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How This Year’s Lent Changed my Life

“Those who ate of the fruit lost all desire to come back; the only thing that they wanted now was to stay with the Lotus-eaters and feed on the fruit and never go home again.”

 The Odyssey – Homer

It must be the rarest person who goes through life without finding it hard to live without a passion or vice at some stage. These may even be things we don’t even realise; the glass of wine every evening, the irresistible snacks that are brought to the office, the endless hours of television or videogames, and of course the addiction to social media on our mobile phones.

Lent is a time where we surrender our passions for 40 days prior to Easter. It is a time to identify with the struggle of Jesus, however faintly that may be. Even as a Christian, I don’t think I had taken Lent seriously until this year. It was always a case previously of what shall I not have this year, just to have something to give up, rather than struggling without something.

It’s not the worst vice in the world, but I was certainly eating too much chocolate. Up to 3 chocolate bars a day, plus gorging on all the snacks that people bring into the office. Even last year, I never thought it would be possible to give up chocolate for lent, as it is an established part of my everyday life.

But this year I thought, ‘I’m going to give it a try’. I didn’t believe I would make it through the whole of Lent, but I’m happy now to say that I did. Yes, I gave up chocolate for 6 weeks. But that is the least important part.

Having a higher purpose

 Just a few days into Lent and I had already suspected this was going to be something I could achieve. And it was not to do with willpower. The simple reason was that I had a reason bigger than myself for wanting to go without chocolate for 6 weeks. I did not want to disappoint Jesus, Christianity and my commitment to Lent.

If I did not believe in God, then I would not have been able to complete my commitment. There would have been no reason (yes, I know there are health reasons, but as I have discussed in a previous article, that is rarely a motivator for people even in dire circumstances).

Having a purpose higher than yourself, gives you the strength to complete any task or goal you set. What is more incredible, and this was the 2nd thing I learnt, is that I didn’t even find it that difficult. It was easy to say No. I had set a rule, and that was that, chocolate was off the table.

A life without rules

One of the reasons I suspect people struggle to diet, and remain committed to a diet, is that literally and metaphorically, everything is on the table. They don’t set rules to what they can and can’t eat. And I don’t believe limiting is enough. It has to be ‘No, I don’t eat that’. I rarely hear of a vegetarian who occasionally eats chicken. It’s off the table, a steadfast commitment.

One of the side effects of not eating chocolate over the last 6 weeks, is that I have lost about a stone (14 lb) in weight and it wasn’t even my intention. I have also gone down a couple of belt notches and achieved a flatter stomach etc. as well.

Now I don’t know if cutting chocolate out for a longer period would allow me to lose further weight, or if it would level out, but I find it amazing that just cutting out 1 thing in my diet, has made a big and immediate impact.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” – Philippians 1:21 (NIV)

Like nearly every part of the Bible, the above line has many levels and can mean many things. I will refrain from a wider analysis of the first part to live is Christ for now, for that is self-explanatory, though in a broader sense, it could mean discipline as well.

The second part to die is gain is more paradoxical. Death is gain? For the committed Christian, this of course makes sense. Leaving this world to be with Christ is a gain. But it also has implications for everyone else on earth too. If we are to gain anything, then something has to be sacrificed.

If people do want to lose weight, then one of many things has to (or will) be sacrificed; health (a disease), unhealthy foods, inactivity (exercising instead) and alcoholic beverages, to name just a few. You cannot carry on as you are, something has to die, for something else to be gained. This is a rule that cannot bend.

Coming home

 As the introductory quote from The Odyssey suggests, we lose who we are when we surrender to the tastes and pleasures of this world. That’s not say that all tastes are bad, but very often these pleasures come out of luxury, we don’t really need them. They just make us feel good. And only for a moment. Chocolate is generally not something we eat when we are hungry. We eat it for its taste and the endorphin release it gives us.

I can only think of one time when I really needed chocolate, and that was while climbing the 2nd highest mountain in Poland, called Giewont (pronounced Gee-a-vont).

We were about half an hour from the summit and I suddenly had that ‘hitting the wall’ feeling, where I genuinely felt like I could not go on. I was locked in a mind war of whether I should leave the others and head back, or keep going. I had a chocolate bar with me in my bag, one of the thick wafer ones, and this seemed to give me the energy I needed to complete the trek up the mountain.

The most powerful feeling I had during the Lent period, was one of return to who I really was. I don’t know if this was a spiritual thing, or just releasing the mental shackles from something that seemed to be a part of me. I just felt like I was the real me again, and not someone who belonged to the comforts and pleasures of the world.

It’s a hard feeling to explain, but coming home to who you are is probably the only way I can describe it. I believe if people could get to this stage with any battle they are trying to win, the objective is almost won.

The future

I am writing this on Easter Monday, and though having completed the Lent period 2 days ago, and indulged in a little chocolate over the last 48 hours (well, it is Easter) the overwhelming feeling I get, is that I want to go back to chocolate not being on the table.

