This site is helped by many donations- thanks
Full list of articles

'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:



walking in Wadi Digla, Cairo.

I used to come here everyday about four years ago when it was free to enter (now costs 5LE) and often I would be the only person walking. I explored al the sub wadis and found all the caves (I think) along the full extent of its 12+ km. I even went further, up through the narrow canyon head to the wide garbage strewn expanse the other side but I always preferred the lower reaches, easier to get to without a car. Oh I’ve done my driving up and down the Wadi- makes it easier to get to the caves and the good bits but then I noticed so many others were driving too and hell, this is one city where you don’t need more cars. I thought- this Wadi- which, if you block out the odd broken bottle and plastic bag is actually very beautiful, should be always be walked, or at a pinch, ridden on a bike; though, lordy how I hate those mountain bikers- and I’m one of them. Blasting along giving the finger to the slow old walkers. Funny thing is – as soon as you cupboard the mechanicals- and start walking- your fellow bikers become the enemy. Actually the only ones I hate are the guys who steam up behind you very silently and then shout like they just dropped some fire in the hole “Coming from the left!” very loud and authoritarian- I mean- what happened to the good old bicycle bell? And while I’m ranting I saw a guy today with a monofork mountain bike –expensive kit- and he was pushing up the easy slope- walking and pushing – I mean if you’re going to ride a fancy bike at least live up to its pretensions.

OK I’m calm now- the Wadi- now invaded by school buses- we saw one today clunking along like the ambulance in Ice Cold in Alex- a big old American school bus fearful for its springs; I’ve seen taxis and microbuses full of excited teenagers all heading up and down the Wadi. Saturday is worse than Friday but usually I go there on Saturday. I’ve seen beaucoup foxes in the Wadi- red foxes- not scared of me really- also one horned viper right up at the narrow canyon end, and two eagle owls nesting for a couple of years in one side wadi- now gone I think. People say they’ve seen gazelle up there but I don’t believe it. Saw a monster gecko today, hanging on the underside of the ‘russian hut’- a small semi-ruined blockhouse much graffited.

I’ve taken these days to walking either side of the Wadi- sometimes for hours at a time. It’s windy and the view is good and there are fewer flies- one problem with the increased popularity of the place is the increase in flies- the sticky, shitty flies of Cairo that never let you alone once they’ve found you.

I still find a good stone tool or two everytime I go up there- they are primitive ancient ones but they’re the real thing, lying alongside the spent 7.62mm shell cases and dented FMJ bullets.

Barbary falcons circle overhead making that mewing whistle and the all black wheatear called zerzura is also common.

Now I have ceased loathing all the other Wadi users- the intruders I used to think of them- and downgraded the Wadi to being like a park or other public space I am happy again. I used to think- shit I must find another place to walk- but I realize this place is good for a long time yet.



eight mindblowing secrets of lifeshifting 



What is a lifeshift? It is centring your life around your greatest passion or enthusiasm. You may make money from it, or you may not. The important thing is that your life meaning is derived from how you spend the best hours of your day, your primetime.

In a lifeshift you can aim to earn your living from pursuing your passion or enthusiasm. Or you can support your passion through doing a job in non-prime time hours, allowing it to take second place to your real interests.

More and more people want to achieve self-expression in what they do. You can only really do this through pursuing what you love doing- lifeshifting.

Easy to say- but how do you do it?

In my own case, I gave up my job as an English teacher, completed a year long martial arts course with the Tokyo Riot Police, wrote a book about it and became a professional writer- achieving a long held ambition and fulfilling a compelling and enduring interest.

Pretty off the wall at first sight but actually I’m a minor lifeshifter. There are people out there who are achieving far more dramatic changes in their lives.

I went from being a pissed off high school teacher in Japan, teaching English to unruly schoolgirls (don’t believe the myth that the Japanese are more well behaved than us) to being a writer of books, filmscripts and articles. Because of my interest in writing I documented the process I underwent, the changes I needed to make. But this was only the start. In the late 1990s I was commissioned by Esquire to write an article about extreme lifeshifters- people who had made huge changes in what they did- a former criminal who became a talkradio DJ, a physotherapist who became a diving instructor, an ex-footballer who became an acclaimed artist to name but a few. Since then I have collected more than fifty stories of extreme lifeshifters, many of which appear in this book.

By studying these people I arrived at some basic conclusions which chimed in with my own experience.

I also discovered that for many people the process of lifeshifting was hit and miss. I also knew there were many ‘failed’ lifeshifters out there who just hadn’t quite happened on the right method.

I found that the techniques used by people to lifeshift could be radically shortened, improved and made more efficient by some basic principles I learnt in Japan.

I’ve called them the Eight Secrets of Lifeshifting.

