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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. 

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"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.

 

OUT NOW!

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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

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Saturday
Jun132009

something someone said

If pigs might fly then swine flu.

Friday
Jun122009

zenslacker #6

1. Have a few friends that you can lie to without dire consequence. Encourage them to lie to you a bit from time to time. Enjoy telling a whopper. Enjoy being found out but never admit it’s a lie. Cover it with another even better lie.

2. Be a prat, from time to time, in front of people you don’t care about.

3. When you can do nothing, do nothing. But make yourself comfortable. Have a gin and tonic and talk about something lofty and refined

4. You’ll find that, by chance or otherwise, you are always moving, if very slowly, when the right moment comes. By moving I mean not in an inward looking slump with no outward focus or interest. If you are stationary you might miss it. But you’ll do it right the next time if you observe yourself missing the moment.

5.    Enlightenment is a decision.

6.    Try fishing with a bow and arrow. Or, at least think about fishing with a bow and arrow. Imagine how clear the water would have to be.

7.    Be up on daytime TV.

8.    Divorce is just the next stage.

9.    Your thoughts are just 1/10 you. The other 9/10 is your physicality and what you do.

10. Observe what you do when nobody is watching. Maybe it's funny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Jun112009

ask others to say yes with you

This is another top idea from Rob Bevan kind of via David Allen again of Getting Things Done fame. Allen writes very well on what do you do when the unexpected happens (Apart from panic). This is a key question to ask yourself since life is always this uneasy truce or balance between routine and the unexpected. If your plate is too full of routine tasks then the unexpected can really throw you. So you get used to either saying no, or failing to deliver on your enthusiastic yeses. Allen says, rightly, that most stress is having conflicting commitments- you said yes too many times. It put me in mind of that Jim Carey film Yes Man- where a man who habitually reacts to the unexpected with ‘no’ starts to say ‘yes’ instead. But in the movie there is only one instance when there is some conflict and he has said yes to two things and he can’t deliver. That happens all the time in real life even for  a fairly competent nay sayer such as myself. Especially if you are thinking new stuff up. Being a yes man is essentially reactive- you sit on your arse waiting for people to ask you to do things. But if you are thinking things up to do you could ask ten people all to do different things on a Saturday morning and then when it comes along you’ll wish you’d been a bit more cautious.

The people who get into trouble do so because they originate projects that they cannot or will not complete. In the old saying ‘they set hares running’- the dogs follow hither and thither all over the place- not a nice thing to do to your friends.

There is even a guy in Spain who calls himself Si A Todo- yes to everything- he now lives in the hills and not Barcelona interestingly- maybe he couldn’t get anything done in the city- I think it’s less about reactingly favourably to other people’s ideas and more about coming up with ideas yourself. Saying yes is like level one optimism and positiveness, but level two is thinking up a project for others to say yes to. Asking others to say yes with you.

But how do you avoid double booking yourself? Allen suggests constantly trimming and modifying your commitments- which can really annoy people. In writing a book your best bet is to agree to nothing that will take any effort during the main draft- so I guess in any big project never agree to anything that will distract you. When you are not on a big project it's harder, though much easier when you stop trying to please people and start doing things for their functional effect.

 

Wednesday
Jun102009

half-truths, fibs and damned lies

A number of things have made me think about lying these last few days. Naturally one tries to limit the number of lies one tells (‘you look great’ always tends to go down better than ‘you look like shit’ for some reason) but I’ve discovered some people- who you least suspect – tell whoppers from time to time, usually to win a point of some kind. For example my completely trustworthy friend A____, the mother of one of daughter’s school pals, was telling me about her new 4x4 offroad car- is it diesel I asked. Yes she said. Now I knew it wasn’t because I had looked at the back badge the day before, but she obviously felt the need to impress me with its superior fuel (diesel is preferred in the desert)- even though I could easily find out and probably would. Weird eh? Should I confront her about this grave falsehood? No way!

My view is we all need a chance to lie from time to time with NO BAD CONSEQUENCES. I tell my kids whoppers on this principle- well they remember how I climbed Everest and then abseiled down the volcano like Bear Grylls when I got to the top- the first Englishman to do so. See- feels good doesn’t it? Or maybe not. Being LIED TO is a whole different ball game. You feel cheated and abused. The thing is- try to get into a mutual lying relationship with someone where you both REALLY APPRECIATE each other’s monster falsehoods. Kind of the reverse of most relationships I suppose. Others have similar ideas as you will see from the below- news of which prompted this post.

