Sunday, 16 December 2012

A hobbit hole

My Scrooge hat has been tightly on for a couple of months now. Christmas is on it's way and I want to hide in a cave or emigrate to someplace far, far away.

There is so much about the way we celebrate this festival that I dislike. The greed we inspire in our children; the creation of the fictional character Santa Claus that tries to replace Christ Jesus; the placing of the pagan tree symbol at the heart of our home.

We will celebrate the Christ Mass. We will feast on fine food and enjoy fine drinks. We have purchased presents and begun to make our plans but I've had no sense of urgency to buy a tree.

We've been getting excited about the release of The Hobbit this month. My wife has, yet again, surprised me by her enthusiasm. She started reading the book to our seven year old at bedtime and it prompted me to suggest we replace the traditional fir tree with a hobbit hole.

Only our seven year old thought that was a good idea!

Today she asked me, again, when we were going to make the hobbit hole. Why did I open my mouth?

I had no idea how to make a hobbit hole. I think my original image was of a large cardboard box, painted black on the inside and green on the outside. Essentially a cave that we could place presents in. It didn't seem quite enough. So I looked up a few photos on Google and got some inspiration. If you want to make one yourself, it turned out to be quite simple...

First: locate a large cardboard box. Draw a curved roof and using a plate and round CD case, draw a door and window...

Make sure child is not inside box when you cut out the door and window...

Leave a strip of cardboard uncut to make an easy hinge on the door and window.

Cut down the corners and then across thefront and back (I used the cut out from the front as a template for the back...)

Use parcel tape to stick down the sides of the box to make a roof. (I found I had to bend the cardboard first) Disco ball is optional ;)

Find a green blanket or sheet to use as a grass roof. We cut out some spare cardboard to put rims round the door and window and my wife had a grass stencil we used at the bottom. Stroke grass while repeating in a Gollum like voice... My precious...

I'll probably end up buying a tree tomorrow but at least seven year old has her very own hobbit hole.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Goal 5: To learn to fly

I was a wanna be fighter pilot. I never simply wanted to fly a plane, I wanted to dance, to dodge; spin around and gain the upper hand on my opponent.

If I'd been serious about becoming a pilot I'd have read up on what was required. Would have tried to understand why geometry and algebra are necessary skills. Would have tried to get the A grades I'd have needed to increase my chances of joining the RAF.

I wasn't serious though. Flying was a dream. Not something I was willing to put real effort into achieving.

On Saturday, despite putting in no effort; having done no study or preparation other than watching the first five minutes of Top Gun the week before, I flew a plane for the first time.

It was an incredibly odd experience. I forgot to ask what type of plane it was - a tiny, two seater prop plane that was relatively easy to fly. I was able to bank, turn, lift and dive all the while thinking I must not be getting this. It can't be this easy, can it?

It was easy at 1500 feet. My only semi-legitimate worry was that I'd over steer or over compensate and we'd stall or start to spin but my instructor would never have let me get anywhere close to endangering us. I can't imagine how flight instructors cope with noobs like me at times tentatively banking and at other times, pressing the rudder too hard and attempting to fly backwards. 

1500 feet doesn't sound all that high when I think about flying. It was high enough to practise increasing and decreasing height and also high enough that judging distance and speed became extremely hard. We seemed to be moving incredibly slowly all the time... Right up until it was time to land.

Remember Maverick and Cougar approaching the aircraft carrier from five miles out? My instructor let me carry out a trial landing. Very quickly every little movement seemed too much. I'm sure from the outside I was doing a great Cougar impersonation!

We did our trial flypast and then, my hands still on the controls, my instructor got me to take us down a second time for real. I'm fairly sure I made landing the highly manoeuvrable prop plane look like landing the space shuttle - I was terrified to move the controls for fear I'd take us into the field. We came in at an angle, seemed to be too far forward and aiming for grass most of the way in and yet landed smoothly. Good job these planes have dual controls so the instructor can do all the hard work!

Flying a plane was a child hood dream and only ever a vague 'someday' goal and I am extremely grateful to my family and friends who made it reality!

I was half terrified the entire time, never certain whether I was handling the plane safely or not and extremely glad when we finally landed but it was an awesome experience and one I'd like to repeat.

You can view some highlights through the wonders of YouTube:

Editors note: Filmed and edited entirely on my HTC One X (apart from still images provided by my lovely wife). I never want to edit film on my phone again! Just because I can doesn't mean it is easy or fun... Rant over.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Rewarding success with Dredd 3D

Editing my novel is going to be a long process. To give myself an incentive to keep going I've decided to reward myself for each 5,000 word milestone reached.

My reward for last weeks milestone: the new Judge Dredd movie: Dredd in 3D!

I was never a die hard fan of the 2000 AD comic strip. I couldn't afford to get the comic on a regular basis but when I did I enjoyed the black and white viewpoint of Dredd. Justice has always been important to me. There is something very appealing about a crystal clear system with no delays, no doubt and instant justice. Of course, the brutal reality of Judge Dredd's Mega City One would be far less appealing in real life. No appeals, no mercy.

The world of Mega City One is a gritty, real future, similar to Battlestar Galactica in it's lack of gloss.

I'd heard the 3D was worth it just for the Slo-mo sequences and they weren't kidding! Despite several Slo-mo scenes potentially glamourising the violence, they were beautiful to watch. I don't know if this is a problem. I feel that as war and combat are horrific, depictions should also be horrific.

The 3D also worked really well in the close combat scenes in the hallways. The only other (mostly) non animated 3D I've seen is Avatar and I struggled with that - frequently unsure where to focus on in a huge Imax theatre watching a forest battle. The depth given to Dredd did add to the experience.

Judge Anderson's character was well written and acted. The whole interplay between her and Dredd seemed true to the comic from what I remember.

If anything, the Dredd of the movie was better than the comic, displaying mercy and recognising a higher law at key scenes. It made it easier to care about a character who frequently comes across as cold and heartless.

If you've seen Dredd, what did you think?

Thursday, 27 September 2012

100 push ups

At my peak I was able to do forty push ups. That was twenty years ago and although I can produce twenty now with no training, any more is a struggle.

Colleague at work just told me he regularly does 100, sometimes 300 push ups.

After I picked my jaw off the floor I asked his secret. Turns out he cheats... Not really, but I used to think if you stop and rest that its cheating.

In reality it's just a different technique.

Sets of ten or twenty with a short break in between. The break gives your muscles a chance to recover but not too long to allow you to get pumped.

I haven't tried this yet but am going to give it a shot. It should work equally well with pull ups and sit ups.

Managed a 7K run this morning. Time was slow but felt good to complete it.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Jesus Christ!

I've found the events of the last few weeks troubling. Muslims around the world killing and burning and threatening in alleged anger at an insult to their prophet.

I freely admit I just don't get it. I watched some of the 'offending' video and while I agree it seems designed to offend Muslims with frequent references to alleged origins of their prophet, in the first few minutes I was shocked to see a portrayal of Muslims killing someone because they are a Christian. Then a church is set on fire.

I realise that the numbers of people involved in attacks and riots have been relatively small. Some of the attacks may simply be using the video as an excuse to attack America and 'The West'. Yet there are countless documented occasions prior to this video being released where Christians and people of other Faiths have been attacked by Muslims in Islamic dominated countries.

My perspective on this is that some Muslims seem to think they are a persecuted minority in the world yet these same Muslims have no qualms about persecuting the minorities living in their countries.

This offends me.

I live with people insulting Jesus Christ on a daily basis. I believe Jesus was not just a prophet but was and is the son of God and equal with God. Yet at work I hear my colleagues use his name as an expletive every single day.

I have never heard anyone in any country use the name of any other deity or prophet in the same way that the name of Jesus Christ is used.

This was forcibly brought home to me again last week when I saw Total Recall. It wasn't the first time I've seen it. I took my son last month. But I was still shocked by the ending when for no good reason, the hero swears using Jesus name as he views the devastation around him.

Jesus Christ!

I don't want to attack the American embassy. I don't want to set fire to a cinema. I don't want to beat up my friends and family and colleagues and people I hear on the street who misuse the name of my God. But I want to ask why?

Why, if you use Jesus name as I've described, do you do this? Why do you hate the name of Jesus so much? What has Jesus or anyone who follows him done to you?

Why don't you misuse the name of other Deity's or religious figures?

