Saturday, December 19, 2015

Landmarks

Decorating our tree...
It's the time of the year when, if you're celebrating Christmas, then you're putting up your Christmas tree and maybe even putting lights up on your house.

Decorating our tree is something we enjoy doing as a family, although this year it looks a bit wonky, and as our kids are only a certain height the first pass of decoration hanging was predominantly only the bottom half of the tree - we had to do a certain amount of bauble redistribution afterwards!

Many of our decorations have a story behind them, so as we decorate we remember the stories, memories and landmarks that they evoke. It's fun, and I'm glad that we stopped using tinsel a few years ago - instead we picked up a few gold and red painted bead chains from a pound shop, which are much easier to adorn the tree with and are less "in your face"!
"Many of our decorations have a story behind them"
We've never put many lights up outside our house, but there are plenty of houses in the neighbourhood that do so with avengence! Certain houses become landmarks, visible for miles around due to their festive illuminations. Some, I've noticed, leave their copious stars and Santas and reindeer attached to their houses all year, clearly never quite as motivated to take them down as they were to put them up in mid-November! The decorations look a little sad and out of place in the summer to be honest. There's definitely a right season and a wrong season for Christmas house decorations!
"Certain houses become landmarks, visible for miles around due to their festive illuminations"
The Birmingham skyline is dominated by giant tower cranes at the moment, one with a seemingly alarming lean (and a notice outside the site saying that it's *meant* to be leaning... still looks a bit alarming if you ask me).

Apparently Birmingham was once home to over 400 multi-story towers (I hesitate to use the word skyscrapers), many of which were landmark buildings at the time but have since fallen into disuse for various reasons.

Some of the tower cranes are there to assist in the demolition of these concrete landmarks, and they're a sign of the ongoing regeneration of the city centre.

Many of the cranes have festive lights on them at this time of year - not a series of lights that I'd be keen to put up though!

Like Christmas lights or tower cranes, we all have landmarks in our lives that are appropriate for a season, and which we can get attached to. But unlike the houses in our neighbourhood, the trick is to know when to take these down when the season is over.
"Like Christmas lights or tower cranes, we all have landmarks in our lives that are appropriate for a season"
As we approach the end of the year I'm sure many of us are reflecting back on things we've done, or haven't done, or want to do. Perhaps it's a good time to consider if there's anything adorning our life that's served it's purpose and which needs to come down. Like the derelict tower blocks, things that need to be demolished to make way for new developments and new opportunities.

It's time to move on.
But it can be hard to let go of things can't it? I remember when my first car, a faithful white Peugeot 205 had come to the end of it's working life. It has seriously failed it's MOT, it was getting old and I needed a new car. I was very attached to it, I enjoyed driving it, I'd invested lots of time over the years mending it myself and I was sad to see it go.

But I couldn't just leave it on the street, and there would be no point paying road tax indefinitely for a car that didn't run, so I reluctantly called a salvage yard who came and towed it away.

It was a sad moment but also liberating, the exciting potential of getting something newer (in the end a red Peugeot 306 - I've always driven French diesel cars!).
"The trick is to know when to take these down when the season is over."
Enjoy this Christmas season, relish it, but please take down your decorations afterwards, and as we head into a new year maybe ask yourself if you've got any old cars, abandoned buildings or other landmarks in your life that have served their time well but need to make way for something new...



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Thanks for taking the time to read Landmarks. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

I was recently interviewed for The Zone Show and the Changeability Podcast, both of which are well worth a listen!

Friday, December 11, 2015

No Room At the Inn?

How can we simplify things?
How do we avoid becoming saturated? I don’t know about you, but the run up to Christmas always seems so busy. There’s extra events to go to, extra food to buy, extra people to see, extra presents to give and receive, extra programmes on the TV – extra, extra, extra!

Now it’s not that these things are necessarily bad or wrong, it’s just that we can too easily become saturated that we can miss out on what’s really important.

Christmas can end us as a time of mindless overload as we stuff our diaries with events, our shopping trollies with luxuries, our stomachs with vast amounts of food and our relationships with strain.
"Christmas can end us as a time of mindless overload"
You can have too much of a good thing, as the residents of Cumbria have experienced with the recent flooding. Our land needs regular rainfall to support habitat, agriculture and amenity – but when you have a month’s worth of rain in a day the ground becomes saturated and damaging flooding results. If we’re not careful, we can flood our life with too much over the Christmas period and wash away some of the important things in our lives in the process.
"At the heart of the Christmas story is an overcrowded inn"
Don't let the important things get washed away...
At the heart of the Christmas story is an overcrowded inn with no room to receive the son of God. Listening to a talk Leon Evans recently he reminded us that we can be like that inn – too full to receive what’s really important.

It’s an on-going challenge in my own life not to over-commit, not to become too saturated with good things, so that I can leave space for the important things. I love being busy, love doing all kinds of things, but the knack I’m slowly mastering is getting a sustainable balance with my time.