My Argentine friend Carlos Guiterrez has finally expanded his pointless lie parties to full pointless lie therapy sessions. Carlos believes we should not deny ourselves the chance to tell whoppers, as long as they are pointless. He thinks that telling lies that actually advance us is a bit pathetic not to say criminal or even addictive. He is against all this. His lie parties were all about breaking down the taboos on lying and there was no ‘call-my-bluff’ element where lies were revealed (which is great fun but different fun); instead the idea was to get people used to lying for fun as a form of relaxing leisure time activity. Lie therapy is for addicted truth tellers- those who can’t lie even to save a friend from the firing squad to take a somewhat extreme example. It is also a great way of loosening up for journalists and lawyers and other folk who are heavily penalized for lying professionally. Carlos is more well known for his art work and he was for two years an apprentice of Xul Solar. You can see his pictures at www.cgartba.es

Go on! Find a partner you can exchange pointless lies with today! Maybe you can even tickle each other too.

 

Tuesday
Jun092009

the age of ageism

We went to see a friend of the family in downtown Cairo and I was shocked at how she had reinvented herself as a younger woman. She’s 71- and nobody commented anything about ‘acting your age’. The old get to do what they want- including being younger in appearance- none of that subtle tyranny of teenagers here.

Ageism is in reverse in Egypt- everyone is desperate to be grown up and an adult. There is no advantage in being genuinely young at all (as opposed to looking 'younger' ie. healthier)- you just get kicked around and can’t be trusted to work. And you get paid nuts when you do get a job. You have to be polite to your elders or you get a smack on the head. Being young sucks.

Except amongst the tiny westernized ‘elite’ who speak English and mimic the sentiments of the ‘decadent’ West – I live in a ‘posh’ (ish) neighborhood- it’s the only place in Cairo I’ve seen vandalized cars and ‘ghetto’ style spray painting. In a real slum people are far too sensible to waste money on expensive aerosol spray paint.

Ageism is several things conflated which makes it a confusing subject. First there is the unavoidable fact of physical aging. It happens to everyone and that’s that. However it also provides external signs which can be used as a badge of seniority or, the reverse, a sign of being ‘not young’.

This has relevance to the notion of ‘being looked after’. In the ‘undeveloped world’ where there is poor state provision of health and schooling, people most commonly want to grow up and be competent and strong. In our world, where there are brilliant (by comparison) schools and hospitals, people (to generalize) still yearn to be looked after. This desire can appear as its reverse- so it’s confusing.

Young people 'reject' society, but this is a symbolic rejection (a real one would be going off and starting a new life somewhere else) rather like the 7 year old who packs his suitcase preparatory to 'leaving home' after an argument with dad over TV watching. The rejection serves in reality to more clearly designate 'the parent figure'. Our desire in the West to make parenting less authoritarian results in some kids 'pushing' their mum and dad until they get the angry authoritarian response they desire- the one that means Dad's in control, I needn't worry.

The James Dean rebel without a cause posture- new in the 50s, fairly familiar now, is set up conventionally as a boy rebelling against authority. But in fact the childish games of james are really a reflection of the immature need for a strong father to ‘take care of him’. He seeks out Buzz- who might fill that role- and then himself becomes the pretend ‘father’ of the girl and the scooter kid when they hole up in the deserted mansion. The funny thing is, this film seemed really lame when I saw it aged 16, but later viewings grip me much more strongly.

Why is prison so popular these days? Someone takes care of you. I envisage a new kind of prison where men are sent out alone into a vast area of the tundra after having been on a survival course. Those that make it are released…I jest...

Back to ageism. Rejecting those of a different age group- be they younger or older reflects this covert desire to set up a group designated: ‘parents’. Parents are usually older so the two- aging and parenthood get conflated- except they are different.

The desire to maintain this mythical ‘parent group’ long after you have left home is a sort of cult behaviour. Instead of embracing equals, co-conspiritors and brothers one seeks to orientate oneself towards the group who will look after us.

Except it doesn’t exist. Not even a wonderfully eloquent new president who looks and sounds like the ideal modern dad can make it exist. He’s winging it just like the rest of us.

(Tip for a man entering politics: project the image of ‘brilliant dad’ and watch the punters vote for you. This must explain the success of early Blair and Boris and the failure of Brown.)

I am fascinated by ageism, attitudes to age and ageism throughout the ages. What’s so bizarre is that it’s the one indisputable fact about all of us- we will get older and die. But for something so indisputably part of life- a huge number are in denial about it. Imagine people pretending they didn’t have to eat…eating in private and giving people who munch in public a hypocritical hard time. Imagine people pretending they never go to the lavatory. I suppose the nearest we get to this strange denial of aging in ourselves is the Victorian denial of sex. The closest a ‘young’ person comes to acknowledging they will age is to admit it happens to others. I use ‘young’ in inverted commas because when I was younger I always thought youth TV, youth books, youth mags as incredibly trivial and insulting. I wanted to grow up and be like all the other grown ups in history! I still do!

