felt like I was in a good position to decide the right line, and then stick to it.

Whilst it was tough, I am 8 lbs lighter. I feel clearer headed. I have less bloat. I’ve been sleeping better. I’ve saved money (from less eating out and buying wine). And I’ll tell you what, I put love and care into making that one cup of tea a day – and I take my time drinking it! I definitely want to keep these benefits.

So, on the last couple of days of the rest period, I decided where I wanted to draw the line for these three things (step three). I set myself some clear rules and boundaries. I’m confident they will allow me to experience these things and get plenty of pleasure and value from them. But, also mitigate any of the potential negative side effects.

My line is:

Mon – Fri:

  • Strict paleo eating (no wheat, dairy, legumes, sweeteners, chocolate, soft drinks or any processed foods)
  • Time restricted eating. Eat between 12PM – 8PM (8 hours) and fast between 8PM – 12PM (16 hours).
  • 1 caffeine drink per day (before noon)
  • No alcohol (until 6PM on Fri)

Weekend:

  • 1 caffeine drink per day (before noon)
  • No alcohol (Sunday)
  • Ease up on strict paleo and time restricted eating (12PM – 8PM). But, still make fairly sensible choices (avoid going overboard and pigging out).

Overall, this is probably 80 / 20, or maybe even closer to 90 / 10. I will have a very strict week, but then relax up a bit over the weekend (with some sensible constraints).

This feels like exactly the right line for me. Maximum benefits, with minimum potential negative side effects. And, importantly, I know it’s something I can be happy with and consistently stick to.

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5 things I love #2

I put a lot of effort into curating my social media feeds, to discover great content. By great, I mean things that might spark an idea, and have potential to have a big impact on my life.

Below are five things I’ve read, listened to, or watched recently – that I think are really special:

1. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary about 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono. He owns a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearance, it holds the prestigious three-star Michelin Guide rating.

It tells the story of Jiro’s relentless pursuit to master his craft. He has just one goal in life – to cook perfect Sushi.

Inspiring and well worth a watch!

2. Joe Rogan Experience #1212 – David Goggins (podcast) is a masterclass on mental toughness.

David Goggin is an interesting guy. He had an incredibly tough childhood. But, through self-discipline, mental toughness, and hard work, he transformed himself into a U.S. Armed Forces icon and one of the world’s top endurance athletes.

The interview is full of crazy stories. From completing 4,025 pull-ups in 17 hours (world record), to running 100 miles in under 19 hours (despite never running a marathon before).

David Goggin’s seems to have no boundary on what’s possible for himself – and he’s learned to love the the process of suffering. That combination has helped him achieve what most of us would think is impossible.

As usual, Joe Rogan makes the interview an easy listen. I loved the whole thing, from beginning to end.

3. Joe Rogan Experience #1037 – Chris Kresser (podcast) is a must watch for anyone who cares about their health and living longer.

Chris talks about how chronic disease is on the rise, and how our healthcare system is broken. He stresses how returning to a diet and lifestyle that is closer to our ancestors (eat real foods and be active) is necessary if we want to avoid chronic diseases.

The interview is mind blowing. And the statistics he shares are stark:

  • 1 in 3 Americans has prediabetes or diabetes
  • 86% of our healthcare spending goes toward chronic disease
  • 7 of 10 deaths are caused by chronic disease
  • Today is the first generation of kids expected to live shorter lifespans than their parents

It’s a reminder that the average western lifestyle is literally killing us. Most of us eat processed food and sit down for much of the day. It’s a recipe for chronic disease and I don’t think most people even realise it.

It helped to strengthen my resolve to get as close as I can to eating real foods and being active every day.

4. Chasing Excellence #053: 10 Principles for Better Sleep (podcast) is a great discussion on how to build better sleep habits, and why sleep is so important for our health.

I love Ben Bergeron. He’s super smart and always practical with his advice.

About half way in, they discuss a study that showed the effects of 5 days sleep deprivation. All participants turned pre-diabetic, which highlights just how important sleep is.

It’s really got me thinking about the quality of my sleep. I tend to go to sleep at 10pm and wake at 5am. So, 7 hours feels quite good. It’s the quality of sleep that needs work. I tend to wake up several times throughout the night and then feel tired in the afternoons.

I’ve already started sleeping in a cooler temperature and it’s helping. In the New Year I’m going to upgrade our mattress, duvet, pillows and covers. I’m also going to get some blackout blinds.

