Monthly Archives: December 2011

PS how about no goals?

As coincidence would have it the feed from the blog zenhabits (which appears on Panic Station’s sidebar on the right hand side, half way down the page) echoes some of the points I made in this morning’s goal-less goal post.

Many people set fitness goals for the year. I’ve done it myself, but lately I’ve found that I can get fit without them. For one thing, when you set goals, they are often arbitrary, and so you are spending all your effort working towards a basically meaningless number. And then if you don’t achieve it, you feel like you failed, even if the number was arbitrary to start with.

You can create habits without goals — I define goals as a predefined outcome that you’re striving for, not activities that you just want to do. So is creating a habit a goal? It can be, or you can approach it with the attitude of “it doesn’t matter what the outcome of this habit change is, but I want to enjoy the change as I do it”.

So enjoy the habit change, in the moment, and don’t worry what the outcome of the activity is. The outcome matters very little, if you enjoy the journey.

For the rest of Leo’s compact guide to creating fitness habits, click on the zenhabits link on the sidebar.

And for those of you who suffer from too much goal-setting & a relentless focus on “being more productive” — maybe your New Year’s resolution should be to go goal-less for a 100 days … another suggestion brought to us by zenhabits.



Filed under Self-help, States of mind, Time management

Just in time for New Year’s: The goal-less goal

Being overly concerned with achievements and material outcomes has traditionally been a Western condition. And in the last couple of decades more and more gurus are advising us that we must visualise our success — to see the scale hitting 135 pounds, to imagine ourselves crossing the finish line, to really feel what it will feel like when we finish writing that novel.

It seems logical that with any goal I should know the outcome I’m aiming for — that way I’ll know when I’ve reached it. And so in the past I’ve been committed to outcome-oriented goals… until a couple of years ago when I decided to learn how to run.

The first thing I did was sign up for a 5k race, to focus myself on a specific challenge that would arrive by a specific date. My 5k led to other 5k’s and eventually 10k’s. So having a specific outcome motivating me worked. Or did it? The sense of accomplishment I felt as I crossed the finishing line was not only fleeting, it was barely perceptible as it fleeted!

Only a couple of years before, running a 10k would’ve been inconceivable to me. I was geniunely the worst runner I’d ever met; people twice my body weight could run faster and further than me. For years I did everything but running to keep fit. Depsite this, completing my 10k failed to trigger a sense of pride or mastery or enhanced self-confidence. As I crossed the finish line, all I felt was a sigh of relief. Not even physical relief, but a psychological burden sort of relief: one of my more demanding to-do’s could be crossed from my list.

That’s how I discovered that outcomes aren’t necessarily what makes the goal worth the effort — it’s the process of getting there that is.

If the 10k gave me little satisfaction, the weeks of training for it did.

The sensation of running not only faster and further, but more naturally and comfortably, was deeply satisfying. Every time I hit the pavement, ran along the canal from Westbourne Grove down to Paddington and then into Hyde Park and along to Kensington Gardens and then up to the Caffe Nero on Hereford Road where I’d stop for my well-earned coffee — was worth it … both for how I’d feel at the end of each run and for the minute-by-minute pleasure of feeling my body in sync with my mind.

My trail along the canal and into the park was one little accomplishment after another. Foot in front of foot, in front of foot, in front of foot, my mind fell into rest as I pummelled along. My usual “should’s” and “must-do’s” and “why-am-I-so-bad-at-running” thoughts were finally overpowered and stunned into silence.

Here’s how another blog explains the benefit of process rather than outcome goals …

… people are too obsessed with outcomes and need to focus more on the process. This is captured in a lot of eastern-based philosophies that tell us … this exact moment is all we have so enjoy the present. Too much obsession about future results blocks our ability to grow and uncover hidden opportunities.

The Goal Triangle

The idea that process goals reflect a more Eastern outlook reminds me of Murakami’s book about running and being a writer.  Come to think of it, reading is the perfect example of process trumping outcome. All the pleasure is in the doing rather than the achieving.

Sure, there are things I want to accomplish. I want to complete a triathlon. I want to publish my book. I am not immune to wanting to reach concrete results, but I’ve come to realise that I’ll get a lot more pleasure out of the hours I put into trying to achieving these things than the hour I achieve it.

So happy reading, writing, walking, running, cycling, travelling, performing, playing, doodling, singing, skating, cleaning, cooking, chatting, dancing, sleeping, bathing and relaxing over the course of 2012.

