Friday, 1 January 2016

7 Ways to Start Simplifying Your Life

Let me ask you a simple question: what do you think of when you read the word "simple"?

Pic from

To some, a "simple life" might sound unpleasant, boring or even a sign of poverty. However, to a growing number of people, simplifying and downsizing means many things: it's a statement against a system that helps the rich get richer and the poor grow poorer, a step away from consumerism and towards a deeper, perhaps spiritual appreciation of life, as well as being a great way to save money and reduce stress.

If you're unsure about why simplifying is a good idea, check out my recent post 5 Reasons to Simplify Your Life.

Through future blog postings I hope to help show you some of the various ways in which you can de-clutter and simplify your life, as well as bringing your awareness to some of the individuals and groups across the globe who are already embracing a more authentic, compassionate, simple and sharing-based lifestyle.

For now, here are some starting points for some of you who want to take a step back from the stress and clutter of modern life and start to simplify. I've gone with the theme of areas of your life (physically and otherwise) where you can start to act.

1. Your Kitchen

You'll see from other posts that I'm a big fan of cooking your own simple, vegetarian, healthy food. Ideally, you should aim for local, seasonal vegetables, avoiding things that have been flown halfway across the world, as simplifying also means doing things like reducing your carbon footprint.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Are Your Beliefs About Talent and Skill Holding You Back? The Difference Between Fixed and Growth Mindsets

My mother has lived in Wales for nearly 40 years. Despite 85% of the local population speaking
Naturally talented, or the result of hours of practice?
Welsh as their first language, she still can't hold up much of a conversation in the language (sorry Mum!). While she partly blames this on my refusal to speak Welsh to my “English mummy” during childhood, another reason that she likes to give for her lack of linguistic prowess is - “well, I was never very good at French at school”.

I've heard things like this from all kinds of people; “Oh, I can't do that – I'm hopeless at writing essays”, “Well, I can't sing”, “I'm really bad at sports.”

These statements are given with the same casual matter-of-factness as if we were telling each other about our nationality or eye colour. Yet we surely know plenty of people who have taken up a language, hobby or job and picked it up pretty well, and we all know that nobody comes out of the womb able to play classical music on the piano or speak ten languages.

Let me ask you this: have you ever stopped yourself from doing something because you didn't think you could do it? This might mean you gave up at the first hurdle, or that you didn't even start.

Sometimes, we expect to get things right the first time, and when we try and don't succeed we get frustrated and give up. I've certainly tried new things, like a new exercise class or trying to understand a complicated piece of information, and given up as soon as things got tough, thinking "well, there's something I'm no good at!". Underneath this kind of thinking is an assumption that if we can't get things right at the beginning, we must not be made for that activity - so we stop, or don't even try.

This isn't true of everybody - there are some who will keep on trying. The psychologist Carol Dweck argues that there are two types of mindset - the fixed mindset, and the growth mindset. The mindset that you have could determine how you behave towards challenges and even predict how happy you are.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Making hummus from scratch

Mmm, hummus! Originally from the Middle East, hummus has gained popularity in Western countries over the last few years - probably because it's delicious, healthy, and completely vegan and gluten-free. Whether you use it as a dip (sliced raw peppers are great), a sauce, a toast topping, salad dressing or anything else you can think of, the good news is that it's easy to make at home, too.

You can buy cans of chickpeas in most supermarkets - Aldi does a can for only 37p! However, if you have dried chickpeas on hand, it's pretty easy to use them, too (this will help you avoid any preservatives used in the canning process). You WILL need to plan this around 14 hours before you actually want to eat the hummus, though! Also, you'll need a blender or food processor.

All you need:
Either 1 can of chickpeas OR 125g dried chickpeas
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp of tahini (available from health food shops or supermarkets - it's made of sesame seeds)
1 lemon
A pinch of salt
3 tbsp olive oil

1. Soak the chickpeas overnight (12 hours), with at least an inch of water covering them.

2. Drain the water and fill a saucepan with a fresh batch of water (again, 1 inch covering them). Add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Leave on a medium heat, simmering, for 90 minutes (yeah, sorry guys!) - keep checking back to make sure there's still
enough water in the pan. If not, add more, otherwise your chickpeas might start sticking to the pan and burning.

3. Throw the chickpeas, garlic, tahini and olive oil into a blender or food processor. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze its juice into the mix.

4. Blend! You may want to add water, as this will create pretty thick hummus. However, if you accidentally add too much water, you can thicken it again with chickpea flour, if you have any. Also note that leaving it in the fridge for a while will help to set it and a slightly less runny consistency.