It’s usually in the new year that people start making resolutions, after the excess of Christmas. It's after the floods that people start to rebuild. But how about avoiding the saturation in the first place?

How can you simplify your Christmas season this year? How can you make space? What about having one less appointment in your diary a week? Or having one less drink and mince pie at your Christmas Party? How about setting a spending limit on your present buying, or agreeing not to exchange gifts but give to a worthy charity instead?

Let's have space this Christmas.
There’s lots of things we can do to make a little more space in our hearts for the things that really
matter in our lives, without being a Scrooge or a skinflint! Let's not be an overcrowded inn this Christmas.

"We can be like that inn – too full to receive what’s really important."

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Thanks for taking the time to read No Room At The Inn. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

I was recently interviewed for The Zone Show and the Changeability Podcast, both of which are well worth a listen!




My Random Musings

Friday, December 04, 2015

Taking the long perspective

Where 'ya heading?
While the world's leaders meet in Paris this month to discuss climate change I've had the opportunity to write various blog posts for the environmental consultancy I work for, which has been really fun.

In one of them I wrote about the need for long term thinking in our decision making, and how this especially applies to situations which aren't obvious threats.

I'm sure we’re all familiar with the “fight or flight” response that we humans exhibit when faced with a threat. It’s been key to the survival of our species but could arguably be getting in the way of making effective decisions about the long term future of our planet.

Our ability to face immediate problems isn’t the same when facing delayed or longer term issues, such as climate change, since it’s not such an obvious threat as encountering a predator in the wild.
"I'm sure we’re all familiar with the “fight or flight” response"
President Obama identified that we need to switch our focus from the short term to the long term in his speech at the opening of the COP 21 conference earlier this week. He said:

‘For I believe, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that there is such a thing as being too late.  And when it comes to climate change, that hour is almost upon us.  But if we act here, if we act now, if we place our own short-term interests behind the air that our young people will breathe, and the food that they will eat, and the water that they will drink, and the hopes and dreams that sustain their lives, then we won't be too late for them.’

Are your dreams stuck on the sofa?
For most of us, big decisions about climate change and government policy aren't what we face every day. But our fight or flight reflex can still get in the way of good decision making.

I should probably do more exercise, but at the moment I'm reasonably healthy so it's harder for me to motivate myself to do more.

Now, if I was to enter some kind of competition or race, then my survival instinct would kick in and I'd get down to some serious training!

It's the same with my eating habits. I'm pretty sure I eat too much, too often. I haven't weighed myself on the scales for many months, but for exactly the same reasons as above (ie I'm still pretty healthy), I find it hard to be motivated to do something about it.

If I had a health scare then I'd be much more motivated, or if I was giving up certain foods during Lent - my problem, and maybe something you face too, is that I'm far too easily on of off. I'm often either full speed or nothing.
"I'm pretty sure I eat too much, too often."
A familiar theme here in The Potting Shed is following our dreams and creativity, and this is also an area where it's hard to take a long perspective - without our survival instinct kicking in, without an obvious threat, we can merrily plod through life never fully engaging or pursuing what might really make us shine.

We need to play the long game...
So how can we help ourselves to take our dreams and gifts more seriously? How can we effectively play the long game, making regular good commitments to ensure we're travelling forward to the place we want to be?

Well, perhaps we need to turn our dreams into goals, and remind ourselves what's at stake if we don't achieve them. Or maybe we need to turn it into some kind of competition! Perhaps we need to get others around us, confess that our dreams are out of shape and commit to giving them a regular work out!

I'd love to hear how you take the long perspective - your hints and tips!

Or maybe, like me, you've got areas in your life that need some exercise - how about leaving a comment with a promise to yourself about what you're going to do about it?
"We need to confess that our dreams are out of shape and commit to giving them a regular work out!"

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Thanks for taking the time to read Taking the Long Perspective. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

I was recently interviewed for The Zone Show and the Changeability Podcast, both of which are well worth a listen!


My Random Musings

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Interview with James Prescott

James mid sentence!
I've been conducting various interviews for The Potting Shed Podcast recently, and this week I was joined by writer, podcaster and coach James Prescott.

James and I talked about the need for authentic identity, the creative process and grace - the topic of James's forthcoming book "Mosaic of Grace".

I'd love for you to listen in below, and if you want to hear more from James he blogs at www.jamesprescott.co.uk and has his own podcast called James Talks.









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Thanks for taking the time to check out this post. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

I was recently interviewed for The Zone Show and the Changeability Podcast, both of which are well worth a listen!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Juggling

How good is your juggling?
How are your circus skills? At every family festival we went to this year there seemed to be a circus tent, giving old and young the opportunity to learn various circus skills.

I can proudly say that I am reasonably adept at plate spinning (as long as they're the plates with a cone in the middle), and am passable at diablo (I used to have one growing up). The one thing I've never mastered is juggling.
"The one thing I've never mastered is juggling."
For some reason my juggling technique ends up with the balls hurling into my face. Despite years of practising on and off, I haven't quite acquired the proper circular motion to juggle any number of balls with ease. Proper jugglers look like they're making no effort at all, and are almost motionless apart from their arms - on the other hand I have to move all over the place in a vain effort to hang onto the increasingly wayward orbits the balls take!