Some of the principles I learnt from a self-help group I belonged to in Tokyo, called, rather exotically, the Society of the Golden Bat. Such self-help ‘clubs’ are not unusual in Japan. They are often started by young people trying to achieve success in business or the arts. Sometimes the members pay in a sum of money each month for say, twelve months, and then each person takes a turn to draw out the total amount- achieving the effect of a loan when a bankloan may be unavailable or the interest too costly.

But more important than financial aid is the advice and help from the mentors of the club. In the case of the Golden Bat Society (a bat is a symbol of rebirth, a golden one being extra lucky of course) my mentors included a retired school teacher called Ikusan and a pachinko ‘nail doctor’ called Takahashi (his job was fixing Japanese pinball machines so they didn’t pay out too much money). I also received many insights from the aikido masters who taught me during my year long martial arts course.

I now know, from studying so many other lifeshifters’ lives, that these methods are universal but scattered everywhere. Successful lifeshifters kind of happen upon them from a mishmash of sources including inspirational literature, psychology and simple observation of others. But the secrets of lifeshifting are not in the mainstream, they are very much an informal thing. In the mainstream, in the developed West, we seem to have lost sight of the eight secrets as part of a coherent path towards self change.

I’ve sought simply to bring the disparate bits together to make a lifeshifting method wholly relevant to Europeans or Americans without the time or inclination to immerse themselves in a long process of trial and error, obscure reading and an alien culture.

The Eight Secrets

1.     The secret of inner change- You are not one self but many selves.

2.     You must visit Meaning Mountain. Meaning is the most powerful motivator. Pain and pleasure are low level motivators- but watch how a parent avoids pleasure (say a second helping of food) to give more to their child- because the child means more- and believe me you just bite the bullet- there is no warm accompanying feeling of pleasure- to reclassify this is pleasure seeking is therefore mere semantics. Meaning is the key motivator.

3.     Learning methods must be Learnt- ‘how to learn’ may be a skill they never taught you at school. Switch on your secret weapon- the brain’s Nucleus Basalis, the key ‘learning centre’. Latest neuroplasticity studies show we learn fastest when we are shocked, encounter something new or pay very close attention. That is why intensive courses can teach more French in a month than an average UK school child learns in five years. Do you learn when humiliated or in a group- some do. Others work better alone. Find levers that help you to learn. Learn to locate the ‘into it’ feeling. Avoid obstacles. A learning plan for each project- the way a Bedouin loads his camel differently for each trip as a learning example.

4.     Timeshift to make more time- discover that subjective or psychological time can only be managed when time is thought of as inner space. Better appreciation of psychological time leads to having more ‘clock’ time at your disposal. Learn that ‘system’ does not equal efficiency, that getting too systematic can devour motivation and kill your will to continue.

5.     No more heroes- the ‘good enough’ factor. The search for the perfect drives out the purely functional- and ‘perfect’ is very often a subjective thing.

6.     Unlimited energy-Energyshift to increase ‘start up’ and ‘momentum’ energy. Energy threshold busting.

7.     The secret of money- Moneyshift to grow a business from a lifeshift. Remember the dictum of thinking ‘more people’ instead of ‘more money’.

8.     The secret of manufacturing reality. A real ‘yes’ versus an unreal ‘yes’



twigger on twitter

Twitter is obviously sheer folly... apart from being yet more celebrity pants viewing or maybe as a nugget information exchange - so it is as that that the celebrated Polymath Dr Ragab has taken to the twitterbug with the idea of disseminating some of his gems of wisdom, or even plain information, all at under 140 characters- follow Dr Ragab by typing roberttwigger into the twitter find people slot ( and start following his advice today!

Dr Ragab is the lead character, a polymath who knows everything, in my novel out on July 3 2009 Picador- at half price if you preorder from amazon UK before publication- I'm trying to get an amazing 5000 pre-ordered so do the right thing now!


zenslacker #3

1.    The world is mad. When you engage with the world you often have to go a little mad to get things done. Or so it seems. Another way is simply to wait for the right moment. If you can’t, because you’re in a rush, then you’re not Zenslacking. There is always a right moment. If you wait patiently for it you won’t miss it. And even if you do- so what?

2.    All food is good. Stop eating for ten or twelve hours and then see what food is all about. Stop drinking bottled water for ten hours and go for a run. Then drink that chlorinated stuff direct from the tap. Doesn't it taste beautiful now? Lifegiving?

3.    You're driving along the highway with some buddies drinking beer and in a moment of beer-fueled over enthusiasm hurl an empty can onto the littered hard shoulder. Rather than feel guilty look at it another way: beer cans are not the problem- roads are.

