NOW that’s what I call WTFHIBD episode 7… part 2

nicole kidman

This week I’ll be telling you how I’ve been applying my ‘happy’ principals to my life, in a feature that I like to call What The Flippin’eck Have I Been Doing…

Yesterday I talked about GOALs – click here to read that post – but today let’s find out what I’ve managed to tick off my NOW list over the past year.

My NOW List

So, since the last WTFHIBD post, it’ll probably come as no great surprise that most of my energy has been spent concentrating on goals, rather than my NOW list. Or to put it another way – I’ve been desperately trying to make a living, and ‘enjoying myself’ hasn’t been my primary focus. Which I admit is probably a mistake, and one that I’m endeavouring to rectify going forwards – because even if making a living has to be the primary focus, I’m firmly of the belief that it too should be FUN, and anything but desperate.

That said, somehow I have managed to tick a handful of items off the NOW list in the past twelve months. Let me walk you through the highlights…

Theatre

I love theatre. I get as excited about the theatre as most people do about going on holiday. For me, going to the theatre feels like a holiday! Unsurprising then that I made it the theme of my latest novel, and about two years ago I made the conscious effort to see at least one item of live theatre every single month.

Now that’s easier said than done – and somewhat expensive – but in the last twelve months I have managed to see at least one production a month, sometimes more, and all without breaking the bank.

(Very occasionally I blog about the shows I’ve seen – as well as movies and books – over on my other blog)

dawn french

Nell Gwynne

 

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“A different wine with every meal”

This has been on my NOW list for the longest time. I’m not even sure how it got on there in the first place, or why the idea appealed to me so much, but at the back end of last year I got treated to a five course dinner, with matching wines, at the Jugged Hare near the Barbican. And it was everything I hoped it would be. Despite having a stinking cold, we rolled out of the restaurant satiated and very merry.

Well worth adding to your list if the Jugged Hare are still running the promotion.

Hidden London

It’s well known that beneath our capital city are numerous tunnels and tube stations which for one reason or another have long since been abandoned. Every now and then I’d come across pictures of these eery places on the internet, and eventually decided that I didn’t want to look at pictures… I wanted to see it for myself.

After a bit of googling I discovered that The London Transport Museum very, very occasionally do tours to the abandoned sections of London Underground network, and so three weeks ago I donned a fluorescent jacket, and disappeared under Euston station for an hour or so.

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Going forwards

 

In a few weeks I’m finally going to have a go on a segway, but in the meantime you can keep track of my NOW List adventures by LIKING the How To Do Everything And Be Happy facebook page.

But enough about me

How about you? What NOW List items have you checked off? Feel free to drop me a line, here or on facebook, or post a comment below.

And pop back tomorrow to find out whether I’m still having a Boxing Day once a month.


TTATCM sidebarFor three more days my SECOND novel, The Truth About This Charming Man, is only 99p for your kindle, smart-phone, tablet, or computer. If you like the way I write, chances are you’ll like this. Visit BuyTheBook.TODAY to find out more and buy the book… today.

 

Faith, Hope & Clarity (The Truth About Peter Jones) – WTFHIBD episode 7

piggy

Yes folks, it’s time, once again, for your favourite self-help ‘guru’ to fess up and tell you how I’ve been applying my ‘happy’ principals to my life, in a feature that I like to call What The Flippin’eck Have I Been Doing…

I’m going to break this into three parts, so come back tomorrow and Wednesday to find out about my NOW list, and BOXING days, but for now let’s start with GOALS.

My GOALS

Since I last penned the last WTFHIBD post, I’ve spent most of my goal-related energy concentrating on just one of the three goals I set myself (so much so, that I can’t actually remember what the other two goals were). That goal was this:

My total writing income exceeds my outgoings
Deadline: June 2015

So how’s that going, I hear you ask.

Let’s put it this way… not as good as I’d like.

Now that’s not entirely surprising. My potential for disappointment really knows no bounds. I’m the kinda guy who having found a £10 note on the floor, would be wishing it could’ve been a £20 instead… I’m definitely a glass half empty kinda guy. The first time I got a major book deal, my agent – having told me it was a generous offer for a first time author – was (rightly) appalled when I threw all my toys out the pram and declared the offer an insult! So, even if my latest novel was sitting somewhere near the top of the charts (any charts!) chances are I’d still not be satisfied. But it’s not at the top of the charts. Nowhere like it. And my income consistently falls short of my monthly outgoings – worse still ‘writing’ makes up only a fraction of that insubstantial income.

I’ve been in this situation for a while. Six years in fact. That’s the last time I raised an invoice in my previous guise as banking consultant. I walked out of a corporate office with a years money in my savings account, and hoped that would be the very last time I donned a suit and tie. But now that pot of money has all but gone. And a few weeks back, faced with this grim reality, I stopped writing my third novel… and started looking for full time work.

Here’s what I quickly discovered about job-hunting; it’s horrible. 

In many ways Job Hunting in the 21st Century is very similar to Online Dating. My life became one long dull routine of signing up to websites, completing profiles, uploading my CV, searching for jobs, and sending out messages. And just like my dating experience, I soon discovered that today’s online job market has it’s equivalent of Cam Girls (agencies), Scammers (agencies) and Spammers (agencies). There’s even a job hunting app where you swipe right for interested, and left for not-interested! And just like my dating experience (and the dating experience of most men) it seems to make absolutely no difference whether you actually have what the job poster is looking for because (just like the dating experience of most women) their mail server has probably collapsed under the deluge of applications thereby making it extremely doubtful that an actual human being will ever see your message… let alone reply!