I've always been a bit jealous of my brother who can not only "properly" juggle at least four balls, but he also learnt to juggle clubs as well. As a nine or ten year old I remember accompanying him on an exciting drive into the outskirts of London to a dedicated circus equipment shop - it was a real Aladdin's cave of marvellous artefacts! If I'm honest I've just never taken the time to master the art - spending my time learning different instruments and other skills that captured my attention instead.
"Recently it's felt like quite a juggling act keeping all our balls in the air"
I mention all of this because our life has been quite full over the last few months, and it's felt like quite a juggling act keeping all our balls in the air and plates spinning. I'm sure that's something you can also relate to!

Are you feeling the squeeze?
It's not that life's been full of hardships, not at all, just that even lots of good things can be disruptive and tiring. The main thing has been the house extension we've had built, which involved three months of builders inside and outside out house. Whilst the builders have been great, the mess, work in progress and clouds of dust made it an extra effort to maintain normal life.

Now that the main work has finished we've been busy decorating the extra rooms, fitting in sanding, priming and painting in the evenings and weekends.

Meanwhile as autumn turns to winter and the days become short, we've all been fighting off colds and other bugs. Add to that the normal demands of home life, work pressures and church commitments and you get the picture!

Unlike the graceful and skilled circus performers, we've become a little ragged trying to keep our various items from dropping!

For me personally, it's my writing and podcasting that feel the squeeze the most in seasons like this. My creative output requires a certain amount of brain space during the week as I mull and muse over topics, ideas and metaphors - recently I've got to Friday nights and have felt a bit mentally wrung out instead!
"It's better to be creating *something* than nothing"
Perhaps you feel the same - and it's easy to shelve our creative projects until tomorrow, or the next day, or when such and such is over etc. Sometimes we just get so wrapped up in daily life that we don't notice we've even stopped doing some of the things that we love.

It's most important in the times where we're juggling everything that we try and keep our dreams aloft - even if we don't feel we're creating our best work. It's better to be creating *something* than nothing - like athletes putting in the hard hours during winter training so they're in peak shape for competition season in the spring. It's ok to feel like you're just going through the motions - even this is going to keep you supple.

So take heart if you're feeling ground down by the demands of life. We all go through squeeze seasons, where juggling is a struggle. And funnily enough we sometimes need a squeeze to really get our creative juices flowing...
"Sometimes need a squeeze to really get our creative juices going..."

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Thanks for taking the time to read Juggling. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

I was recently interviewed for The Zone Show and the Changeability Podcast, both of which are well worth a listen!

div align="center">My Random Musings

Friday, November 13, 2015

Go Coaching Interview

Have you ever wondered what a life coach is? Well this week Luke has Stefan, Lou and James from Go Coaching in the Potting Shed to answer that question!

They share how they became life coaches, when you might need their help, and how they get deeper than the questions you may think you're asking!

Do check out their website and other resources, and you can listen to the interview directly below.




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Thanks for taking the time to check out this post. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

I was recently interviewed for The Zone Show and the Changeability Podcast, both of which are well worth a listen!

My Random Musings

Monday, November 09, 2015

Changeability interview

As you may know I reached out recently to the other two shows who made the finals of the "Best Self Help Podcast" category at the recent UK Podcaster Awards, and I was delighted to be joined by Kathryn Bryant and Julian Illman from Brilliant Living HQ, hosts of the award winning Changeability Podcast on this week's episode of The Potting Shed Podcast.

As well as sharing some of their story they had some great advice about how to be happy and how to live more creatively, and you can listen directly below. Do check out their podcast, website and other resources too!










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Thanks for taking the time to check out this post. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

I was recently interviewed for The Zone Show and the Changeability Podcast, both of which are well worth a listen!

Friday, November 06, 2015

Migration

We've not had much snow in recent years!
Well the leaves are off the trees, the temperature is falling, the wind is picking up. The seasons are
a'changing once again and before we know it we'll be scraping the frost off the car in the morning and  - fingers crossed - bracing ourselves for snow.

Ok, perhaps the snow thing is wishful thinking - ever since I made my kids a proper wooden sledge a couple of years ago we've not had any "proper" snow! (Much to our collective disappointment!)

It's the time of year when birds start to gather together and migrate south for the winter. The summer visitors to our shores such as swallows, martins, flycatchers, hobbies and ospreys will be returning south with their young. As one set of visitors leaves, another set arrives from further north, ready to enjoy our mild winters (at least someone does), like Bewick and whooper swans and all manner of geese.
"It's the time of year when birds migrate south for the winter"
I always notice that there are more adverts around during autumn and winter for sunny holidays on exotic beaches. It's unsurprising that we yearn for sunlight during the winter months - it's a bit depressing when the days are short and the nights are long, and clearly the advertisers know it too!