4.    Brainstorming produces lots of ideas but rarely any good ideas- mostly it just produces a storm of confusion. Or else you get ideas as a kind of insurance against being bereft of ideas. These ideas are actually symbolic ideas. But real ideas are there to become real. They have a reality already integral within them. These ideas just come from nowhere because they are looking for you. If you do nothing the solution will come looking for you.

5.    Often the best way to start doing nothing is to do something in a consciously excessive way. Excessively write notes until you are sick of that and then you are doing nothing in the right way. No strain anymore.



walking in boots

I have many pairs of boots. None of them fit me quite right. I tell myself my feet are still growing. This can’t be true- I am over 40 years old. I have one pair of Merrill walking shoes that really do seem to fit me but the other day they gave me blisters. Plus they are not boots and for long distances I must have boots! I am a boot man, always have been. In my search for the perfect boot I have been very lax. For example I own numerous pairs of Timberland type boots – none of which really fit me very well. I wouldn’t put up with a crap book or a car that wasn’t right so how come I am so cavalier about boots? Maybe there is some kind of masochism at work, deep down I actually like getting sore feet. Or, perhaps, I sense at some almost unconscious level that really I should be walking barefoot. In a move this way I have started desert walking in sandals. They’re great- for a day or three- but longer than that and the skin starts getting rubbed raw. Fact is, I spend too long in socks and shoes not walking very far at all. My feet are too soft. Hmm, this is a familiar thought too. Maybe I should have been a monkey. On one 700km hike I had blisters on the very last day, and even then I was hoping I had finally cracked the problem…but look at it positively: I still managed to finish the walk. And the memory of all that limping pain just seems unreal, disregardable. 



look for an abundant world

The Abundant World v. the Limited World is something I think about from time to time.

There are an infinite number of ways you can divide up the people of the world, and almost as many ways of dividing up their point of view. But a worthwhile way is to look at the difference in view between believers in an abundant world and believers in a limited world.

Abundant world viewers believe there is an infinite supply of stuff to go round- what shortages we have will tend to sort themselves out.

Limited world viewers see everything in short supply- so much so that if one person gets ahead, even in a completely different field, the limited world viewer sees that as a setback, one less opportunity for him, or her.

Clearly the abundant world view can be attacked easily. There very definitely was a shortage of wood in the 16th century that was only overcome when coal began to be mined in Europe extensively. Wood was limited not infinite in supply. But this is a sneaky kind of attack on abundantism, if one can call it that, because the abundantist will argue- as wood ran out coal miraculously appeared. Similarly it looks as if the rising price of oil, spurred on by diminishing easy availability of oil will spur on development of other energy sources such as solar and wind power as well as encourage greater energy efficiency.

The key to the abundant position is taking as wide and flexible a world view as possible.

If you want to be a limited viewer just take a short term inflexible position.

One example- traffic chokes many of our major cities. Sitting for one or two hours a day grinding along in low gear is not uncommon now whereas it was perhaps forty years ago. This is especially true for the growing cities of the developing world- Calcutta, Cairo, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur. From a limited perspective freedom to travel is getting limited. But take a wider view. Over the last forty years life has speeded up immeasurably- instant information via the net, cheap air travel to everywhere, mobile phones and satellite technology allowing everyday communication across continents. People have likewise grown impatient and used to this speed- so being forced to chill out in a traffic jam is a corrective. It also allows you time to listen to taped books, music, and if you are fortunate enough to be driven by another- to read and use the internet. Things balance out, feedback goes from the material- lack of space on the roads- to the psychological- building patience and tolerance.

In the abundant world there is only creativity not competition. One door shuts and another opens- usually to a better opportunity. One thing leads to another- again, often a bigger and better opportunity. You only have to do the work of reaching out and firmly taking hold of that opportunity.

It is perfectly possible to lifeshift without having an abundant world viewpoint, but it’s harder. Mainly because it shuts down the creative faculty.

In a totally creative frame of mind any problem is soluble- now this cannot be true- but the frame of mind feels it to be so. And with this surge of optimism usually comes a solution. The abundant world view says- there is a solution out there, there is no shortage of whatever you seek.

The limited worldview automatically switches emphasis from creative responses to a problem to taking what exists from someone else.

There is a kind of continuum from:

Total creativity->copying->theft

One can invent the hula hoop and make millions. Or copy the hula hoop and try and cash in on countries that haven’t seen it yet. Or use lawyers to ban hula hoops and then set up your own factory as the one selling the only legal hoops. Or steal hula hoops by force and sell them and keep the money.

All businesses are somewhere on this spectrum. Those who believe in an abundant world will be closer to the creative end than the theft end.

In the end I can only say it is far from easy to shift one’s world view- I know- for years I had the view the world was limited, there wasn’t enough to go round and anyman who got ahead was somehow, obscurely depriving me and my family of our rightful needs.

