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'Nearly all the problems facing society today cannot be attacked by single disciplines.'

Dr Alexander King

This blog contains hundreds of original articles. 


And book a talk and buy my new book MICROMASTERY

"I couldn't stop telling people about this book. Wise and joyful, it genuinely changed the way I thought about learning - and it left me bursting to put it into action."  - Tim Harford, author of Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy

"Micromastery is a triumph. A brilliant idea, utterly convincing, and superbly carried through." Philip Pullman.



Go and get it from a bookshop.

Or Buy online! Micromastery - learn small, learn fast and find the hidden path to happiness is published by Penguin books (UK) in May 2017. It will be published in China, Taiwan, USA, Germany and South Korea in the months after that.

You can get it at Wordery- click below

Or for those amazon junkies click this one:



more on optimism

non-perceptive optimism, blanket optimism gives optimism a bad name. Which is not good, since pessimism is a disease we can all do without.


future belongs to optimists

The future belongs to optimists..some say. Certainly optimists have a very attractive energy. But also we know that optimists can be potential pessimists who are too stupid to read the signs. An optimist in 1930s Germany was blind. So being a useful optimist also involves being perceptive.

Look hard for things that really are getting better. Find something you can be optimistic about. Find a good place to do it. Do a lot of it. Make the future.


rules or discipline?

Rules and discipline are different. Discipline is an outlook, a program, a way of organising the world as it impinges in a headlong rush upon oneself. Years ago I had to spend three months in hospital. On the second day it dawned very clearly I'd need routines to survive the boredom of the place. At every moment of the day I would have to have something to do, read, listen to, whatever. I needed a timetable. I see discipline not as time management but as time allocation. Another bit of your brain decides what you like doing, what you think you should do, and discipline is allocating the right amount of time. It's no good being heroic. I now write in two hour bursts. Before I would set aside an entire day - so inevitably there was a lot of wastage. So much so it really became a drag to even contemplate writing. One hour is not enough to get away from the sense of time pressure, three hours is too much for me- I'll start malingering- but two hours works.

Zen monks have a rigid timetable- every minute is accounted for. BUT they are allowed to break it anytime if someone needs their help or if some emergency impinges. The point is, they are never asking themselves 'er what shall I do now?'

The people I know who get the most done and seem happiest about it, allocate time well. They know themselves. The richest 'achiever' I know told me he needs 9 hours sleep. No five hour heroism for him. But when he's up he's running.

Time allocation takes into account wisdom we have accumulated about ourselves and the world over our lives. It is a balancing of right and left brain knowledge. The word 'discipline' is the sharp edge you need to keep up to the mark and not get distracted from your allocated time slots.

And though discipline is often linked to rules there are different. Rules are an attempt to simplify the world. Though they have a role, they inevitably distort the world because of this simplification. 

When we impose rules upon ourself and others it doesn't seem quite right. It's like a kind of failure to be alive. O Sensei, founder of Aikido, set up his first dojo and announced there were no rules. Then something went missing from the changing rooms. So he posted the only rule: No Stealing. The nagging, rather self important part of the brain- the accusing self- tells us we must do this and we must do that. Eventually we grow tired of this nagging and throw off all restraint. Maybe later to regret it. And be doubly self-berated for our failure. Discipline heralds from a different place. Whereas a rule is a kind of ad hoc thing, discipline is a world view, an honouring of your own time, the time you have at your disposal. It is an acknowledgement that you can only do so much. It is a break on fantasy and vague wishfulfillment. 


One definition of micromastery

I am indebted to reader Mark Ostermann for one definition of micromastery.

"Discrete, non-trivial, gameable skill aquisition."

OK! I can live with that! 


Omelettes, Micromastery and line sensitivity.

Since writing Micromastery I’ve kept up my omelette making, always seeking ways to improve. The style in the book is the rustic country-style omelette with a butter-browned base marbled with the lines made by scouring with a fork during the frying process. But since then I have gravitated more towards the classical style omelette which in truth is closer to scrambled eggs in concept than to a fluffy pancake which I suppose is how I used to think about omelettes. There are some great YouTube videos by top French chefs (André Soltner and others) that I really recommend if you want to see some masters at work. With a classical omelette you keep the pan off the heat as much as on it- that’s how you regulate the heat. You don’t want it too hot either- the bottom of the omelette should be uniform pale yellow and not brown at all. You flash the egg around in the pan with a fork, kind of like making scrambled eggs except you don’t want bare bits of pan showing through. When the top is still wet you gently roll it into a cigar shape and serve. That soft interior is what gives a classical omelette its heavenly melt in the mouth taste. It also teaches a good lesson- it’s pretty hard to undercook an omelette but it’s darned easy to over cook one and serve up some tasty rubber. This reveals what I call ‘line sensitivity’. Take painting a wall when you come up to the ceiling (which you want another colour). You have to be really careful on one side of the line- any mistake will pollute the ceiling with unwanted paint. But on the other side you can flap around with your brush and it’ll be absorbed by all the other paint used on the wall. With the omelette the line sensitivity is about focusing on NOT over cooking rather worrying about it being not cooked enough. You can undercook potatoes easily- not so omelettes- the line sensitivity is different. This takes the pressure off. Instead of walking a mental tightrope you are just butting up against one barrier with lots of freedom behind you for any errors. I think the main thing is that removing of mental pressure. To get good at something you have to be able to play at it a little. And you can’t ‘play’ if you’re worried and trying too hard. Other line-sensitivities: in film photography when you over expose shots you’ll usually be able to retrieve some kind of picture, but if you underexpose you may have something that is simply muddy- so err on the side of over exposure. Of course over time you get better and better at judging the line but this gives you room to manoevre when you are starting out. In long distance walking always plan with a very achievable daily distance in mind. You can always go further if you want. But if you plan even with a very slightly (a few km more) over ambitious plan it can ruin everything- you get blisters, run out of food, find you are far from shops etc. So I think working out which is the sensitive side of the line before you start is a worthwhile thing to do. You can be assured of success without having to worry too much. You get to play and have fun which is, of course, essential…


making a nest

Watching a youtube video of a trigger fish making a nest I was drawn into the incredible world of nestmaking. Looking at these animal nests I realised we have over complicated nest making with our fancy houses and furniture and so on. The essence of nest making is some repetitive therapeutic activity like weaving sticks in and out of each other, piling on leaves, layering cardboard, cutting snow blocks or any other super basic humannest building skill. Making a nest is fun and calming. I think it is better to think of a nest than a 'shelter' which is rather cold and objective. A nest has to be charming and cosy. I remember a picture of a medieval scholar in a sort of wooden nest with books and a desk inside a vast drafty cathedral. Derek Jarman once squatted a warehouse and lived within a glass nest- a greenhouse he put up in the middle. You can model nests too which can be interesting. Of course a treehouse or a burrow are closest to animal nests. Building a treehouse from similar sized pieces of scrap wood works well in nest building terms. The best nests are decorated inside and out.


too arrogant to learn?

Most people are too arrogant to learn.

That's not me you're thinking...thank God.

But that is the first sure fire sign- and I include myself here. Think it all the time- when you catch yourself thinking 'but that's not me' you need to take remedial action.

Action not mere 'thinking about it' or castigating yourself.

The action is to put in place a routine where you approach any learning task or new situation saying, "OK I'm arrogant, I get in my own way, but given that let's try and do this."

If you merely identify places and situations where you get in your own way- note them is all you need do, no emotional response required, learning becomes easier.

Learning is really watching and noting.

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