We've got family in Florida, and in the over the winter they have an influx of visitors - people also escaping the cold winters, affectionately known as snow birds. And who can blame them!

Whooper swans visit us in winter
I wrote recently about creating refuges, safe habitat, for our dreams during difficult seasons. It occurred to me this week that perhaps our ideas, dreams and visions need a season to migrate, get more daylight and some unseasonal warmth, to flourish and prosper.

When I interviewed Jeff Goins over the summer, we talked about Mihaly Csikszentmihali's book about Creativity. Jeff pointed out that sometimes, in order for our creativity to flourish we don't need to change our technique particularly, but instead place it in a different environment.

So instead of sitting home alone trying to be creative, to find some place where other people are being creative and take inspiration and encouragement from that.
"In order for our creativity to flourish we don't need to change our technique but instead place it in a different environment."
Routines, rhythms and habits are good for us, I truly believe that, but sometimes we need to shake up our routine and do something different. Take our dreams on holiday, to absorb some different scenery, immerse ourselves in a different culture and see what takes shape.

It's easy to get stuck in a rut, and if that means that a metaphorical winter is setting in and your creativity has gone dormant, then it's time to thaw out by doing something different. I was interviewed for the Changeability Podcast last month, and I suggested that we take inspiration in different ways from time to time.

For instance, I love reading and read a lot of books, but there are times when I need to stop reading and spend time listening instead - listening to podcasts for instance, or maybe watching documentaries. Or rather than filling my brain up with stimulation, going for a walk and NOT listening, or reading or doing - just being.

Migration looks different for different species, and your creative migration will look and feel different to mine. But as the days are shortening, why not shake up your routines, stretch your wings, and fly your dreams and ideas south for a change - who knows what might happen if you do!
"Why not shake up your routines, stretch your wings, and fly your dreams and ideas south for a change!"
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Thanks for taking the time to read Migration. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

I was recently interviewed for The Zone Show and the Changeability Podcast, both of which are well worth a listen!

Monday, November 02, 2015

Interview with Tom Evans

I reached out recently to the other two shows who made the finals of the "Best Self Help Podcast" category at the recent UK Podcaster Awards, and I was delighted to be joined byTom Evans from The Zone Show on this week's episode of The Potting Shed Podcast.

We had a great and wide ranging discussion, and Tom had plenty of helpful advice about managing our time well amongst other things. You can listen directly below.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Exploring

Are you open to adventure?
I do enjoy reading books about explorers, whether old or modern. Maybe it's a form of escapism from my reasonably settled lifestyle, but even if I'm unlikely to emulate their exploits I take pleasure and encouragement from reading their stories.

Whether it's naturalists like Mike Tomkiss, living in the Scottish Highlands and braving discomfort, epic mountain hikes and fierce weather in his studies and observations of Golden Eagles, or people rowing the Atlantic, climbing Mount Everest, traversing Africa or following in the footsteps of Captain Cook - our bookshelves are full of real-life tales of adventure and challenge.
"I do enjoy reading books about explorers, whether old or modern"
Most recently I've read a book called The Explorer Gene by Tom Cheshire, recommended to me by a friend of mine, and happily available on the library's bookshelves (ours ran out of space years ago). Even as adventure style books go, this one has a twist because it's about three generations of a single Swiss family - the Piccards - who all achieved remarkable things. What I loved most about it was not necessarily the achievements themselves, which were impressive, the free thinking, encouragement and perseverance shown by each generation.

The story begins in the early twentieth century with Auguste Piccard, a tall Swiss professor with dreams of the stratosphere. In his pursuit of science (he was obsessed with studying cosmic rays), he designed a balloon with a revolutionary pressurised cabin and became the first human to reach the stratosphere - reaching around 75000 feet! He was a friend of Einstein and was also the inspiration for Professor Calculus in Herge's Tintin.
"Even as adventure style books go, this one has a twist because it's about three generations of a single Swiss family"
How deep can you go?
The next chapter for this family was Auguste's son Jacques. Working with his father he developed the pressurised cabin principle into a bathyscape for exploring the ocean floor. Going from his father's great heights he plumbed the depths of the ocean, eventually diving to the very deepest place on earth, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench in 1960. Star Trek's Captain Jean Luc Picard is named in honour of the Piccard family.

With such illustrious forbears, I can imagine there might have been pressure on the next generation, but Jacques' son Bertrand instead chose to become a psychologist to begin with, although with a passion for hang gliding. It was only later in life that his explorer gene caught up with him, and he became the first to pilot to circumnavigate the world in a balloon - the Breitling Orbiter - in 1999. Now he's behind the attempt to fly a solar powered plan around the world too, Solar Impulse.