It’s a luxury and a comfort I don’t want. They say you don’t realise what you have until it’s gone, but on the positive flip side, there are somethings that you don’t realise how bad they were for you until they’re gone.

The chocolate that I have eaten since has left me feeling tired, bloated, and with a slight headache. I’m starting again tomorrow with chocolate being off the table. My plan is to only eat it once a week, but at this rate, I don’t even think that will last (for the better).

I choose instead to have the lighter weight, the flatter stomach, the feeling that I can change things that aren’t good for me, and to have a deeper connection with God.

Tomorrow is a new day and I feel good.

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

Shakespeare’s Birthplace and a Treasure we should Delve into

William Shakespeare’s enduring legacy only seems to grow stronger every year. He trends on Twitter every Sunday (#ShakespeareSunday), his plays are an ever-growing source of entertainment for television and Hollywood, and his famous Globe Theatre has been rebuilt and delivers to sell out crowds for every performance. I could go on all day about Shakespeare’s ever-increasing popularity 400 years after his death, but one of the best ways to see this first hand is to go to Stratford-Upon-Avon in Warwickshire, and then try to think of other towns in the world that are so completely built around the legacy of one person.

I am by no means an expert on Shakespeare and kind of hate myself for that. I am of course familiar with plays such as Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet and Midsummer Night’s Dream we learned at school but over the course of the last couple of years I have also read the Henriad (Richard II, Henry IV Parts one and two and Henry V), Twelfth Night, Hamlet, King Lear and Othello. I still have a bookshelf full of Shakespeare’s plays to read and look forward to every play I study.

What I do know within the limited number of plays I have read (significant ones though they are) is that Shakespeare’s works are indeed a treasure we are lucky to have in life. They are not easy to read but they are pillars of wisdom, beauty and philosophy, that has arguably never been matched in the literary world. They are more valuable than the greatest material riches you could acquire on this Earth. Yes I mean that. Even Stephen King admitted that divine beings like Shakespeare are the rarest thing on Earth. What they give to us is beyond all measure. They are riches that can be achieved easily (a few quid/dollars etc.), and studied and enjoyed for a lifetime.

I say this myself as a lifelong learner who is keen to learn a lot more about Shakespeare – but we should all delve into his works. As I said, they are not easy at first glance, and there are many references to Ovid and other works that people may not largely be familiar with, but I have found that the best way to find Shakespeare easier and more enjoyable to read is to just keep reading Shakespeare. It’s very difficult (from experience) to just dip into his plays every now and then. If you read a few back to back, you start to understand the language and meaning a lot better. His popularity is growing every year, but I still find it hard to find people who are very familiar with his plays, and are able to discuss them. That’s what I want to do. Anyone who wants to set up a Shakespeare book club, hook me up.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

I mentioned in my last blog about the trouble this picture has given me. But I have put all the struggle to rest and now it’s done. I have included the before image at the bottom of this post, so you can see what it looked like before all the work was done. I am excited to share this online, but I am glad it is done and I can move on to other things now. Compositing and reimagining images is great fun, but I want to focus on more real photography based projects now.

Let me cover some bullet points on the work done to this picture:

  1. Removed the front black fence, with advertising banner (took me hours)
  2. Removed the people and added in a new (historical) road that I took from another photo of mine
  3. Added a new scruffier hedge on the left hand side
  4. Fixed the building after all the removal of the fence. This meant recreating doors and adding in new sections of the building (this also took hours)
  5. Removing all the guttering and pipes
  6. Adding in a lavender bush next to the far side of the house
  7. Adding a new Tudor building to the far side of the image, that I ended up largely cropping out
  8. Adjusted colour and contrast and numerous other photo editing applications using, Lightroom, Photoshop and Nik Color Efex Pro 4

I took other pictures of Stratford-Upon-Avon during my visit of course, but this is the picture that I knew on the day I really wanted to get. 

The Artist and the One Thing we must Find

Calling yourself an artist can be tantamount to self-ridicule these days. Especially if you grew up like I did, following the indie rock scene so closely. To see a musician declare themselves an artist, would be met with retorts from the likes of Gene Simmons of KISS “Oh, you’re an artist? Go paint my wall!”.

But Gene Simmons is an artist, and KISS do make art. Creativity of any kind is art. Business can be an art. Sport can be an art. So it should be of no shame to call yourself an artist, because you probably are one.

Art is difficult. I think what prevents people calling themselves an artist, is they don’t want to appear as serious or gloomy. And yet I admit that throwing yourself into an artistic project, can be frustrating and overwhelming.

I have been working on and off on a project since last March, a recreation of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, and I am nearly at my wits end. In a nutshell, I visited the Birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon last year, and had the idea of creating a picture that would present a vision of the Birthplace of how it looked on the day of Shakespeare’s birth. This would of course mean removing all the modern features, such as the fencing, banners, road paving and gutters etc.

