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kiteout day

Get your Kite Out!

16 June 2009

Everyone loves to fly a kite, especially children.

The aim of kiteout day is simple: that every child on that day all over the world flies a kite.

It could be a bought kite or a homemade one. Homemade will be more satisfying. And if the kite is made from recycled stuff then it will be even more satisfying. I conjecture.

This 16th of June help your kids to fly a kite. Tell a teacher at their school to organize a kite flying/making session that day.

There is no message except this: everyone loves flying kites the world over. So let’s all do it!

And get prepared for next 16th June- 2010 for an even bigger kiteout!



six day working year

Yep. Six twelve hour days= 72 hours= 1.38 hours a week work.

Forget the four hour week guy. (Timothy Ferriss- author of the "Four Hour Working Week".)

Except these six days can’t be divided up and diluted. They are six whole longish days. A real day’s work times six.

A day is a magical thing. It isn’t just hours. Think of the great days of your life. They dwarf all the wasted ‘hours’ you may have experienced.

The first millionaire I had the opportunity to meet, an entrepeneur who had made his fortune developing and selling a plastic chicken drinker of all things, told me he worked, really worked about six days of the year. Hence the title. Oh he pottered about the office, watched things ticking over, did the mechanical work of invoicing and answering the phone when no one else was around; but real work- work that added to the value of the company, work that changed things, work that made a difference? Six days.

As a writer I know there is the grunt work of getting the words down. It can take months. It just takes time though. Set it up right, reduce distractions, have the right word count program and you’ll make it. But the real work- the ideas, the characters, the frame of a book- it can take minutes. A novelist I met before I had written anything- he was on his third novel when I met him told me something I know now is true though it sounded unbelievable- you can rough out a novel in a day.

According to Genesis, God made the world in six days. On the seventh he rested. Maybe we can garner some metaphorical truth here- we only need to focus on six days of real work a year. Set aside those days when the great leap forward is to be made, or, when you feel that real work is happening go with it and don’t strangle it with mere routine.

Writer Milan Kundera is fond of pointing out that there is a lot of mechanicality in writing a novel and composing a symphony. There’s a lot of filling in, kind of like what cgi technicians do when they fill in all the details in the background of a movie. Maybe it would help to divide what you do into the gruntwork, the filling in, and the real six day work that moves you forward. Maybe you could even get others to do the grunt work.

Timothy Ferriss’s book the ‘Four Hour working Week’ offers a wonderful dream- but most people want to work- but not too much and not at something hateful. They want to be useful. It’s OK surfing for two weeks when you’ve earned it through hard work, but you try surfing 50 weeks- it ceases to be quite such fun- when I did aikido full time it was pretty grim- not at all the fun and games of a couple of classes a week- it became, in fact, professional. Writing too, ceases to be anything like the fun it was when you dabbled, even if you develop a compulsion to write or surf, it just isn’t like the good old amateur days.

People want to work less, earn more, and do more rewarding work. When I mention that the San Bushman of the Kalahari, before many were forcibly relocated, obtained al they needed for living, doing 17 hours work a week- and this in one of the most inhospitable places on earth, people nod with recognition- yeah 17 hours a week- I could just about handle that.

So seventeen hours of maintainence work a week and six days of real work. What will I do with all the time left over?



steve pavlina, homer simpson and sanity.

Anyone with any interest in the blog as a tool for promoting inspiring essays of length and quality must eventually visit Steve Pavlina. Whether or not you agree with everything he says, you have to admit it’s lucidly argued, logical and sharp. The self-development game is full of similar information that constantly requires reformulating as times and situations change. Doing this with precision is what Steve Pavlina is good at.

But do you really want to be Frank Grimes?

Cast your mind way back to the 8th series of the Simpsons, when it was still genuinely funny. Homer makes an enemy at the plant- a new and keen employee called Frank Grimes. Frank takes work seriously and loathes the ineptitude and laziness of Homer. He resents the fact that Homer has a wife, a big house, three kids and seems genuinely happy whereas he rents a shoe box apartment and is friendless and undervalued. He tries to expose Homer by tricking him into entering a competition for kids. The idea being to show that Homer is just a kid. But Homer wins and nobody except Frank Grimes minds. In fact this last failure of the people of Springfield to see the hardworking value of Grimes drives him over the edge and he electrocutes himself whilst pretending to be as ‘stupid’ as Homer. Except he dies as a result.

If you can rent, buy or download this episode do so. There is more wisdom here than in any TV show I can remember. The way Homer negotiates with a crazy world without alienating people is brilliantly shown. And poor Frank Grimes, who has triumphed over incredible hardships to even get a job, is portrayed with merciless realism as the effective, hardworking, humorless dork that he is.