In fact, the remarkable achievements by this remarkable family all came relatively late in life, and as a by product of the relatively less glamorous work and careers they had already embarked upon. Auguste was a physicist, Jacques was an economist and Bertrand remains a psychologist. They didn't set out to be professional thrill seekers, they were just curious and open to possibility.
"They didn't set out to be professional thrill seekers, they were just curious and open to possibility."
In our own lives, we may be run of the mill physicists, economists, psychologists - teachers, pastors, engineers. But we can still take inspiration from the curiosity and openness of the Piccards. What are the things you're passionate and curious about? Can you take some action to discover something new about it? Not necessarily completely new (although I'm not ruling it out), but maybe just new to you? And how can you be more open to opportunity around you?

For the Piccards, their achievements needed not just vision but a lot of persistence and determination.
So maybe we all need to review our lenses, how we're seeing opportunity around us.
As Thomas Edison said: "Opportunity is missed my most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work". 

How can you be more curious?
We may not become the subject of adventure books, but we can all be more adventurous in our own lives - our challenge is to plumb the heights, depths and breadths of our own potential.

We've all got that explorer gene, and it's time to let it out!
"We've all got that explorer gene, and it's time to let it out!"

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Thanks for taking the time to read Exploring. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Narrowing the gap

Are you stepping across the gap?
I've been thinking about gaps recently. Earlier this week I was in London and undertook a few
journeys on the Tube.

One of the more famous things about the London Underground is the phrase you hear every time a train arrives "Please mind the gap".

I also have to mind the gap most days when travelling on overground trains, and some stations have larger gaps between the platform and the train than others.
"I've been thinking about gaps recently."
Another gap that I've come across this week is the performance gap. On a management training course I encountered "angle theory" for the first time. Although aimed at workplace performance, this can be widely attributable to our own lives. Essentially it's a graph with two angled straight lines  - the higher line is what you might term "ideal performance" in any particular job role. The lower line is meant to be actual or underperformance. Closest to the y-axis the lines are not that far apart but as time goes on they diverge - the gap between them increases.

What's your current trajectory?
In management terms the point is that it's important to take corrective action regularly, when the gaps are small, to encourage people to be working closer to the ideal performance line more of the time. Once again, little and often is preferable to giant corrections - if only because it's more sustainable and less painful.

Funnily enough last weekend I was listening to a talk by Duncan Banks who was also talking about gaps. In particular he spoke about narrowing the gap between being the best person we can be, and the person we often find ourself. He encouraged us to take action rather than just doing the same old thing.

We all need a reality check occasionally, an honest assessment about our current trajectory and where it's taking us.  It's easy to assume we're still doing as well or as successfully as we have done in the past. But that's not always the case! For instance recently I've become convinced that my trousers have shrunk in the wash, however my wife has suggested that maybe I've put on weight instead! I know what I'd rather believe, and if I'm quite honest I've not yet stepped on the scales to see one way or the other!
"We all need a reality check occasionally, an honest assessment about our current trajectory"
It's the same with exercise isn't it? I've put in some half decent times for triathlon, half marathon and 10km races in the past, but I suspect that even though I still run regularly I might be in for a shock if I entered one of these at this very moment! Actually the other year I entered a half marathon on very little (no) training. It was fine for ten miles, in fact I was beginning to believe my own hype when I spectacularly hit the wall and pretty much hobbled the last few miles...

What steps can you take?
To cross the gap you need to take a step. And no matter what steps we've taken in the past, if we really want to be the person we dream of then we need to take regular steps towards it. But to know in which direction to take those steps, to know what trajectory to follow, we need to have a clear vision of where we're aiming for. Otherwise whatever steps we take could lead us in the wrong direction.
"To cross the gap you need to take a step."
It's like knowing which train to catch on the tube - it's no point hastily jumping on the first train you encounter - the Tube network is complex and widespread and you're more likely to end up further from your goal!

So perhaps this week you could take a moment to look for gaps. The gap between where you want your finances to be and your spending habits. The gap between your ideal health and your eating habits. The gap between the skills you hope to have and the practice you're choosing to give.

Whatever area it is, no matter what the gap, all it takes at first is a single step. And it doesn't have to get bigger, you can narrow that gap.
"...it doesn't have to get bigger, you can narrow that gap."
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Thanks for taking the time to read Narrowing the Gap. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Don't let your tea go cold..

Don't let your tea go cold..
I love a good cup of tea. I drink an awful lot of it, especially during the week when I'm in the office. Reading a topical book about the First World War the other week I learnt that British soldiers on the front line had a ration of 6 pints of tea a day - something I aspire to!
"Tea can be a force for good!"
When Kate and I were on honeymoon in Sri Lanka one of the many highlights was visiting the Labookellie Estate - a beautiful tea plantation nestled in the hills in the centre of the island. The Estate is owned by Mackwoods and produces their wonderful tea leaves - to this day the cup of tea I drunk there is the best cuppa I've ever had.