It has been far more work than I anticipated. I took several pictures of the building and merged them together, as I often do, to create an HDR image. One of my many problems began, because like so many tourist attractions, there are always huge crowds of people outside taking many pictures up close of themselves and the building. I timed the pictures as best I could, but there was still people that had to be digitally removed, which created a few large gaps to fill.

With all the problems as well with removing the front fence, and making the surrounding area look less modern and more historical, I had decided that I had to finish the piece last weekend. It had gone on too long and I was sick of having an unfinished project.

Well, it’s still unfinished. Many hours spent adding to the picture and fixing it over the weekend, and I seem to keep finding more work to do. It must drive painters mad to finish a work. Surely they think ‘well I could try this, or maybe that would look better’. It’s no wonder some of them lose their mind, because it can become an obsession.

Luckily though, I did sleep well on Sunday night. I’ve learnt to find a little peace and remind myself that nothing has to be done or achieved. It doesn’t matter if it’s finished next weekend or the weekend after, life still goes on.

Inner peace is what I’m sure most people need these days. Turning off all the motivational noise that ‘I must become this, I must obtain that’ and just being at peace with the world:

“Your stars have already let you come quite a long way since you left your mother’s womb. Don’t lose faith in your stars. You’re still alive, aren’t you?” – Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

I’m sure it’s the true path to happiness. And in fact the moments of happiness I have had recently have not been because I achieved or gained something, but because I let myself go of the need to be or do anything. That’s what inner peace is to me. If we can learn to do that regularly, there would be less need to find happiness.

The Artist

Today’s picture was taken in the coastal town of St. Tropez in the French Riviera. I never try to pry too much when I’m out and about taking pictures but I couldn’t resist wanting to get some head-on shots of this artist’s shop, down one of the narrow streets of St. Tropez. Like many wonderful towns and cities, the best shots to get are often down the little alleys, and off the beaten path away from the main attractions.

This is a single image with no special treatment done to it, only a slight vignette added to focus from the inside out.

Despite my earlier rant, I’m sure my Shakespeare picture is almost done, and will hopefully be on here within the next week.

A Winter in Poland and Ambitions for 2018

Click image for a bigger, better version!

The new year has just arrived, and 2018 is the year I believe I stopped suffering from January blues. I wrote an article a couple of years ago about why we should learn to love January, but for me I think it has come true now. I don’t want to be so obviously philosophical straight away, but I think it shows if you plant a seed, it will come to fruition, even if it takes time. Thoughts become things and all that. But yes, this year I’m not feeling bad about January at all; I feel quite good actually. Kind of remarkable considering the back pain I’ve been in since November, but I’m trying not to let that hold me back.

I want this year to be less words and more action. That doesn’t mean I’m about to end my next sentence, but it’s so easy to talk about what you are going to do or want to do. I just want people to see what has been done now. It is what people notice most. I’m not trying to conquer life or be a great success anymore, but I am still a devout lifelong learner.

Which brings me to my current project; to learn how to draw. Yes, that’s what I want to do, I want to learn to draw. My inspiration for this is that I want to add more skills to my photography/photoshop abilities (or lack of). I’ve seen some incredible art created on photoshop recently (watch this – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMZlFZWpCFU&t=120s&list=LLfnvJ49QPujtxXcJyWBakUA&index=9) and I would love to be able to add that dimension to my art. For me, losing yourself in a creative project (what Americans would probably call ‘in the zone’) is the nearest thing to consistent happiness on a day-to-day basis. When you don’t have to think about whether you’re happy or not, is when you probably are (another term for this is flow).

So I’ve started watching my Great Courses ‘How to Draw’ series of lectures, and even after my first lesson, I’m learning how lines become shapes and shapes become objects. It seems easy but I was very impressed actually. It showed how to draw a series of triangles and turn that into a 3D block of cheese…….

I’m onboard anyway, and in 6 months I hope to be able to draw anything I turn my mind to (there is a quote below that suggest this can be done). Once I can draw, I want to acquire a wacom device where you can draw directly onto the screen (a Cintiq I believe it is called). Not cheap, but it will be worth it if I can convert the images I have in my head into a digital painting.

A Winter in Poland

My picture today is of the Polish town of Kamienna Gora in the south west. I spent the Christmas and new year in Poland visiting my wife’s family, and my Ford Fiesta was so full of Christmas presents for the outbound journey, that there was no room for a tripod during the trip. It’s times like these where as a photographer you probably question how serious you are about it. You know if you were serious you would tie the tripod to the top of the roof if you have to, but I’m still getting back in the swing of things, and knew there would not be many opportunities to shoot with a tripod on this family trip anyway.

Therefore, this multi-shot HDR image is a lucky catch. It was possible entirely because the camera is resting on the intersection of the railing outside my mother-in-laws flat in Kamienna Gora. I was of course very careful and still had the neck strap around my neck at all times, but having a fake tripod allowed me to take exposures at low ISO’s and for as long as I wanted.

