FAQ: Potential Now List Problem #2 – “My {insert Now List activity} was a complete failure!”

floatation tank

So your recent Now List activity didn’t go as planned eh? I’m sorry to hear that. What happened? Really? How awful. Allow me to share with you a similar story.

Shortly after releasing the book I decided to start blogging about some of the items that I’d added to my Now List and succeeded in ticking off. One such item was this:

Try a Flotation Tank experience

A ‘flotation tank’ (for those of you who are new to the concept) is a large bath filled with warm salt water and a sound proofed lid. Once the lid’s closed the lights go off leaving you floating in the dark, and the silence. The fact that most of your senses are deprived (you can’t see anything, hear anything etc) allegedly allows your mind to enter a deeply relaxed state. One hour in the tank, so they say, is akin to several hours of fabulous relaxing sleep.

Unfortunately, on the day that I tried it I had a small paper cut on my thumb. Man – you do not want to get salt water on a paper cut! Neither do you want to thrash about in an effort to  keep your thumb out of the water. You might end up splashing salt water on your face. Man – you do not want to get salt water into your eyes either!

That thirty minutes in the tank (I got out early) felt like several hours of torture. If I’d have had any secrets to tell I’d have spilled them after the first few minutes.

Not to be deterred, and determined to have something good to write for this blog, I booked a second flotation experience. This time I took up the offer of some optional ‘relaxing’ music. You know the sort of thing – pan pipes played softly against a background of waves bubbling over rock pools.

Unfortunately there was a problem with the CD player. Instead of drifting into the best sleep I’ve ever know, I lay in the dark, floating to a series of irritating clicks and buzzes.

I lasted fifteen minutes.

Finally, determined to make sure I got the best ‘experience’ possible, the flotation centre gave me a third, complimentary session, booked me into the most spacious state-of-the-art pod they had, and double checked everything.

I lay there for fifty minutes.

Nothing hurt.

There was no buzzing.

But my god, I was so bored.

I did have plenty of time to think though, and as I gently tapped the side of the pod and floated from one side to the other I bath2began to realise that actually, flotation might be over rated. My own bath is pretty darn nice. It sits under a huge window. And if you open that window on a summers day there’s really nothing better than lying up to your chin, in soapy bath water – that won’t irritate your paper cuts – whilst looking up at the puffy white clouds, and listening to the sounds of the birds chirping and generally being terrorised by my cat.

I got out of the tank, went home, and did exactly that.

Was my flotation tank experience a wash-out?

Yes. Yes it was.

But does that mean that my next Now List activity will be a disaster?

Of course not.

But then I’m sure you realised that.

FAQ: Potential Now List Problem #1 – Money. Lack of.

The rather wonderful thing about Now Lists is that it seems there’s very little that can go wrong! So far there’s only a

skint?
Skint?

handful of challenges that I’ve identified. Here’s the first of two.

Money. Or the lack thereof.

If your Now List is anything like mine there probably isn’t an item on the list that doesn’t involve parting with money. Which is annoying if you’re strapped for cash, or on a particularly tight budget.

Now you might be tempted to avoid adding items to your list if they seem financially out of reach, but that would be a mistake – any kind of censorship will only stifle your creativity. Instead, create a Now List category called ‘when I have enough money’ and add them anyway.

You might also want to consider starting a ‘Now List Fund’.

How you do that is entirely up to you. If you’re like me setting up a ‘fund’ might only involve adding a line to spreadsheet somewhere, but if you’re a normal person, or someone who struggles to manage their finances, it might be better to open a savings account, and maybe even one that doesn’t give you a cash card or internet banking or any other easy way to access your money. You’ll want to put your Now List Fund out of easy reach.

You might also need to find creative ways of topping it up.

Jules (my long suffering assistant) has a standing order set up to automatically put a small amount into her dedicated savings account each month. Even if you can only afford one pound/dollar/euro/drakma per month it’s one pound/dollar/euro/drakma in the right direction.

Personally I top up my Now List Fund whenever I’m given “unexpected” money (eg. if I win a tenner on the lottery or a premium bond pays out). But I also make my Now List available on the blog and on BucketList.org and as a consequence family and friends often consult the list when looking for Birthday or Christmas gift ideas.

