What have I done this year? I asked myself that question the other day as I pondered wether I had been industrious enough for my own standards. 2019 is a little over 9 months old. In that time a fertilised egg can grow into a human baby inside the womb, so I suppose it’s fair to say a lot can happen in that time. A lot has happened yet still I doubt if it’s enough, a mindset which is galling if all you want to do is hunker down and get comfy, but essential if you are looking to achieve meaningful accomplishments.
I started the year with a somewhat clear and definite mission. That mission was simple; I would make progress every day. Progress on artistic projects, progress on learning and progress on physical fitness. I take stock each morning when I wake and compare myself to who I was yesterday and try and improve in some minuscule way by the time I go to bed that night. I set it as a daily task to look at myself in such a way that is fair and honest, sometimes brutal, sometimes kind but always in the mind that I wanted to become a better and more valuable human being to those around me. This entails a conscious and deliberate desire to always learn from life as life happens.
It sounds like a very difficult thing to do for most people but I have been doing things like this unconsciously for as long as I can remember. The act of conscious self development just amplifies the process and sticks the flood lights on the deepest darkest parts of ones nature. Some dark corners one discovers require a little more work to improve than others and some look pretty good when lit up and looked at. It’s not memories or emotions that hide, although sometimes it is, it’s thought patterns and habits that have taken root in the mind and make me who I am for better or for worse.
You see our mind is like a garden and every so often we need to trim things back, move plants around that aren’t getting enough sun and take out the weeds that are strangling the good flowers. I’ll give you an example, an area of my character which has always been flawed is my inability to be frugal with money. When I have it I spend it, and have never been good at saving. Fortunately my wife is very good at this and takes care of the family finances with great precision. I looked upon that ‘money management flower’ with concern, it was weak and weary and pathetic looking, so instead of ignoring it like I always do, I dug it out and moved it the light, to a spot where it could be looked after better and made to flourish. Since then I have installed a budget to my own wages, gave my self a weekly allowance and curbed the unnecessary expenditure, like; Latte’s every time I pass a cafe. It's amazing how quickly you get used to having a cap on spending and it’s even better when you see the flowers grow in the shape of a growing savings account.
Another thing I made more effort in this year was to read more and have been devouring a steady stream of books this year. One that I took from the library earlier this year was a book called ‘The Path’ by Professor Michael Puett & Christine Gross-Loh. The book is a journey through Chinese philosophy and how, as a westerner, looking at life differently can lead you to a more fulfilled existence, I’d highly recommend the book and that philosophy. One part which spurred me into action in areas such as finance is the strange notion that we as western adults are formed in our characters and unchangeable in our ways. We are not unchangeable, in fact we are the opposite. How many times do you hear people say, ‘That’s just me, that’s the way I am.’ They accept things like ‘I have a short fuse’ as a fixed mode of being and often use it to justify their own bursts of anger and rage. Or maybe they say, ‘I don’t have the willpower to quit X.’ Again they lie to themselves by saying that is a fixed state and again use it to justify their weakness and prolong the unhealthy habit. ‘The Path’ suggests that you are your habits but your habits are not fixed and are infact extremely malleable. So if you change your habits, you change your very person. If you were that ‘short fuse’ kind of person, what if you rejected that and each time you felt anger rise you took a deep breath and made the conscious choice to calm down. Sooner or later you have a longer fuse than you first accepted. Do that for a week you’ll feel far better, do it for a year and you will be the most chilled person on the planet and thus a completely different animal. Form new habits and get new results, getting new results is what improving your person, your attitude, your life, is all about. I rejected the fact that I am habitually programmed to be bad with money and instead seen it as an opportunity to grow. I’m still by no means perfect at this, but I feel a slight improvement and that’s progress, incremental as it may be.
In the same thinking, this constant auditing of the self often throws up areas that you can boldly be proud of. For example, the last few yers I have managed to increase my level of discipline and have completed several big projects through using that focus, determination and discipline to drive the projects completion. That is something I struggled with for pretty much the entirety of my twenties, that inability to complete a task that I start. Now I say what I’m going to do and I do it. Now I love nothing more than taking on a mission, seeing it through and accomplishing an end result. The more of these challenges I take on the more I realise how much I adore the hunt, the pursuit, the chase of the end goal more than resting on my laurels and patting myself on the back for a job well done. Instead I look to the next job, the next mission, the next battle and I GET AFTER IT.
Getting after it has been my motto for my year. In the 9 months or so of 2019 I gotten after the following.
Trained for and ran the Stirling Marathon.
Written the Sons of Beefy script.
Filmed phase one of Sons of Beefy Documentary.
Co wrote several songs for the Sons of Beefy Soundtrack.
Started Digby Productions and Non profit LTD company.
Gotten an SVQ in Social Care.
Completed the first 60 credits of a Masters Degree in Psychology.
Written a book of short stories. (My first written publication, released for an audience of one.)
Put on a music festival.
Played live for the first time in a long time.
Began drafting plans for a Content Distribution Network of Digby Productions output.
Signed my first development artist to Digby Productions Ltd.
Began producing material for that artist.
Read 14 books (list below if interested).
Meanwhile, having a day job, being a husband and being a Dad.
There are still three months to add to that and what I have scheduled is further work on the artist I am collaborating with, more filming for the documentary, producing the Sons of Beefy soundtrack and also module two of my psychology degree.
