On not making plans, impromptu whisky sours and bathroom dining.

Last week I asked my sister what she was most looking forward to doing when she moved into her new house. She answered straight away: “Eating dinner in the bath.”

Her words came back to me today and made me smile, partly because of the absurdity of her answer and partly because of what it represented. Having dinner in the bath is really living life on your own terms: doing something other people think is crazy just because you want to.

This week I had lots of things that I thought I should do. It was supposed to be a quiet one, time to catch up on sleep, do my laundry, clean, tidy, write and reflect. But as soon as I arrived back in Oxford on Sunday night I received a text message: do you want to go for shisha? Which of course turned into shisha and wine and a late night.

On Monday night I ended up having a pub dinner and conversations that lasted until it got dark. On Wednesday night a throwaway remark by a friend – “I haven’t had a whisky sour in ages” – saw us camped out in a cocktail bar for most of the night. I returned home and collapsed on my bed. “Oh shit,” I thought as the room span around me. “I needed to do that laundry.” But it turned out I didn’t, because I wore a running bra under my work clothes today and nothing bad happened.

I have a nasty habit of trying to schedule every moment of my life in advance. I plan, I make lists, and I turn down fun to cross things off them.

This week has shown me that I can relax a little: not plan anything, not set expectations. Wonderful things can happen when you leave space for a little spontaneity. You’ll still do the things that matter (that laundry is in the washing machine as I type) but there’s a lot of things that don’t.

I’ll get more sleep when my friends aren’t in town. I’ll write when I feel inspired, not when I feel I ought to. This might lead to more infrequent blog posts but they will be the ones worth reading. Or it might not, because you don’t know what will happen when you leave space. It is okay to do whatever the hell you want to do in the moment, even it that’s eating dinner in the bath.

Ordinary magic

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You don’t have to do something extraordinary for it to be wonderful. There is magic in everyday things: a story, fresh flowers, a smile.

This week I’m remembering that I don’t have to quit everything and go travelling to have a great life. Happiness is much more about perspective than circumstance.

The trap of self improvement

I have a confession to make: I think I might be happy. I’m not sure exactly when and why it happened, but the knot of anxiety that sat in my chest for years has disappeared. Obviously I still have moments of feeling a bit tired, or stressed out, or irritated about something. But underneath these surface emotions I feel bizarrely content.

I say bizarrely, because being a project person, I’m used to always working on something. But now, I seem to have lost my drive. I’m happy to just lounge around chatting to housemates or watching DVDs. And although I think I should feel bad about this lack of productivity, I don’t. Which makes you wonder what the point of so called “self-improvement” projects are if you feel better about yourself when you’re not doing any.

Because there are a couple of things that are acting as blockers to my happiness, and they’re both connected to an idea that is supposed to make you happy.

  1. I still stress out about food. I would love to eat a piece of cake, or an ice-cream, or a heavy meal without beating myself up about it afterwards, but I can’t. I put on a good show of non-disordered eating, but that’s because I don’t let myself buy any food that I enjoy enough to binge on. Because the mental anguish that follows eating half a box of chocolates isn’t worth eating the chocolate in the first place. Which is nonsense, because it’s not as though I dislike how I look or fear putting on weight. It’s because I’ve internalised a load of rubbish about how not eating chocolate makes you a better person.
  2. I stress out about spending money and owning things. While initially helpful in getting me to think about what I need (or don’t need) and what kind of life I want to have, all that minimalist blogs seem to do now is make me feel guilty for owning as many things as I do. Which definitely isn’t the author’s intention, but I always want to be the best at everything I do, so reading about people doing simplicity “better” makes me feel bad about myself.

But getting rid of things that do give me pleasure or depriving myself of things I can actually afford to buy is as likely to make me happy as eating less or making myself throw up the things that I do eat. It might make me think I’m in control in the short term, but it isn’t the answer to long term happiness. I’ve spent years on various projects, some of which have improved my life, but what I’ve realised is that that self improvement doesn’t make you as happy as self acceptance does. We don’t have to be always striving for something better. Sometimes, this is it, and it’s great.

To me, acceptance is about:

  • Spending all morning in bed reading without feeling bad about not going for a run or cleaning the kitchen.
  • Enjoying that second helping of pudding without worrying about what it’s doing to your body.
  • Writing blog posts when you feel inspired and not because you feel obliged to stick to a schedule.
  • Knowing that you have enough goal setting in your professional life without bringing them home.
  • Letting yourself off the hook. You don’t have to live up to anyone’s standards but your own. It’s okay to be that bit chubbier than you possibly could be, or for your house to be a bit messier. Happiness will make yourself and your surroundings a million times more beautiful.