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Filed under Self-help, Sport, States of mind

Merry FOMO

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping on your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Ya, either that or you’re sitting in a cold place, with no fireplace and no choir, never mind people running around in silly costumes….

It’s that time of year again when even those of us who rarely suffer FOMO can get hit with a suprise attack. If you haven’t been invited to many (or any) Christmas cocktail parties or are looking forward to a somewhat lonely holiday season, it’s entirely possible FOMO has reared its ugly head to laugh at your misfortune. Or it could be the case that you’ve been partying non-stop but still feel FOMO breathing down your neck. We are not rational beings.

FOMO is the Fear of Missing Out.

It’s a monster born of envy and insecurity and the desire to be “where it’s at”.

Actually, it’s less about being there as it is about NOT being there. Not being where the action is means you’ve been rejected … or worse, simply overlooked and forgotten! Either way, you’re excluded.

The older we get, the greater the chances that we’ve “settled down” and, allegedly, part of settling down is is that FOMO retreats … regular attacks should wane. But Christmas is special. Christmas is when many otherwise contented people wonder why their lives are not like the ones we see on TV.

It’s that time of year when it’s not actually insane to shed a tear over a commercial for a discount supermarket.

The first time I really became aware of the power of FOMO was during my 20’s when I lived in Dublin.

There’s a movie in my mind — or more precisely, a scene with a soundtrack — which captures my own sense of life is elsewhere. The scene is the drive from Dublin city centre all the way to Howth, at night, along the coast road.

For those of you who don’t know the drive, most of it involves a very long flat road that follows the curve of a bay. On the drive out of town the water is on the right and on the left run terraced houses until you get closer to Howth when the houses begin to detach into larger, private affairs.

At night, sitting in the back of a taxi, the lamp-posts are like a very long string of faery lights that trace a path all the way out to that large rocky hill of a peninsula called Howth — which rises up like a mass of twinkling ornaments at the end of the line.

For a half-hour’s drive I’d stare at those lights as they trailed all the way to the promise of people out late and parties just waiting for my arrival.

When I was invited, that is. Sometimes I was and sometimes I wasn’t.

The music that accompanies this image in my head of the night drive to Howth is Bryan Ferry.

Roxy Music captures the quiet, almost abstract painfulness of FOMO — of a better life going on elsewhere. Without me. Roxy Music knew how to do insatiable.

And so even if I have left behind the angst of my 20’s in Dublin, certain moments catch me off guard. Especially at Christmastime. Just last weekend, after weeks of travelling, with more weeks upcoming and many consecutive nights of being out on the town (in London or New York and in 12 hours time, Dublin), I’d kept last Saturday and Sunday simple. I had almost no social plans. I  shopped and caught up with my sleep and my laundry. But I also walked down my street in the dark of evening and couldn’t help but peer into other people’s houses with a pang of “Why am I not at a party? Is it OK to be by myself when EVERYONE else is having fun and toasting the festivities?” Until finally, “Is my life just a sham?!”

The only consolation is that almost everyone feels this way at some point or another (or so I’ve been told).

And I suspect if I didn’t feel this way from time to time I wouldn’t be normal.

So to everyone out there who thinks everyone else is having a great time without them, Happy FOMO. I highly recommend you wallow in your grass-less-green with a toast to yourself and a little bit of Roxy music to mark the occasion.

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Filed under Events, Random idea, Social psychology

Heroes and other strangers

Last night I went to bed way too late. Not because I was out partying. It’s true I did go out for a drink. But the way-too-late bit is thanks to the fact that when I came home I made myself a cup of tea, got into bed with my laptop and stayed up till 3 am watching a documentary about Steve Jobs.

I’m not even interested in Jobs (sorry). But I couldn’t find any episodes of Pan Am on the BBC iplayer (what? has it ended already?!) and I’m all caught up with Death in Paradise. So while I wasn’t all that interested in Jobs, I was already committed to the idea that I was going to unwind by watching TV in bed on my laptop … that I was going to stay up late just because I could!

The only bit of Jobs’ story that I was curious about was the reference to him as The Hippy Billionaire in the strapline of the show. Ever since I went to see my friend Zac’s play at The Fringe Festival in New York this summer (Heroes and Other Strangers*), I’ve been wondering about something:

How come a whole generation of people went counter-culture in the 60’s and they still turned out wealthy and bourgeois? Or if not wealthy, then certainly not poor. How is it possible to drop-out in your early twenties and then come back in your 30’s with a house and a car and not even a job but an actual career?