I’d like to say that just like my dating experience I figured out what actually works, and became a master at online job hunting – there’s probably another self-help book in there somewhere. But the reality is I became very depressed, and pretty difficult to be around. Every day was a constant reminder that in the only way that really counts (ie. being able to pay the bills), I’d failed my goal. Which means I’d failed as an author. I was being forced to give up on that career. Worse still, I was already failing at being able to be anything else.

Well-meaning friends tried to cheer me up. They pointed out that it was pretty impressive that I’d “lasted this long”. They said phrases that included the words “a good innings“. You can probably imagine how much better that made me feel.

And then – just when I was at my most desperate, when I had begun to pick and choose between which bills I absolutely had to pay, and which I would have to let slide into arrears – a miracle happened. Or, to be more accurate, a cluster of mini-miracles; minicles you might call then, or miraclets – whatever they’re called, they saved the day.

Firstly, after making a silly sixty second video-promo for my latest novel – The Truth About This Charming Man – Amazon decided to put the book in their June Summer Promo. Financially it probably won’t make a huge difference, but it was nice to know that someone, other than me, thought my book was worth plugging (and if it’s June 2016 as you read this then it’s still only 99p if you fancy taking a punt. You can watch the sixty second video below (or here)).


Secondly, thanks in no small part to other friends and fellow writers, odd bits of freelance work started to land in my inbox. Not huge amounts, but enough to give me a paid-break from the hell of job hunting. My sanity started to return.

And finally, the phone started to ring: Someone had heard me speak at so-and-so event, would I be able to come to their group? XYZ Society had been let down by a fellow speaker – would I be able to fill the slot? {Insert name of WI group here} was celebrating their birthday in July / August / Sept… and they’d like me to come and entertain them…

Word of the 45 minute talk I give telling the story of how I came to write four self-help books, and the follow talk up explaining how I met Kylie Minogue (sort of), had reached some sort of tipping point. At the start of this month I found myself doing not one talk a week, but two, or three, sometimes two in one day.

facebook cover photo 2016

I always knew the talks were popular – after speaking I’d generally sell more physical books for £7 than I’d ever sell in a week on amazon for £1.99, but still the penny didn’t drop. Not until an out-spoken, feisty white-haired lady, walked right up to me a week or so ago and told me straight; “why are you bothering with the writing,” she said, “you should be putting all your energies into doing this.”

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it earlier.

Going forwards

So does this mean I’m giving up on writing? Not even slightly. My talks are about my writing journey – so starting next week I’m picking up that third novel again and I’m going to have it finished by the end of the year. But, the lion’s share of my energy is going to be spent moving the thing that I’ve always thought of as a ‘side-stall’ (ie. public speaking) front and centre.

You’ll already find a page on facebook dedicated to my speaking-adventures – if it looks like the sort of thing that might amuse you, or others, click the FOLLOW or SHARE buttons… maybe BOTH!

And if you belong to a group or society and you’d like me to come along and amuse you for an hour with tales of my writing adventures then drop me a line – either here or on facebook – but for the first time in a long while I’m going to take my own advice; I’m going to do the thing that actually works, in preference to the thing I’d like to work. Wish me luck.

But enough about me

How about you? What GOALS have you been working on? How’s that going? Feel free to drop me a line, here or on facebook, or post a comment below.

And pop back tomorrow to find out whether I’ve ticked off any items on my NOW List, and whether I still have a Boxing Day once a month.


TTATCM sidebarFor three more days my SECOND novel, The Truth About This Charming Man, is only 99p for your kindle, smart-phone, tablet, or computer. If you like the way I write, chances are you’ll like this. Visit BuyTheBook.TODAY to find out more and buy the book… today.

 

How to talk to Michelle Ward about Boxing Day and Everything

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Almost exactly a year ago I popped into Phoenix 98 FM, to chat to the lovely Michelle Ward.

If you’re a regular visitor to the blog you already know that I’m a regular guest on the show, and together we present a slot called ‘Happy Club‘, whereby I dispense some tips and hints on happiness, and related subjects (for instance; here’s a show that we did on how to survive Christmas).

This particular time we were supposed to be talking about Boxing Day, but instead we ended up talking about, well, me – specifically, how I became an author and my tendency to get totally wrapped up in building a career, unfortunately at the expense on my own happiness.

We do eventually get around to discussing Boxing Day.

Eventually.

Anyway, if you’ve got a few moments, have a listen. Click the PLAY button in the image below, or click here to open YouTube. The last couple of minutes of the interview went a bit screwy, so I’ve just faded it out on this version – you haven’t missed much, honest.

If you’re not able to listen to audio at the moment, you can read a blog post about Boxing Day here.

Do you already have Boxing Days? Why not tell me (and other visitors to this blog) about them in the comments below, or over on facebook.


The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl (mentioned in the show) has been out a year now – get your copy for mere pennies from your local amazon store.

For other happiness tips, like Boxing Day, check out How To Do Everything And Be Happy, available everywhere in all formats… but also on amazon (.co.uk | .com)

And remember, Christmas is just around the corner and books do make incredibly good gifts!

3 Simple Rules for a Successful Boxing Day

rules

BOXING DAY IS DRIVEN BY THE MOMENT,
THE HEART, AND THE OPPORTUNITY.