What being ALIVE means to me

This post is part of the ALIVE in Berlin Blog Tour, which is spreading the power of ALIVENESS to the masses. Alive in Berlin is a global gathering devoted to personal transformation that takes place on the 30th and 31st of May 2014 in Europe’s most exciting cityThe event will bring together world-class experts, visionaries and change makers from a variety of communities and disciplines. Together, we’ll explore the common threads that connect us and make us come alive. To learn more and join us, click here.

If you’d asked me what makes me come alive a few days ago I would have said something different to what I’m about to say now. In the middle of a hectic week of parties, gigs and lunches with old friends I would have said: “Inspiring people, amazing music and great wine.” These things will still sometimes make me feel at the top of the world, but after a solid six days of them you can start to feel the opposite of alive. Today, I feel alive again because of ten hours sleep, a five mile run and all day by myself to think and to write.

So, to recap, what being alive means to me is: partying all night but getting loads of sleep, being around great people but spending time by myself, indulging in rich food and alcohol but eating light meals and running a lot.

Yes, you heard that right. What being alive means to me is a lot of contradictions, because life is messy and confusing. But if you don’t let this bother you too much, it can also be a hell of a lot of fun.

Part of the fun for me is about learning about myself and what makes me come alive. By making a note of when I feel most inspired I’ve been able to change my life to include more of these things, and less of the other stuff.

Some things that make me feel alive are:

  • Realising that I can make something I thought I’d have to buy. For me, craft is massively empowering. That feeling of having made your own necklace, dress, scarf or lampshade: something that’s uniquely you. Something that you haven’t had to rely on the exploitative practices of a corporation for, or made to feel as though you’re the wrong body shape because it doesn’t quite fit properly.
  • Hanging out with a true friend. You know the one, where you can talk for hours and still not want to go home. One of those friends who inspires you, makes you laugh more than anyone you know, who is there for you when things go wrong and celebrating alongside you when they go right. You always leave thinking “Why don’t we do this more often?”
  • Finding the answer to something I’ve been mulling over for a while. I’ve learnt not to panic about not knowing the answer to a question: what I want to wear to an event, what I’m going to blog about next week, what I want my tattoo to look like, how I feel about a particular person, whether I should apply for a different job. Whatever the question, I know I can’t rush the answer and I know I can’t listen to anybody but my own intuition. I might not know what to do right away but if I give myself enough thinking time it’ll suddenly come to me –  in the shower, on a run, or first thing in the morning – and the “that’s it!” moment makes me come alive.
  • Running further than I’ve ever run before (and enjoying it). After a few years of running about four miles three times a week I’ve started to push myself further. Sure, it might be more difficult, but the feeling of having run further than I’ve ever run in my life before (and thought I would be able to) far outweighs any physical discomfort.
  • Hearing that first guitar chord of a favourite song. Whether I’m in the audience, in my car or dancing in my kitchen.
  • Stepping out of the airport or train station into a new city. I love the feeling of opportunity that travel brings: the chance to explore a new place, meet new people and try new food.

As some of the things that make me feel alive things contradict each other, I’ve learnt to balance them. I had a busy social week last week, so this week I’m planning to spend more time alone: reading, creating, and going to bed early. It might not be sound very cool but being cool isn’t what being alive means to me. Being alive is knowing myself, embracing opportunities, being okay with not knowing all the answers, and most of all enjoying the ride.

Moments of magic

A new weekly feature, in which I look back at the best moments of the week. It’s easy to let time slip by without consciously enjoying or remembering each moment, as exemplified by my inability to remember anything distinctive that happened on Wednesday.

Monday

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I came across these little beauties.

Tuesday

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I rediscovered the joys of wearing cowboy boots and virtually skip to the pub. It’s the first time this year we’ve been able to sit outside, and I celebrate by ordering cider (my summer drink).

Thursday

An evening of yummy Indian food, and a ride around the ring road on the back of a motorbike.

Friday

I have a long phone conversation with a friend and then my Mum, even though it makes me late for where I am going it makes me feel much happier to have connected.

Saturday

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I listen to great music and play with beads all day long.

