How To Do Everything And Be Happy

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Brain Farts (& the return of Bob)

brainfartLast week – ish – I introduced you to Bob and his wish list which was, I don’t think he’ll mind me telling you, made up of quite a lot of stuff you wouldn’t ‘wish’ on your worst enemy.

Actually that’s not quite true. You probably would wish quite a lot of this stuff on your worst enemy. In fact viewed in this context, Bob’s list makes a lot more sense. I can see my enemy’s now, miserably cleaning their cookers, painting their wardrobes, and spending long hours on the phone to various banking institutions, all whilst I sit in the sun…

Anyway. After giving Bob the benefit of my advice I received the following chirpy response:

Not long after I’d sent you the email I was reading your book again and got to the page about Wish List items leading to Happiness and thought – oh my that’s it.  Lots of things on that list aren’t wish list stuff at all.  But I’d already sent the email.  I think what I presented to you isn’t my Wish List, its my list of Brain Farts.  Another book calls them pop-corn thoughts because they POP into your head.  I prefer Brain Farts.  I am a master list writer and I write all these brain farts down.  This leads to a big list that I don’t know what to do with.  Which is what I sent to you.  Its actioning the items on those lists that’s a problem.  I think what would make me happier (I’m not unhappy) is to become someone that can get those nagging jobs just done to make more space for Live Life Now Lists and Wish List stuff.

Ah Bob. I feel your pain. I’ve been there. Making endless lists of chores which if I can just get some of them completed, will free up so much time, and relieve me of all those niggles I feel through out the day.

So let me spare you some torment and make life considerably easier for you. It ain’t ever gonna happen. You’re never, ever, going to clear your brain fart list. Ever.

Have you ever noticed how it doesn’t matter how big that suitcase is, when it comes to holiday packing it’s never quite big enough?  Or how your wife manages to fill her handbag with all kinds of rubbish regardless of whether it’s the size of a small purse or large enough to comfortably hold a small child and a three volume novel. So it is with brain farts, and chores, and all those annoying things that seem to stand between you and a smile. They fill up whatever space you allow them to have. And therein is your solution. Take back control and give those farts no space whatsoever!

Now I’m not saying ignore them. That won’t work for you. Not unless you’re one of those people who are blessed with the amazing ability to live life totally in the moment, never worrying about what might happen next week, or tomorrow, or in the next five minutes, and instantly forgetting anything that happened longer than a moment ago. But chances are if you were one of those people you wouldn’t be reading this now. No – you need a way to manage those brain farts. I accept that.

Here then, is what I do.

1. When I get a brain fart I text/email myself, or write it on a scrap of paper. Anything, just to capture it and get it out of my head.

2. I have a text file on my computer desktop. You could use a pad or something equally low tech, but you need a dumping ground. As a new brain farts arrives (or you come across the ones you captured at stage one) transfer them here.

3. Once a month review this document, and group the farts together into subject matter – WRITING, FUN, NOW LIST, CHORES, FINANCES, BUSINESS TASKS, COMMITMENTS.. things like that.

4. Transfer all these items to a master to-do list, and then review it – deciding which THREE of all the brain farts under that section (including the ones from previous months) should get your attention, which can be dumped, and which should just stay in pending. Picking just three farts focuses me on what’s actually important. Often I check to see how the three things I’ve chosen relate to my Goals.

5. Having decided which three items (they’re not farts any more) I’m going to work on I then decide what the next action is for each of them (do I need to call someone? Do some research? Read a book? Buy a widget? Talk to my assistant?) and when I’m going to do that (take a look at the Advanced Diary Tips at the end of the book for more on that).

And that’s it. It’s actually a lot less onerous than it might seem, and in doing this I  prevent brain farts from taking over my life. True my oven could still do with a clean. True my wardrobe could also do with a lick of paint. True, at some point I still need to call the bank and have my sanity gradually erased by someone who has no intention of actually helping me, but… not today. Today I’m busy being happy.