Re-read that last sentence because the success of your Boxing Days, should you choose to have them, relies heavily on how well you understand the concept and implement the principles. To boost your chances of success, however, there are some special Boxing Day rules, and they are…

  1. No Pre-Planning
  2. Book Boxing Day in Advance
  3. You can move Boxing Day, but you can’t cancel it.

I’ll be discussing each of these rules in subsequent blog posts over the next couple of days (although if you can’t wait til then, you could always buy the book! Now’s there’s an idea!). Subscribe to this blog for free (details over on the right) if you’d like to see those posts in your email inbox.

Rule Number 1: No Pre-Planning
Everything you do on Boxing Day should be decided on the day, and determined by what you feel like doing, what’s possible, and what opportunities present themselves. Do not plan your Boxing Day in advance.

Now you might say to me, ‘But I really need to finish decorating the spare room – taking a day to do that would be very useful.’ Well, fine. If you wake up on Boxing Day and you really feel like decorating the spare room – if that’s the one thing that would really make your day – then go for it. Knock yourself out. Personally I hate decorating with a passion but there have been Boxing Days when I’ve decided to ‘work’, when that’s the thing that I want to do more than any other choices that are available to me. The rule here is to not, under any circumstances, plan in advance to spend your Boxing Day up a ladder with a paint brush. If you know that spare room needs to be decorated then my advice to you is to set aside another day to do that, and keep Boxing Day separate. And if decorating the spare room is really that important, write it down on a piece of paper and come back to it when we discuss Goals later in this book.

But then you might say to me that your wife / husband / significant other won’t stomach the idea of you taking a day off ‘to do nothing’. To which I would say, you’re not going to do ‘nothing’. You’re going to do lots. You’re just not going to plan it in advance, and you’re not going to let anyone else determine what you choose to do.

Now having been married I appreciate that this might be challenging. So, one way to get buy-in from your significant other is to have a Boxing Day together or, better still, individual Boxing Days, albeit on the same day. This would avoid a day spent negotiating what the two of you are going to do – or, worse still, one partner dictating or submitting to the other – but I’ll leave that for you to decide.

You might also say to me, ‘But I’d like to take the kids to this or that attraction and we need to book tickets in advance.’ Great. Jot that idea on a piece of paper and we’ll come back to it in a few pages time when we discuss ‘Now Lists’, but pre-planning a trip to an attraction isn’t a valid Boxing Day activity. Waking up on Boxing Day and saying, ‘Hey, let’s all go to the zoo’ – that’s fine. Deciding to do it the day before and booking your tickets online – that’s not allowed.

And stop stamping your feet on the floor and pulling that face. How old are you? Five? These are the rules and they’re there for a reason.

Finally, you might whine, ‘But I can’t afford all these days off! Mega Corp Ltd only gives me x number of vacation days per year. Blah blah blah.’ Oh, for goodness sake! Then allocate one Saturday or Sunday per month to be your Boxing Day! There’s no reason to start using up your holiday allocation.

Having said all that, whilst you’re not allowed to plan what happens on your Boxing Day, it’s still necessary to do some preparation so that Boxing Day actually takes place! Let’s not get Planning Boxing Day (a big ‘no-no’) confused with Planning to have a Boxing Day (a big ‘yes-yes’).

For example, if you’re a busy mum with numerous people relying on you to wake them, feed them, clean them, dress them, listen to them, advise them, help them, sympathise with them, transport them … and all the other countless things that come under the Mum job description, standing at the top of the stairs and declaring to the rest of the household that ‘today is my Boxing Day’, in the vain hope that they’ll be able to ‘muddle through without you’, isn’t going to work. You’ll probably need to consider at least some of the following:

  • What’s the best day to have my Boxing Day?
  • Should I arrange child care?
  • Shall I prepare some microwaveable meals in advance for the family?
  • Do I need to warn anyone that I’m ‘out for the day’?

You might even need to strike a deal with yourself that whatever you decide to do on Boxing Day – and remember, you can’t decide that until the day – will involve ‘leaving the house’, so as to avoid that temptation to answer the call to Motherly Duty.

Rule Number 2: Book Boxing Day in advance
This might seem to run contrary to rule number 1, but the only element of Boxing Day that should be pre-planned is deciding when your Boxing Day is going to take place.

If, like me, you use an electronic diary then I recommend you create a monthly Boxing Day appointment. Make it the 26th of each month if you like, especially if you intend to treat the official Boxing Day (the 26th of December) as a Boxing Day. In reality, it doesn’t matter when your Boxing Day takes place, so long as it’s regular and booked in advance.
You might have thought that given the spontaneous nature of Boxing Day activities it would make sense for Boxing Day itself to happen spontaneously – wait until you wake up one morning and if you’re in a Boxing Day mood, declare that day Boxing Day.

There are two problems with this approach.

Firstly, if you’re a workaholic, a ‘busy’ person, or you work at least five days a week and have commitments most weekends (i.e. someone like me), spontaneity might be something that you struggle with. Therefore a spontaneous Boxing Day would inevitably involve cancelling whatever you had planned. Faced with a lot of last-minute diary shuffling, a task that no one enjoys, it might be easier to be spontaneous another day. Pretty soon Spontaneous Boxing Day would become something that you intend to do, someday, but keep putting off. ‘I’ll have a Boxing Day tomorrow,’ you’ll say. ‘There’s just too much to be done today.’