There was not much winter while we were out there, but it had been lightly snowing on the evening pictured, so I wanted to try to capture some of that wintry Polish town feel. I also achieved a lot of the final look in Nik Color Efex, which Google have left to rot in software hell, but I’ll discuss that in the next blog.

Hope you like the picture of course, and I wish you a wonderful 2018! I hope you find something you love to do that keeps you motivated without thinking about it.

Quotes to inspire you to draw (can be applied to many things though)

Supposing then that you are ready to take a certain amount of pains, and to bear a little irksomeness and a few disappointments bravely. I can promise you that an hour’s practice a day for six months….some hundred and fifty hours practice, will give you sufficient power of drawing faithfully whatever you want to draw” – John Ruskin

Since the knowledge is available, why try to struggle along without it? The difficulties of not knowing are always much greater than the effort of learning” – Successful Drawing by Andrew Loomis

Isn’t that brilliant?

Learning to change the one thing you’ve never changed

The following are genuine extracts from my personal development journals:

26/04/2009: Ten goals I’d like to accomplish in the next 12 months….

Number 7: Eat a Healthy diet.

04/05/2009: What will I have to believe to succeed at healthy eating?

  • It is fun to try new foods
  • Healthy foods taste really good
  • A change of diet will benefit my body by an indescribable amount

03/10/2010: Goals by the time I’m 30 (16/06/2011) – Eating healthy foods I currently do not believe I could eat.

29/06/2011: Goals for 31st December 2011 – Eating Healthier.

15/10/2011: Designing the next 10 years – 1 Year goal: Healthy diet.

01/01/2012: Key goals for 2012: 1. Eating healthy foods.

01/04/2013: Things I want – 5) To eat any food at all.

03/03/2014: Ambitions – Health: Be fearless with trying healthy foods.

01/01/2016: What do I want to be? A relatively healthy eater.

30/05/2016: Imagine a Life where….You have full confidence before any meal, because you have and enjoy a wide variety of food.

01/01/2017: Ask yourself on 31/12/2017 am I……..eating healthy foods?

The list above makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It is coming up to 10 years since I first wrote that I’d like to improve my diet, and whilst acknowledging that I have made small improvements along the way, the vision I had in my mind is not even close to being realised.

I imagined all those years ago that very soon, with a bit of willpower, I wouldn’t have any problem with a restaurant menu, I could pick anything I liked on it. I could talk casually about the oysters from Santorini and the Guava fruit from…..wherever that’s from. But it hasn’t come to be. If you stuck a bowl of salad in front of me right now, I would talk my way out of even trying a little.

So why, after writing down my goal (several times), thinking about it all the time, and genuinely wanting to improve my diet, has it not happened?

Well, it turns out that the most likely reason, is that I am just like everybody else. Not very likely to change an old habit.

This is backed up by an astonishing statistic that I learnt recently. It comes from the book “Change or Die: The Three keys to change at work and in life” by Alan Deutschman. He discovered from cardiologists that cardiac patients who have had coronary-artery bypass surgery, were warned that they must change their diet, stop smoking, exercise regularly, control their alcohol consumption and reduce stress in their lives, if they were to avoid a 2nd bypass operation. Only 11% made the necessary changes. 11%! Despite the warnings of further complex surgery, and perhaps an inevitable heart attack, most people were still unable to adjust their lifestyles to avoid the grim consequences. Deutschman states:

We like to think that people are essentially “rational”–that is, they’ll act in their self- interest if they have accurate information. We believe that “knowledge is power” and that “the truth will set you free.” But nine out of ten heart patients didn’t change even when their doctors informed them about what they had to do to prolong their lives.

 I was gobsmacked and yet somehow not surprised that even with the picture of doom painted for them, so few people were able to change. It is sad and discouraging at the same time. If they can’t change to avoid further surgery or a heart attack, how can I possibly stand a chance to conquer my desire to eat healthier?

It is best to accept and understand that most people don’t and never will change. Why they don’t is perhaps more complex than we can imagine. If someone was trying to cut straight to the point, they may say that it is simply that the changed state does not create a more powerful alternative to the current lifestyle they are living. If it did, they would simply gravitate towards it. But with Deutschman’s research in mind, it does not seem to support this.

I suspect it is the way our brains are hard wired to survive on a day-to-day basis, rather than for a long life. It is one of our evolutionary hangovers, that our brains are still out living in the plains of Africa, where threats to our survival are abundant and a daily issue. If we have survived another day, then our brains will remember (well, what it thinks) what helped us survive, and strongly resist any new way to this strategy. Why should it want to change, it has kept you alive until now?

This pattern is repeated again and again throughout our lives, so that if we do have an unfortunate early medical crisis and clearly have to change our ways to avoid another one, our brain still wants to work with its time and tested program of running on what it knows, and therefore what it thinks will help us survive.