Crazy and paranoid as that sounds it is borne out by many psychological tests. From a wide sample people preferred that everyone receive the same salary increase rather than they get a higher one and a few others get an even higher one that that. Inflation was to be discounted. So people would rather be equally worse off than better off with a few even better off than them.

Give not get- a psychological reason for adopting this posture

In an abundant world it’s easier to adopt a giving rather than getting attitude. Now though this is socially very commendable that isn’t the reason for adopting it. A giving attitude shifts your mindset into command of your situation. If you give away 2,3 or 10% of you income to others then you are stating IN ACTIONS NOT WORDS I am in control of my financial situation, and being in control of your finances is in most cases a large part of being in comfortable with your life.

How to develop and abundant world mentality.

First you need to see it’s a possibility. Do this by trying to identify, without judgement, feedback loops at work in the world. Try to see a feedback loop in the widest sense. For example, extinction. Several species become extinct each year and this rate may be increasing. We don’t know. What we do know is that only one tenth of all species have actually been discovered. Granted these are mainly insects and fish- but that is an incredible number given the common viewpoint ‘that science knows everything about the natural world already’. Even if some species go extinct they will never ever match the huge number waiting out there to be discovered. Read Nobel prize winner E.O.Wilson's Diversity of Life for more on this.

You have to see the ultility of having an abundant worldview.

You have to see that you are being more not less realistic by being abundantly minded.

You can aid this by gravitating towards areas that superficially seem more abundant than others- for example there is no foreseeable end to the number and variety of computer programs that could be written and sold. Once you have an abundant mindset you can see it everywhere. Steve, my friend who went from being a real estate guy to a film maker used to repeat his grandfather’s saying which was you can make money from anything- and his granddad proved it by turning waste stone material into a desirable gravel for house drives in Phoenix Arizona.

One can acquire the mentality of abundance by studying the way entrepreneurs use certain ‘moves’ to optimise money making potential. Richard Branson famously ran a student magazine as a very young man. In one advertisement he offered cheap records he obtained from abroad. There was a huge response to this advertisement. He shut the magazine and started a record store- Virgin. In other words he moved towards the abundancy generating opportunities. Moving towards greater abundancy increases the ability to see abundancy.

Neuroscientists always say about the brain- what fires together wires together- by behaving as if the world is abundant- providing generous dinners for others, always paying the bill, not seeking self-benefits but providing help for others you actually start rewiring your brain into a greater awareness of abundancy.

 Buckminster Fuller suffered many setbacks as a young inventor. Finally in desperation he reviewed his whole life and saw that the more selflessly he acted the more successful he was. He made a rule that he should seek to increase his responsibility to cover as many as possible, not just himself. His incredible success in later life can be dated from the change in thinking just of himself to focusing on benefiting as many as possible. He created a link in his brain to abundance when he saw there was no shortage of people out there he could be responsible for- and by his own observation that meant there could be no shortage of success. Which is abundant thinking.

 Think of the Norwegian coastline- a famous example from fractal geometry- it is possible to infinitely increase the Norwegian coastline on a map by adding fjords to fjords to fjords. The basic shape stays the same but the line around the coast just gets longer and longer. Abundant thinking is like that- by moving closer or further away from your subject you can generate infinite possibilities.



a cure for horsefly bites

Horseflies, or cleggs, as they call them up north are right bastards. Being bitten once is an indignity, to be swarmed, as often happens, can result in bumps aplenty and in my case an allergic reaction. I was once bitten by a clegg in Scotland and my arm ballooned like something inflatable. The pus seeped for days. In the Pyrenees, walking the GR10 I was mobbed for what seemed like weeks by the nasty creatures. Multiple bites inflicted on bare legs started to get infected and finally I was bitten on the tongue- gasping for air on a steep ascent one flew in and got me. I had visions of my palate swelling and blocking all airways, my tongue expanding like the swollen licker of a hanged man- but no- nothing happened. Nothing. Saliva, as reported in 2008 in New Scientist, is a great natural anti-biotic. After this, as soon as I got bitten I now gobbed a big load of saliva onto the bite site (and killed the clegg if I could) and this stopped all further swelling. As long as I got the spit on the bite within 30 seconds I was fine. Not even a pimple. Later I found this works with all insect bites and is a great first treatment for any outdoor cut. Suck on it!

In the summer this post gets a lot of hits- presumably by people who have just been bitten. If that has happened, and you have an allergic reaction you may get a lot of swelling and it's too late to apply the 30 second-suck treatment. However you can keep rubbing saliva on the bite to stop it getting infected. You'll have redness, maybe some irritation and swelling but you'll be fine. If you do get an infection with painful lymph glands and a huge swelling go to the doctor for some antibiotics in the worst case. Moderate swelling will go down after a few days.