Hot news! Today ‘How To Do Everything And Be Happy’ is available, in paperback, from selected US bookstores and from US cover with drop shadowamazon.COM – hurrah! 

To mark this auspicious occasion, my US publishers (Harper 360) have decided to give the US-printed paperback a brand new, all-yellow cover.

Of course the inside of the book remains exactly the same – this isn’t a new edition – so there’s no need to rush out and buy a new copy of the book if you already have one. Although I would certainly understand if that were the case. And can one ever have too many copies? Plus – one imagines – there might be those amongst you who might see a market for importing the US branded copy of the book, and selling it here in the UK as a collectors edition. I’m just saying.


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A chat with Matthew Bannister, from the BBC World Service show ‘Outlook’

b01m6crnYesterday I met with Broadcasting Legend Matthew Bannister, now the presenter of the BBC World Service show ‘Outlook’ (amongst others). We talked about how I came to write How To Do Everything and Be Happy, as well as how Kate and I met, and why my first attempts to create ‘happiness’ were a total disaster.

After the show there were some really fabulous comments on facebook. Click here to read those or add your own.

To listen to the interview click the play button in the box below, or (if you’re reading this in an email) click here to play clip on YouTube.

Want to hear more about the book, and less about me? Click here to listen to an interview I gave to Dave Monk of BBC Essex back in May 2011



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Five ways to Beat the Blues

bluesSo how are you? I mean – how are you feeling? Stressed? Constantly tired? A little achey perhaps. As I write this now it’s Monday morning, and though we’ve finally entered March with Spring just round the corner, nobody seems to have told the weather. On days like today, it’s hard to feel particularly chipper.

What follows are five bullet proof layers partly inspired by my friend Agent Sparkles who created a 13 point beat-the-blues survival guide after a difficult period in her life struggling with depression. You can find her list, unedited and in its entirety, here – for now however, here are five items that really work for me, and should provide you with some much needed defence against the blues.

Bullet Proof Layer 1 – Put Your Pants On!

Every morning, before 9am, and regardless of what day of the week it is and whether you have any plans – get out of bed.

Get up, have a shower, get dressed, put on decent clothes. Do your make up, do your hair, shave your legs – or whatever your personal equivalent may be. This sends a strong message to your psyche that you’re ready to face the day.

This is doubly important for people who work from home.

Bullet Proof Layer 2 – Eat Properly

After millions of years of shovelling food into our mouths it seems like we’re only just beginning to realise that the old saying “you are what you eat” is actually true. Every single cell, every hair, every flake of dandruff, every tear, every bead of sweat, every inch of skin, muscle and bone, all of it was constructed by your body from something you (or your mother) ate.

This includes your brain.

If you have a habit of eating rubbish on a daily basis you’ll end up with a brain that’s not as able to cope with the stresses or strains of everyday life. That melon-sized lump of grey matter in your skull really is less efficient if it’s been constructed out of crisps, burgers and chocolate bars!
Fortunately this is very easy to fix. Whilst cultivating a ‘better diet’ (i.e. lots of fresh fruit and vegetables whilst avoiding processed foods wherever possible) is just good sense, there are specific foods that are good for your brain.

Omega 3 fatty acids, for instance, directly affect your brain’s ability to cope with stress, depression, concentration and memory. Study after study has shown that an increase of Omega 3 in your diet can make a huge, measurable difference to how you feel.

So where can you get your Omega 3? Flax seeds and walnuts are a good source, though you’ve got to eat a lot to notice a difference (crush them up beforehand to reduce the chances of them passing straight through you). A better source is oily fish (such as mackerel and salmon) because the fish has actually done much of the work, converting the fats into a form ready for your body to digest.

If you haven’t got the time to start grilling fish once or twice a week there’s always supplements. It’s worth mentioning that there’s research to suggest that you absorb far more Omega 3 from food than from supplements, but from personal experience I’ve found supplements to be an acceptable alternative – but remember, they’re supplements, not meal alternatives. Nothing beats a balanced diet of three proper meals a day with plenty of fruit and veg.