Sunday

I rejoice at having gone to bed early the night before: no hangover and a really great run. I ran much further than I usually do and most importantly I actually enjoyed it.

 

Confessions of a sugar addict

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I love sugar. On the list of things that make me happy, it’s pretty high up. I love breaking bits of big gooey cookies to dip into my tea, I love ice cream in a cone on a sunny day, I love sitting down in a coffee shop after a long day walking round a city and choosing the most decadent looking piece of cake. I have fond memories of baking as a child: helping my Mum make brownies or my Grandma make sponge cake, and being given the bowl to finish the leftover cake mix or icing.


And hell, I know I’m addicted. By 3pm I’m sat at my desk imagining the taste of chocolate on my tongue, and I venture downstairs to see what the canteen has to offer. On Monday, I tried a “Chocolate Nice Cream Wonka Bar”. Have you ever had one? It’s a wonderful combination of chocolate, sickly sweet vanilla cream, and gooey chocolate sauce, which left me feeling a little nauseous but in a wonderful satisfying way. It put a smile on my face for the rest of the afternoon.


For me, this is all worth the risk of diabetes, cancer or becoming overweight. I mean, I know how bad sugar is for you (who doesn’t?). I’ve read Sarah Wilson’s IQS blog for a while. Ever since someone first suggested my chronic headaches might be down to a sugar addiction. I know how sugar can be more addictive than coke, that it can lead to fatty liver disease, gout, diabetes, memory loss and, of course, obesity. All this is very interesting and makes complete sense on a rational level. But not on an emotional one. Did I mention I love sugar?


Okay, I might get less headaches if I crack my sugar addiction. But then again, I could also take painkillers. I might have more energy, but that’s what exercise and coffee are for.


I don’t want to encourage people to be irresponsible about their health, but I do think wellness is holistic. I eat a primarily vegetable based diet, I cycle at least 6 miles a day, run about 3 times a week, make as many yoga classes as I can. The happiness I gain from a cookie ice cream sandwich outweighs the damage sugar might do to my physical health. If you can and want to quit sugar then good for you. But when I tried I found that it was bad for my mental health. I know this sounds like an excuse. I also know that I’m prone to disordered eating, and cutting out a food group brought back a lot of the anxiety and guilt about food that I thought I’d left behind. I want to eat what I want and not feel bad about it, and if that means my physical health takes a little dip than that’s okay because I’m prioritising pleasure.


So I won’t be trying to cut down on my sugar intake, and I won’t be feeling bad when I’m sat in bed with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and a spoon. I’ll actually be feeling pretty smug, because some people don’t let themselves do this. But I do, and it tastes awesome.

On embracing my uncool self, and not being afraid

Most of us are able to offer guidance and support to friends, but aren’t so good at following our own advice. “Never be embarrassed about who you are,” I say to people. But I routinely don’t speak up about things that are important to me for fear of judgement. I hold back in my writing because I worry that people will think it’s silly, or self indulgent, or just plain boring. The irony being that my most shared posts are those where I speak from the heart.

I suppose I still suffer from the desire to be one of the cool kids. I want to write passionately about music or films. I want to tackle important political or social issues. I want to make people laugh. But leaving aside the issue of whether it’s even possible to do all three, this isn’t who I am. I may care about “issues” but I don’t feel inspired to write about them.

I’m a bit embarrassed about my interest in self improvement. I haven’t even told my friends that I’m going to Alive in Berlin even though some of my favourite bloggers are speaking and I’m really really excited. I love reading about how people have improved their lives through creativity, movement, new habits and minimalism, and I’m interested in changing mine. So maybe this is a bit self-helpy, and a bit uncool. But I’m committed to living my truth, and I’m trying hard not to be embarrassed about using phrases like “living my truth.” (Because I am British after all, and the last things we want to be talking about is our feelings).

It’s time to stop worrying about what people think of me. It’s time to:

  • Say ‘yeah, I’m committed to creativity, friendship and living out my values.’
  • Look after myself even if that means turning down a night out to go to bed early and make a yoga class the following morning.
  • Listen to the music I want to listen to,and maybe even make some of those Spotify playlists public.
  • Write the word “awesome” in a professional email.
  • Put a kiss at the end of a text to someone I’ve just met.
  • Eat what I feel my body needs (even if it means putting on weight).
  • Open up to more of my friends, and not hide my excitement about things.
  • Write more about my ideas and my life without worrying that it’s self indulgent. After all, nobody is making you read this.