To bring this back to the healthy diet I want to have, my brain looks at all the unhealthy foods I am currently eating and doesn’t see a problem with it. I’m alive, I’m (relatively) fit, not (much) overweight, what’s the big deal? But of course, our human brains have developed a pre-frontal cortex (the clever part of the brain) that knows that what has been fine in the past, does not necessarily lead to a rosy future. I want to change my diet to hopefully live a healthier, longer future, but my day-to-day survival mode is not making it easy.

Changing the one thing that we have never been able to change is a deflating, and usually in vain struggle. But I think I have found hope. There is a strategy that with regards to the cardiac patients, caused the change rate to improve from 11% to 77%. Yes, 77%. This new strategy, showed that after 3 years, 77% of the cardiac patients had made the necessary lifestyle changes to avoid further heart surgery. That’s a pretty convincing statistic for implementing change.

The strategy Deutschman identified was the Three R’s:

Relate

Having an inspirational mentor or coach who can relate to the problem you have, and provide hope, support, coaching and a strategy, to help you create the change you are seeking.

Repeat

Practicing, and then practicing some more, the behaviours identified to retrain the brain to adopt the new progressive habits, over the redundant ways that are no longer working for you.

Reframe

Changing how you look at your new approach to life. Adopting positive attitudes towards your new habits, that create a lifelong change.

These 3 parts all need to be in place. It will be very difficult to repeat your new habits, if you don’t have a mentor helping you. Without a mentor, it is solely down to you to keep repeating the practices, and as we have seen, you are not very good at change. Conversely, you could have Tony Robbins in your corner providing all the inspiration you need, but if you are not adopting and repeating the new strategies to change, you won’t get anywhere. Furthermore, it is the reframing, changing our thoughts on the change we are making that will keep us on the right track and continually moving towards the change we seek.

So, here we go again. I now have 77 days to meet the last target I wrote for eating a healthy diet. I suspect it will take longer, but I will update my progress. The key element I see is finding a supportive role model and mentor, who understands how difficult it is to switch to a healthier diet, for someone who has wanted to their whole life. That has not happened yet, but I won’t give up. I’ve seen the light (ok, the stats) and have real hope of changing the thing I’ve never been able to change.

Do you have an opinion on change? Are there any thoughts you would like to add? Please add your comments below and share the post! Thanks!

Choosing to be a lifelong learner in a world that offers lifelong entertainment

I’m struggling really hard to stay at my computer right now. I’m writing this on a Sunday night, and I currently have the option to write these words, or go downstairs and enjoy endless options of entertainment. I want to watch TV, but either through willpower or purpose, I’m choosing to write this article. I hope it is the latter reason. But still, it’s Sunday evening, I have to be at work by 9am tomorrow, it seems fairly reasonable to want to relax in front of TV.

Even in my own lifetime, beginning in the early eighties, I could not have imagined the world we live in now that provides a myriad of entertainment choices, on a portable device that follows us everywhere we go. Yes, we had television growing up, but that meant finding something you liked on the 4 channels available. If you didn’t, tough luck, you were out of options. You could of course play a video, a choice from the ten that would fit into the video cupboard, and after the fourth time of watching each of them, that no longer became an exciting option either.

Contrast that with today. I have the option of watching one of hundreds of channels available on my TV set. If nothing floats my boat, I can try from a mind-boggling number of films and TV programmes on demand, via either Sky, Virgin, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and many others I can’t think of right now. Failing all that, there is the great revolution of the last 25 years, the world wide web.

But despite all the avenues of entertainment the internet has provided these days, it’s easy to forget that we have also been given a world of education at our fingertips as well. Anything you want to learn, can be found on the internet. For a small fee, or even free, knowledge is easy to acquire. Yes, the standard of youtube is not always Ofsted approved level, but there can be no doubt that there is quality training and teaching available in an instant like never before. We now have The Great Courses, Udemy and Lynda.com, to name a few education platforms. So, we have a choice; do we want to educate ourselves or entertain ourselves?

Entertainment is incredibly important. We must have an outlet for rest and play, if we are to remain mentally healthy individuals. But the old Greek maxim ‘nothing in excess’ would apply here. We are entertaining ourselves, far more than we are educating ourselves. Until the middle part of the last century, entertainment was not easy to come by. It almost certainly required you to leave your home. Yes, you may have had a talented daughter who could bang out a tune on demand from the family piano (should you be rich enough to afford one), but for nearly everyone else, entertainment was something you had to go to. This meant of course there was far more time at home for reading and being social with your family. Now I’m not a golden age thinker, and firmly believe that we live in the greatest period of human history, but what we have now is not always comfortable for some, and that again is choice.