Attempts at self-development, personal improvement, outer achievement cannot depart too far from sanity. The advantage that the self-development coach has over the normal guy is that he only has to talk the talk, it’s sort of optional that he live it too. But normal people (unless they read self- help books for entertainment) want to live the advice they are taking on board- and if it tips you further away from sanity then it is not only useless it is worse than useless. It was pointed out to me by Tahir Shah recently how crazy it is to create a ‘hothouse kid’, a child who can perform brilliantly in front of adults, and, er, that’s it. The most precious and, maybe, dwindling quality out there is not brilliance but common or garden sanity. For every 160IQ genius who enters college two years early how many really sane people are there? The twentieth century has been a battleground for sanity on so many different levels from the artistic to the patriotic to the religious. And sanity has often not triumphed.

Self-development can really improve your life. It can get you out of a rut of pessimism and laziness. It can get you using discipline to achieve what you want to achieve. But, and this is why many people deride or are suspicious of self-development gurus, it can also make you nuts. As you conquer your disabilities, as you stride forward, as you gain that blackbelt and learn to speak before an audience of thousands you run the risk of beginning to despise those less determined, less persistent, less, motivated than yourself. You begin to assume that what works for you will work for everyone. You become arrogant, which is only a problem in as much as it is a form of stupidity. Frank Grimes is arrogant. He thinks he knows what life’s all about but he doesn’t. The curse of arrogance isn’t that it’s ‘bad’, it’s that it makes you think ‘this is all there is’,  that you ‘know the score’. In other words you have shut the door on further development.

In one great scene Homer shows Frank Grimes around his house and Grimes is astounded that Homer has met Presidents and even been into outerspace as an astronaut. But Homer’s success is symbolically the fate of the humble. They can keep on developing literally forever. They aren’t sure they are there already.

So just how much self-development can you manage before you go a bit insane? Well, when I did aikido, five hours a day five days a week with the Tokyo Riot Police for a year I went a bit mad. I forgot how to live. I was surviving not living. I never noticed beautiful or interesting things. But I improved no end at aikido. Similarly, when you take the time to write a book it’s very easy to go a bit nuts (one reason why so many writers are cranky) though the reward is having a piece of permanent shelf space.

I think the way to look at self-development is to see how you can use discipline, and learning stratagems, persistence, to improve sanity, rather than boost your own abilities no matter what. It means that any attempt to do anything to change your outer life must be weighed up as having an impact, potentially, on sanity. Some will have a positive impact, but many will tip you towards the negative. Then you need some therapeutic counterbalance. For example when I’m writing a book I reward myself with a lax physical fitness schedule. I’ve learnt the hard way that pushing yourself mentally and physically at the same time is just asking to be stressed out ie. insane.

Part of remaining sane, in the long term, means understanding that any achievement is at a price- either to you or to your family and friends or the general public. A small example is writing an insider non-fiction book about your work. The public will love it but your work mates may feel betrayed. Once you acknowledge that there is a sacrifice to be made and you don’t shy away from this, then you can make the choices that you won’t regret later.

One review of Steve Pavlina’s recent book perceptively made the distinction between self-development books as motivation (a great one is ‘Thinking Big’ by David Schwartz) and self-development books as life improving stratagem resources- which is more the end of the spectrum Pavlina occupies. Don’t get me wrong, he has some great stuff on his blog but the feeling I get is that Steve Pavlina is very focused on his own goals, very clear about them, and very good at expressing his own journey. But that kind of focus, if developed before you ‘have a life’ so to speak, can turn you into a Frank Grimes. But check it out for yourself.

Frank Grimes’ head is crammed full of a burning desire to get on. He wants to compete in life but he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t enjoy the riches of life at all- he only values their symbolic worth as tokens of success. But success as an abstract concept can only take you so far, it has to be success at something.

Being sane means realizing first what occupies your headspace before you try to cram it with more stuff, more ambition.

With sane self-development you realize that once you know what occupies your headspace you can then decide whether you want to ditch stuff or not. You can then move forward surprisingly fast. A former hippy, a German woman I met, who went from taking acid and living a life of basic indolence to training to be what she is now: a top cabinet maker, told me: “You can change your life in a month.” Which she did.



introduction to timeshifting #1

I read David Allen’s excellent ‘Getting things done’, and indeed picked up some good tips, such as filing or replying to each email as it comes, thus clearing the dead weight of an inbox, and making filing as fun as possible, but something about the basic premise of the whole idea of time management got me thinking.

The bottomline is that in the modern fast-moving highly stimulating developed countries of the world we all feel we don’t have enough time. It almost feels palpable- this lack of time. Everyone I know seems to be juggling this most precious of resources like a desert sheik managing his scant water resources. In some cases it really seems like time is running out…We have busy families where both parents work hard, dash home to be home with their kids, go out as often as they can, fill up the weekends with sports and driving children around and being charitable. The side effect can be exhaustion (but some of these people are very fit, very competent people and they take it as a challenge); what NO ONE escapes is, though, is the sense that there just isn’t enough time available.