FAQ: Potential Wish List Problem #2 – The ‘Universe’ and its wicked sense of humour

welcome-marhabaIt’s a funny thing about the focus mechanism in your head, as well as bringing to your attention all those things you’ve deemed important, you may find you start to notice all the things that are, on the face of it, the complete opposite.

Say for instance, that your three wishes basically amount to the same thing: “spend more time with the family.” You’ve created yourself a nice screensaver featuring pictures of you and the kids, and the walls of your office are now plastered with family photos. No sooner have you done this than your boss walks in and offers you a raise. And a promotion. And a new car. And an expense account. And a bigger office. InDubai. For six months.

Now clearly this job in Dubai runs counter to your wish. It is, none the less, a very exciting opportunity. You might even do a little detective work to see whether or not you can take your family with you – only to discover that you can’t. Should you take the job?

This scenario may seem unlikely but it’s happened to me enough times to realise that there’s a mechanism at work here. It’s almost as if the Universe, God, or a deity of your preference, picks up your Wish List and says, “So this is what you really want, is it? So you wouldn’t be the slightest bit interested in…” and ka-zaam! The total opposite of what you want is laid out before you, for the taking.

In moments like this I treat it for what it is.

A choice.

This is an opportunity to examine your heart. To think carefully about whether or not the items on your Wish List are things that you really want, or things that you should want. In short, it’s time to be honest with yourself.

Whether you take the job inDubai(or whatever your equivalent would be) is, of course, entirely up to you. And in my experience, decisions like this usually require a great deal of soul searching, usually when there’s very little time to do anything of the sort. Worse still, even once you’ve made the choice there’s nothing to stop the Universe (God, etc) coming back and asking you again, and again, and again, each time raising the stakes. That just seems to be how it works. So it’s important to keep in mind the original question:

What is it that you actually want?

FAQ: Potential Boxing Day Problem #4 – Too busy to have a Boxing Day

too busyIn stark contrast to those under the age of twenty five there are those people who are utterly convinced that they couldn’t possibly take one day out a month for themselves. They’re just too darn busy.

In my experience there are two types of ‘I don’t have the time {for Boxing Day}’ people – those that don’t have the time, and those that think they don’t have the time. Let’s find out which type you are.

Answer this simple two-part question:

do you have an appointment diary and do you use it?

If you haven’t answered yes to both parts, chances are you’re one of the people who only think that they’re busy. What you’re calling ‘busy’ is in fact ‘chaos’.

I’m not kidding about this: diaries really are that important.

Go get a diary, start using it, then come back.

So you’re back. Good. Now hand me that diary and let’s have a look.

Hmmm. I see. Well, you’re right. You do appear to have a very busy schedule. Every single moment is indeed booked out for something. That’ll be why you have that smug ‘told you so’ look on your face that’s just crying out for a smack.

But wait – what’s this appointment here? Every Sunday?

“That’s when I go to see my mother,” you say.

“Every Sunday?”

“Well, yes.”

“Could you not skip it one week?”

“Not really.”

“Why?”

“Because she expects me!”

“So tell her you can’t make it one week!”

“I couldn’t do that,” you say.

“Why not?”

“Because she’s my mother.”

“Ok, but what about this Sunday? This Sunday you’re not seeing your mother. This says ‘work’.”

“Well yes,” you reply “there’s this big project we’re finishing up, and my boss really needs me – and besides, it’s overtime…”

“So it’s ok to cancel your mother if there’s overtime up for grabs?”

“Well, we’re really busy right now -”

“And your mother’s ok with that?”

“Well, it’s work – it’s important.”

“And you’re not important?”

“Sorry?”

“I said: ‘You’re not important?’”

“Well, of course I am, I suppose -”

“You suppose?”

“Look, I can’t cancel my mother, not to spend a day by myself-”

“Because you’re not important?”

“Well, err-”

“Well?”

It’s not that you’re too busy, it’s that you’re putting everyone and everything before you and your happiness! You have, in effect, trained yourself – yes, trained yourself – to believe that when it comes to your time, and your life, everyone else gets to say how you spend it.

You need to stop that.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. From birth we’re encouraged by others to take on that ‘training’. Eventually we might even convince ourselves that these habits of selflessness/martyrdom/workaholism are a good thing. We say to ourselves, “I must be a good person, I put everyone else first – yay me.” Those that don’t adopt a similar saintly attitude – and you can probably think of someone off the top of your head – can, on occasion, come across as a little self-centred or selfish. Maybe more than a little. And maybe not as occasionally as you’d like. Thank God you’re not like that.