I have a strong faith in Jesus. I believe he lives and will return and will judge every man, woman and child for our deeds. I have no need to attack anyone for insulting the name of my God since I believe that if he feels it is necessary to hold anyone accountable, he will do it himself.

I also believe he has no desire to punish but wants everyone to listen to him, read about him in the Bible and choose to follow him. If you have never read the Bible I encourage you to read the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Read the words of Jesus. See how he acted. How he cared about the weak and the poor. See how he raged against the rich and the hypocritical. See how he healed the crippled, how he willing chose to receive punishment and death so you and I would not have to.

Jesus Christ. A name so powerful that even those who hate him cannot stop saying it. He cannot be forgotten and will return.

This is my bicentennial post. I'm past the half way mark in my 100 day challenge. Today I achieved my first 5,000 word milestone editing my novel.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

A load of Trollope

I've been talking to colleagues about my novel and today one asked if I knew anything about Anthony Trollope.
I didn't but he's become very intriguing. Apparently he used to get up early each morning and write for a couple of hours before leaving for work.
I did this last November during NaNoWriMo and found it a good way to write. Not one I've been able to sustain though. I was exhausted when November ended.
Some quick Googling turned up the following quotes:
"No author has been more methodical. He worked out schemes, set himself time-schedules, and rigidly adhered to them."

[From British Authors of the Nineteenth Century, pp. 629-31]

"Though Trollope had decided to become a novelist, he had accomplished very little writing during his first three years in Ireland. At the time of his marriage, he had only written the first of three volumes of his first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran. Within a year of his marriage, he finished that work.

Trollope began writing on the numerous long train trips around Ireland he had to take to carry out his postal duties. Setting very firm goals about how much he would write each day, he eventually became one of the most prolific writers of all time."
I'm extremely conscious that days are passing by and I've not started editing my novel. Yet here I am on the train writing for my blog. I need to be clearer about my priorities for the rest of these 100 days.
I think I need to limit my blog posts to brief summaries of progress editing the novel. It may be boring but I'd rather end the 100 days having completed fifty hours of editing than having fifty blog posts to my name.
If I find I've time to post more I will otherwise feel free to ask me why I'm not editing!
I need a good dose of Trollope!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Without a goal motivation suffers

I could have gotten out of bed this morning but I didn't. Hogged the warmth as long as I could. After Sunday's race I'm not sure when to start training again.
I've been thinking this week about why this year I've been able to run a 10K. It's not that I haven't trained before. I've been fitter than I am now. Had better stamina. Yet I'd never run more than 5K.

Admittedly, I'd never set myself a clear target before, or given myself an unchangeable deadline.

Is that really all it takes to motivate me?

I've tried giving myself deadlines before but never actually entered myself in a competition. Competitions never interested me before but I'm starting to think they may become a useful tool in my motivation toolbox.

I don't need to run another 10K, or set a tougher target like a half marathon but if signing up for either of these motivates me to keep getting out of bed and getting the exercise I need then I'm all in.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Chunking and Linking

Some friends shared a memory trick with me recently.

Apparently our brains cope best with remembering five to seven chunks of data at a time. Try to remember more than that and we are likely to forget it all.

But, if we break down - or Chunk - large amounts of data into chunks, with each chunk containing up to five or six separate bits of data, suddenly we can remember far more.

The initial example they gave was telephone numbers. Ever tried committing an eleven digit number to memory? A nightmare! But break it down into five digit area code and then six digit house number (or even better - two times three separate chunks) and suddenly it becomes a lot easier.

They then showed how by combining Chunking with Linking - we can phenomonally improve our memory. The example given was to break down or Chunk a large number of items to remember and then within each chunk to create a story or link between the items. I've just started a new job and need to recall people's names. For example: Tom sits next to Sarah with the big hair who has a crush on Gary who fell over a chair dropping coffee on Janice who set off the fire alarm... Would it work? Better if the story is grounded in reality maybe...

I'm still not sure about Linking - but it will be worth practicing. Anything which can improve our memories and ability to recall information when needed increases our effectiveness.

I've often struggled to commit programming languages to memory. Key words sink in through repetition of use but useful but rarely used commands are harder to recall. I can see how using chunking could help by grouping a set of commands but how to link them in a way that can be recalled? Something to work on as I build up my Java and Android knowledge.

My memory IS getting better! Yours can too!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Unsung web heroes

After a few years working with different systems I'm back working with Microsoft Access.

It is still the same fun playground I remember [note to self: you get paid for this remember!]... I mean, the same highly productive toolkit.

While I remember a lot (my memory is getting better;) a few years on and some of the detail is hazy. So what does an IT professional do when he or she can't remember how to code a widget? We fire up Google trusting that some generous person has solved and published the solution. Ninety percent of the time they have.

It is astounding how many people have taken the time to document and record ways to do or fix or resolve so many of the problems we face.

Many will never get any thanks or recognition. I know that I'm often like a day trader on speed when I need to find a bit of code to solve a problem, checking multiple forums and blogs looking for the answer. Soon as I've found it I move on to the next problem never stopping to thank the person who bothered to post that nugget of gold. is one website where I've occasionally slowed down enough to say thanks. I've posted in several forums over the years and I'm conscious that ecquitute demands acknowledging those who take time to help. But even then I can't honestly say I've always done so.

It must take a lot of patience and commitment to keep responding to newbie requests: the sort of requests that make anyone with experience despair.

Why didn't they search the forum? Don't they realise we've answered similar questions dozens of times already?

Last week this headline caught my eye:  Bob Larson 30,000 Posts. I've been helped by Bob Larson directly several times and indirectly dozens of times as I've found his helpful answers and solutions to questions. Thirty thousand is a phenomenal number of posts!

I did a quick back of a spreadsheet calculation. Assuming a conservative 15 minutes to read and respond that is a full ten months of helping the world with their Microsoft Access problems without eating, sleeping or even breathing! Of course, Bob may have only taken a few minutes over each post but still, over fifteen years of posting 30,000 is still amazing.

To Bob and thousands of other unsung heros who frequently and generously give up their time to help others... Thank You!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Goal 35: To run in and finish a 10 Kilometre race

I'm finding it hard to believe that I ran 10 Kilometres this morning. I'm sore and tired but that could easily be too much DIY the day before and interrupted sleep.

I think the memories are real, not just some futuristic memory implant. I have a few photos and an official record of my time...

My race number was 124 and you can view my result in the Cumbernauld 10K online.

I ran the race in 51.04 minutes - my new Personal Best! [My wife has just pointed out my chip time is faster: 50:43 - woohoo!] 242nd out of 600!

For the first time in weeks, Endomondo tracked my progress pretty well. I started Endomondo well before the start so I could tuck the phone back in my backpack and plug in my ear-phones. Then got confused towards the end when I seemed to be in line to reach 10K in sixty minutes... I was delighted to see the clock at the finish line read under 52 minutes.

Never having run or supported someone on one of these races I was astonished to see how many people were taking part.

The first Kilometre was slow as we tried to avoid bumping into each other and until we spread out. My training routes have taken me up some steeper hills from 2-3K so I found it a bit easier with a flatter route. The slopes still seemed steep though!

I tried to just keep a steady pace and although it was a struggle, I mostly managed to achieve that.

By 6K I was wondering why I wanted to do this. I'd stopped listening to my playlist and was almost on autopilot, paying more attention to the runners who kept passing me.

The Kilometre markers were really helpful, as were the volunteers who directed us and kept an eye out for anyone struggling. One lady at 7K shouted, just another ten minutes, no problem... Yeah, right. Maybe in a years time when I'm used to this!

The last 2K took us round Broadwood Loch. The path a lot rougher than the road had been. I took a bottle of water but only managed a mouthful and gave up. I haven't been drinking while on my training runs and haven't developed the knack.

The last Kilometre seemed to be a lot longer than any other. Sure they misjudged the distance. I wanted to speed up, wanted to sprint across the finish line, but could only manage to just keep on keeping on.

Great feeling seeing all the people lining the road and clapping and cheering us on. I might never be a first place athlete but I could get used to being one of the competitors.

I saw my wife and kids - it has been great to have their support - and then shuffled off to collect my t-shirt and medal. My first medal, ever. Hopefully not the last!

