Ideas for how to live a good life.

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I made working on my mindset my number one priority – here’s what happened.

About 18 months ago, I faced a cold, hard truth about myself – my mindset was holding me back.

I had this moment where it really clicked for me – this can’t go on. If I didn’t address it, I would be left with some serious regrets in life. I wrote about it here.

Since then, I’ve made working on my mindset one of my highest priorities.
I’ve tried a lot of things, including all of the usual advice. I’ve taken courses, read books, done exercises and talked to a therapist. Sure, they helped lift me in the moment, but if I’m brutally honest – they didn’t make a lasting difference.

And that sort of led me to a depressing conclusion. Perhaps I’m hardwired to having this type of mindset? Luckily, I can’t accept that. Even so, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t think that from time to time.

I’m in absolute awe of people like Jesse Itzler and Gary Vaynerchuk. They are full of optimism and confidence. But, I suspect this comes naturally to them. I struggle to see how I can reach anywhere near their level of confidence and mental toughness. I’ve come to realise that I will probably always have periods where I feel high, and periods where I feel low.

What I found instead, is a few strategies that really, really helped me improve and manage my mindset. They have helped me have more self awareness, and better manage the highs and lows. I may never have the confidence and mental toughness of Gary Vee. But, that doesn’t mean I need to accept that my mindset will hold me back from reaching my potential.

Before I share these strategies, I want to give a bit of background so you can understand where I am coming from.

I suffer with self doubt and anxiety, and I go through periods where I feel low, and it’s a real struggle to be optimistic.

I like to think I’m an organised and effective person. I’m very clear about what’s important to me, and I know how to get stuff done. But, my fragile mindset means I’m working with a very shaky foundation. It can blow apart my organised and productive world in an instant.

At times, I can feel on top of the world. When I feel like this, I am SO sure of my capability. I want to 10X my life, and I know it’s totally possible.

And then in a flash, it can come tumbling down.

One trigger can be seeing someone working hard in a low paying job. How on earth is that fair? Who am I to be in such a privileged position to be able to do big and interesting things, and get paid well for it? I get caught in a rut of imposter self talk, and I question the point in everything.

Another trigger can be something not going well enough at work (usually based on the ridiculously high expectations I have of myself). I start to question the point of me even being there? Surely there is someone else out there that could have done better, and should be doing my job instead?

Now, to be clear – I do always pull myself out of these moments. Sometimes I get back on track very quickly, but other times it takes days or weeks. But, I always do pull myself back on track. But goddammit, my life would be so much easier if I wasn’t pulled back by my mindset. I would do so many more great things.

So, as I said, I made working on my mindset a priority. It’s now one of a handful of key areas of my life I focus on – often the highest priority. I’ve established a few key questions that I ask myself at least weekly:

  • Am I developing an optimistic and positive mindset – where I see life as full of opportunity?
  • Am I pushing myself to feel confident and good enough? Where I feel capable of doing whatever I put my mind to?
  • Am I questioning beliefs that hold me back, and trying to overcome them?

These questions have helped me stay focused on improving my mindset.

So, let’s dive into the strategies. Here are three strategies that help me to feel good, and stay in the ‘high’ periods for as long as possible:

1. Look after myself

OK, OK, I know you’ve probably heard this before – as had I. But, for a long while it didn’t click for me just how important this. It only hit home when I started to notice the correlation between when I looked after myself, and when I didn’t.

It comes down to three things:

  • Drink very little or no alcohol.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Exercise.

When I do all three, I tend to feel great about myself. And when I let at least two of them slip, I notice an immediate increase in anxiety and self doubt. This is a clear starting signal for a low period.

And of course, they are all connected. Drink too much alcohol, and you get rubbish sleep. Get rubbish sleep, and you’re less likely to want to exercise.

I say it in that order, because for me, reducing my alcohol consumption has been the game changer. I’ve cut back from two bottles of wine over the weekend. Now, I drink no more than two glasses over the weekend – and no more than one per night.

I’m hyper aware of these three things now. To the point where if I have a couple of nights of bad sleep, it’s on my radar to not let this extend to three or four nights. Because if it does, I know I’m at higher risk of a low period setting in.

2. Be in a positive feedback loop

This has been crucial for me. When I’m feeling good about myself, I’m almost always in a positive feedback loop. It’s really important for me to have regular feedback and evidence that I am good enough and capable.

And that doesn’t mean people actually giving me the feedback (although of course that’s always nice to hear). I get my positive feedback loop from seeing my impact. It reminds me that I am able to solve hard problems, and be useful – often in a way that many other people can’t.