Secondly, if you’re the total opposite of the person above (How do you live? Seriously – how?) then there’s an equally good chance that you won’t have any problems cancelling work, or anything else you had planned. Assuming, of course, that there was anything planned in the first place. Pretty soon you’ll be having Boxing Day on a fortnightly, weekly, twice weekly, almost daily basis which will probably have two knock-on effects:

1. The rest of your life won’t work, as the stuff that really needs to get done sits in the corner and gathers dust. Worse still, when you eventually get cut off by the electricity board you’ll blame me and my stupid Boxing Day idea, and that simply won’t do.

2. Boxing Day will lose its potency. Yes, whilst you’re sitting there in the dark, with the bailiffs knocking at the door, you’ll cast your mind back to the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and realise that Boxing Day just ain’t what it used to be – a week or so ago.

The only way to safeguard against these two scenarios is to book Boxing Day in advance, and make an appointment with yourself.

But, you might be saying, what if I desperately need a Boxing Day? Or what if I’m due to have a Boxing Day but I’m not in the mood, or it’s just not convenient? Well, that’s why you need Rule Number 3.

Rule Number 3: You can move Boxing Day, but you can’t cancel it
It’s a fact of life that no matter how much you try and schedule your time, ‘stuff happens’. So if today was supposed to be a Boxing Day but you’ve just had an echoey conversation with your best friend who rang you from an underground sewer after a freak manhole cover incident, open your diary (planner/calendar/wall chart …), reschedule Boxing Day to another date, then throw a length of rope over your shoulder, jump in your car and go rescue your friend.

Equally, should you wake up desperately in need of a Boxing Day, open your diary (planner/calendar/wall chart …) and see if you can swap whatever you had planned for today with your next scheduled Boxing Day.

Believe me, this strategy works well. I’ve been known to postpone Boxing Days several weeks when Life is throwing everything it can in my direction, and similarly I’ve been known to have two Boxing Days within a few days of each other if I’ve deemed it necessary. This rule allows me to respond to the pushes and pulls of daily life whilst still getting an average of 12 Boxing Days a year.


Find out more about Boxing Day and other ‘Happiness’ ideas in How To Do Everything And Be Happy – published by Harper Collins and available from all good book stores including amazon (.co.uk | .com)

How I Re-invented Boxing Day And Found Happiness

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For most people, Boxing Day is a slightly downbeat, re-run of the previous days festivities. More Turkey. More Christmas pud. Perhaps a change of venue and/or relatives. That’s certainly how it used to be in my family, but when my wife Kate came along Boxing Day became ‘our’ day. A chance to finally be alone together, to declare Christmas well and truly ‘done’, and to bask in the healing power of the unplanned moment.

I remember our first Boxing Day together. We got up around midday, opened a bottle of champagne, looked at our presents from the day before, roasted chestnuts in the oven, played a silly board game, watched “Ghost Busters” in our bath robes, and stuffed ourselves on posh nibbles. And as the sun gave up its fruitless attempt at breaking through the grey December sky, and the lounge was once again lit by tree lights and candles, I found myself giving Kate a chair to sit on, whilst I went down on one knee.

“Marry me,” I said.

That gives you some idea how good Boxing Day made me feel about life. And there hasn’t been a Boxing Day since that hasn’t given me that same inner glow, that same joy for life. And I can speak with some authority here because in the last seven years I’ve celebrated Boxing Day approximately eighty three times.

* * *

Not that long ago, before the days of conjuring words out of the air and rearranging them into an entertaining order, I worked in banking. Credit Card Banking.

I was a fix it man. An ideas man. Wealthy men would ask me how to make even more money with the tools they had at their disposal, and I would tell them. Though it pains me to admit it the ‘credit crunch’ is partly my fault – not my idea, but I was there, pulling the levers and pressing the buttons that made it happen.

I hated banking. It was about a million miles away from what I’d always hoped I would be.

Other than usual childhood dream of being a fireman or an astronaut, my earliest ambition was the desire to create books. I remember taking as many sheets of paper as I was allowed, folding them in two, and using my grandmother’s stapler to create a spine. I’d then proceed to fill the pages with illustrations and narrative, until I ran out of space, which is when the story would – sometimes quite abruptly – end.

These books were distributed on a strict ‘read and return’ basis. I don’t remember the stories I wrote and I have no idea what happened to the manuscripts but I remember it used to make me happy. I remember that.

But you know how it is. You grow up. Put aside childish things. Get real. And all the dreams you had – becoming James Bond, becoming an actor, working in a job that you enjoy – they all get compromised. Down to nothing.

On my thirty-second birthday, I finally realised that there was a distinct possibility that the last of my ‘dreams’ might also never come to pass.

At the time I hadn’t even realised that it was a dream – I just hadn’t had a proper girlfriend for a while. A long while. A really long while. But I’d always assumed that things ‘would work themselves out’. Eventually. It appears I was the only one who thought so.

Colleagues had long since stopped describing me as an eligible bachelor, and some had even questioned my sexuality, which wasn’t helping the situation.

The thought of being single for the rest of my days was unacceptable.

Something had to be done.

* * *

So in order to avoid a life of bachelorhood, I started to plan. I made lists. I came up with a strategy. I took all the problem solving skills I was developing to make rich men richer, and applied them to my own life.

Around that time there was a TV show on the BBC called ‘Would Like to Meet’ where a team of experts (a flirt coach, an actor, and an image consultant) would take some hapless individual and turn them into a heart-throb or a man-magnet. I’d watch it avidly from week to week hoping to pick up some tips. And quickly came to the conclusion that I too could do with a similar makeover, albeit without the entire viewing nation of theUnited Kingdomlooking on.