I wanted to develop a habit of exercising and think I may have motivated myself to keep going.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Novel questions

While writing the first draft of my novel I found I had a fair few questions. The NaNoWriMo way was to ignore research and plough on ahead. I made stuff up or guessed and got the draft finished. It worked well.

But, many of those questions still need answering and I've been putting off dealing with it.

Rereading the novel has helped as I've been able to make a note of all the questions. This evening I finished grouping them to make it easier to research. I really only want to visit the police once to see if they can help with my enquiries...

I'm pretty guarded about telling people too much about the novel until I'm ready to publish it. Even asking questions seems like it might give too much away at times but I've been wondering whether it might be fun to post some of the questions up on this blog.

Reality is I'm not sure where to start looking for answers.

I use online forums a lot for work. Esoteric SQL or VBA questions can often be answered with a quick Google troll. If I can't find the answer in previous posts I have posted my own question. The really weird thing is, after posting a question, I often find or figure out the answer myself.

There seems to be something about sharing a problem that makes it easier to resolve even without getting any help.

So, I'm going to post my questions here.

Any advice, answers, pointers etc. will be greatfully received!

I'm fully expecting that whatever mystical force operates to connect my problems to solutions will begin to kick into effect once the post is live. I'll update you with the answers as I find/receive them.

Election/Scottish Parliament
  • How do people register to go on ballot paper? How much does it cost?
  • Can one person go on more than one ballot?
  • What would then happen if that person was elected in more than one area?
  • How does proportional representation work in Scotland?
  • What would or could happen if a substantial majority won the vote but lost the seats?
  • What is legal process if election result is challenged?
  • How long would it take to set up the court case to challenge result?
  • What would happen if an MSP refused to swear in? Could their seat be put up for a revote?
  • What do MSPs have to swear or vow?
  • How long is it from election to swearing in?
  • Does Scottish Parliament have a speaker of the house? Who is in charge of procedure?
Scottish Courts
  • What is the procedure in Scottish courts?
  • Who speaks and when?
  • Is the court appointed by the Queen? If not then by who?
  • Who appoints the judges/sheriffs in Scotland?
  • Do they have to swear an oath or take a vow and if so what is it?
  • What authority does a judge/sheriff have?
  • How would a judge respond at being threatened?
  • Who do Scottish police officers swear their oath to?
  • What rank would desk officer be in village station?
Living on the land
  • How much land is needed to subsist? To prosper? How much would this vary across Scotland?
  • What was minimum ration during world war II?
  • What food stuffs could be grown in a Scottish garden/croft to sustain a family?
  • What EU subsidies are available?
  • How many farmers in Scotland? How many registered farmers in Scotland?
  • How big are their farms?
  • How much/Average acreage owned?
  • Most owned acerage?
  • How many with less than one hundred acres?
  • How many are currently unemployed in Scotland ?
  • How much does it cost to fund unemployed?
  • How much does it cost to fund benefits?

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


I thought I'd beaten the mild cold I had last week but it's back, like Arnie on steroids.

Maybe pushing myself to do another 9K run on Saturday was a mistake. I'd hoped to do one or two easier runs this week but it ain't gonna happen now.

Just need to get more sleep, keep taking the paracetemol and hope I'm better before Sunday's race.

I managed over 9K in under 58 minutes on Saturday. Not sure if I'll be able to run the full 10K in under an hour but that is my aim, though I will be very happy with anything up to 65 minutes.

If you have any suggestions on how to beat the common cold...

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A novel plan

A few weeks ago, hung-over following a 50th birthday party and a leaving do for a former colleague, I wasn't able to sleep.

I don't recommend drinking as a source of inspiration but after staring at the ceiling for several hours my brain must finally have had enough and forced itself to clunk away.

Instead of counting sheep I began calculating days. Specifically, days required to rewrite my novel.

I won't take you through the tortuous process of calculation but I ended up with the following plan:
  • In five months of four weeks - total of twenty weeks...
  • I can rewrite/edit/write minimum of 5,000 words each week.
  • Working Monday through Saturday – I expect I will only be able to spend an hour every other day
  • I will be able to complete a redraft of my novel (and maybe even expand it from its current 50,000 words)
  • My goal is to complete the second draft of my novel before February 2013.
I've been quietly re-reading my novel over the last couple of weeks and working on the plot from the main character perspectives. I'm conscious I will not have a lot of time to both edit and blog - indeed, this post is taking me away from time I could spend editing! So, I'm going to put the novel first, blog second and aim to update the blog at the end of each day rather than the beginning as I've been doing the last month.

I've had similar plans over the years which have not ended well. It will be interesting to see whether the focus of 100 days and 100 goals combined with regular exercise will prove to help.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Doctor Who agenda

Doctor Who - possibly some of the best television ever.

The wide arcing storylines of the modern series have been awesome in their conception and vision.

The companions to the Doctor have been inspired:
Rose Tyler - The darkness is coming... Bad Wolf incarnate!
Martha Jones - a doctor sent to heal the Doctor... Turns warrior
Donna Noble - humble secretary... her mind sacrificed
Amelia Pond and Rory and of course Melody Pond - Wow!

However, over the last few seasons I've become ambivalent about Doctor Who. It used to be the best thing on T.V. but the writers have an agenda, or several, and I've found it detracting from the story. 

Dr Matt Ashton dismisses allegations of any subversive agenda in his first paragraphs of his comment yesterday and to an extent he is correct. Doctor Who is a masterpiece of contradiction. The Doctor lies yet values honesty, is anti-authority and yet sets himself up as the ultimate authority, is anti-fundamentalism and yet is as rabid a fundamentalist as any you are likely to meet.

The Doctor murders, tortures, commits genocide and yet is still seen as good wholesome family viewing...

In a universe where there is no higher being setting a moral standard - who has the right to decide what is right and wrong? The Doctor freely admits in several episodes that he hasn't the faintest idea what he is doing; that he is only out for an adventure, a good time. Is this the moral compass we want deciding the fate of entire species?

The Doctor: a genocidal murderer (I've lost count of the species he has wiped out of existence - though they often refuse to stay dead...)
The Doctor: a megalomaniac (Calling himself the Lord of Time)
The Doctor: a puppet (The Doctor's Wife is really calling the shots!)

The Doctor is quite willing to take his revenge, often does not know when to stop. The real heroes of the show are often the companions - ordinary Jane Does who provide a moral compass the Doctor seems to lack.

Yet the cosmic joker is able to recognise his own failings, to even repent, to turn back from the evil he set his hearts on and choose a better path. In seeing this drama play out, episode after episode, the Doctor shows himself to be just like... you and me. In the end, essentially human. Fallen. Base. Yet with the possibility of so much more.

It is these contradictions and more that give me reason to keep watching. One of the main reasons I still get a kick out of the story lines. The Doctor gets it wrong so, so many times. Messes up on a universal scale and yet in this shows himself to be oh so human. He might have two hearts beating inside that lanky chest (Matt Smith incarnation) but that only means he is twice as emotional, twice as frail, twice as vulnerable, twice as desperate for other human contact.

Dr Matt Ashton dismisses as nonsense allegations of Doctor Who inducing terror in children or having aggressive gay or political agendas.

Doctor Who terrified me as a child! I hid behind the sofa but still saw enough to give me nightmares. I still wonder if Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders was partially responsible for my childhood arachnophobia...

The script writers/producers clearly have agendas, if one is willing to keep an open mind. They are often subtle though sometimes not so as in the case of the "Thin Fat Gay Married Anglican Marines."

The really disappointing aspect around this is simply the lack of imagination.Any real fan of Science Fiction - well, anyone who bothers to think will realise that in a universe populated by infinite alien species, sex is likely to become a whole lot more complicated than simply straight or gay.

Doctor Who has improved vastly as a series from the shows I watched in the Seventies and Eighties. Episodes like Blink still captivate me. Awesomely constructed and delivered story! But occasionally it still dons rubber suits.

I'll be watching tonight, with my kids. Aware that every writer has an agenda that may not agree with my own but also aware that neither I nor my kids have to be influenced if we choose to think about what we are watching.

Friday, 31 August 2012

SMART goal setting

While at college we were given a handout on SMART goal setting:

Goals should be:

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable/achievable
R = Results oriented/realistic
T = Time constrained

If you are joining me on the 100 days 100 goals quest you'll find it difficult, perhaps even overwhelming to apply the above rules to each and every goal.

But, by selecting a few goals and applying these rules, you can begin to plan out and see how they can be achieved.