Optional - if you want to add some exciting flavour to your hummus, add it to the blender! Ideas include sweet chilli sauce, a whole chili, turmeric, cumin, lime juice, tomatoes, coriander or mint!

Leave refrigerated and serve as you like. A lot of restaurants add a load more oil on serving, and use it as a dip for breads - mmm!

Friday, 14 August 2015

"Why Can't I Be Happy?" - The Dark Side of the Positive Thinking Movement

Be happy! Cheer up! You’ve got to strive towards happiness! As you trawl through shelves of self-help
Barbara Ehrenreich promoting her book Smile or Die
paperbacks, the message is the same: you’ve got to become happy. Happiness will make you live longer, improve your health and prospects, magically make everything better and perhaps even land you your dream job.

The pursuit of happiness has long been defined as a basic part of being human – it’s even a constitutional right. When you break it down, whether we’re trying to climb the career ladder, find a partner or fill our day with fun, we’re all striving towards the same goal – happiness. But is there a wrong way, or a wrong time, to strive for happiness? Could there be a dark side to this modern obsession with being happy?

Psychologists are starting to question whether actively chasing happiness might actually be causing us to become unhappier. Think about it; while there may be times that you wouldn’t expect to bring joy (such as the death of a loved one or when you lose your job), when things are going well but you just don’t feel right, you might find yourself asking “Why can’t I be happy?”

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The Truth About Multi-tasking

I had a little revelation the other day. Somewhere between the half-written email that I found two hours after starting it and the empty cup that I had prepared an hour ago - and completely forgotten that I'd boiled the kettle - I realised that I really need to learn to focus. When you're trying to plan a wedding, work almost full-time and set up a business from home, it can be hard to really get things done.
How often do you set out with a huge to-do list, only to find that you haven't completed any items on it by the end of the day? How often do you find that "something came up" and you completely forgot about the thing you were supposed to be doing? Do you ever walk into a room and forget why you were there in the first place? It's possible that there might be too much on your mind, and that by trying to get a lot of things done at once, you're not actually being more effective - but less.

I picked up a very interesting book the other day, called Your Brain at Work. In this lovely little book, which applies findings from neuroscience to our everyday lives (especially at the office) in a way that's easy to understand, David Rock discusses how multi-tasking might, in fact, slow us down rather than speed us up. Trying to write that email, plan your next meeting and eat your lunch at once might not make you a more efficient worker - it has the exact opposite effect. To some of you, that might not be news - but many of us have been told that multi-tasking is a skill. We think of our ability to do several things at once with pride, our colleagues and bosses seem to praise how busy we seem to be - but what if we're actually just frazzling our brains unnecessarily?

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Stop Thinking Yourself Unhappy: Reality, Perception and Attribution

Faces, or a vase?
The other day, I stumbled onto - let's say a "heated debate" online. The argument was this; one man was letting the world know that he did not believe in good intentions, that everything happened for purely selfish reasons and that all humans were fooling themselves if they thought that they cared about each other. Others argued that he needed more joy in his life, that reading negative news stories all the time would of course make him think that, that people are ultimately good and that unhappiness comes from perception, not reality.

To that last comment, he responded with "What kind of hippy bullshit is that?" - and it really got me thinking. It is part of Buddhism, I believe, that states that suffering comes from perception. What does that mean, though, in a real, modern sense? Was our friend right in claiming it as "hippy bullshit", or is it, in fact, a profound sentiment? Is the world full of bad, nasty, selfish people, or is it full of goodness and light? Well, both things are true, and that fact alone illustrates the importance of perception.

Let's say that Jill met Jack one night in a bar. They really hit it off, shared a few cocktails and then he walked her home. At the door, Jill was about to invite Jack inside, where he politely kissed her on the cheek and said he had to be up early the next morning. 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

50 Things to do Before You're 11¾: Getting Kids Back Into Nature, National Trust Style

Have you ever camped in the wild? Built a raft? Canoed down a river?

Many of us have fond memories of our childhoods, and I'm willing to bet that many of those memories involve nature in some way. Kids are naturally drawn to animals, rivers and mud - we are all born ready to learn as much as we can about our natural environment, so that we can learn how our world works (and perhaps how to survive).

Sadly, kids these days spend more time in front of TVs than in front of campfires - I saw Mark Sears from The Wild Network speak recently, and he told his audience that children today only spend 3% of their lives playing outdoors. Most time is spent sleeping, at school, or in front of a screen of some kind.