Note: The fifth item isn’t technically content, but I’m going to make an exception seeing as it’s a content platform 😉

5. Pocketcasts is a podcast app, and damn it’s good.

I was getting frustrated with the clunky design and user experience of the default Apple podcast app. I started looking for something better, and a friend recommended the Pocketcasts app.

It’s a beautiful design and the user experience is really good. If you listen to podcasts through the native Apple podcast app, I highly recommend switching to Pocketcasts. It has everything you need, plus more. You won’t look back.

I subscribe to about 10 – 15 podcast shows. And I probably listen to a handful of podcast episodes a week. It’s made quite a big difference to my podcast experience!

Get my newest articles in your inbox

Receive an email when I publish a new article (usually 1 or 2 a month). I also share a summary of outstanding content I stumble across (usually about once per month).

Sign up now and you’ll receive a collection of my most popular articles, aswell as a comprehensive guide on how to plan a kick-ass week.


5 things I love #1

I put a lot of effort into curating my social media feeds, so I can discover great content. By great, I mean things that might spark an idea, and have the potential to have a big impact on my life.

Below are five things I’ve read, listened to, or watched recently that I think are really special:

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I went for lunch, and all I did was eat lunch – it was hard and weird

lunch

I wonder about myself at times. Ella already thinks I’m weird, and shit like this really doesn’t help.

So, I’m walking to this restaurant by myself. And I’m thinking — I wonder if I can go in and just eat lunch. No phone, no kindle, no nothing. Just me and my lunch.

I decide to do it. I walk in and ask for a table for one. The waitress shows me to my table and I sit down.

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Three reasons morning routines don’t work (and how to stick to one you love)

Waking early and making good use of the early hours is the biggest life hack there is — no exception. It’s a competitive advantage that almost feels like you’re cheating. You’re getting stuff done whilst most other people are sleeping like babies!

But, it can be hard to find one you like doing and will stick to (these are linked).

In my experience, there are three things that are at the root of not sticking to a morning routine…

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How to learn something new, faster (with an example)

Goddamn double unders. They are a bitch to learn.

I’ve spent the last couple of months working on them. Most of the time I could only get 2 or 3 reps (repetitions) before the rope hit my leg.

I sometimes got up to 10 – but it was a fluke occurrence. I couldn’t repeat it consistently. And then I’m back to 2 or 3 reps again. It was frustrating.

I watched loads of videos. I recorded myself, looking for holes in my technique. But, I couldn’t seem to make a break through.

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You know a wise man once said nothin’ at all

You know a wise man once said nothin’ at all – Drake

 

Most of what I write about usually comes to me in one of two ways.

Sometimes I randomly start thinking about a topic. I then start to notice a bunch of related things that enforce or help shape my thinking on it. And then I write it up (which also helps further shape my thinking on it).

However sometimes it works the other way. I notice a bunch of related things over time and I start to think about it more. I gradually realise the importance of it and develop a view on it. And then I write it up.

This post is no different.

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How to be less busy, and have more impact

Focus

I’ve been through a major shift in how I plan my days and get things done over the last few years.

I used to think a good day was getting as many things done as possible. I felt productive as I ploughed through my lists. But now I realise, I was actually just busy. I could get lots of things done, but my impact was inconsistent.

A better way of putting it is, I didn’t get the return on investment for the amount of time I put in, or the number of things I completed.

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Focus and productivity is only half the battle

I’m fascinated with the topic of productivity. For me, it boils down to two things — being able to focus (identify and work on the right things), and then, actually getting things done.

It’s why I think and write alot about goals and the best way to set vision and areas of focus — that’s the ‘identify and work on the right things’ bit. I also geek out on habits, routines and planning frameworks — that’s the ‘getting things done’ bit.

This stuff is important. If you’re not deeply connected to who you want to be and where you want your life to go, you’re more likely to flap around and work on the wrong things. And if you don’t have self discipline and a system for planning, your productivity will suffer.

So, that stuff is super important. But, I realised recently that it’s only part of the battle. And without the other part, you’ll be severely limited and frustrated. The other part might even be more important.

The other part is mindset.

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My favourite life changing books

I read a great article recently — If It’s Important, Learn It Repeatedly. It makes a good case for going back and re-reading important books.

So, I went back and read Deep Work by Cal Newport. It’s one of my favorite books and it was even better the second time round. It gave me a renewed enthusiasm for doing deep work and some fresh ideas for how to go about it.

It got me thinking, what other books could I go back and read again?

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High risk investing & cryptocurrency

Whenever anyone asks me for advice about investing, I always give the same response:

Invest in indexes. Contribute regularly, hold for the long term and rarely check.