One of my current key goals is to complete a 10K run. Lets apply the above rules:

S = Specific - I am going to complete a 10 Kilometer run
M = Measurable - I have entered in a race and will be timed. I've measured my progress by driving my training routes and recording distances. Also timing myself and using a GPS tracker on my phone. (Not always as reliable as I would have liked...)
A = Attainable/achievable - I've read and asked for advice from experienced runners and believe I've given myself enough time for training - six weeks. More would have been better but for this initial goal I'm not setting a fast time. I've aimed for 60-75 minutes which is achieveable while not being terribly fast
R = Results oriented/realistic - Eight weeks of training would have been better but six weeks has so far proved to be sufficient for myself. I'm aiming to continue training after and set myself a goal to achieve another 10K next year in a faster time.
T = Time constrained - I have six weeks to achieve the goal and am on track.

When I wrote this goal several years ago I had never run more than 5K. When I signed up for the 10K five weeks ago I had only a vague idea about what I was doing. But I researched and applied what I learned.

You don't need to know it all before you start - just be willing to review your progress on a regular basis (I recommend once a week) and keep working on your plan.

Ask questions. Ask for advice and help. Research. Decide you are going to learn everything you need to know to achieve your goal. Be SMART!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Generosity breeds... generosity!

You get back what you give. If I'm polite, respectful, kind or generous... it tends to foster similar behaviours towards me.

If I'm angry, careless, abrupt or greedy... I see less inclination for others to behave in a positive way towards me.

I woke up this morning to two examples of generous behaviour.

Joe Konrath posted on his blog that he is now offering all libraries to opportunity to buy his ebooks at a vastly reduced rate and enable them to lend those ebooks to multiple customers at the same time.

He is quite open about how he sees this as being of benefit to him but it is also an example of open and generous behaviour which I find quite inspiring.

Also, I received a recommendation from a former manager on LinkedIn. This was quite out of the blue, we haven't spoken in several years now, and I hadn't requested the write up.

I'm nervous about directly linking to the recommendation. I'm quite sure any really savvy employer could easily link my blog to my LinkedIn page (and I once had a manager tell me that he carried out Internet searches on applicants - is your Facebook account fully open to the public?) but in a society that is extremely hypocritical in its stated belief in diversity while also condemning anyone who dares to state a view contrary to closed and narrow opinions; I'm not sure how wise it would be.

Anyhoo, as stated above, generosity breeds generosity. I find myself motivated to be more generous...

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Have you been watching TED?

I'm not talking about the bear that haunts Mark Wahlberg.

You've probably seen some of the TED talks but if not, check out their top twenty.

I'm trying to write this now while watching Ken Robinson. It's hard to stop laughing and concentrate!

If you want to be inspired then check out some of the talks. I haven't seen them all - but I want to...

Talks on the list include: The thrilling potential of SixthSense; nurturing your genius; Why we do what we do;
10 things you didn’t know about orgasm; the surprising science of motivation; and also - Steve Jobs on how to live before you die...

Got to be something in there that would interest you.

I've just realised... At the time I checked, the number one talk has had less than 14 million views. How many people have Internet access? In the UK? In the world? What if everyone watched some of these talks? Would it change anything?

If you started reading this post thinking it would be about a pushy, arrogant, talking teddy - 'fraid not. (I've only seen the trailer - didn't really appeal to me.)

Is Ted worth watching? I don't know.

Are the TED talks worth watching? Definitely!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Of course it is hard

A friend posted a picture of a runner on Facebook this week: bent over, gasping for air after their run. The comment: of course it is hard, if it was easy everyone would be doing it...

I've noticed my body aching in different ways both while running and throughout the day. Getting up early to run, working on decorating last weekend and in the evenings has not helped.

At times I've felt like I've strained a muscle at my waist, damaged something in my hand, my knees were aching... And that is just from laying laminate...

On Saturday I pulled a muscle in my back. Was worried I might have really damaged something that would stop me training. I've tried to take extra care since. I slept poorly Sunday, concerned whether I would cope with my planned 9K run.

Monday's run went fine.

Today I started to get chills. Over active air conditioning or early signs of a cold? Maybe just hypochondria setting in...

I'm pushing myself now. There are going to be consequences.

But I can minimize some consequences by getting enough sleep (something I really need to get in better order) and taking simple precautions (like watching my posture and taking care of my back).

Watch this space...

Monday, 27 August 2012

Little Miss Motivator

"Have you done your exercises this morning, Dad?"

Not everybody has a stubborn seven year old to hold them to account on a daily basis but if you don't have a daughter or son who reminds you each day to stick to the plan, there is a good chance you have a spouse or partner; a friend or colleague; even a neighbour you could ask to check up on you.

How serious are you about your goals? Do you really want to achieve them?

I know which goals I'm serious about and which I'm not. The ones I really mean business about are the ones I work on each day, or several times a week. The rest - not so much.

My phone's GPS was way off this morning. Endomondo credited me with a half marathan but in reality I made it past 9K in an hour - a new Personal Best. I would feel happier about it if I knew exactly how far I'd gone. Will have to drive the route later and check.

Friday, 24 August 2012

I got my number

A couple of weeks back I received my pack for the Cumbernauld 10K: welcome letter; instructions; route map; and my race number - to be pinned on my T Shirt.

This Sunday it will be only two weeks to go until the race.

I ain't gonna be racing! Much anyway.

My goal, my aim, is to complete the 10K and set a Personal Best time. Then to use that as a measure to improve against over future years.

I keep telling myself that anyway. If I stick to that plan I'm almost guaranteed to complete 10 Kilometres - the furthest I've ever run.

I ran 7.5K this morning (see below). ((Do you use any tools or apps like Endomondo to track and measure your progress to goals?)) 7.5K is my current Personal Best. It feels pretty good to have now completed three runs over 7K. It did not feel good when my alarm went off before 6AM...

Next week I'm going to try and push it up to 9K and maybe even run a practice 10K before easing up in the week before the race.

I'm trying to remember - this isn't just about September 9th. This is about establishing a regular habit of exercise. Getting up early helps a lot. It minimizes interference with the rest of the day. Starts me off knowing I've accomplished something.

I'm not at all sure how I'll feel about getting up at 6am when it is snowing outside or storm conditions (Okay, that's a lie - I know exactly how I'll feel!) but I need to establish a routine so when I don't go running or cycling a couple of times a week I will miss it.

How are you getting on with your goals?

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Julie Bresset led from the start

Of all the competitions I could have watched during the Olympics, women's mountain biking was not one I'd circled as a must see event.

Still, I noticed it was on and was curious - having been mountain biking for the first time this year - as to what the route was like.

I was impressed, some scary drops through and over boulders that would have likely sent me head over heels.

Other sections that reminded me of my own failed attempts to cycle without stopping over what seemed like stepping stones on a course at 7Stanes.

The course seemed to be 5K long and I must have started watching around the second of six laps. Julie Bresset of France was leading and managing a consistent 15 minutes per lap.

I was due to go out but kept watching, hoping Team GB would pull back, wondering if anyone would catch Bresset. No-one could.

Every lap she completed in the same time - 15 minutes. It was awe inspiring. To set such a strong pace and then consistently keep that pace for the rest of the race.

Her competition just kept falling back: a few seconds each lap until she had such a strong lead it was impossible for anyone to catch her.

Consistency. Determination. Strength. That is all it took to win. How many of us would benefit from a similar approach to our goals? Just keep going, day in and day out. Plugging away until the goal is finally in sight and even then refusing to stop until we have crossed the finish line.

I've given up before. Been one of those who started strong but fell back and eventually gave up.
 Julie Bresset kept going; kept her pace and won her gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Don't give up. Find your pace at whatever you are working towards and keep going!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

You are amazing!

Do you know how amazing you are?

At a cellular level, each individual cell in your body is more complex than the smartest computer.

What right do I have to claim this? The cells that make up your body are each capable of powering themselves, drawing in fuel as needed from their environment; your cells are capable of repairing themselves and their surrounding area; your cells can even replicate themselves!

Nothing that humanity can yet create comes close to the amazing ability in each one of the cells that make up your body. And you are made up of BILLIONS of cells!

All that complexity gets lost in the rush of our lives; overlooked because our eyes cannot see to the level of detail required. Yet even with microscopes we cannot see the full complexity contained within a single cell.