Bullet Proof Layer 3 – Sleepasleep

Almost everyone who came back to me with their list of External Forces sited tiredness or sleep deprivation as a cause of unhappiness. Which isn’t surprising really. It’s a rare person who can keep a positive upbeat attitude when they’re walking around like a zombie.

So – go to bed at a reasonable hour, and go to sleep. This means if you’re aiming to get up at 8am you probably need to be lying down, ready to sleep, by eleven.
If you’re struggling with insomnia then an excellent book on the subject (written by a sleep doctor) is “Tired But Wired: How to Overcome Sleep Problems ” by Nerina Ramlakhan (ISBN-13: 978-0285638778)

Bullet Proof Layer 4 – Daylight

First, the basics. Having got up in the morning (bullet proof layer 1) – open the curtains. A lack of sunshine can really drag you down. But do you know why?

All living organisms have an internal biological clock (of sorts) called a circadian rhythm. This internal process regulates a number of bodily functions and for most people their ‘rhythm’ is approximately a twenty four hour cycle. Approximately.

And there’s the rub. Your cycle is only approximately the same length as a normal day. If it’s a little on the short or long side (which it easily could be) it’s possible for your circadian rhythm to become out of sync with your lifestyle, the effect of which is to leave you feeling like you’re suffering from permanent jet-lag (because essentially that’s exactly what jet-lag is). It’s not uncommon to experience insomnia, acute tiredness, lethargy, anxiety, even depression.

Fortunately your body has a ‘reset button’. If when you wake enough light reaches your eyes (or specifically a group of cells called ganglions) your circadian rhythm is reset.
Notice the if in that sentence. If you spend your days asleep, and your nights sitting in front of the TV or computer, your rhythm might actually fail to reset itself. For some people, one too many winter days has the same effect, and before you know it you feel as if you’re stumbling through life with a head full of porridge, boxing with one hand tied behind your back.

That’s not a good state to be in if you also have to deal with your evil boss, your interfering mother-in-law, that angry idiot from next door, or whoever it is that has the ability to press all your buttons – and if you’re not getting enough daylight those buttons are fully exposed and there for the pressing (commonly referred to as SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder). SAD can be reversed, without drugs, pretty much overnight. My personal therapy of choice is a ‘light box’ to take the place of sunshine).

Bullet Proof Layer 5 – Trust that ‘Things Will Get Better’

In the words of my favourite quote:

EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT IN THE END.
IF IT’S NOT ALRIGHT,
IT’S NOT THE END.


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‘The List’ – a 13 point survival guide for curing ‘the blues’

In the first edition of  ‘How To Do Everything and Be Happy’  I discussed five Bullet Proof Layers to protect yourself against those pesky ‘External Forces’ that would trample your happy mood into the dust if they could (you can find them here).

My Bullet Proof Layers were inspired in part by my friend Agent Sparkles who a long time ago created a 13 point survival guide for preventing and curing the blues. Sparkles created her list after a difficult period in her life struggling with depression and amongst her friends ‘the list’ has become quite famous. So here it is for you, unabridged and unedited.

1)      First, and I would argue, the most important – get out of bed. Before 9am. Get up, have a shower, get dressed, put on some decent clothes, make up, and do your hair. Shave your legs. EVEN if you have no plans for the day. Don’t give yourself an excuse to feel bad about yourself.

2)      Eat good food. An example would be: Breakfast, poached eggs on brown bread. Snack, piece of fruit. Lunch, chicken salad. Dinner, piece of fish pan fried in butter with lemon (yum). No caffeine after about 2pm.

3)      Do some exercise. In a way that isn’t an excuse to beat yourself up (e.g, I can’t run, I’m too unfit, I look awful in these gym clothes, etc etc). Walk to the park. Buy the paper on the way. Lie in the sun and read. Or, go to a dance class. Walk to the gym and do the easiest thing there is, e.g sit on the stationery bike for 20 mins. Get into the pool and just float. Do a yoga class. Or, just walk to the corner store for a pint of milk. Something that used to make me feel REALLY good about myself was going to over 60’s aerobics. Yes I was fat. Yes I was unfit. Yes I was unemployed. But, was I the slimmest, youngest, fittest, and most likely to be alive in ten years person in the room? YES.