Then I point them towards two bits of reading — JL Collins Stock Series and Warren Buffett’s $1 million bet. These do a great job of outlining the above approach, with some proof that it actually works.

I’m now convinced it’s worth having a small percentage at a higher risk. And as usual, Barry Avraam is the person responsible for getting me to take more risk. Fred Wilson’s writing on AVC also helped. Crypto Asset Allocation and Diversification (aka How To Survive A Crash) are two posts that have been particularly helpful.

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How I think about everything in life

As we get older (and hopefully wiser), our thinking about the important things in life changes. We learn new things. We have amazing, good, bad and awful experiences. We try things that work and don’t work. We slowly build informed opinions and beliefs from all of this.

I’ve noticed that in the first 35 years of life, my thinking on certain things has changed a lot. As I’ve got closer to 40, things are starting to settle. I’ve had a few epiphany / mid life type movements. These have either solidified how I think about something, or significantly changed my thinking — probably for the rest of my life.

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How to plan a killer week

Get more done, spend more time on what really matters and be happier. It sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t.

Planning the week ahead could be the one, single biggest thing you can do to get more done — and be happier. It’s usually the difference between a bad, or an awesome week.

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7 things to look for in a dream job

I made a tough decision towards the end of last year — I changed my work situation. What made it tough was, it was a good job, at a good company. It ticked most of the boxes.

All jobs have their ups and downs. I tend to find I go through periods of about 8-10 weeks when things feel really good. The work is engaging and challenging, and the results are there. And then I will hit a couple of weeks where I feel low. Everything feels like a bit of a slog. Sometimes it’s an unexpected miss or a problem. Sometimes, it’s just a case of burnout. But, I soon come out of it and get myself back into a good stretch.

Around the middle of last year, I found the good periods were getting shorter and the slogs were getting longer. It forced me to do some thinking and exploring around what is important for me at work.

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Can technology free us from technology?

Freedom

I’ve been using Freedom for the last couple of weeks, with interesting results.

Freedom is an app that helps you control distractions by blocking the internet, apps and websites — or any combination of those. You can start a freedom session whenever you like, or schedule a session for the future. It supports recurring sessions too. You have complete control over how long you want sessions to be, and what distractions you want to block.

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Why you need to become a morning person

I’ve written about morning routines, quite frankly, more than anyone should. That’s because I believe waking up early is about the most life changing thing you can do.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the people I consider successful and happy, get up early and follow some type of morning routine. I challenge you to think about this too. Look at well known people, colleagues and friends. I bet you come to the same conclusion.

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The power of broad focuses

Recently I read ‘In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto’ by Michael Pollan. Here’s how it starts:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give the game away right here at the beginning of a whole book devoted to the subject, and I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a couple hundred more pages or so. I’ll try to resist, but will go ahead and add a few more details to flesh out the recommendations.

I love how Michael Pollan simplified a complex topic (and a whole book) down to 7 words:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

It’s beautiful. Those 7 words have stuck with me since — and as a result, have helped influence my eating.

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Two years without a smartphone

Two years ago, I ditched my iPhone 6 for a Nokia 130.

It was an extreme decision, but it felt the only thing left to do. I was tired of being constantly connected. I couldn’t find a way to break the addiction of compulsively checking things.

It took a couple of weeks for the urges to go away —  but go away they did. And once they did, life got better. I’m not tempted to go back one bit. It’s been life changing.

Recently I reflected on some of the benefits from living without a smartphone….

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Being self critical: My biggest strength and weakness

It took a recent crossfit session to remind me of my biggest strength, but also my biggest weakness — being self critical.

We had to pick two movements that we hated and sucked at. I went with thrusters and kipping pull ups. We practiced them throughout the session and used them in the workout at the end.

6 thrusters, followed by 6 kipping pull ups — repeated for as many reps as possible in 20 mins.

Pretty tough. I found the movements awkward throughout. As I was driving home after the workout, here’s what played through my head…

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When No One is Looking

This is embarrassing, but here it goes. I have a massive man crush on Mat Fraser.

It started when I watched Fittest on Earth 2015. Mat placed second and stood out as an incredible athlete. He made a few mistakes and wasn’t quite the all rounder Ben Smith was.

Recently I watched Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness (Crossfit Games 2016). Mat blew through the competition (including Ben Smith) to finish first. It was awesome to see Mat dominate the competition, including beating last years winner. But, I figured, sometimes it happens like that. You see the same thing with football teams. No matter the odds, sometimes you get an upset. Maybe he should have won in 2015? Or maybe 2016 was a fluke?

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