I bet they’re happier though.

Now I’m not suggesting for one minute that you become like them, but accepting that you’ve created a habit of surrendering your time without question, and becoming aware of that habit, will give you the opportunity to say “no” and gradually regain control of your life. It’ll feel uncomfortable at first. It may even feel wrong. At some point you’ll upset someone. Maybe several someones. And that’ll make you feel guilty. But these things will pass. With practice it’ll become easier – it’ll start to make sense – and the people around, those that care about you, will, eventually, adjust to the ‘new you’.

So – let’s start now – go tell your mother that you won’t make it next week, or your boss that you can’t come in on Sunday.

FAQ: Potential Wish List Problems #1 – It’s all me, me, me, me, me!

Me Me Me!

It’s no fun growing up with brothers and sisters. Life is a constant battle for supremacy. And whilst being the eldest, or the tallest, or the strongest, should give you the competitive edge amongst your siblings, there’s always a parent hovering in the background who’s just one squabble away from wading in and levelling the playing field with a clip round the ear and comments such as:

“Wait your turn,” or

“Be nice to your sister,” or

“How many times have I told you to share?!”

You can appeal, of course – I often did – but this was usually met with:

“Peter – not everything’s about you,” or

“If you can’t play nicely then I’ll take it away,” or

“I want, I want, I want – that’s all I ever hear!”

It seems that no sooner have we been encouraged to ‘think for ourselves’ and ‘decide what we want in life’ than someone, maybe the same someone, tells us that we’re being self centred or selfish. ‘Putting others first,’ so they say, is the true path to enlightenment.

Now I’m not going to tell you that our parents were wrong – not entirely – but a few of us (and I include myself in this) had this concept of putting others first beaten into us so effectively that we’ve all but lost the ability to consider our own needs, and to do so can often fill us with feelings of guilt. That’s not good.

What our parents should have told us was this:

 Taking into consideration our own wants,
to the exclusion of everyone else,
is wrong.

The middle line of that sentence is crucial! Without it, you’re effectively telling yourself that everyone else is more important than you – and whilst there will be those of you who actually believe that, it’s simply not true.

Here’s another thing your parents should have told you:

Taking into consideration everyone else,
to the exclusion of yourself,
is utterly, utterly wrong.

No good can come of thinking of others to the exclusion of yourself. You will end up searching the internet, reading blog posts on how to become happier.

However, these can be incredibly hard concepts to grasp. From the workshops I’ve found that Mum’s especially are often hard-wired to put their own needs or wants on the backburner, or to dismiss them completely. So even if you finally manage to get your logical brain to say, “Oh yes, I see now – I need to strike a balance” – your inner child will continue to follow the put-everyone-else-first rule in the hope that one day that it’ll magically start working for you.

It won’t.

And sadly, undoing this level of brainwashing takes more than a couple of pages on a blog like this.

All that said, there are a few things you could try:

Firstly, there’s therapy. And I’m not kidding. It really is the only way to free yourself from this noble, but none the less destructive, behaviour. A word of warning; therapy is like embarking on a long personal journey through your own psyche for which you really need a qualified and experienced guide. Finding a therapist that works for you can be a challenge. This isn’t a reason not to try therapy, just try, if you can, to see a therapist who someone you trust can recommend.

Secondly, you could leave yourself notes around your house or office to remind you of the two facts above. Will it work? Maybe. It’s a low tech solution that won’t remedy the underlying problem, but sometimes a sticking plaster is all that’s necessary to enable us to continue on in life.

Lastly, you could strike a compromise with yourself. Accept the fact that there are other people in your life and incorporate them into your Wish List. Grab a piece of paper and instead of starting your wishes with the words “I want”, try starting a few with “we want” and see where that gets you.

For instance:

“We want to travel the world.”

“My mother and I live in a wonderful house, near the sea.”

“I am learning to play the guitar, with the support of …”

Good luck.

FAQ: Potential Boxing Day Problem #1 – “Haven’t you re-invented Saturday?”