Zoom right out to you reading this blog. You are multi tasking to a phenomenal degree. Your arms, hands, fingers: dozens of muscle groups interacting together without (or if you choose - with) conscious thought to manipulate a keyboard/mouse/touch screen.

You are breathing, looking, processing images, considering, linking, filing, discarding... Perhaps while enjoying music or with one part of your brain listening to conversation or the news on TV or radio.

You have inbuilt alerts prompting you to remember to make that phone call, pay that bill. You are juggling dozens of competing priorities and goals in your thoughts while getting on with the task at hand.

You can choose to act. Or not to act. You can base your decision on your ethics, your knowledge, your experience. You can even ask for help in making a decision and then choose to reject the advice.

You are amazing!

If you are unhappy with the way things are, you can do something about it. You can improve your life, your environment, your relationships.

Even though you cannot change other people and sometimes cannot change the circumstances around you, you can choose to act in a positive way despite the things you cannot change and in so doing show yourself to be stronger than your circumstances.

You can choose to help others, work with them and in so doing, increase your potential to a phenomenal degree!

I could go on...

Take some time to remind yourself today: You are amazing!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Getting on track

I missed a trick yesterday, 20 days into the 100 day challenge, time for a milestone check.

Twenty days in, that's a fifth of the way. Only five more days till you hit one quarter and a few more until one third! I love numbers! They really help break down those long, monotonous tasks.

If you have taken up the 100 day challenge then twenty days in is a perfect time to review your 100 goals.

Have you set yourself a long term goal? How about short or medium term goals?

Have you achieved any of your goals? Did you celebrate? Whether you did or not, I recommend taking time now to remind yourself of what you've achieved!

What progress have you made to your other goals?

Are you happy with this progress?

If not, what could you do to improve by the next milestone?

My goals for these one hundred days were:

  • Re-read 7 Habits (I have begun re-reading and working through the questions)
  • Complete a 10K run (Up to a regular 7K run with less than three weeks to go)
  • Climb lead overhang (I've been climbing but am lacking confidence)
  • Spend 100 hours writing or editing my novel (I've actually made some minor progress this week)
  • Double my lung capacity (Having found the original quote I'm thinking it may never be possible to do more than improve my fitness - however, I'm on track for that)
  • Complete an Android application (Picked up one of my teach yourself Android manuals yesterday and read a bit. Need to block out some time to work through the code though)
I've had a lot more motivation to get on with things this week. I've also had a lot more to get on with... Going for regular runs is tiring and I don't actually feel like I've got more energy most of the time but I am managing to do more.

Monday, 20 August 2012

More Than Gold

Do you ever enjoy a song without really listening to the lyrics?

More than gold by Geoff Moore is one song I've enjoyed but for some reason, in over 15 years of listening to it, I've never really listened.

It was only in the lead up to the Olympics that some of the words started to stand out: "There is a torch, there is a flame..."

I had never been that interested in the flame's journey before but weeks of seeing people that I knew of, or could even have known, had made those words relevant to me.

The whole song is an Olympic story, triumph and failure, fear and hope - "the Greatest Games!"

Recorded for the 1996 Olympics I have found this song recurring in my thoughts throughout and since the 2012 Olympics finished.

Who am I competing for? Am I just in this race called life to win gold or am I in it for more?

You can view the lyrics here:

I now have this song on my running playlist. Out this morning I wondered again, why am I doing this. It's not just to achieve the goal but maybe I'm wrong in that. Maybe that is the only reason I'm out there running right now.

Why do you compete?

Who do you compete for?

Friday, 17 August 2012

Found it!

Well, how's about that!

For what seems like years now I've been wondering where I heard or read a quote by a General about doubling the size of one's lungs.

Thinking about John's questions yesterday prompted me to look again and I not only found the quote but also where I read it:

"In war, as in peace, a man needs all the brains he can get. Nobody ever had too many brains. Brains come from oxygen. Oxygen comes from the lungs where the air goes when we breathe. The oxygen in the air gets into the blood and travels to the brain. Any fool can double the size of his lungs." George Patton from 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself

I downloaded 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself by Steve Chandler from the Safari books online site back in 2008 (Safari books online was a really useful perk. I miss it.) I ended up buying the paperback as well and have dipped into the book many times but it never occurred to me the quote was integral to one of the chapters.

General Patton sounds an interesting character. Even if he wasn't technically or physiologically accurate with his quote, I have many times noticed an improvement in my ability to think when I exercise regularly and even force myself to step away from the keyboard.

Reading about Laura Trott overcoming her own lung problems to win Olympic gold is inspiring. Then there are the Tour de France athletes: Bradley Wiggins with a heart like a V8 engine and Miguel Indurain having a vastly greater lung capacity to the rest of us mere mortals yet still I wonder... Some of us are born with natural advantages but can the rest of us improve what we have?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

How to double your lung capacity?

It is a question I've been trying unsuccessfully to answer for several years.

Ever since I heard someone quote a General (MacArthur?) stating that "Any fool could double their lung capacity" I've been curious as to whether it was really possible. My childhood experience of asthma and more recent experience of asthma attacks as an adult have made this quote something I want to believe.

I said earlier in the week that my breathing was improving while running. You would never believe me if you saw me ten minutes into a run!

It doesn't seem to matter whether I start off slow or fast (Though I'm more likely to collapse if I start off fast) - after five minutes I'm gasping for air, wondering whether my lungs will burst; unable to believe that my breathing is doing any good whatsoever!

As a family we laughed at the expressions some Olympians made during the distance races. I had to keep reminding myself that my own expression while on a run is undoubtedly worse. If I thought wearing a face mask wouldn't freak people out more than my gasping for air I would buy one.

But that is the first fifteen minutes or so. Fifteen to twenty minutes into a run and my body starts to adjust. I'm still struggling to breathe but nowhere near as much as during that initial time period.

While the rest of the run is hard - it is all about continuing to go. It seems to be that simple. As long as I don’t stop, I keep breathing, keep running and eventually I’ve made progress.

I wondered this morning if I've been trying the wrong search string for doubling lung capacity when using Google. I normally don't put quotation marks around search strings but maybe that is why I get millions of pages returned, most of which are irrelevant.

I tried the following search this morning and got five results:
"double his lung capacity"

Three of these seem relevant with the last two being ones I want to give more than a quick read and actually follow up by contacting the authors:

The Monitor

Ray Richardson testimonial on MidMichigan Health


Have you any experience with improving your lung capacity? If so, I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Long Walk - not the best image while running...

The Long Walk is one of those stories that can haunt you for the rest of your life. It wasn't a pleasant image to pop into my head ten minutes into my run this morning!

Long before The Hunger Games, Stephen King writing under his pseudoname Richard Bachman published a series of stories including: The Long Walk. Now available on Kindle: The Bachman Books Woo Hoo! (Well, it would be Woo Hoo if King or his publisher had not decided to remove one of the best stories from the collection - Rage. Guess there are too many disturbed young people shooting up class-rooms to make that an acceptable story any more...)

Both The Long Walk and The Running Man feature in this collection. Both are set in a future where game shows have become a way of controlling the population. A few years ago I had serious goose bumps while watching the start of the Big Brother TV show. How far off are we from a real Battle Royale?

The premise of the Long Walk is simple enough. The contestants have to walk at a steady pace of above 4 miles an hour. If they fall below that pace three times they are shot. Winner is the one who keeps walking.

It is like a lot of goals though for most people reading this - I sincerely hope there isn't a gun pointed at your head - for most people, there isn't a life threatening reason to keep going.

If you want to win though, refusing to stop is the only route to take.

Still, if there is one more lesson to take from The Long Walk - refusing to stop can have other, less appealing consequences.

I managed to jog 7K in 43 minutes this morning. A new personal best! GPS way out again but the time is accurate:

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

When it all goes wrong...

I planned to blog daily for 100 days but on Friday there was just too much real life to deal with.

When it all goes wrong we have choices. Giving up is not always the easy or wrong choice. If we have taken on more than we can cope with; perhaps started something we should never have begun - the difficult but right choice is to stop.

If the right choice is to continue; to persevere - then evaluating that situation is vital to understand why it has become difficult.

I've read countless times the advice to writers of regular columns to build up a store of work that can be relied on when days are difficult. I was able to do this to an extent during the first two weeks but made the mistake of not continuing the daily output and so quickly ran out of backup posts.