In this sequence of articles called TIMESHIFTING I want to look in detail at how it may be possible to rewire that sense of time scarcity and replace it with a sense of time abundance.

But before we go in detail and attempt to rebuild our sense of time we should re-examine how we think about time in our everyday lives. Here are a few different ways of seeing time:

a)     ‘chess time’- where you rush against the clock to make your move and then have all the time your opponent takes to think about the next move- the ‘up time’ is experienced differently from the ‘downtime’- one is in your control the other isn’t.

b)    Then there is ‘bought time’- for example you buy a taxi ride that takes twenty minutes rather than walk for two hours. What you do with the extra time is up to you.

c)     There is ‘prime time’ when you feel at your most productive and ‘slowtime’ when everything seems to take you twice as long as usual.

d)    Thinking about ‘not wasting time’ rather than ‘investing time’- it’s a switch from a negative worldview to a pro-active positive one.

e)    People almost always undervalue what they can do in five years and over value what they can do in one year. We are bad at imagining the passing of time- hence over runs and being late which gives way to a general vagueness for longer time periods.

Time, as you can see, is the ultimate subjective experience.

When I was 19 I was very keen on rockclimbing. Every opportunity I got I used to either train on boulders or travel to the mountains looking for routes to climb. I also, for an increased thrill factor, from time to time climbed solo without a rope. Climbing on the Scottish mountain of Ben Nevis I fell unroped off a rock face, about 35 feet onto a ledge, luckily, where I fractured two vertebrae. In the approximately 1.4 seconds that I fell I seriously felt time passing slowly- and of course in retrospect I can dwell on that 1.4 second stretch as if it were a month or more. The shock of the experience switched me fully on- and time expanded far beyond the usual experience.

Another climbing experience- doing a long route on the Island of Skye and being convinced I’ve been going for two hours and now it is about twelve O’clock- only  to retrieve my watch from the rucksack and discover I’ve been climbing for not two hours but six and it’s now four O’clock in the afternoon. I can still recall that sense of missing time- where did those four hours go?

An event last year. I went with three friends 4x4 camping in the desert. It was new to them and through their eyes it all seemed new to me. When we returned 24 hours later we all kept saying- it seems like we’ve been away forever.

Because we are conditioned by clocktime- from the flashing time on your computer screen to your mobile phone to your wristwatch and your car dashboard- we are lead to believe that the reality of time is mechanical, that any piece of time is equal to any other- yet even a moment’s reflection reveals the falseness of this position- if you wake up at 3 am and decide to stay awake until everyone else gets up even an hour drags so slowly- but the lunchhour between 1 and 2 in the afternoon just whizzes by.

The subjective experience of time is controlled by context and activity. Change the context or change the activity and you can bend time to suit your will.

Does Time use you?

Do you feel pressured, stressed, under time’s thumb; and yet seem to be getting nowhere in particular? Or relaxed and easy, yet able to pack a huge amount into a short piece of ‘clock time’? Do you use time or does time use you? One way you can use time is to set aside two hours in which to do nothing. Just sit. It's not that easy. But it will give you new insights into how you use time and what an uncluttered headspace feels like.

I was sitting in a bar in Tokyo with writer Tahir Shah waiting for someone to arrive who I had said I would introduce him to. But they didn’t turn up. I apologized for wasting his time. Tahir replied, and I have never forgotten, “wasting time is not a concept I subscribe to”.

Wow. This was the first time I had heard of such a generally accepted idea just rejected, tossed out, shorn of its potent negativity. And when I started to think I saw that it was impossible to waste time just as it is impossible to ‘kill time’. Time passes. What we do with it is our choice- and is always our choice- even if our expectations aren’t met. When we waste time what we are saying is that something we expected would happen didn’t so we were kept in a state of waiting when we weren’t living as fully as we felt was our due. Who’s stopping you? Only your expectations stop you from fully experiencing any moment you care to.

Wasting time assumes that one learnt nothing from an experience- yet we can never accurately tell which experiences were and were not crucial for learning. While studying aikido in Japan I found that I would do the same technique wrong about a hundred times before I suddenly did it right. I noticed that the top teacher Chida Sensei did not correct me straight away. He said, “You have to do something wrong a few times so that you really appreciate it when you do it right- if the teacher tells you too soon they cheat you of feeling the difference and you don’t learn the technique so well. You have to value what you learn.”

So even frustrating times can be validated later on – no one can really say one time is more useful or crucial than another- not without the possession of clairvoyance. What we can say, though, in a broader macro sense you can spend time not learning anything new and you can spend time on a steep learning curve- the choice is yours. If you arrange your life around learning nothing new, of never being surprised, of making each day the same- then don’t be surprised if your life seems to flash by. Maybe the only waste of time is dedicating a life to not learning.



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!