Zac Jaffee, writer and performer, in Heroes...

Jobs may be an exceptional case, but from the anecdotal stockpile in  my head, he’s not the only hippy drop-out made good.

After Zac’s show (which has been described as a hippy-fueled coming-of-age detective story), I asked his partner about this. His partner also happens to be my high school buddy. I thought she might know because along with most of my other high school friends, her parents were around for the 60’s (while mine were in Ireland — a country that skipped that decade).

The difference between my parents and the parents of my high school friends seemed stark to me at the time. Other parents had done drugs. Other parents had had some pretty intense “experiences”.

Other parents had different attitudes towards parenting than my own.

It was also clear that by the time I met these Other Parents they wore suits (with padded shoulders) and did things like commute to an office. At the time I didn’t think this was weird — but now I do.

My high school friend’s reply to my question had been that I was over-estimating the number of people that participated in the counter-culture movement and while many of these parents might have been at college at the time and up for the odd protest here and there, my friend explained to me that they were not necessarily fully-fledged members of the moving images I had in my mind. (Think Forrest Gump). They never really dropped out, she said. It was just fashionable at the time to be a bit of a hippy … but not necessarily to embrace the full Yoko Ono.

While I do trust my friend on this matter, I remain curious and let’s face it – clearly envious, that lots of people did opt for a life of love-in’s and parties and questioning the Vietnam War and fighting for civil rights …. So how did these people re-enter the commercial world and begin to command the sort of paychecks and lifestyles that their more conservative peers had been sweating over and working more steadily towards …

How did they have their cake and eat it too? The answer in Jobs case seems to be that he was amazingly visionary and utterly ruthless. But what about the average hippy? Or were none of them all that average — were all of them special sorts of people to begin with.

I still wonder about this.

The Jobs documentary shed no light on these matters for me. So if anyone out there can either shut down or verify any of the sweeping generalizations I make in this post — or even better, recommend a good book about what happened to all those hippies … please share!

* * *

*I loved Heroes and Other Strangers – and for anyone who knows me well, live performances are not really my thing — normally I get too stressed out for the people on stage to lose myself in the show and can never quite forget I am watching make-believe. But Heroes really grabbed me. Here’s a bit more about it straight from the show’s writer/performer, my friend Zac.


Filed under Current affairs, History, Identity, Money

From New York – More random (3)

My friend and I have just retreated from the shops of 5th Ave to find solace in a quiet cup of coffee sitting outside in Bryant Park. We’ve just agreed that neither of us enjoyed getting “rugged” — retail mugged… that thing that happens only in America when you are besieged by the unrelenting exuberance of a shop assistant hoping you’ll buy.

Growing up my brother and I often found ourselves in an Anne Taylor changing room watching our mother trying on what struck us as 5 identical white blouses. We were unable to help — never convincing enough regarding which one we definitely liked best.

And so I used to be grateful when mom got rugged. Some grown up could gush and run about to grab different sizes to resolve the 5 shirt conundrum — which set my brother and I free to stare at the carpet and wait for the trip to Anne Taylor to eventually come to an end.


Filed under Uncategorized

From New York – More random (2)

Manhattan overtaken by Santa-festation today.

At 11 am it just seemed odd to see so many Santas and elves gathering on street corners. By noon we realized there were too many Santas — 4 Santas in a booth having pancakes, a lonely Santa walking ahead of us, a Santa that came running around the corner chasing an elf — for it to be a coincidence.

We met my brother for lunch and he explained …it’s Santa Crawl here in New York today. It’s an annual tradition — all the college kids and “people from Jersey” pile into the City dressed as Santa and his elves and get hammered going from bar to bar.

We thought this was pretty funny.

My brother told us to give it a few more hours before coming to this conclusion.


Filed under Uncategorized

From New York – More random than normal (1)

Panic station is reporting live from New York City this weekend. The weekend’s theme?

Small. Random. Thoughts.

Thought 1:

Lately I feel disorganized. On the inside. Emotionally, that is. But apparently disorganized is NOT an emotion.

So am thinking that a good work-around might be to say that I’m in am emotionally disorganized state of mind?

Does anyone know what I’m talking about?


Filed under Uncategorized