And why wouldn’t we choose entertainment? It’s easy and fun. And as one Ted speaker I heard the other day put it, easy and fun in the animal world means you are a great success. If you don’t have to worry about everyday survival, and have the time to relax and play, why would you do anything else? It’s a difficult thing to resist when our brains are hard wired to move towards it. The problem with entertainment though, is there is little growth potential there for the audience. It’s undeniable, that a great film, play or TV programme can help us learn and move us towards a different direction. When art collides with entertainment, the effect can be incredibly powerful. I would venture to say though, that the majority of film and TV produced these days does not lend itself to great personal growth. It’s mainly geared towards observing the trials and tribulations of other people, as they do something with their lives. What’s in it for most is a quick buzz of enjoyment, a shrug of the shoulders, and discussing it the next day with your work colleagues.

Lifelong learning is a very different and far lonelier world. Most of what you learn cannot be discussed with others, and creates very little interest anyway. Most people won’t even understand why you would spend your hours outside of work educating yourself. But even if you are learning just to get better at your job, knowledge is moving so fast these days, that it is one of the most precious commodities to have. If you are not learning, you are moving further and further behind. So, if we want to progress at our chosen vocation, then self-education becomes our new survival mode. The knowledge we are choosing not to learn, is being learned and digested by someone else. However, taking the idea of success away from lifelong learning, my other reason for choosing it over entertainment is I genuinely believe it is far more enjoyable!

Life is mysterious and for most people, a gift. We have the opportunity to make of this world whatever we set out to achieve. We spend our early years in education, and then for the most part, will work until a few years before our death, and that was your life. For many people like myself though, the education process never ends. And in that sense, the world I have keeps unfolding before me. The more my mind takes in, the more I love being part of this world and the more I love applying the knowledge I have learnt. It is really exciting to think what knowledge and skills I can learn and put into practice in future. This is one of the most joyous parts of life, improving yourself, and knowing that you are far more accomplished now, than you used to be. How that translates into success in the real world, will remain to be seen, but the joy of learning new skills and knowledge, is a great reason to adopt a lifelong learning habit in itself.

To give up all that enjoyment and opportunity that I believe a self-education provides, is not something I would trade for hours of entertainment per week. Yes, I have my cherished favourites from film and TV, and always put time aside a week for guilt-free entertainment on the TV. I love watching movies on a Friday night, and can get hooked on the latest must-see series just as easily as anyone. What I don’t do though, is allow entertainment to become the larger part of my life, it’s just not how I believe a worthwhile and rewarding life occurs. I choose to be a lifelong learner, and accept all the rewards and enjoyment that come with it.

Lifelong Learning on a daily basis makes all the difference

We become what we do every day. I’m not necessarily a fan of blanket life statements, but the key ingredient of any endeavour intended to produce results is consistency. In practice, we must do it every day, without exception. Maybe a day’s holiday or a special life occasion won’t hurt, but our guiding thought must be that we have to focus on it every day. I had a recent week’s holiday in France, but that did not stop me taking my classic books out there to read every day. Lifelong learning is so important to me, that it does not matter if I’m on holiday or not, it gets done. And with pleasure too. If we have a mission that consumes us, it will not matter what time of year it is, we will do it. Unless of course, we excuse ourselves out of doing it.

A book that helped solidify this within me is called ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield. This book is aimed at creative people, but it could easily be for somebody on a fitness programme or running a business. The single most important premise is that we must overcome ‘Resistance’ on a daily basis to achieve the goals we set ourselves. He writes:

‘There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance’.

If we go back to the fitness programme, I can state without any doubt, that the decision to go the gym creates far more resistance, then actually being at the gym. I quite enjoy that part. But the people who are achieving the best results at the gym, are either there, planning, learning or recuperating (part of a successful fitness regime) every day.

If we are not following up every day on our intended endeavour, then indifference will inevitably creep in. And then we will lose all motivation to achieve our goal. It doesn’t take much. We live in an age of distraction and options, and Pressfield argues that resistance is far more powerful than we are, which is why the battle must be fought every day.

During the summer, I was very lucky to see the west end show ‘An American in Paris’ at the Dominion Theatre. The show was a magnificent spectacle, and could easily turn a novice theatre-goer like myself, into a passionate follower. As I was sat there in awe of the spectacular performances, I could not help but think how unwavering and consistent the dedication of the performers to their craft must have been, to perform on a grand stage in the west end. I am sure that the actors and musicians were not casual in their approach to performing in the Dominion Theatre. They were solidly committed. This commitment led them to study and practice every day to become the accomplished performer that they are. They have become the product of their own creativity.

I guess what makes us succumb to resistance is either the belief we cannot achieve what we set our minds to, or that we are unsure what we want to achieve in the first place. We have to be 100% committed to a task we set, or it will not be realised. Any less and we will give in to other more immediate forms of gratification; whether that be checking Facebook, reading endless comments on a certain sports story, or relaxing in front of the TV. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities, but again, we become what we do every day. You will be an expert on what your friends are up to if you check up on them 10 times a day on Facebook. You will be able to wax lyrical to your work colleagues about the latest instalment of Big Brother if you watch it for 2 hours every evening. If this is what you want to become then that is fine, but anyone with longer term goals, which require active study and practice, will need to keep these distractions to an absolute minimum. Easier said than done I know, but an undeniable truth.

