Anxiety is Healthy and Reasonable

Krista Tippett’s fascinating podcast, On Being, interviews thinkers who have had tremendous influence in shaping society and our understanding of how the world works. Last night, I listened to the episode discussing gratitude with David Steindl-Rast, a world-renowned Benedictine monk who is known for his work on the overlap between science and religion. At the time of writing this post, his TED talk has over 6 million views.

Their conversation is all about gratitude: what it means, how to exercise it, and where it belongs in difficult and uncertain times. But it’s one short, incidental comment that really piqued my interest. A little side note about being anxious in a world full of chaos and uncertainty. Paraphrasing it would ruin the magic, so here is a direct quote:

This word [anxiety] comes from a root that means “narrowness,” and choking, and the original anxiety is our birth anxiety. We all come into this world through this very uncomfortable process of being born, unless you happen to be a cesarean baby. It’s really a life-and-death struggle for both the mother and the child. And that is the original, the prototype, of anxiety. At that time, we do it fearlessly, because fear is the resistance against this anxiety. If you go with it, it brings you into birth. If you resist it, you die in the womb. Or your mother dies.

 It’s a reasonable response, and we are to acknowledge it and affirm it.

We can look back at our life, not only at our birth, but at all other spots where we got into really tight spots and suffered anxiety. Anxiety is not optional in life. It’s part of life. We come into life through anxiety. And we look at it, and remember it, and say to ourselves, we made it. We got through it. We made it. In fact, the worst anxieties and the worst tight spots in our life, often, years later, when you look back at them, reveal themselves as the beginning of something completely new, a completely new life.

And that is very difficult because anxiety has a way of paralyzing us. You see? But what really paralyzes us is fear. It’s not the anxiety, it’s the fear, because it resists. Everything hinges on […] trust in life. Trust. And with this trust, with this faith, we can go into that anxiety and say, it’s terrible, it feels awful. But […] I trust that it is just another birth into a greater fullness.

How differently will you face problems when you think of anxiety as not only natural and reasonable, but also healthy? When you realise that responding with fear or resistance only makes it worse, while acknowledging the discomfort, accepting its presence, and allowing it to drive you leads to new and exciting opportunities for growth?

Something to remember next time you’re holding up a queue in Tesco while frantically searching for your card.

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7 Thought-traps Millennials Need to Avoid

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Life as a 20something in the information age isn’t easy. It might seem like a strange thing to complain about, but having access to everything and everyone, whenever and wherever you want is actually extremely harmful – especially in an economy where our attention is being sold and thrown around like a ping pong ball.

There is no space for solitude, for independent thought, for self-actualization, and, some have argued, for democracy. Not to mention the extraordinary pressure to achieve both the conventional metrics of success (like starting a family or having a stable career) while working towards something extraordinary and off the beaten path (like owning a start up or travelling the world on your great grandfather’s ultra-vintage bike). Social media constantly bombards us with highlights from the lives of our peers – filtered realities that we compare to our ordinary and uneventful days. It’s no wonder that higher use of social media platforms has been linked to depression.

Thankfully, humans have the capacity for self-awareness, which means we can identify underlying thought patterns to which we are particularly susceptible. So here are seven of the most common harmful thought patterns almost all millennials fall victim to, with tips on how to work past them:
  1. You Want to be Understood

    Image result for notice me senpaiYou’re special. You have a unique perspective shaped by rich and varied life experiences. You’ve achieved incredible things despite having been through a lot – your dog died six months ago, and you’re still on the waiting list for a Monzo card. I get it. Each of us want to be appreciated for our unique experiences, our fresh perspective, and our brilliant ideas. We hope to influence our surroundings by sharing ourselves and our passions. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but if you are doing it without first considering who you’re talking to, without making a sincere attempt to understand their perspective and hear about their experiences, then you’re making a mistake. Identify your most meaningful relationships and tell me if this statement isn’t true: the key to having influence is to first be influenced.It takes the commitment of at least one person to listen deeply for anyone to be understood.