Ever since visiting Labookellie one of our indulgences is to have a plentiful stock of Mackwoods tea in the larder, and at weekends we treat ourselves to a cup on Saturday and Sunday mornings (the rest of the time we are less indulgent and drink cheaper tea). There's only one distributor of Mackwoods tea in the UK, a quirky Sri Lankan owned tea parlour in London. They're always delighted to hear that we've visited Labookellie when we visit or call to order more boxes of tea!
"The process of making tea is important, but what is more important is enjoying the tea itself."
According to Forum for the Future's recent report on the future of the tea sector, between 1993 and 2010, tea consumption across the world increased by 60%. Tea has the potential to be a "hero crop", a crop that isn't just a commodity but which delivers value to the millions of people involved in the sector, especially when it's grown sustainably, empowering the growers, acting as a carbon sink and addressing challenges associated with a changing climate. Tea can be a force for good!

I'm a little teapot..
I heard a tea-related Chinese proverb this week: "Beware of worshipping the teapot instead of drinking the tea". Tea is there to be drunk, and if you're like me then you know the pang of disappointment you feel when you realise you've left your tea to go cold and forgotten to drink it - what a waste!

The process of making tea is important, but what is more important is enjoying the tea itself. I think this is what the proverb is getting at. Too often we can get wrapped up in the "doing" and forget about the "why".

I notice this at work - we'll find ourselves applying an approach we developed for a specific project on another project, getting wrapped up in the "doing" and forgetting about why we did it that way in the first place or how we could do it differently (and better) this time around.
"Too often we can get wrapped up in the "doing" and forget about the "why". 
Activity isn't the same as productivity, and sometimes I think we're fearful of taking time to think and plan ahead before diving in and designing... I don't deny that activity can be comforting, but if we end up worshipping the teapot and leaving our proverbial tea to go cold then we've missed the point.

Are there any processes that have unwittingly become idolised teapots in your life? Perhaps patterns of behaviour, belief, comfort? Where in your life have you forgotten the "why" in the busyness of all your "doing". Approaching the end of the year it's a good time to reflect on your deeper meanings, the "whys" that underpin your life.

In all of this there is a tension - instead of worshipping the teapot we can worship the tea instead! I do
like tea, but just to clear up any confusion it's not my be-all and end-all (although a life without tea would be poorer for it!).

Enjoy the journey, but not too much..
A theme I come back to again and again is the importance of enjoying the journey - not being solely destination focused - which is really important, but as with many things in life the knack is holding both the ultimate goal and the enjoyment of the journey in balance. Ben Saunders, a polar explorer, has some great insight on being journey-focused in his recent TED talk, where he comments that "Happiness isn't a finish line".

A journey needs to have a direction, otherwise you may find yourself adrift, lost at sea. As Michael Hyatt says "People lose their way when they lose their why". As much as it's important to surrender to the process, like the need to allow tea to brew, it's important to regularly look up and remind yourself of the why.. to enjoy the tea along the way.
"let's be people who savour life, savour the process and enjoy the end result."
Maybe this year's been full of busyness for you, full of activity and doing. In which case now's probably a good time for you to put the kettle on and brew yourself a nice cup of tea, and while you're enjoying it ask yourself again about your deeper "whys". Let's not be teapot-worshippers who let the tea go cold in our lives. Instead, let's be people who savour life, savour the process and enjoy the end result.

If you feel disconnected with your "why" then a good starting point is my book Life Space!

*************

Thanks for taking the time to read Don't Let Your Tea Go Cold. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.



My Random Musings

Friday, October 16, 2015

Refugia

Leaf drifts...
The leaves have really started falling off the trees this week, and I've noticed them piling up on the ground.

Walking through the grounds of Birmingham cathedral one evening I took great delight in swooshing my way through ankle high leaves that had fallen on the grass from the avenue of magnificent plane trees, while the other commuters plodded along on the worn granite slabs, heads down.

It's also been much colder, almost glove weather in the mornings, but we've not yet been able to put the central heating on in our house while we're in the middle of building works - we have gaping holes in the side of the house and various radiators and plumbing are disconnected!

Instead to keep warm during the day and especially in the evenings we're having to wrap up in multiple layers, blankets and hot water bottles at night.
"We all face seasons where we feel like we need to withdraw"
I say all this because it's the time of year that animals begin to think about finding a safe refuge for the oncoming winter, closing their eyes and hibernating. In a story I read to my kids recently about hedgehogs, there was a detailed description about making a hedgehog house out of sticks and leaves. Sticks and leaves would probably feel warmer than our house does at the moment!

Ready to hibernate?
We all face seasons where we feel like we need to withdraw from a harsh environment, to recuperate or shelter until the season changes. I think it's natural to have rhythms in our life for activity, and rhythms for dormancy.

And it's not just seasonal. Working alongside ecologists, I've learnt about places of refuge for all kinds of animals. Often when new development occurs, it's important to provide compensatory habitat, but what this looks like depends on the animal.