It’s a struggle to keep any activity going on a daily basis, I get that. Time is never on our side, and the world demands our action and attention in many different directions. I don’t believe we can do or become everything we want to in life, and will inevitably have to make sacrifices to achieve results in certain areas. If we do identify what is really most important to us though, and deliberately set time to focus on it every day, it is inevitable that we will achieve results, maybe even greatness, in that area. Consistency on a daily basis is a simple yet profound approach to achieving, or becoming, what is most important to us. Nearly any other approach is doomed to fail.

Do you have a different opinion? Are there any thoughts you would like to add? Please add your comments below and share the post! Thanks!

Lifelong Learning versus Personal Development

It’s hard to get away from personal development social media and websites these days. Motivational quotes are posted at all hours on facebook and twitter, in the hope that a particular quote will strike a chord with someone somewhere. I have struggled to find myself within this personal development world. I have a written a few personal development blog posts in the past, but I’ve always known that it isn’t for everyone, and some people are actually quite tired of seeing motivational blogs. Again, turn on twitter, facebook or linkedin, and it seems everyone is having a go at it these days.

I have had a strong interest and passion for personal growth since listening to a Jim Rohn CD 6 years ago, and whilst wanting to be part of the field, I have never wanted to come off as another personal development blog. It seems slightly modest to suggest one has all the answers, and to give people instructions what to do. I know I have come off like that in the past, and have always felt uncomfortable writing like that. However, last week I finally felt like I had found myself, or at least a place I wanted to be.

It happened whilst reading the Wikipedia article on ‘The Great Courses’. For those who don’t know (and I’m sure there are a lot of you), The Great Courses are a company that produce lecture series, from the top lecturers in America. When I last checked their website, they had over 600 courses, on many different subjects. I’ve been listening to their courses in my car for over a year now, and though some are better than others of course, on the whole they are a joy to listen to, and a wonderful learning tool.

So, there I was on The Great Courses Wikipedia page, where it states “Most series are developed for adult lifelong learners”, and in that sentence I discovered a term that I connected with. I’m not a fan of labels, but a lifelong learner is something I felt like I was as soon as I read it. I have an insatiable desire to learn. It has grown stronger as I move through my thirties, which I hope makes up for the lack of desire to learn during my academic years.

Lifelong learning has a different connotation to me than personal development. I won’t be running away from personal development at all, and I fully embrace it, but lifelong learning has a much more open meaning. It hints at a continuing fascination and enthusiasm for the world. It can of course be geared towards a development goal one has, but it does not have to. It can be learning for the pleasure in learning itself. It can be learning because you have a keen interest in a particular subject. For instance, The Great Courses lecture I am currently listening to is ‘The Irish Identity’ by Marc C. Connor. Now whilst I’m enjoying learning about the Irish revival, and especially of the literary titans of W B Yeats, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw to name a few, I do not expect to personally benefit from this knowledge in any way. However, I am enthralled in learning about this period of Irish history, and it is opening my mind to literary works and figures, I would not have come across without it.

The personal development world on its own will show you how to become more confident, richer, healthier and a better speaker. These are all fine to be pursued but they won’t necessarily help you discover who you really are and what you really love in this world. Lifelong learning can help you with all the things personal development will do for you, but in can also bring you pleasure in learning itself, and help you in any areas that are not easy to display.

Whilst lifelong learning does not have to have a means to an end, I am certain that it will lead to personal growth. And this happens in spite of the fact you are not looking for it. Your world opens up with every new thing you learn. If I come back to the lecture series I am currently listening to ‘The Irish Identity’, just by listening to this series, I have opened up a world where I have discovered J M Synge, Lady Gregory and The Abbey Theatre. And once I read more of the works of these people and places, my world will continue to open up still.

One of my favourite books is ‘How to read a book’ by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. The aim of the book is very clear from the outset; it wants to make you a better reader, but in the modern sense, it is not a personal development book. The reason they want you to become a better reader is not so you can become richer or more successful, but to increase your understanding of the world. To help you learn what the great thinkers of history wrote about a certain subject and how those ideas can help you in this life. After I had listened to the Jim Rohn CD, I bought a copy of How to read a book (which he recommended) and the book sparked an interest in reading classic literature, that has been with me ever since. Not only is it a great joy to read the great books (as well as increasing your understanding of the world), but I genuinely believe that what also comes with this level of understanding, is a greater sense of happiness. As with the lectures I listen to, the great books can open up your world right in front of you.