Postman-Pat

Not everybody is able to see how a Boxing Day might be a good thing. Some people – let’s call them ‘young people’ – tend to look at me blankly for a moment or two before asking me how a Boxing Day differs from, say, Saturday. Or Sunday. Or virtually any other day of the week when they’re not at college. Which seems to be most days.

Before I became the grumpy old sod you see before you now, Saturday’s were sacred and followed a very strict routine: I would roll out of bed around midday, and settle down with a bowl of cornflakes in front of ‘the chart show’ before considering whether I should wander down to the town centre to ‘mooch about’.

This relaxed state of affairs continued throughout my teens and twenties, and might have continued into my thirties if it hadn’t of been for the arrival of…

The postman.

If you’re in your early twenties you’ve probably yet to appreciate the sheer amount of admin that awaits you the moment you get a bank account, a loan, a credit card, a car, or move into a place of your own. Suddenly there’s a mountain of paperwork to be addressed, most of it hidden amongst an even bigger mountain of junk from people trying to sell you stuff. And whilst you can (as I did) leave this stuff on the side in the hopes that it’ll kind of sort itself out, I don’t recommend it. Handing over your money to these organisations is only part of the payment required – the remainder is due in time sorting out all manner of insurances, MOT certificates, and taxes of numerous flavours. And that’s assuming that you never miss a payment, your car never needs fixing, your boiler never packs up, and that the Gas Board doesn’t decide to change your supplier without your knowledge. If you manage to juggle all this nonsense without surrendering the occasional Saturday I take my hat off to you. Personally I’d developed a morbid fear of ‘post’ by the time I was thirty.

Of course you might, as many people do, assume that there’s strength in numbers, and choose to combine forces with another. And whilst there are most definitely perks to giving up your single life it’s only a matter of time before your entire weekend is given over to ferrying the kids around, climbing a ladder with a paintbrush in your hand, or wandering the aisles of Ikea trying to find the damn exit.

When that happens, you might consider booking yourself a Boxing Day.

The Trophy Board 2011

business cardsSo that was 2011, and I have to say my Trophy Board has never looked so impressive!! I’m quite amazed that the thing stayed on the wall under the sheer weight of the stuff pinned to it.

(If you have no idea what I’m talking about you can get up to speed here – opens in a new window).

Click any of pictures at the bottom of this post and use the arrows to see how the board grew during the year (or click here to do that on facebook if you’re reading this in an email).
If I were a more patient man it would have been fun to create some sort of stop-motion animation but… hey, you have to draw the line somewhere!

It being December 31st it’s time to take all the items off, carefully slide them into a padded envelope, then throw that in the loft to join the other twenty or so envelopes.

Here’s what I’ve carefully squirrelled away for my relatives to go through in many years to come.

54 x business cards
33 x tickets
14 x postcards
12 x thank you cards / notes
6 x clothes tags
5 x intineraries / programmes
4 x badges
4 x bank cards
3 x photos
3 x hotel passes
2 x city maps (Rome & Paris)
2 x “certificates of achievement”
2 x party invites
2 x leaflets
2 x pieces of paper cut into heart shapes
2 x packets of chili seeds
2 x key rings
2 x odd things my niece has given me
2 x membership cards
1 x bookmark
1 x lottery ticket
1 x gift tag
1 x playing card
1 x gift bag
1 x valentine card!!

It would be great to see how your Trophy Board develops during 2012.  Feel free to share pics of your Trophy Board on the facebook page.

Here’s the story of my 2011 Trophy Board.

I’m looking forward to #BoxingDay. Here’s why.

Why I’m looking forward to Boxing Day, and why for me, and many other people, it’s no longer the day after Christmas.boxing day

Of all the ideas in the book the one people like the most, is Boxing Day.

But isn’t Boxing Day the day after Christmas Day? A slightly down-beat, 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 then my wife Kate came along and Boxing Day became ‘our’ day. We’d get up around midday, open a bottle of champagne, play with our presents from the day before, roast chestnuts in the oven, play silly board games, watch Christmas movies, and eat posh nibbles. It was, quite simply, a fantastic day. Our first Boxing Day together (before my wife was even my wife) I even ended up proposing. 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 five years I’ve celebrated Boxing Day approximately sixty times.

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, call me sentimental, 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’d get up with absolutely no plans whatsoever and see how the day unfolded. And that was almost five years ago.