I also have struggled from not having a clear plan for blog posts during these 100 days. My intention was to blog about my progress towards my own goals and encourage you to set and achieve your own goals. Reviewing my original plan has been useful, vague as it was! I need to schedule in time to look at where I started, where I want to get to and how much progress I have made.

My goals for these one hundred days were:
  • Re-read 7 Habits
  • Complete a 10K run
  • Climb lead overhang
  • Spend 100 hours writing or editing my novel
  • Double my lung capacity
  • Complete an Android application
I've begun re-reading and working through 7 habits.
I'm up to jogging 5.5 Kilometers.
I've been climbing a couple of times in the last fortnight but my confidence is getting worse, not better.
I've spent no time on my novel.
I've stopped measuring my lung capacity (though am delighted with my progress coping with longer jogs.)
I've made no progress on Android programming.

What goals have you set? Have you reviewed your progress recently?

Monday, 13 August 2012

Team GB Versus the SNP

Team GB has excelled itself over the last few weeks and, as many people stated before and during the Olympics closing ceremony, Team GB represented more than just the athletes.

70,000 volunteers, many of whom came from overseas to help. Many more of whom came from Northern Ireland, Wales, and even Scotland.

In my home town of Cumbernauld, situated smack bang in the middle of Scotland's Central Belt, I've seen children and adults alike sporting the Team GB logo on the high street and in the supermarkets. The Scottish flag has been prominently displayed everywhere - as part of the Union Flag logo...

Britain is four separate nations, but together - we are Great!

This year the SNP gave a commitment to seeking Scottish independence from Great Britain. I was born in Scotland, to Scottish parents. I've never been convinced by the arguments for independence.

There is a universal truth - it applies from the atomic level up to the superstructure of galaxies - united we stand, divided we fall.

The only justifiable reason I can see for Scotland wanting more independence - or even total independence - is in being able to decide our own fate. Yet this year the SNP completely ignored a majority of Scots during the consultation on changing the definition of Marriage. If independence means the SNP and those who follow have Carte Blanche to ignore the will of the Scottish people then the political system Scotland is headed for is more akin to dictatorship than democracy.

For me, Mo Farah has defined the 2012 Olympics. A Somali refugee when he arrived at age 8, one who struggled to learn English, he has been accepted as a British citizen and runs for Team GB.

GB does not have a great track record when it comes to accepting and integrating refugees and others who wish to work or live here. I still frequently hear complaints about there being no jobs for locals but foreigners seem to find work.

I worked abroad myself so find it difficult to understand why, when Scots have frequently left home to find work, we resent others doing the same and coming here.

Scotland benefits from cultural diversity. Scotland benefits from new blood coming in and expanding our horizons. Scotland benefits from the Welsh, Northern Irish and English who choose to come and live here, just as these nations benefit from the Scots who choose to live there.

The only reason I can see for the SNP and others wanting Scottish independence is a deep, ingrown resentment towards the English for past wrongs. The anger started hundreds of years ago with successive English conquests and has been fueled up to present day by 'perceived' English governments treating Scotland as an experimental laboratory for failed political policies. Yes, people North of the Border still resent the poll tax!

Resentment and anger is not a good foundation for a new beginning.

If we, if Scotland - as a nation - can grow up and learn to forgive the English for past and perceived wrongs, then I hope we can also see the great benefits of staying part of a community that I believe has benefitted us more than harmed us over the Centuries.

I look forward to the debates over the coming months but unless there are some genuine and forceful arguments to the contrary - I vote to remain united. I am for Team GB!

Thursday, 9 August 2012


"Someday. That's a dangerous word. It's really just a code for 'never'."

I watched Knight and Day again recently and was struck by this quote by character Roy Miller.

I have a lot of somedays. Pretty much every one of my 100 goals was a someday when I wrote the list. Someday I'm going to write that novel, someday I'm going to learn Spanish, someday...

I don't want to live for someday. I want to live now, enjoy now. I want to work towards my goals now and enjoy the fact I'm doing it; it's not just someday, okay sure - someday I hope to achieve the goal but I'm actually enjoying the progress.

I think I'm wired to get more out of working towards a goal than actually achieving it. There's a couple of dangers if that is true. First off - there is no real incentive to make progress. Procrastination becomes my best friend since it maximises the time I spend working towards the goal. Then a potentially greater danger comes when I actually achieve or am close to achieving the goal as I posted yesterday.

This morning when my alarm went off at Six was a low point when I seriously considered putting off running till 'someday'... I don't enjoy this part of training but once I got out there, got warmed up, the sky is always so much lighter in the early morning. Why wouldn't I want to get out there and enjoy it?

Okay, just under two Kilometers into my current route there is a long round hill which always kills me but if I put off running that till 'someday'.. then when will I run up it?

Not yet... I had a veeerry slow jog... Still I kept going for 5K this morning without stopping to walk and that feels pretty good. Route below:

What 'somedays' do you have that really you want to make a today?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


Have you seen the kids movie - Tangled?

[Spoiler Alert! :)]

I didn't overly rate it. Compared to some children's movies with multi layered humour and - dare I say - gripping story lines, I found it "so fluffy I could die!" And not in a good way... ;)

Yet I was struck by one scene when the heroine is faced with the prospect of achieving her lifelong dream. All of a sudden she backs away. What if it is not all she hoped for? What will she live for now?

"Rapunzel: I've been looking out of a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what I might feel like when those lights rise in the sky. What if it's not everything I dreamed it would be?

Flynn Rider: It will be.

Rapunzel: And what if it is? What do I do then?

Flynn Rider: Well,that's the good part I guess. You get to go find a new dream"

The really fascinating twist for me in this exchange is where Rapunzel reveals she is just as afraid of achieving her dream as she is of not achieving it. Both fears are holding her back.

In the end, I found this fluffy, girly (with a frying pan) [Okay, I quite enjoyed the frying pan scenes...] movie to be quite profound. I've experienced both these fears but hadn't consciously thought about the second until I saw Tangled.

Have you ever found yourself unconsciously backing away from achieving your dreams or goals?

Flynn's advice on facing one's fears seems as practical and grounded as any I've heard.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

The thought of jumping out of bed and going for a 6am run is one that I've managed to resist before. This morning I managed it for the first time in years.

Yesterday I drove round my planned route and checked the GPS signal on my phone with my cars mileometer. They matched perfectly. I worked out a 5K route which is my next short term target - to be able to jog/run 5K without walking or stopping.

This morning I managed to jog for 3K and then the final 1K of the route. I'm pleased with that, it is further than the last time I tried to jog that route and now I know my distance is accurate.

Knowing the race is only a month away gives my training far more focus. It has always been difficult to maintain the dedication when I haven't had an event to train for.

Back to the headline question: what gets you out of bed in the morning? Is there any event or competition you could use to motivate you to complete your goals?

Monday, 6 August 2012

9 Out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes

I know I do!

One of my climbing partners recommended this book: 9 Out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes.

The book identifies that there are several beliefs and assumptions that climbers - including myself - have about what is holding them back and what they need to do to improve.

Unfortunately, those beliefs and assumptions are often flat out wrong.

I read 9 Out of 10 Climbers last year and began to apply some of Dave Macleod's suggestions. It did help. The only problem was I didn't keep climbing regularly and so despite my theory improving, it hasn't had a chance to move from theory to belief.

Last Thursday when I went climbing I found myself facing my biggest problem again - fear!

What am I afraid of? Turns out there are a few things: falling; looking a fool; falling; looking weak in front of my climbing partners (and complete strangers...); falling...

Did you notice something about that list?

I used to think I had a fear of heights. It wasn't strictly correct. I had a natural and completely sensible fear of falling and injuring myself in some terrible way. Not an ideal starting ground for climbing a cliff - even an artificial indoor one!

Macleod suggests building up your resistance to fear of falling by practicising it in a safe environment and continuing the practicising until it is a natural part of your training routine. After last Thursday I know I need to build in more falling practice.

Are there fears that are holding you back from achieving your goals?

There are likely to be ways you can overcome those fears, even sometimes use them to improve your performance. Try and identify any fears you have and begin researching how other people have dealt with or overcome their fears.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Taking a day off

I find weekends a constant source of frustration. A seemingly ever increasing, constantly refreshing list of household tasks that need action. I rarely spend Saturday or Sunday as I would like.