  2. You Want to Change the World

    Related image“I want to have a real impact”, “I want to end injustice and contribute to world peace”, “I want to save the environment”.These words are familiar to almost every young heart out there. While noble and praise-worthy, just ask older millennials what happened to their shared drive to make a difference. Hopefully, they won’t tell you that it’s disappeared completely because it’s a good  thing to want to improve society, but they will probably teach you a valuable lesson: start at home first. Everything in life follows a natural process that can’t be skipped. That grand dream of contributing to world peace will never come about if your own life is full of conflict and duplicity. How do you implement this? You’ve got to a) want to have an impact in the right way, and b) actually do something in your immediate environment, using your current skill set. But to do both of those things, you first have to be a strong, independent, and secure individual yourself. Then you’ve got to nurture your current relationships by showing and accepting trust, kindness, and integrity. In the words of Dag Hammarskjold, past UN Secretary General: “It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.” Ask yourself, who matters the most?

  3. Instant Gratification

    Image result for instant gratificationThis is an age old problem that is wired deeply into our psychology, but it is playing out in new and unprecedented ways in the wake of technology and ultra-convenience (hello Uber Eats and Amazon Prime). It’s no secret that tech firms engineer their products to keep our attention for as long as possible by manipulating our psychological reward system. As access to information grows, our attention becomes the limiting factor. The result? An economy built on our attention. Have you ever considered the similarity between the pull to refresh feature and pulling a lever on a slot machine? Or the deep-rooted, reflexive urge to check your phone when you hear that familiar ping? How difficult was it to ignore?Firms are constantly looking for ways to steal your precious time and weaken your self-control, which is why push-notifications, instant ‘stories’, and endless scroll are common features on the most popular applications.

    There are also the more traditional struggles to contend with. Going to bed early, persevering on a difficult project, speaking up,  and resisting that Krispy Kreme doughnut all require the silencing of the beastly instant gratification monkey.

    This “I want it now” culture has unfortunately also seeped into business and work. In an ever faster world, results must be instant, deadlines get shorter, and our coffees get stronger. How will it ever be possible to rise above table stake tasks when quarterly numbers need to be met and competition is fierce? How can we make time for our continual growth and education, how can we invest in new ideas or skills, when we are so busy and focused on never ending urgent-but-not-important work?

    The first and most important step is understanding the principle of balancing productivity with investing in the ability to produce. The second step is to learn about and implement deep work into our schedules (detailed post coming soon).

  4. Blaming and Victimisation

    Image result for arguing coupleThis one is all about responsibility, or the lack of it.  How many times  have you blamed others for your own failures? “If only John wasn’t so confrontational, it really spoils my mood”. “If only Jane believed in me and validated my idea, then I’d really go for it”. “If only I wasn’t so broke!” Or, my personal favorite, “if only my parents were more loving, maybe I could love one day too” (whatever, Johnathan). Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own feelings, actions, and words. Nobody can make you feel or act a certain way, because your response to any given situation is a choice. I get it, blaming provides temporary relief from our pain and it is a very easy trap to fall into, but it only chains us to our problems because it blocks any inkling of initiative that could be taken to solve it. After all, it’s not your problem to fix right? And even if you tried, your efforts would be wasted because when you absolve yourself of responsibility, you also give up any power you may have had.Accepting responsibility takes courage, humility, and strong resolve. Each of us have those characteristics within us – it is just one decision away. Accept that you are the creative force of your life, no matter what your previous or current circumstances.

  5. Lack of Balance

    Image result for imbalancedIt’s easy to be consumed by one aspect of our existence. Career, health, or social belonging are the usual culprits. What good is overworking if you are limiting your ability to produce by ignoring your health? What good is tow hours a day in the gym if you’re losing out on quality time with your significant other?

    Each aspect of our existence needs special care and attention – mind, body, heart, and spirit. Invest in your body through regular exercise and a healthy diet, invest in your mind by reading broadly and committing to lifelong learning, invest in your heart by nourishing deep and respectful relationships, and invest in your spirit by cultivating gratitude and aligning your life with meaningful principles – sustain this through heartfelt work that doesn’t consume you, but adds to your overall purpose in life. This is all easier said than done, but it is possible through mastering our habits and being mindful of the small, cumulative choices we make everyday.