So over the next few weeks I ordered a truck load of ‘dating’ books and stacked them by my bedside ready for those evenings when I found myself alone. ie. all of them.

I also tracked down an Image Consultant, picking the one I fancied the most on the grounds that any woman I found attractive would probably dress me in a manner she’d find appealing. Of course, back then Image Consultants really only worked for corporations but I had surprisingly little problem persuading her to broaden the scope of her client base to include one sad and lonely thirty something guy. And once my wardrobe had been completely replaced I went in search of a flirt coach.

At the time Channel 4 regularly hired a lady called Peta Heskell whenever they needed a relationship or ‘flirt’ expert, and as luck would have it Peta ran weekend flirting courses. I sent myself on one, took my place in the front row and when instructed, nervously introduced myself to the stunning blonde sitting next to me.

“I’m Peter,” I said.

“I’m Kate,” said the blonde. Then she smiled. And I was smitten.

The course wasn’t that much of a success, in that it didn’t teach me anything new, not that it mattered. My strategy had worked, albeit somewhat differently but infinitely better than I’d hoped. Kate and I were married exactly a year later.

* * *

Kate was a wonderful person. A true entrepreneur. A real visionary. When we met I had vague notions of settling into a rather typical domestic life-style; putting up with a job that I didn’t care for five days a week, in return for the company of a loving woman in the evenings and at weekends.

Kate had very different ideas.

Life wasn’t about ‘settling’ for things. To her there was a world of possibilities out there. We could go anywhere, do anything, have everything, all we had to do was put our minds to it.

When my wife wasn’t trying to convince me that we could escape the ‘rat race’ – or at the very least change races – she was reading. I’d lay money that a copy of every self-help book published around the millennium somehow found it’s way onto my wife’s bookshelf, where it would wait in line to be digested, scribbled over, highlighted, deconstructed and eventually incorporated into ‘Kate’s big theory of everything’ – a kind of pseudo social-science technical manual as to how the world works, and the people in it.

During the two and a bit years of our marriage Kate became more than my wife, she was also my teacher.

And when she died in my arms I was heart-broken.

* * *

People rarely ask me how Kate died. It’s just not the sort of question they feel comfortable asking. Most assume she must have had cancer – that we’d have had some warning. We didn’t.

I’ve learnt since that sudden deaths like hers (a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage) are surprisingly common. Kate had a weak part in her brain, probably since birth. It could have happened at any moment. It was almost inevitable.

I learnt too that after the shock comes the guilt. Every cross word, every nasty thought, every lie – they all come back to haunt you. And amongst the demons that were queuing up to torment me was the realisation that I still wasn’t happy, and maybe I never had been.

There had been happy moments, of course. Quite a lot of moments. Most of them in the previous three years, and most of them down to Kate, but they were moments none the less. And I wanted to be happy all the time. Not just occasionally. Not just for a moment.

Something had to be done.

* * *

And so I decided to tackle the problem in the only way I knew how: by making lists, and coming up with a strategy.

One such idea was Boxing Day.

That first Christmas after Kate passed away my mother, concerned for my welfare during the festive season, asked if I’d like to spend Boxing Day with them. It was a generous offer but I decided to spend it just as we always had.

I got up late, I opened a bottle of champagne, I sat in bed and browsed my collection of gifts from the previous day. Then I took the Brie from the fridge, a box of posh crackers (the edible kind) and worked my way through the whole lot whilst I sat in front of the telly and watched “The Santa Clause”. A little later I emailed friends I’d been meaning to catch up with, and followed that with a walk down to Old Leigh. I looked out at the boats resting in the mud, and then I went home, wrote down some thoughts, and did some planning.

By the time I went to bed I felt like I’d had a week’s holiday, and all I’d done was get out of bed and see how the day unfolded. It was such a good day that I caught myself wishing that Boxing Day happened a little more frequently than once a year, at which point I had the following crazy thought: Why can’t it? What was to stop me replicating the same structure – or lack of structure – on any other day of the year?

Answer: nothing.

From that day on I decided to have a ‘Boxing Day’ once a month. Once a month I get up with absolutely no plans whatsoever and see how the day unfolds. And that was almost seven years ago.

* * *

Though the ‘Boxing Day rules’ expressly forbid pre-planning, my Boxing Days definitely have themes.

I’ve made chocolate brownies, treacle tart, many many pizzas (base included), and truck loads of flapjacks.

I’ve ‘dropped in’ on friends, my family, visited junk shops and museums that I’ve always wanted to go inside.

I’ve set off in the car forCambridgeor other far flung places I can get to, and back, in a day.

And I’ve worked – working is a completely valid Boxing Day activity if it’s what you really want to do, and it isn’t pre-planned. I’ve written whole chapters, spent a day blogging, caught up on all my post and emails.

I’ve had plenty of successful Boxing Days (in that I achieved that holiday feeling by the end of the day), but I’ve also had less successful Boxing Days (when I didn’t). What I hadn’t realised at the time was that I was experiencing something that scientists refer to as ‘Hedonistic Habituation’. Regardless of how pleasurable an activity is, much of its pleasure is actually derived from its ‘newness’. So whilst I thought I was relying on activities that had worked on previous Boxing Days, I had, in fact, got myself into a Cambridge-based flapjacky rut. The trick, it seems, is to think of something you enjoy doing – then tweak it enough to make it ‘new’.