Of course, lifelong learning does not have to be about great books and lectures. It can be musical instruments, languages, sports, cooking, travel, wildlife and photography. Not only am I invested in learning a foreign language (Polish) but I am also learning the guitar from the very basics, despite having played for over 20 years. Lifelong learning through activities is also a way to expand the horizons of your world, and bring you a profound sense of discovery and joy.

Personal development will always be a part of my own journey, because I would be telling a lie if I said I did not want to create a more financially secure future, with more time to focus on the things I want to focus on. However, I know that where I am in life materially is absolutely fine, and that further material gains, do not necessarily equal a happier future. The world is something I can reveal and create through my love of lifelong learning, and whether intentional or not, it is the best personal development one can invest in.

Believe me, when a man has squandered his true joys,
he’s good as dead, I tell you, a living corpse,
Pile up riches in your house, as much as you like-
live like a king with a huge show of pomp,
but if real delight is missing from the lot,
I wouldn’t give you a wisp of smoke for it,
not compared with joy.”

– From the play Antigone by Sophocles (496-406 BC)

The Photography World – Where have I been?

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but if you listen to contemporary science, it says out of sight, out of mind. Regular exposure to someone or something is what makes us fall and stay in love apparently. Now I don’t know what really happens, but I do know that somethings just won’t leave you alone, no matter how long you’re gone.

Photography hey, I still love it. Yes, it’s been hard to recapture the excitement and enthusiasm I first had for it after a trip to Paris in April 2010, but nearly 7 years on, and I still keep coming back. 

I used to blog and post photographs regularly, but in the end, I just fizzled out. A travel photographer hasn’t got to worry about any of that. They can keep blogging as long as it takes them to run out of places in the world to visit, but for other people, the constant inspiration is hard to consistently find. I live in Newbury, Berkshire, and whilst I have nothing but good things to say about my hometown, it’s not exactly Venice. It has a nice canal though.

I checked my Adobe Lightroom Library and it shows that between September 2015 and September 2016, I took no photos at all. Photography was not really in my mind at all then. I’d become interested in other fields such as personal development, which though I am still interested in, I have learned to pursue along with my passion for photography.

Things started to change for me around the middle of last year, when I began working with a local architect to produce images for their website and marketing materials. I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to go back down the photography route (and if I could make money doing it) but I have done several shoots for them since, and it has been an absolute blast. I relaunched my KelbyOne membership (photography training site) last November, and my drive and passion for photography has come back intact. All the work I have done since September has been business, but I am keen to rekindle my artistic photography work as well.

I am thrilled from the feedback on my Facebook page (and the new followers) that people still enjoy my photography, and I want to be on here as much as I can, sharing my thoughts and of course, providing lots of photos. I have included a selection of my recent architectural shots here. I hope you like them!

All the best,

Pete

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Coaching is for the Whole Company, not just the Top

Jubilant people

There is a little known fact that at Lincoln City Football Club, only the best players receive any coaching prior to the next game. The less regarded players turn up to the games and are expected to pick up from the senior players, what their role for the game is. Now that fact is little known because of course it isn’t true. No football club would be run in such a manner. And yet how many companies can look at themselves today and state that their businesses are not being run like this?

No professional footballer, rugby player, basketball player, golfer etc. is good enough to not require coaching. Andy Murray is currently the number one tennis player in the world and I am sure is a better tennis player than his coach. So why bother with one? It’s simple; because a coach’s expertise is knowing how to evolve a certain player’s game, analyse the performance and provide guidance and motivation along the way. They can see what the player needs to work on, more than the player themselves. At the elite level of sports, the margins of winning and losing are sometimes so small, that the role of a coach in being on the right side of that margin is an important part of success.

Great business leaders have coaches as well. In fact, great success stories in any field, have coaches and mentors. I know of a hugely successful National Geographic photographer who still attends training workshops of another legendary photographer. It all points to the fact that training is necessary for improvement and achievement. It is a genuine mystery to me that there isn’t a habit of coaching all staff at any levels of a business. A company, like a sports team, has the staff (players) on hand to make the company a winning team. The success of a company lies it in staff. Doesn’t it make sense to invest heavily in this asset?

Of course, a managing director or department head needs to look at their staff and assess if they have the right people for the job in hand. When a new manager comes into a sports team, some players are let go, and some are brought in, but you can’t just begin the coaching process until you have just the right people you want. The coaching process has to be present and consistent throughout an organisation’s life. If it wants the staff to perform, it has to invest in their development, and not just the technical side of how to do the job, but in the emotional side of who they are, and what they need to perform to an excellent standard. I know that not everyone is open to the coaching process, but again, we can’t shut the door on the process, because it won’t work for some people. If the alternative to coaching is to hope they do better, without identifying their goals, strengths and skills, then this surely can’t lead to progress.

Coaching opportunities within a business need to be broadened to staff at all levels. Yes, some employees will be self-driven and will rise above other employees regardless of training. But we can’t bet the success of the company on chance. How can developing and coaching employees at all levels be a great risk? The benefits to the company are too great to ignore.