  6. What’s in it for me?

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    Competition is the norm and always has been – we all have early recollections of scrambling for good grades, or beating our peers during sports, or showing off our new pair of shoes. As kids, this was limited to the playground. But now, social media is just one big overgrown-child dump where we throw around our astonishing accomplishments, adventurous travels, abundant and cultured social circles, or heck, even a watery Starbucks latte or a battered but somehow artsy shoe. We all do this. It’s very hard not to – receiving social validation in the form of likes or hearts activates our brain’s reward system, since social approval was once vital to our survival (I think we could get away with not being liked in modern society  – you wouldn’t die in harsh conditions because Sandra and her friends can’t stand your distaste for sun salutations, for example).

    BUT this poses a problem of self-centeredness and entitlement. And, while competitiveness can be sometimes be necessary, most of the time, co-operation, mutual benefit, and the art of “we” is more powerful and enduring than showing off or thwarting others.

    Be more careful with your posts on social media. And next time you’re presented with the opportunity to be a part of something, think about the mutual benefit it will bring instead of focusing on increasing your own skills or experience.

  7. Fear and Insecurity

    Image result for fearWe’re living in a volatile and unpredictable financial and political climate. We’re also living in worrying times for the climate itself – planet earth has had enough of human indifference. Our technological overlords are on the brink of taking over. Childhood obesity is on the rise. House prices are soaring. Entire countries will go under. Mass migration is round the corner. Everyone is scared. We fear for ourselves, we fear for the world, we fear for the future. There’s no escaping it, is there? No. And there shouldn’t be, because these are genuine concerns. Our natural response to this fear is cower away and sink into our own independent lives. But we need to stop resisting our collective anxiety and must instead acknowledge it, so we can finally begin working together to build solutions and support each other.

One for lunch: tofu, couscous, and red cabbage salad

I’m a strong believer in taking a holistic approach to living a productive, fulfilled, and optimal lifestyle. Food is a vital part of that, so I’ve decided to share my favorite recipes that pack a punch while contributing to general well being.

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Today’s recipe took under 10 minutes to make and is full of protein and healthy fats.

Tofu, Couscous, and Red Cabbage Salad:

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon oil of your choice

Pressed tofu

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Red Cabbage

1/2 medium avocado

Mixed salad (I used rocket, spinach, and watercress)

Serving of couscous

1/2 vegetable stock cube

Olive oil and lemon for dressing

Method:

Make sure tofu has been pressed for at least 20 minutes before following this recipe (I wrap the tofu in a paper towel, place it on  a chopping board, a put a big pot filled with water on top).

Pour boiling water over couscous (volume of water should be double that of couscous). Add stock cube and stir. Cover.

Heat oil over medium high heat in frying pan. Chop and season tofu on both sides with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Fry each side of tofu for 3 minutes.

Fluff couscous with fork.

Place mixed salad on plate. Chop avocado and red cabbage (or any vegetable of your choice) and add to salad. Add the tofu and couscous, sprinkle mixed seeds, olive oil, and lemon dressing on top.

Voila! A deliciously simple and nutritious lunch. Highly recommended.

 

 

An embarrassing experience that led to enlightenment

I have always had a mild interest in cutting out meat and animal-derived foods from my diet. But for years, I simply ignored the slight twang in my gut whenever I sunk my teeth into a cheeseburger (and usually forgot about it as soon as the delicious flavours coated my taste buds). A few Sundays ago, however, that all changed.

It was a pretty average day, as far as Sundays go, except I’d chosen to run 10K with a local running club for the first time. This was the third 10K I’d ever run in my life, and I am by no means naturally talented or savvy at the sport. One thing I did know, and if you’re a runner you’ll recognise this as the first thing you learn and the first thing you forget, is the importance of pacing. My 10K pace at the time averaged at 9:30/mile, but by the time the run started, I was in the middle of  a riveting conversation with a seasoned marathoner so I matched his pace for the first two kilometers to hear the ending to a his riveting story about his torn ligament in Bali. Big mistake. Firstly, the story had a very anti-climactic ending, and secondly, I was wheezing like a dying seal by the third kilometer. By 4K, my legs felt like they were made out of osmium. I slowed down significantly, while others sped up. More and more people whizzed past me.