* * *

Of all the ‘happiness’ ideas I’ve had over the years, Boxing Day has been without a doubt one of the easiest to implement. It’s also the one that raises the most eyebrows.

“That’s bonkers,” my friends say. “Brilliant, but bonkers. But don’t you ever feel lonely? Or at a loss to know what to do?” And the short answer to both questions is, yes, of course. Though it pains me to admit it, I can’t guarantee that Boxing Day will work each and every time. But I’ve learnt that when this happens it’s best just to shrug, and move on. When it comes to creating happiness whilst Boxing Days are great, they’re not the whole answer.

“So what is?” They ask. “What else is in this… ‘happiness strategy’?”

At this point I usually tell them to get another round in. And then, over the noise of our fellow festive revellers and ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’ thumping out of the juke box, I tell them about my ‘Now List’,  my ‘Wish List’, how I set myself yearly goals, and how I make sure I actually achieve them.

I tell them how I’ve taken back control of my life, decided how I want it to be, pointed it in that direction, and given it a kick up the backside.

I tell them how I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had. Smiling more than I ever did. How there’s love in my life again. How I think Kate would be proud of me. And that I can finally say, I’m happy.

“Those ideas are too good to be kept to yourself,” they say eventually. “You ought to write those things down.”

And so I did.

Thirty something years later I am finally doing something that I wanted to do. I’m realising a childhood ambition. I’m making books.

And I remember now, how happy this makes me.



The Guardian Dec 2012Originally written for the Guardian, December 2012

Find out more about Boxing Day and other ‘Happiness’ ideas in How To Do Everything And Be Happy – published by Harper Collins and available from all good book stores including amazon (.co.uk | .com)

Feeding the right wolf.

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Friday night I unplugged from the world, sat down in front of the TV, and watched Tomorrowland.

It’s a hugely enjoyable kids film – full of jet-packs, flying cars, androids, steampunk gadgets… In many ways it has the feel of 80’s movies like Back To The Future, or Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but whilst those films are classic enjoyable nonsense, Tomorrowland has at its core a much more interesting premise.

Though it takes much of the film to get there, Tomorrowland ultimately asks the audience this intriguing question; do we live in despair and fear because the world is a terrible place… or is the world a terrible place because we live in despair and fear?

So I went to bed, on Friday night, having watched a light hearted Disney movie, with an interesting message, and completely oblivious of what was happening just a few hundred miles away.

I woke up to a world once again shaken by terrorism.

Typically my first thoughts weren’t for the victims, or their families, but for myself; Did I know anyone who lived in Paris? Anyone I cared about? Imagine how I felt when I suddenly realised… I did.

For near on three years now my brother has been travelling the world. And a few weeks ago, just after he’d stopped in England for my birthday, he set off for Paris, where he’s been ever since.

He’s fine by the way.

But he was just four miles away from the atrocities that took place.

As the world spent the weekend focusing on the events of Friday evening I found myself wondering whether, as Tomorrowland suggested, we have indeed engineered a massive global system of negative thoughts and actions that have in turn resulted in a downwards spiral of violence and hatred. In essence, our darkest fears have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is that possible?

I think it is.

If you believe that your actions are the direct result of your thoughts, then surely your thoughts might, in part at least, be reactions to those things happening around us – things that are in turn the result of other people’s actions.

So, for example, if we choose to live in fear, based on the seemingly ever more frequent incidents of crime and violence and hatred that we see day-in-day-out, pretty soon we’re locking doors, adding layers of security, and closing borders just to feel safe. But with all that extra ‘protection’ we’re suddenly even more suspicious of those we don’t recognise, and it becomes even easier to believe that our neighbours, those kids on the street, those weird looking people down the road, they all might be up to no good. Think like that for long enough and pretty soon our actions cause those folk to feel victimised, excluded, unwanted – which just breeds resentments, and anger, and ill feeling – until one day is it any wonder that a handful of lost souls stock pile weapons, strap bombs to their chests, pick a cause from the many available, and lash back at a society that’s brought them nothing but pain and heartache.

Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that the people responsible for Friday night’s acts of terror had any kind of justification. They are – were – monsters. But I also wonder if they’re symptoms of a world that’s unintentionally put fear in charge of everything we do?

It seems to me that there will always be monsters in this world. Always. But maybe what the world needs isn’t fewer monsters – maybe it just needs us to be better people.

There’s a moment in Tomorrowland where the villain, played by the excellent Hugh Laurie, says these sad words;

“In every moment there’s the possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality. You dwell on this terrible future and you resign yourselves to it for one reason; because that future doesn’t ask anything of you today.”

He’s right.

But he’s also wrong.

Because I’m 47, and until recently it hadn’t even occurred to me that thoughts – mere thoughts – could be that powerful. Yes, it’s easy to believe that the world is a terrible place, but only because it’s not immediately obvious that doing so might actually be adding to the problem. In a world where social media gives everyone a voice, we’re often told to be careful what we say. But perhaps we need to start sooner than that; perhaps we need to be careful what we think.

I leave you with these wise words from Casey Newton, heroine of Tomorrowland, played by Britt Robertson.

There are two wolves who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. The question is… which wolf wins?

The one you feed.

Turning failure into possibilities – WTFHIBD episode 6

bright-ideas

Blimey! Has it been 9 months since I wrote one of these WTFHIBD things?? Where does the time go? Actually that’s kinda the point of these WTFHIBD posts; to tell you exactly what I’ve been spending my time on.