We're probably all familiar with birdboxes, and the diameter or shape of the entry hole determines the species of bird it can hold. Piles of logs make great refugia for reptiles. You can get bat boxes too, and garden centres sell all kinds of insect houses and bug boxes. We've made an insect hotel on our allotment with a pile of old pallets.
"So how can we create refugia in the midst of our busy lives?"
The circumstances of our lives can be a difficult environment for our dreams, ambitions and hopes to survive at times. The need to put food on the table and shelter over our heads, to provide for our family maybe, can make it harder for fragile hopes and dreams to thrive.

Funnily enough, I'm writing this after a hectic week in my day job which has taken up much of my mental energy in different ways. I often find ideas for blog posts come to me during the week, but my brain has been so absorbed in various work projects that there's been less space for my usual subconscious creativity to surface! Instead of writing, I feel distinctly prickly and in need of curling up to sleep instead!

An insect hotel...
So how can we create refugia in the midst of our busy lives? Spaces for our dreams, talents and hopes to reside and thrive?

Perhaps one aspect is to allow ourselves to be dormant in season, not feeling obliged to be ceaselessly active but instead taking time to recuperate.

Or maybe it's about having a space to visit, a creative space to dwell - somewhere to take refuge and express a different side of ourselves. If not an actual space, what about a dedicated time?

Jeff Goins and others talk about getting up earlier every morning to write, but this could equally apply to other creative expression.
"So what does yours look like, and how can you carve out a creative space in your week?"
I have a combination of both. There's a place in our house where I tend to write, another space where I tend to record my podcast, and when our extension is finished I'll have a brand new creative workshop space to fill! Likewise it's usually Friday nights that I finish my blog posts, and Saturday and Sunday nights where I edit and release podcast episodes.

Whatever season you're in, however tough your environment is, it's possible to make a creative refugia to enable your dreams to survive, thrive and even grow. So what does yours look like, and how can you carve out a creative space in your week? I'd love to know, so please comment below with your favourite refuge!

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Thanks for taking the time to read Refugia. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Umbrellas

Under your own umbrella?
It was raining on Monday morning this week, and as I emerged from the train station into central
Birmingham to face the day I pulled my hood up to protect myself from the rain.

All around me fellow commuters opened umbrellas and as I walked across town to my office I was dodging multicoloured brollies all the way.

If I'm completely honest, I think umbrellas are a bit of a hazard on rush hour pavements - they take up too much space and no-one's really looking where they're going!

Everyone seems to want their own umbrella, even the giant golfing ones, and no one wants to share. In many ways it sums up a lot about the rat race and competitive environment around us.
"Everyone seems to want their own umbrella, and no one wants to share"
It's better to be open handed...
It's funny how often we want to shut people out, to put up an umbrella around ourselves, feeling like it's maybe a way of preserving our individuality, of our stuff - our ideas, creations, dreams, even problems.

And yet there are more and more examples of how opening up - widening our umbrella to include others - is a better way for our creative potential to blossom.

I'm writing this on a laptop running Ubuntu, a free linux based open source operating system which I can't praise highly enough, ever since it rescued all the files on my machine after a fatal Windows "blue screen of death" incident. I've been running it for years now with no issues.

The name Ubuntu comes from an African word or philosophy which expresses the idea of community and kindness. Hence it was an apt title for an operating system born out of collaboration, openness and shared ideas.
"Widening our umbrella to include others is a better way for our creative potential to blossom."
More and more successful ideas are built on the foundations of sharing and community. I've recently read Chris Anderson's excellent book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, which is all about the democratisation of manufacturing. A key point of the book is that the new maker movement is characterised by collaboration and community. People openly sharing their skills, ideas and time to help each other and contribute to projects they're passionate about. Companies built on these community projects are able to be much more nimble in their approach to new ideas and making things happen.

It's a point observed by Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. By and large the days of solo ideas are gone, and in their place are shared, collaborative breakthroughs.

There's something very freeing about not having to do everything all by yourself - as the phrase goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. I do feel like there can be a pressure to be self-sufficient, independent, but the truth is that we were made for community. If I look at my own life I know the areas I'm strong at, and there are plenty of areas I'm less strong at. That's where collaboration and teamwork are so powerful - playing to our own strengths and allowing others to play to theirs leaves us all with a better and more satisfying outcome.
"Playing to our own strengths and allowing others to play to theirs leaves us all with a better and more satisfying outcome"
The more people are involved, the bigger the community, the more shared ownership there is as well - important when we face huge societal, environmental and ethical challenges in the years ahead. It's unlikely that one person alone will be able to fix a broken society or solve problems like climate change. Instead there are likely to be millions of grassroots solutions, all contributing to effect major change. And that starts by looking up and opening up our individual umbrellas to include and connect with others.

How can you open your umbrella to others?
I was at the UK Podcasters Awards a few weeks ago, and as well as picking up an award, the thing
that struck me most was the sense of community and lack of competition.

People were celebrating the fact that others were passionate about the same things as them, and ideas were being exchanged freely. I picked up some great ideas myself and hopefully also encouraged other podcasters too - encouragement being a strength of my own!