What do you do to rest? How do you manage your time to ensure you don't get burnt out?

I know I need to schedule in a day off every week. I don't always do so and pay the price for days after. The human body and mind can work without rest in the short term but I am generally more productive if I take a full day off each week

I'm trying to create a schedule that will allow sufficient rest. I went cycling today and had my first puncture after 2K. Walked back, changed out of cycling shoes and into running shoes and went for a run. GPS on my phone or Endomondo was playing up. You know something is wrong when you hear that little voice in your ear tell you you've just halved your time when you know you were running slower!

A friend has offered to train with me tomorrow. I should really give myself 48 hours between training sessions but the benefits of having a training partner outweigh the negatives.

We're only going to run a 3K and are not planning to push it but I'll need to watch we stick to the plan.

I won't be blogging on Sundays so am loading this up tonight. Hope you manage to get some rest this weekend.

Think longer term

Day four

If you don't have experience of working on longer projects, 100 days might seem like a long time.

Whether you have experience of working towards long term goals or not, an issue I often find is that once the deadline has been reached or the project is completed, the motivation to continue is lost.

In studying for college and then a degree I've had to stop studying between courses as my family had forgotten who I was. Then there were the practical DIY/maintenance jobs that just could not be postponed any longer.

Soon, whatever habit I had begun to develop is lost: a natural reset button. The habit of working till One in the morning on an assignment is not one I want to continue, but what about the beneficial habit of continual self improvement? What if I can set aside a couple of hours each week to continue to study in an area that interests me?

You've set your goal(s) for the next 100 days. What do you want to happen after?

If your goal is a one time objective then celebrating your achievement might be all you need to do. For myself, I'm aware that I want to use these hundred days to form habits that will continue the rest of my life.

My goal is to complete a 10K but I don't want this to be once only. Due to other commitments I think aiming to complete a weekly 5K run will be a good habit to develop. This should enable me to maintain my stamina and allow me to tell if weekly is sufficient or I need to make more time.

I'm now starting to consider aiming to work up to be able to run 10K on a monthly basis. A friend was telling me about his experience of running half marathons (roughly 20K.) It took him a year to work up to that but the benefits for him were tremendous in terms of increased energy levels and concentration.

Writing is my passion and I want to build a routine that allows me to write daily.

Use these 100 days to develop daily habits that are sustainable longer term. If you are struggling now or over the next weeks, decide whether this is just an obstacle you need to overcome OR if your daily tasks are genuinely ones you can sustain long term.

Use this time to experiment with daily and weekly progress. Read and research all you can around and about the goals you want to achieve. Ask others for advice.

It will be wonderful for you to achieve and make progress towards your goals over these hundred days. Even better if you can build habits that allow you to continue to apply what you've learnt for the rest of your life.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Reset button

Day three

The reset button... used to great effect in Star Trek, TimeCop, Deja Vu and other films and T.V. shows. I felt like I had my own reset button last night. Don't go climbing for several months: go back to square one!

For months I've been telling myself I get more exercise, must write more, watch less T.V. Telling myself hasn't had any visible result.I need to act, to set a long term goal and then a daily plan to help me achieve it. This 100 days, 100 goals is in effect my long term goal.

Having finished my first read of 7 Habits I want to re-read it and work on my effectiveness. What am I aiming for? Better health, clearer purpose in my life, make time for my family, achieve a writing goal, business profitability.

I've found many times that measuring progress aids achievement. Although progress towards some of my goals is hard to measure, basic changes are likely to impact every area of my life. So, I'm going to work on and measure the following: sleep, exercise, writing. I can expand on this as I think of useful ways to measure my progress.

My key goals during this time are:
  • Re-read 7 Habits
  • Complete a 10K run
  • Climb lead overhang
  • Spend 100 hours writing or editing my novel
  • Double my lung capacity
  • Complete an Android application 
 Last night I didn't even attempt the lead overhand despite getting further up last time. That last time was almost three months ago! Simply attempting some easier routes did help my confidence but also showed me how much confidence and strength I've lost.

Though I suspect my stamina has slightly improved - even with only a couple of weeks of running and cycling. I made sure I stretched and warmed up before climbing which meant I didn't get as pumped up in my arms.

I was also able to get some advice from a friend about tackling the 10K - bonus!

Have you chosen goals to tackle over the next 100 days? Can you see ways the goals might complement each other to give you and extra boost?

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Plans, pain and perseverance

Day two

While you don't need a plan to get started, once you are moving a plan will help you keep focused. You are much more likely to achieve your goals if you clarify what you want to achieve and then break that down into manageable daily tasks.

100 Ways To Motivate Yourself is a book I keep returning to as it is full of simple and yet highly effective ways to both help you get started and to keep you on track.

Make a schedule but keep it simple to start with. Every day you achieve that days goal will add to your internal conviction the larger goal can be achieved.

I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to starting easy and building up. I'll push myself too hard and run out of energy or motivation. I was worried on Sunday when I went for a run. Last year I bust up my feet by cycling to work with no preparation and trainers that weren't protecting my feet. It left me having to hobble around for weeks after.

I started to feel a pain in my right foot (which was worst affected last year) after fifteen minutes and so eased off. I decided to switch to cycling tonight and tracked this route:

I found this tough going and while I didn't feel the same pain in my right foot, it feels weak.

I can't afford to risk injuring myself. But I do need to develop a habit of regular exercise. Enough to build up my stamina to a point where I can push myself harder every now and then without feeling like I'm starting from scratch each time.

I finished reading Paula Radcliffe's How to Run today. It is an inspiring read and relevant to anyone who wants to achieve their goals. In fact, reading the first chapter I couldn't believe how goal focused the book was but considering the success Paula has had in her running career it makes perfect sense.

If she was my coach I am sure she'd already be telling me to scale back my training to avoid injury and aim to enjoy the process of training rather than risking everything for a deadline that is too short.

Another way I set myself up for failure is taking on too many different goals at the same time. Just because you have 100 goals does not mean you have to complete them all at the same time.

Are any of your goals complimentary? If so, link them together. I'm able to link my goal of completing a 10K with my climbing goal because I know my stamina holds me back when climbing.

Over the next few days consider what goals you want to achieve or have made significant progress towards. Select a mixture of easy and harder goals if you feel - honestly - they are achievable.

If you only want to tackle one goal in the next hundred days that is fantastic! Focus on that one goal and begin to develop a daily plan to keep you making progress.

You can achieve your goal or goals!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

100 days, 100 goals

Day one

If you acted on yesterday's post then you have or are close to having 100 goals of your own.

You may want to tell everyone, Maybe you've even posted your list on Facebook or set up your own blog. If you have then fantastic. I had a lot of encouragement from friends and family when I created my 100 goals. We need encouragement and support. It is also a whole load more fun working towards and achieving goals with people you care about.

One word of caution (or a sentence or two...), don't expect the world to stop while you work towards your new goals. I've found balancing family commitments with working on goals to be a constant challenge. I often get it wrong. I'm trying to err more on the side of spending time with my family now after years of evening and weekend study towards my degree. That is time I can never get back with my kids. I want to make the most of the time I have left while they still are kids!

Some goals can and should wait.

The great thing about making an effort to write down so many goals is the patterns that start to emerge. Review your list. I found it helpful to transfer mine to a spreadsheet and start to group goals: travel; family; work related etc. You may be surprised at what you learn about yourself.

Take a step back though. What is really important to you? Have you identified your core goals? Ones that define you as a person; what you believe; who you believe in?

Don't be bound by your original 100 goals. I chose to keep mine initially but at some point I will review them and replace some with goals that I didn't originally consider. Having said that, after a few weeks I would advise resolving to keep your 100 goals for a year. At some point we have to focus and set our hearts on a direction.

At the weekend I signed up for the local 10K race. On 9th September I aim to run 10 kilometers for the first time.

My goal is to run and jog the entire distance but I am starting training later than I should and if I end up walking part then I will still have set a benchmark to try and beat next year.

I'm starting to read Paula Radcliffe's How to Run. Any advice though would be gratefully received.

I went out on Monday and managed 5K in 33 minutes. You can view my progress below:

I almost managed to jog half the distance. Walked the rest of the way. It is going to be tough to work up to running a whole 10K in six weeks but if I don't try, I'll never know if I can!

Do you have any exercise/fitness goals in your 100 goals?

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Who needs a plan?