Let’s start with GOALS.

My GOALS

2014 turned into something of a damp squib for me. Whilst a lot of good things happened, on balance it was pretty much ‘the year of disappointments’. People often tell me I’m too tough on myself, but as summer rolled into autumn all I could see was failure, failure, failure… in every aspect of my life.

But around January, and as I sat down to set my GOALs for the year I somehow managed to summon some of the fight that I’d lost in previous months, and although my 2015 goals didn’t look a whole lot different from previous years, perhaps I altered my approach to them, because even though it felt like I was starting again, at the same time the only way was up; I’d already failed at everything – it would be hard to fail even more. Success was actually the easier option.

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I BECAME ‘SELF-HELP GURU TURNED NOVELIST’

Having watched my debut lad-lit, rom-com novel  – The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl – climb the charts in September… only to come crashing back down to earth again… I took the somewhat odd decision to start sending it out to agents and publishers again. On the one hand this seemed like a bad idea; I would be trying to sell a book that was already published. On the other, I could point at lots of nice reviews, the fact it did rather well during it’s first promotion, and my previous non-fiction successes. Surely that would make me, and the book, an attractive proposition?

Amazon 2015-07-09 at 12.28.14Well, six months later and I had indeed got myself a new agent… and in turn a publicity deal with amazon!

The book underwent another edit, the cover got brighter, and after a little help from Kylie Minogue (sort of), amazon made it part of their July 99p Summer Reads promotion. It’s back up near the top of the charts …and it’s doing ok! Better than ok!

If you fancy a chuckle, as well as keeping me in the book business, now would be a very good time to spend a quid at the world’s biggest bookstore.

I STARTED MY NEXT BOOK

One of last year’s many failures was a five part serial that I wrote for a particularly well known woman’s magazine. After a full sixteen weeks of consideration, the fiction editor of magazine-that-cannot-be-named decided that it wasn’t really ‘real-world’ enough for their readers, and that she was going to pass up the opportunity of publishing it.

In the same week however, my new agent decided that actually it was a cracker of story – and could quite easily be expanded into a full length novel. My next novel. And so, Facebook pals have been subjected to almost daily word count updates, whilst readers of my other blog have been perplexed by various posts about how I use excel spreadsheets to write

selfieI STARTED GIVING MORE TALKS

One of my few successes last year were the number of talks I was asked to give.

Whereas previously I’d been giving the odd talk to Women’s Institutes and Town’s Women’s Guilds – suddenly the U3A, the Rotary Club, the Trefoil Society, and numerous independent clubs and societies started to invite me along based on recommendations from those who’d heard me speak elsewhere.

As the year ended I realised that public speaking is pretty much one of the things I love most… and so I came up with a second talk (entitled: How I Met Kylie Minogue) and offered it to all those folk who were kind enough to invite me along the first time. The result is I’m now doing a talk at least once a week (this week I’ve done three!) – and whilst it’s hardly a living, it has relieved a little bit of the pressure I’ve been putting myself under to make a living from writing alone.

If you’d like me to come and talk to your group or society – drop me a line

My NOW List

foggsLet’s move on from GOALS. What have I been doing for fun? (Not that writing isn’t fun – but you know what I mean…)

The NOW List is chock-a-block with exciting things that I’d absolutely love to do… sadly, most require time, money, often both, and I have neither.

That said, whilst I still haven’t managed to visit the Cook Islands, or visit Rome again, or anything that requires a plane trip, I have ticked off many items that I could do relatively cheaply, in around my local area. And some of those things included…

  • A visit to Mr Foggs of Mayfair. A strangely wonderful place.
  • My quest to find the strangest, experimental theatrical performances once a month – in the past few weeks I’ve seen improvised puppet shows, naked people rolling around in food, and a disturbing monologue about fantasy movies…
  • A visit to a junk shop that I’ve driven past many times and always wanted to go inside
  • A day at the beach with my very own luxury beach hut at my disposal
  • An evening at one of London’s Roof Top cinemas

But enough about me

How about you? What have you been up to? What NOW List items have you managed to tick off? What goals have you set yourself or achieved? Feel free to drop me a line, here or on facebook, or post a comment below.


 

#Five #Books That Make Excellent #Gifts

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I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find gift shopping can be something of a challenge.

It’s not the ‘buying’ of the gift that I find challenging, or the wrapping, or any of that malarky, it’s coming up with an idea in the first place. Just what do you buy your cousin Edwina, the woman who seems to have absolutely everything?? It’s the stuff of nightmares. Many sleepless nights. Perhaps both.

If you’re anything like me the days roll past and before you know it, you’re roaming the aisles of your local shopping centre, desperately hoping inspiration will jump out, shake you by the shoulders, and end it all.

Well relax. This year inspiration has chosen to send you an email. Or a tweet. Or however the heck you stumbled across this blog post. Consider the following…

Books make excellent gifts

You see! And I know what you’re thinking – it’s so obvious now I’ve come to mention it! And here’s something else, books signed by the author are even more special. Ha! No more crappy I-didn’t-know-what-to-get-you-so-I-got-you-this-voucher from you! You’ve just become a master of ‘thoughtful’ gifts.

Now where on earth can you lay your hands on a signed book or two?

Right here is where!