As a deliberate act to widen my podcasting umbrella I've reached out to various other podcasters to come on The Potting Shed Podcast and impart their wisdom and talk about their shows to a different audience. It's good to be part of a community.

So next time you find yourself opening up your umbrella in the rain, why not invite someone else underneath? And no matter what your field, passion or interest, how can you build or contribute to your community? The best future starts with shared and open umbrellas...



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Thanks for taking the time to read Umbrellas. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Time Sponges

Time goes by...
Sometimes time goes by so slowly, as Madonna and The Righteous Brothers remind us, but we all know the phrase that time flies when you're having fun. 

I'm sure that if we're honest with ourselves, in these days of endless distraction we probably spend far too long passing the time doing not much more than looking at a screen! 

"There's no such thing as free time, there's no such thing as down time, there's no such thing as spare time there's only lifetime"  (Mike and Isabella Russell)

It's funny how we like to compartmentalise our life. Dividing it up into easy to understand sections, like a GCSE revision chart, or a job where you have to punch your card in and out. I only had one job where I needed to punch my card in at the beginning and end of each shift, and these days the work I do is more outcome oriented. 
"It's funny how we like to compartmentalise our life."
Punching in...
But, as the quote above suggests, life isn't so easily divisible nowadays. The lines between, say, work and leisure, are blurry - especially with the pressure in so many areas to be constantly available. 

We rarely punch in and punch out of situations any more, and although this has the potential to give us more time, it's more likely that we just spend our time in the margins less wisely.

My father in law told me that when he worked in the local Council in the late 60s and early 70s work time was very delineated. You started on the hour in the morning, there was a set time for lunch and a set leaving time.

Because of this, even if you got to work early you didn't start work until the designated time, maybe reading the newspaper or chatting to colleagues instead. At lunch time there was a plethora of clubs and activities to join in with - all kinds of sports and leisure.

But all of this came to an abrupt stop when flexi time was introduced around 1973 or so. Suddenly people were freed of the burden of clock time and could undertake their hours more conveniently. If their bus got them to work twenty minutes early they could start early and leave early. All of a sudden people took shorter lunchbreaks, as it was their own time they were redeeming. The days of the clubs and societies were over.
"So how do we redeem the time we take for granted in our own lives?"
So how do we redeem the time we take for granted in our own lives? So often I get sucked into the quicksand of social media and put off the things I really want to do. Even as I write this post I've started hours later than planned having been distracted by a rugby world cup match and checking what's been going on in my friends' social media lives (answer, not much since I last checked).

Avoid the time sponge!
Happily I finally got writing but it took an effort of will! Not so long ago my wife and I came up with a way to postpone collapsing in a social media stupor in the lounge each evening after getting the kids bathed and in bed.

Rather than sitting straight down, which was deadly for lethargy (although not unjustified - raising kids and working for your crust IS tiring) we made an agreement that as soon as the kids were down we'd each spend an hour doing something productive instead.

So my wife crocheted for example, while I practised an instrument or made progress on my latest project in the workshop, or we went to the allotment, or worked in the garden. It was surprisingly effective! I'm not sure quite when we got out of the habit...

Sometimes the hardest thing is getting started isn't it? I'm the master of doing other things as a means of prevaricating - having a shave, doing the washing up... all good things but not necessarily the activity I really need to do! (Sometimes I feel like I need to psyche myself up for it though, especially if it's a complex piece of DIY).
"Sometimes the hardest thing is getting started isn't it?"
We're better in bursts...
A well known way to get started on something is to apply what's known as the Pomodoro technique - in essence giving something your full attention for twenty minutes and setting a timer to let you know when to stop.

The idea is that you have a short break after each session, then after every three or four have a longer break. I've never followed it to the letter, but setting aside a deliberate twenty minute timeslot has worked wonders for unblocking the paralysis of indecision and apathy.

Another exponent of short bursts was Charlotte Mason, a 19th century educator whose philosophy we follow as we home educate our kids.

She was in favour of short, focused lessons or learning periods, linked to how long children could productively concentrate. We find this works well in terms of keeping our kids' attention in our studies and activities during the week.

I must be clear that I'm not saying all of this so that we can all become uber prodcutive "maximise every minute" people. We all need downtime, plenty of sleep and periods to really let our brain switch off. We need to make space for quiet, contemplation and centring.
"I don't want your life or mine to become an endless to-do list"
I don't want your life or mine to become an endless to-do list, instead redeeming our time is about making sure we're investing the right amount of time in activities which are taking us in the right direction - towards our dreams, ambitions and goals. Little and often trumps bingeing every time - not just with diets but in many areas of our life - skill acquisition in particular.

"Great things are not done by impulse but by a series of small things brought together"- Van Gogh

It's hard not to finish with a carpe diem, seize the day type call to action - but as Van Gogh reminds us, it's not really about the big stuff but about the little stuff. So in what little ways can you avoid the time sponge of distraction this week and pop the prevarication balloon in your life?

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Thanks for taking the time to read Time Sponges. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 



If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.