Principals of Boxing Day

boxingdayLet’s cover some basics here: Boxing Day isn’t a ‘day off’, it’s important to get that concept out of your head immediately. Boxing Day is a day when you get to live totally in the moment. And why is this important? Because living in the moment takes a lot less energy!

As adults we expend a huge amount of energy just juggling the day-to-day. Young children, on the other hand, don’t. They live utterly in the moment and the job of structuring their day is handled by (hopefully) a responsible adult. Within the confines of whatever structure is imposed on them their day is totally driven by what they want to do, at that moment, and what opportunities exist. They don’t have to expend any energy on thinking past the next few minutes, and as a result they seem to have bucketfuls of the stuff. You could probably power an entire city on half a dozen four year olds and a ball pool if you could just keep them in that ball pool long enough.

And four year olds never seem to suffer from that Monday morning feeling, they never seem to worry about how they’re going to make it through the week, and they never pace themselves. They throw themselves at life, and when they run out of steam, they’re done. Have you ever seen the way a four year old sleeps? They’re so out of it you can pick them up without waking them.

Boxing Day is a little like being a four year old for a day. It releases you from thinking about the future or the past. For twenty four hours everything else is on hold. If you do Boxing Day properly you should feel like you’ve had a mini holiday – by the end of a Boxing Day you should feel rested, and energised, and happy.

So, let’s reiterate how Boxing Day works in one concise sentence:

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 the book contains some very special Boxing Day rules, and those rules are yours along with all the other goodies that the book contains. And being the festive season it goes without saying that the book (currently number one in two of amazon’s book categories), would make a fabulous gift for a loved one, co-worker, best-friend, boss, or any member of the national press.

In the meantime let me take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy Boxing Day.

Peter


Competition results

We asked you to ‘tweet’ out the above post to be in with a chance of winning either the paperback or one of ten copies of the ebook.
And the winner is…

Gillian Holmes from Nottingham

A copy of the book is winging it’s way to you via Royal Mail, Gillian. Hope you enjoy.

The following lovely people also won a copy of the ebook and have already been contacted via twitter direct message.

Sherieann (RedRoses4)
Victoria (sugarplum70)
Lilly (LillyLoveYou4)
Phyllis & Gerry Ellett (phyllgerry)
Tracy Nixon (tracyknixon)
Sara Wilson (tinkerbell34)
Tammie (ukusa1)
Jane Willis (janesgrapevine)
Barbara (babz229)
Julie Kenny (relisys222)

Many thanks to everyone who took part.
Subscribe to this blog (top of this page in the top right hand corner) to be notified of future competitions and giveaways.

Selective Attention

Brains are amazing. Especially yours. Even mine has its moments. And one of the most fascinating mechanisms of the human brain is how it deals with “focus”.

Have you ever noticed how when you buy a new car, or even when you’ve merely decided what type of car it is you want to buy, you start seeing that same car everywhere!

Or the kettle packs up, the DVD stops playing, and suddenly half a dozen other electrical items in the house decide to turn up their boots, like they’re all suffering from some sort of appliance manic-depression?

Or how you can sleep through a thunderstorm, the traffic noise, and the sounds of revellers returning from a night on the town, but if your new-born’s breathing changes even slightly – in the next room – you’re awake!

Or have you ever seen someone across a crowded room, started to walk towards them, and somehow walked into the table, the person, the immoveable object, that was directly in front of you but momentarily invisible?

Or have you ever fallen in love, fallen out of love, had a tiff, a blazing row, a passing thought about that girl you used to know – and the words of the next song on the radio seem to capture your feelings precisely?

That’s the power of focus. Your brain is extremely good at noticing things, or disregarding things, depending on whatever it is you’re currently focused on.

The following video – a ‘selective attention test’ – is an intriguing demonstration of the brains uncanny ability to focus only on what we deem important. Press the play icon in the middle of the image, and concentrate carefully on the number of times the players in white pass the ball to each other.

You can find out more about this video, and the science behind it at here.

To Begin With

Once upon a time I got sold a dream: I would grow up – big and strong – marry a blonde (my mother was convinced of this), father children, and live happily ever after in a big house, whilst I held down a job as an astronaut. Or a train driver. Or a fireman. And this wasn’t a ‘maybe’ – something to aspire to – this was my God given right. This is what was going to happen. All I had to do was wait.