When I’m going through a low period, there isn’t alot of tangible evidence of impact. That means my self doubt is much more likely to set in.

So, how do I influence that?

Well, firstly, I’m super picky about where I work nowadays. I need to be in an environment where I can be successful. That means working on things I am good at. Where there are enough hard problems to solve. And, having the autonomy to make a difference.

And then it’s a matter of being focused, and working on the right things.
A combination of the above usually means I can consistently make an impact, and be in a positive feedback loop.

3. Surround myself with positive people

This makes a world of difference. I need people around me that have energy and ambition. People who are positive and optimistic. People who are confident and take risks.

These people inspire me, and their personalities rub off on me. I’ve found I’m far less likely to dip when I’m regularly around people like this. I have more confidence.

I have a bunch of people like this both at work, and outside of work nowadays. And I follow a few people online who are great role models for being mentally tough. I listen to the Gary Vaynerchuk podcast almost daily. I follow Jesse Itzler and David Goggins through their Instagram accounts. And I listen to Ben Bergeron’s YouTube channel.

It’s pretty obvious really. If you want to change yourself, it makes sense to surround yourself with people who are more like you want to be.


The above three things have made a massive difference to how I feel about myself. I think about them on a weekly basis.

That said, I have to be realistic. I will still find myself in a period of feeling low from time to time. Here are three strategies I’ve found super useful to manage these low periods:

1. Accept it for what it is

It is what it is. I can do everything I can to avoid a low period, but sometimes I will find myself in one.

You have to be OK with it, and accept it. Every low period I’ve ever had, has always passed. This one will be no different. When you have enough self awareness for where you are, you can start to calmly work your way out of it

2. Reduce the expectations you have for yourself

It just stands to reason. If you’re not on your A game, don’t continue to hold yourself to the same expectations.

I used to try and power through regardless, and I only became more frustrated. Now, I temporarily reduce the expectations I have for myself. I do this across the board – with my work, my family, my health, etc. I scale things back to the minimum. I’m OK with going through the motions for a week or two. Trust me, nothing will fall apart. It’s unlikely that anyone will ever notice that your foot is temporarily off the gas. It all averages out in the end.

The key is to give yourself some space and the right environment to get back on track.

3. Fix what’s off

The strategies that help me to feel good – work so well. So much so, that I usually I find that when I go back to them, one or more of them is obviously off.

I may have neglected to look after myself. Perhaps I lost focus on work, and got distracted working on the wrong things – and I got out of the positive feedback loop. Or, I haven’t had the right people around me enough.

By fixing what’s off, I usually find I get back on track pretty quickly.


And that’s where I’m at right now with everything mindset. I feel for the first time, I’m actually able to keep the low periods to a minimum, and manage myself when I get into one.

From here, I’m going to continue to explore how I can get closer to the likes of the people I surround myself by. That’s the next level.

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Are you doing meaningful work?

I have a handful of areas in my life, that I’ve identified are important to me. For each one, I have two or three questions that I ask myself on a weekly basis – to get a feel for where I’m at.

My ones about ‘work’ haven’t changed for a few years. They’ve been critical to my career decisions.

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Two proven ways to get important work done

It might be the most important thing you ever have to figure out for yourself. How do you get important work done?

It’s the key to living a full, productive, happy and balanced life. When you don’t have this figured out, you end up doing a lot of things, but actually achieving very little

I’ve settled on a couple of strategies for helping me get important work done. Before I share them, I want to talk about The Eisenhower Matrix. It’s one of the most powerful frameworks I’ve found to think about where you spend your time.

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How to get back on track

When I woke up this morning, I found myself worrying about where I was in life.

It’s been a chaotic few months. We had a family holiday in Yorkshire. We’ve been doing a major house renovation, where we had to move out for 6 weeks. We moved back in now, but we’re still living in a partial building site. My daughter Fearne started school. And, I’m holding down a fairly ‘full on’ job in London.

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What great operators have in common

I’ve worked with some great operators over the last 20 years. And there seems to be a common thread amongst them.

It comes down to how they’re able to think across three different time frames. Importantly, how they’re able to perfectly balance the time they spend in each of these time frames.

Inversely, bad operators tend to spend their time almost exclusively in just one of these time frames. Either that, or they don’t balance the time they spend in each one very well.

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How to be focused and effective at work

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I recently started a new role at a games studio. This has meant I’ve had to get to grips with some strategies and systems for being focused and effective at work again.

The good news is that I’ve accumulated them over the last twenty years, so they are coming back to me quickly. But, I’ve also noticed some new ways to think about things. I wanted to get them all out of my head, in case others find them useful.

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5 things I love (#3)

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.

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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.

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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)

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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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