With just a click of your mouse, or a tap of your finger, any one of the five books I’ve penned could be winging their way to you with a personalised greeting inside, or a simple ‘Best Wishes’ if you want to keep your options open. Simply drop me a line via the Stay In Touch page, then select the book, or books, of your choice from the links BELOW.

The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl

TGGGTGTG - KINDLE artworkMy debut novel… if your gift-recipient likes chick lit Rom Coms in the style of Nick Horny or Mike Gayle, this could well be right up their street.
Buy it, signed, here

SDSW drop shadow colour smallHow to Start Dating and Stop Waiting

If they need a real guide to getting the girl, or guy, this is it. Written for everyone who’s ever found dating a challenge, dating websites to be less than fulfilling, or ‘first dates’ terrifying… How To Start Dating And Stop Waiting will help them dodge the liars, & Lotharios, and have them dating Mr or Ms Right in no time.
Buy it signed here

FITI kindle

From Invisible To Irresistible

The smaller, quirkier, companion guide to the previous title. Let me fix those underlying problems that make your otherwise attractive charming gift-recipient seemingly invisible to those they’d like to date.
Buy it signed here

HowToTakeControl

How to Do Everything and Be Happy

The book that started it all: ‘How To Do Everything and Be Happy’ is a book for ordinary people. With ordinary lives. It’s for people who have been ambling along and wondering why they’re not – well – just that little bit happier.
Buy it, signed, here

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How to Eat Loads and Stay Slim

And finally.. How To Eat Loads and Stay Slim. It isn’t a diet book. Not in the traditional sense. It’s a book packed full of thought provoking, scientifically-provable, ideas and changes you can make to your life to increase your chances of being slim. Now that’s a gift that keeps on giving!
Buy it signed, here

Boats, Bubbles, and Becoming Me; WTFHIBD episode 5

scubaYou know it’s about time I wrote another WTFHIBD blog post. After all I made a deal with my brother; regular WTFHIBD updates! So here we go again. Let’s start with my NOW List

My Now List

I’ve managed to tick off two NOW List items since I my last update; and I can’t really take credit for organising either of them.

For Christmas Jules – my long suffering assistant – bought me a Scuba lesson! Scuba is something that I always wanted to try as a kid. I remember begging Mum to let me join a club or something… and the barely concealed relief on her face when she told me I had to be at least eighteen years old. Then I turned eighteen. But now that I was big enough and ugly enough to send myself to scuba club… it just never happened.

I even had friends who learnt to dive and still I never got around to looking into it.

But… put it on a NOW List, make that NOW List public, and you’ll be surprised what can happen.

wiltonLike ‘HMS Wilton‘ for instance.

Not far from where I live there’s an old battle ship (a coastal mine sweeper to be precise). It serves as HQ of the Essex Yacht Club and for the longest time I’ve wanted to get aboard and look about. Not much of a problem you’d think – except that it’s not open to the public, and until recently there was no way of sending the Yacht Club any kind of message from their website!

Then one morning, a few weeks back, Della went for a run down there with Maggie her white German Shepherd and happened to bump into someone just locking the Yacht Club gates. Ten minutes of “oh what a lovely dog!” and “do you ever open this boat to the public?” later and she had arranged a personal tour from the chairman.

Goals

Last time I wrote a WTFHIBD post I mused about the importance of being true to yourself, and how it’s all too easy to get swept up in other people’s expectations of who and what you should be.

I’m ashamed to say that I’m still having thoughts along those lines all these months later. But after some significant soul searching it does feel like I might finally be getting to the bottom of them – like I might be recapturing some of the energy and drive that set me off on this journey in the first place.

TGGGTGTG drop shadowPart of the reason for this might be because I’ve made significant headway with one of the goals that came out of the Vision Exercise I put myself through a while back; ten years after Kate made me sit down and start writing it I’ve finally published a work of fiction – my debut novel (The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl) came out in paperback and as an ebook a few days ago. I am officially a novelist!

I was a little nervous about putting it out there, but so far I’m delighted with the response.

But enough about me

How about you? What have you been up to? What NOW List items have you managed to tick off? What goals have you set yourself or achieved? Feel free to drop me a line, here or on facebook, or post a comment below.


 

Phoenix FM Happy Club: What’s holding YOU back from being fabulous? #fear

Over the last few weeks I’ve been playing catch up with some of the radio interviews I’ve given including my ‘Happy Club’ slot of Michelle Ward‘s show on Phoenix98 FM.

Last month, I came clean and told Michelle that this happiness journey hasn’t been all roses, as well as the real reason why my novel – The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl – is being released this week (…rather than back in April when it was supposed to).

Basically it all comes down to fear.

To listen to the interview click the big play button in the image below, or here if you’re reading this in an email.

We go onto chat about what advice a successful, future version of myself would give me were he to jump back in time to the present, and discover that it’s pretty much the same advice that a less-than-successful future version of myself might say. We also answer listener questions and finish up by discussing the very book that’s had me so chewed up these past few months.

Want More Tips?

All four of my How To books are available in paperback, audio and for your kindle enabled device. In most cases the kindle versions are less than the price of a cup of coffee! Jeepers! Click here to find out more.

You don’t need a Kindle device to read a Kindle book. Download the FREE kindle app for your computer, smart phone or tablet from amazon (.co.uk | .com)


TGGGTGTG drop shadowMy debut novel, The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girlis finally available!

The ebook is currently less than a quid for a very limited period. To download it to your tablet or smartphone via the Free Kindle App click here now.