The opening Chapter from ‘How To Do Everything and Be Happy’…

Once upon a time I got sold a dream: I would grow up big and strong, marry a blonde (my mother was convinced of this), have children, and live happily ever after in a big house, whilst I held down a job as an astronaut. Or a train driver. Or a how-to-be-an-astronaught-230x300fireman. And this wasn’t a ‘maybe’ – something to aspire to – this was my God given right. This is what was going to happen. All I had to do was wait.

Not that I was very good at waiting. I’m still not very good at waiting! I wanted this idyllic life now. I didn’t want to wait until next week or some other distant point in the future. I must have told my parents this because they would smile and tell me not to be in such a rush. “Peter,” they would say, “schooldays are the best days of your life.”

Obviously they were mistaken. They had to be. When my parents’ eyes glazed over and they talked fondly of ‘schooldays’ they must have been recalling the days of their own distant childhood, days sitting around camp fires outside the school mud hut, marking bits of slate with chalk whilst village elders told stories of dragons. Their schooldays were clearly a far cry from the mixture of humiliation, bullying and boredom that I endured. They had to be. Because if they weren’t, for schooldays to be the ‘best’ days they would logically have to be followed by ‘something worse.’

Then I got older, and things got worse.

Actually, that’s not quite true. They didn’t get any worse – not really – but they certainly didn’t get much better, and they definitely got more complex.

‘Work’ turned out to be very similar to ‘school’ – different bullies, same rules, just as boring. And whereas I was given money in return for surrendering five days out of seven – more money than I’d ever dreamed possible – now there was a slew of people queuing up to take it away from me.

And then there were relationships. Just when I’d got classroom note passing down to a fine art, the game changed completely, and note passing wasn’t going to cut it.
I could go on, but suffice it to say, the initial ‘dream’ seemed less and less likely. It was clear that I was never going to be an astronaut. Or a train driver. Or a fireman. It also seemed unlikely that I would ever live in a big house. Big houses needed big money. I was on small to medium money. Two bedroom flat money.

Finally, on my thirty second birthday, I realised there was a distinct possibility that I might never ever find ‘the blonde’.
This was a serious blow. Without the blonde I might never be married, I might never have children – and whilst I could probably cope without being married or having kids, or my blonde actually being a blonde, I couldn’t imagine being single for the rest of my days. That was unacceptable. Something had to be done.

So, for the first time in my life, I started to plan – to make lists, and take control of my own destiny. Many of the techniques in this book are nothing more than the skills I had to develop to avoid a life of bachelorhood. But it worked. Eventually I found the blonde. Took me a few more years, considerable effort on my part, and a somewhat unorthodox approach to dating, but I found her.

And we did marry.

And when she died in my arms three years later I was heartbroken.

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 was off to our place in Croatia for a few days to finish my novel. Kate drove me to the airport and as she dropped me off she gave me the world’s biggest hug, bit back a few tears, thumped me in the arm, and told me she loved me – and that I’d better call her when I got to the other end.

I walked towards the main airport building, turned to give her one last wave. Something wasn’t right. I could see our car, but not her.

The next few hours are a bit of a blur. I remember dropping my bags and running back to our vehicle. Taking her in my arms. The lady police officer trying to revive her. I remember the paramedics, the ambulance helicopter, being rushed to the hospital in the back of a police car. And I remember that god awful waiting room, the stoney faces of the doctors as they told me there was nothing they could do, that my wife was gone, and that they’d be switching off the life support machine.

Several hours later I drove our car back to an empty house.

I’ve learnt since that deaths like this – a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage, according to the certificate – 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’ve 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 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. I wanted to be happy all the time. Not just occasionally. Not just for a moment. And for the second time in my life I decided to tackle a problem in the only way I knew how: by making plans, and lists, and taking control of my own destiny.

Welcome to ‘How To Do Everything and Be Happy!’ If you’re dissatisfied with your life, this book may be for you. If you want to do something – anything – to increase the amount of happiness you feel, this book is probably for you. And if you know how to use a pencil, if you own a diary, if you can make a list, if you’re moderately organised, or could be if you had a good enough reason to be, then this book is definitely for you.

Now then, let me tell you about this dream that I have for you…

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