How? Well, this is all the result of the development of good habits I mentioned above. For example, because of the amount of projects and obligations (work) I have on, I am very strict with a schedule I created. I started the schedule this year so that I can dedicate full days to study, writing and other projects rather than little pieces of each throughout a day. It works better knowing that I have set aside substantial time for everything. To further aid this way of working and managing different things I need to extend my day. Maximising the amount of waking hours is essential and so towards the end of last year I got into the habit of waking at 5am every morning. At 5am I either work out, I study or I will write. It all depends on what my schedule says I have on that day. I make the kids breakfast and do the school run, come back home and get after it. In the dark mornings I work in the wee small hours then go for a run at sunup when the kids are at school but in the summer, there is nothing better than tearing over the hills and through the woods with my dog while everyone in the town is fast asleep. If my exercise is done, when my wife is at work and my kids are at School, I head into my studio at home and work from 9:15am till 3pm on whatever I have scheduled in. Then at 3pm I pick up my kids, and my evenings are for family and that is absolutely NON negotiable. That is my downtime, that is my time to relax, that is my ‘social life’.
To be honest, I have what some would consider as zero social life in that I don’t have a bunch of friends that I simply hang out with. Any social dealings I have will always have the ulterior motive of progressing on some kind of project. This is fine for me because I am far more introverted than most people would believe and again, this is something that I have only discovered through constant self analysing and self improvement. I’ve gotten to a point of understanding myself that I know and accept what and where makes me happy and where I’d prefer to spend my time. Meeting for a 'few pints’ to watch football is not something I’d ever do nowadays because firstly I don’t drink and secondly I have grown tired of football so ultimately that’s the kind of thing I see as a waste of time. Unless there is some substantial stimulation or some kind of progress to be gained then there is (to me) nothing worth spending time away from my family for.
I work hard at trying to bring ideas and projects into some kind of reality and as a result a 9-3 day is ample for me to get through the work that needs doing. Then by consciously trying to switch off from work when my kids and my wife are home, I am prioritising them over everything else, I am charging my own mental battery which makes me more alert and present for my family knowing I have done everything I could for the day. That is the intention at least and while routine is there I am disciplined in this, however during the summer holidays when routine is gone and my family was at home the entire time, I was unable to apply myself fully through the day. This meant my output was reduced, my mind was elsewhere and my engagement with them was not ideal because the growth of new ideas and new opportunities was still very much in bloom. This created a kind of log jam of ideas and projects which were growing in intensity.
It took (and is still taking) a tremendous amount of mental effort to recover from that break in consistency and routine and it is only now I am able to sit and write this blog, knowing everything else is up to speed. The summer holidays is after all a time for enjoying the weather and relaxing but the extended break halted my momentum and threw me off track in many other ways. It affected my diet as I came off Keto to enjoy the BBQs and Ice Cream. I still ate healthily but also indulged in the more than occasional sweet or doughy treat. I continued to train, though I cut down the milage and upped the weight training which I enjoyed, but all of these factors combined and had left me feeling fuzzy, irritable and frustrated. So much so that I could see how this chaotic, undisciplined path would lead me to a less than desirable mental state somewhere down the line.
Continually honest appraisal and auditing of my self and my mindset have allowed me the ability to optimise my physical, emotional and cognitive performance. The dips in discipline and moments of weakness serve only to prove that the way of discipline and the way of strong will are the only ways to live life optimally. I need the challenges, I need to push myself into the zone of proximal development and then I need the discipline and the focus that makes me improve daily. When all of that is in accord, I feel I am the best version of myself. The imperfect but always striving person I want to be forever. That way my goal can be acheived.
But what is the Goal? Continual self improvement through challenge and finding meaning.., or something like that. It's not so much a goal as it is a purpose but if the goal were a single objective I'd struggle to articulate it. It’s sort of like a huge jigsaw puzzle. The more adventures my ever curious and exploratory mind forces me to undertake, the more pieces I gather and find where they fit, then the more I begin to realise and reveal the image upon the puzzle. What I mean by that is that every skill I have learned, every natural inclination I have and every life experience I encounter are the pieces which reveal the picture of my niche. I feel like everything I have done and everything I am currently doing is gathering towards a specific role that no one else has done. It's like the egg has been fertilised and it grows daily. Psychology, songwriting and music production, writing, being good at listening and being a strong leader and motivator are all areas where I would say I am not mediocre and somewhere down the line, all of those skills acquired or talents I have will come together and be birthed into something with a name. Only this pregnancy has no 9month timeline, it takes as long as it takes. Until then the egg remains incubated in the womb of my mind waiting for the day it can be birthed into the world.
Only then I will be able to say it's a.....
2019 Book List
Born To Run - Daniel MacDougall
What I Think About When I'm Running - Haruki Murakami
Wolf Of The Plains - Conn Iggulden
The Path - Professor Michael Puett & Christine Gross-Loh
Can't Hurt Me - David Goggins (audio)
Scattered Minds - Gabor Mate (audio)
Mind Management - Professor Steven Peters (audio)
Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami
The Idiot Brain - Dean Burnett
Kafka By The Shore - Haruki Murakami
Natural Born Heroes - Daniel MacDougall
The Falcon of Sparta - Conn Iggulden
The Art of Creative Thinking - Rod Judkins
Business for Punks - James Watt
Sula - Toni Morrison (Just started)