4)      Sleep. Go to bed at 10pm, with a chamomile tea, and sleep. Don’t f*ck about pretending you’re too stressed to sleep, you can’t sleep, you’ve got insomnia, blah blah blah. Count sheep. Read an algebra text book. SLEEP.

5)      Daylight. This  ties in with point 1. And I’m not even talking about SAD. If you spend all day in bed or on the couch with all the curtains closed, you are going to feel like sh*t by the late afternoon. Go back to point 3. And note: LEAVE THE HOUSE.

6)      Make a list of all the things that make you feel bad, and another list of all the things that make you feel good. Be honest. Don’t put things on the list that make you feel good just because you think they ought to make you feel good. For instance – calling or visiting your mother. If it makes you feel bad, (are you still unemployed? Are you still seeing that awful man?) don’t do it. If it makes you feel good, even if your brain says it’s lame (e.g, finding a sheet of bubble wrap to pop), do it.

7)      Have faith in a Higher Power. I know this is very AA, but it works. In my opinion, the difference between people who hang in there until life gets better and people who decide to check out early, is having faith that things are going to get better. Even if you’re an atheist, pick something to believe in. Believe in science. No matter how bad your life feels, the sun is going to rise tomorrow. And the day after that. The tide will come in. Rain will fall, grass will grow, the seasons will change. Life will get better.

8)      Do not listen to sad music. In my mind, this cuts out: Radiohead, Coldplay, Dido, Leonard Cohen, Portishead, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Smiths, Eminem and anything of a similar ilk. Make yourself a ‘happy’ play list. This will include reggae. I defy anyone to be depressed whilst listening to Shaggy’s ‘Mr Boombastic’. Beware of music that seems like it ought to be uplifting, but in fact isn’t. Perfect case in point – The Carpenters. Karen wasn’t exactly on ‘Top of the World’ was she?

9)      Ditto for literature. Do not, under any circumstances, read any Jodi Picoult. I always find Paolo Coelho to be a good one for uplifting the spirit. Give the Alchemist a try. Avoid, like the plague, self-help books – particularly the ‘you can heal your life’ sort. Light hearted detective novels work too, Agatha Christie worked for me.

10)   Let it go. The only person that you’re hurting by hanging on to your ‘demons’ is you. So your mother was controlling, your father ran out on you, your husband turned out to be an arsehole. You and the rest of the world. Maybe you have had a truly traumatic experience. Just let it go. I read somewhere that it helps to physically let things go – such as buying a whole lot of helium balloons, then writing the things you want to let go of onto a scrap of paper, tying it to the balloon, and literally letting it go. This sounds lovely in theory, but obtaining the helium balloons seems like a major hassle, and also, a lot like littering.  Other options are just to imagine your problems floating away one by one. Or think about it logically – yes, I can hold onto this problem like a barnacle, because it defines me and it’s part of who I am – but who’s going to win out if I do that, and who’s going to lose?

11)   Stop picking the scab. There are studies that show that Vietnam war veterans who received ongoing counselling to talk about their experiences, had higher incidences of self harm, alcoholism, etc, than veterans who didn’t attend counselling. Evidence suggests that talking about an experience is similar to reliving it over and over again, and actually extending recovery time. To this end – hang out with people you don’t know very well, rather than really good friends, so you can’t spend the whole time moaning.

12)   Don’t drink alone. Ever.

13)   Make a pledge that one day, when you’re ok, you’ll pass on the good turn that someone else has done you whilst you’ve been down and out, by helping someone else who needs it. I once got a call from my flat mate to ‘please come home’ – when I got in she was rocking back and forth on the floor with a kitchen knife in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other. Five years later she’s 100% okay, happily married with a baby.  I was the 6th person she’d called (including her best friend and parents), and the only one who agreed to drop what I was doing and come over.

There’s a downloadable PDF version of this list here