Have you ever experienced the pain of watching your comrades disappear into the distance as you wheeze your way up a cobbled London street? No? I’m happy for you. It’s an experience one simply does not forget.

I came last. Like, very last. It got a little awkward when I ran into everyone on their way back while I was still struggling with the first half. Granted, I’d only been running seriously for five weeks or so, but it was still a kick up the (very sore) butt. I was determined not to let that happen again.

Luckily it was all hi5s and smiles when I finally reached the pub. I got talking to some of the regulars for some much needed advice, which all followed overlapping themes: diet, consistent training, and time. Of those three, diet was the most recurring, though opinions differed on what a good diet looks like. One lovely lass who’d been with the club for two years lauded the benefits of a plant-based diet. She’d been vegan for 6 months, and her running improved dramatically thereafter. (Mr. Bali also recommended proper fuel, before kindly offering a kitkat finger.)

About three weeks of research and a few vegan propaganda documentaries later, I decided to give veganism a go. What started as a conversation about how not to embarrass myself in a pub full of runners expanded to learning about the impact animal-derived products are having on our environment and health. To me, after learning what I’ve learned, it seems the obvious choice.

So there’s a simple little back-story to going vegan, in case my millions of followers were wondering. Do keep your eyes peeled for the delicious, nutrient packed recipes to come.

P.S. I stayed with the pack the following Sunday 🙂

A deliciously simple, nutritious breakfast

It’s day one of my healthy and wholesome lifestyle change. This isn’t some sort of short-lived challenge or detox, nor is it a diet (I’ve tried those, they rarely last!). Instead, this is the beginning of a new relationship with food.

My current eating habits aren’t completely awful, but there’s lots of room for improvement. Our body’s expend a great deal of energy to keep us alive, so I’ve made a commitment to eat in a way that prioritises optimal health. After tracking what I eat for month using a very handy app called Lifesum, I have a clear understanding of exactly where I have been going wrong. Focusing purely on macronutrients, I entered details about my size, age, gender, and lifestyle for a personalised calorie and macronutrient limit. I logged my food intake daily. It turns out I have a knack for overinduldging in carbs and fat, and I rarely meet my protein targets (especially on active days). It’s time to change all of this.

Throught the next few months I will share my budget-friendly, healthy, and wholesome recipes for your benefit. I’ll keep track of my measurements too, so I can accurately report changes in my body’s composition (I won’t be keeping track of my weight as it is not a reliable indicator of progress – particularly when undertaking strength training programmes). I’ll also report my energy levels and general sense of well-being.

Day 1 – Breakfast 

 

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Yoghurt, dates, and mixed seeds

Not only is the creamy yoghurt and fudgy date combination delicious beyond words, it’s also nutritious and satisfying. Yoghurt is packed with protein, calcium, and good bacteria for maintaining gut health. This is why it’s a great way to start the day – particularly when coupled with seeds, which are a rich source of healthy fats (vital for brain and heart health) and dates, a micronutrient-rich source of carbohydrates. How’s that for a balanced meal?

Dates have emerged as a satisfying alternative to sugary snacks. This is mostly down to its delicious flavour and ‘clean’ image, especially from the vegan crowd (more on that in another post). Dates are also highly nutrious, with high levels of fiber, phosphate, magnesium, and manganase – none of which can be found in sugar. Mejdool dates seem to have lapped up most of that attention, but I’d like to shine a light on the wonderfully fudgy and sweet khudry dates that you can find in your local ‘ethnic’ store. Not only is it more delicious, but it also won’t break the bank like supermarket dates do. I bought 900g (almost a kilo!) of the stuff for a fiver! How good is that?

Recipe

Ingredients

150g Yoghurt

2 x Khudry dates

Palmful of mixed seeds

Method

Toss ’em all together and voila! Easy, healthy, and delicious way to fuel your morning.