When I'm feeling low or struggling to motivate myself then a plan is sometimes the last thing I need.

Just making a start, no clear idea where I'll end up, is often more beneficial than spending time trying to write up a plan.

Once I've started, gotten some momentum, a plan will start to form and I can begin to refine it, knowing I'm already making progress.

I found this last year when I signed up for NaNoWriMo. Weeks before November. I started writing. No clear aim in mind but I started to get new story ideas and followed them up, using them to test how long I could write for, how many words an hour I could manage. By the time I sat down on the first of November to write a brand new novel, I had built up momentum and confidence and a clear plan.

Two weeks ago I started something similar with exercise. I've been wanting to climb a lead overhang for years. I make progress but something happens and I stop going to the climbing wall or exercising and lose the momentum I built up.

I know my lack of stamina is a major part of the problem. There is no use working on pull-ups when I get exhausted too quickly during a stressful climb.

I also want to run a 10K race. Preparing for that will build up my stamina for climbing. As my stamina improves I'll have more energy to work on my other goals: writing, business goals. As I make progress in these goals I'll be more motivated to keep exercising!

Are you sensing a pattern?

There is synergy in improving several areas of your life at the same time.

We need to be careful. I can't go out and run 10K today. I went for a jog last week and had to switch to walking after just one kilometer! But I will keep going out and will improve.

Over the last couple of weeks I've started to form a plan. I'm going to work on some key goals for 100 days. I'm going to set clear goals, measure my progress and I expect within 100 days I will have completed or be close to completing some of these goals.

You can choose to work on improving any part of your life. Where would you like to be in 100 days?

Here's a challenge - set aside a couple of hours and write down 100 goals for your life. These can be short term - finish in an hour; to goals that will require the rest of your life. They can be fun, creative, practical, silly, insane... or even secret goals that you have been passionate about your whole life but have never dared to tell anyone.

If you don't make it to 100 goals then take a break and pick up the list later. No-one needs to see the list, you can even tear it up and start again if you want.

When you've finished - celebrate! You've just achieved something that few people do.

More tomorrow on the official first day of my 100 days, 100 goals...

Monday, 30 July 2012

An inspiring Olympics

Are you inspired by the Olympics? This year I've been caught up in all the hype. Normally I'm mildly interested but tend to only catch the news highlights. Having the Olympics in the UK has brought the excitement home personally.

Starting at the end of July the Olympics have coincided with seasonal change for me. Holidays are a distant dream. (I only started back at work last week) I've felt low all year and wanted to do something, anything about it.

For a couple of weeks I've been considering setting myself a challenge: 100 days, 100 goals. Choosing some goals I both want to achieve and feel are achievable in that time.

One of the joys of having so many goals is the synergy that can appear when you least expect it.

This synergy is well documented yet I haven't often taken advantage of it. When I made the decision to get a career and signed up for night class I only had a vague plan. My wife gave me Tony Buzan's Use Your Head and in following his advice my life was transformed.

Over two years I regularly exercised and studied and grew in confidence and found I had more energy and drive than I thought possible.

So, what happened? I allowed other things to take priority over exercise and I'm suffering the consequences now.

I keep starting an exercise regime and have kept it up for months some years but never consistently or permanently. I want to improve that.

I checked my resting heart rate yesterday: 81! That is appalling! This is after a couple weeks of basic pull-ups and press ups. My stamina is shot. I used to have a resting heart rate of under 60. There is no reason I can't get back to that.

Do you feel you have enough energy?

Would you like to work at improving the energy you have with me over the next hundred days?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Hero: Stephen Covey

Goal 70: To finish reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and apply it

It was with shock that I read today that Stephen Covey had died... yesterday. It seems outrageous that a man who has had such a positive influence on the world could pass away and this fails to make headline news. I only found out while reading a summary of recent business news from LinkedIn. Fourth story down.

I've intended to read The 7 Habits for years but while I enjoyed the first couple of chapters, I never made it past them. While I desired to become more effective, I was afraid of the change I would have to make to my life. I didn't really want to examine my life in the detail I felt I would have to while working through the questions posed for each habit.

In May I wrote that I was working on a business plan. I ended up with a financial forecast but no real business plan. My first contract working for myself has required commuting by train. I decided to use the time commuting to read, initially downloading some technical manuals onto my Kindle. Then I remembered that a few years ago I had the opportunity to download chapters from The 7 Habits along with other business and technical books through a company subscription to Books24x7

At the time I read the first couple of chapters, read a page or so into a couple of others and then filed the pdf's away meaning to read them someday...

Uploading them onto the Kindle I found the print readable but not ideal. But I was motivated to keep reading. Relating the habits to my business plan I could see value in what was being proposed. It only took me a month but I completed reading The 7 Habits early July. I've still to work through all of the questions but I'm now far more motivated to do so.

I guess that I find it easier to seek effectiveness in business than I do in my personal life. I often actively resist too much organisation of personal time. But perhaps that is simply because I don't make enough time for what is really and deeply important to me.

Stephen Covey wrote with honesty and humour. He placed conscience and values and people high above fame and riches and I am sure I will benefit from his writing for years to come.

Have you read The 7 Habits? What difference has it made to your life?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Goal 78: How much tax do you pay?

Goal 78: Be earning £100,000 a year within 5 years

A few years ago I wouldn't have considered writing a goal like this. But, I've found that setting goals and working towards them has broadened my perspective.

I'm now earning what I feel is a reasonable amount for my experience and skills but I'm conscious that despite the increase in my earnings over the last few years, the extra money I make doesn't go much further than it used to. Inflation will play a part as will changes in our family and lifestyle but I've come to realise that tax plays a huge role in reducing my income.

Below is a table showing income and associated tax for an individual earning an increasing amount of money. I've assumed some of the tax based on my own situation and that some taxes will remain stable which in reality - in the case of council tax for instance - I doubt would be the case: earn more, move house, pay more...

Income £20,000 £30,000 £40,000 £50,000 £100,000 £1,000,000
Tax burden 49.6% 48.3% 47.6% 48.4% 51.0% 59.8%
Tax paid £9,920 £14,480 £19,040 £24,203 £51,003 £597,577
Income remaining £10,080 £15,520 £20,960 £25,797 £48,997 £402,423

Tax breakdown

Income tax £2,379 £4,379 £6,379 £9,884 £29,884 £470,102
National insurance £1,489 £2,689 £3,889 £4,337 £5,337 £23,337
Council tax £1,100 £1,100 £1,100 £1,100 £1,100 £1,100
Insurance premium tax £20 £20 £20 £20 £20 £20
Car road tax £200 £200 £200 £200 £200 £200
Fuel duty £1,600 £1,600 £1,600 £1,600 £1,600 £1,600
VAT £3,002 £4,362 £5,722 £6,932 £12,732 £101,088
TV Licence £130 £130 £130 £130 £130 £130

What I find fascinating in the above calculation is that the tax burden is almost unchanged from a person earning £20,000 to someone earning £100,000. (This is taking into account the personal allowance)

How can this be? How can our government honestly justify taking the same percentage of tax from people earning such vastly different amounts?

There is a radical difference in the tax burden when you factor in tax allowances for those supporting children:

Income £20,000 £30,000 £40,000 £50,000 £100,000 £1,000,000
Tax reductions/benefits

Child Benefit £2,256 £2,256 £2,256 £2,256 £2,256 £2,256
Working families tax credit £6,000 £4,000 £1,000 £0 £0 £0

Income after reductions/benefits

Income remaining £18,336 £21,776 £24,216 £28,053 £51,253 £404,679
Tax burden 8.3% 27.4% 39.5% 43.9% 48.7% 59.5% 

I currently receive child benefit and over several years have appreciated receiving tax credits but there still seems something very wrong with a society where an individual cannot earn enough to provide for themselves and their family without having to receive a bailout from the State.

What these tables tell me is our government does not want to encourage people to work harder and earn more. The reward for earning more in our country is to be taxed higher and higher.

What signal does this send out?

I believe the government provides some essential and neccessary services and can greatly provide for society through economies of scale but I want the right to decide where the money I work for goes. I want to see the fruit of my labour and decide for myself how to spend, save, invest or give that money.

I've made assumptions with all the above figures but the rates of tax and national insurance are taken directly from the UK Inland Revenue site. I am happy to share the formulas used.

How do you feel about how much you are taxed?