Yet the most annoying aspect of ageism is being co-opted by ones age equals into the game of ‘being old’. My friend Steve is brilliant about this. When I attempted a humorous line about deteriorating eyesight he brought me up sharp, “That’s old talk man!”

My main theme, here, is, however, the great insight provided by Arthur Deikman MD (The Wrong Way Home- Beacon Publishing) which is: that ageism is actually an infantile urge to want to remain ‘looked after’.

This insight hit me, in the words of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, ‘like a diamond bullet between the eyes.’ (I will return to this film reference in a minute): in the developed West a good number of us want to be ‘looked after’ for ever. The simile used by Deikman is the feeling of being on the backseat of the car being driven home by mom and dad in the evening – you are sleepy and totally trust them to get you home. But wake up and smell the coffee, or the burning oil- there isn’t anyone driving! You’re not a kid anymore. And never ever will there be someone taking care of you. This fantasy is so deep rooted we unconsciously seek out authoritarian figures even if we have to misbehave (insult a cop today) in order to get reminded of it. We seek out corporations to take care of us- in return we sacrifice our marriages, kids, independence- for what? All these are instances of cult type behaviour- which may find its most extreme form in people who want a cult to take care of them and be like a family, but actually it is all around us in the simple refusal to accept that life is about growing up so that you can take care, not only of yourself, but of others if you have to. I often think of an off the cuff remark by the Russian philosopher Gurdjieff- a real man can support 15 others…

Remember Dennis Hopper as the journalist in Apocalypse Now (knew I'd get back to that film)? “He’s a big man, I’m a little man,” he says of Kurtz. But that is part of the same fantasy as ageism- that somehow we can abdicate being fully human and dream of being ‘looked after’ by the ‘big men’. Even nice big men like Barack Obama.

 

 

Monday
Jun082009

more thoughts on tickling

How do you spot a person who will laugh when you tickle them? Hard, if not impossible. Therefore take the giant leap of tickling only those who look like they would be the least likely to laugh. This may turn tickling into a kind of aggression, but it's such a silly thing that it will be OK I think.

Tickling others meets opposition sometimes. People pretend not to be ticklish. That doesn’t matter- symbolic tickling is often enough, though I have found tickle proof people are more likely to succumb to ultra light tickling rather than heavy handed stuff.

Other people’s kids can be tickled in lieu of a right telling off. I see schools patrolled by teachers armed with long tickle sticks. Maybe not. But policemen should definitely tickle people who get caught speeding or shooting lights. Then let them off. Thing is- should we, the voting public, be allowed to tickle policemen? Maybe on one day of the year? Definitely we should have the right to tickle the politicians we elect.

There are cases of people being tickled to death. A kind of torture. Like anything, in the wrong hands, tickling can be turned to evil purpose. But it’s not very likely though is it?

Celebrity tickle is a show I envisage where celebrities who wish to promote their latest dvd, comic role, song have to submit to being tickled by their fans. Folk in the TV audience do it too.

The Big Tickle is a reality TV show where people are fed a diet of food, drink and exercise that increases their susceptibility to being ticklish. Then masked ticklers wake them up while they are sleeping to tickle them. OK, sounds like torture- but aren’t they all?

To raise money for charity auction off the right to be tickled.

 

Sunday
Jun072009

the will is overrated

I’m through with goading myself. It’s wearing and tiresome and makes life unpleasant.

On the other hand, like everyone, I have stuff to do I don’t want to do at the time I have to do it even if I know that ‘it should be done, I want it to be done, and no one else but me is going to do it.’

But this time, instead of biting the bullet and goading myself into action (and the inevitable re-action ‘hmm shouldn’t I check twitter first etc’) I decided to take a step back and think myself into a better frame of mind. And it worked- I made that phone call I had been avoiding. Trivial? I didn't think so. “Life’s progress is marked by such small but significant triumphs” as Mark Twain put it.

When you next have something you don’t want to do, instead of willing yourself – try and think what you need in your head to make you want to do this thing of your own free will. Take a step back and use your imagination and lucid dreaming ability (day dreaming in a relaxed state) to summon up some thing, idea, cluster of ideas, image, something funny, or fun,  anything that would get you doing this thing effortlessly. Maybe all that is needed is a mood shift from irritable to enthusiastic. Maybe you can shift the mood simply through a positive conversation with someone or even writing a blog entry like this.