Matt Marshall

10 Posts with Tag challenge (All tags)

Journalling 001 - A Positive Habit

I'm embarking on a journalling challenge. I've embarked on them in the past, and never managed to get a grasp on the habit. To counter that, I've added in some accountability by spending 30 mins to an hour with my colleague A every Tuesday morning to dedicate some time to the project.

I'm trasposing the daily prompts provided by AoM into Weekly ones, and cutting out the first two. Today's prompt is Decide on a positive habit, and write out the steps it'll take to get there.

The positive habit that I really want to build is meditation. I've always told myself that my morning strength training affords me some reflective and meditative time, but if I'm being entirely honest it's not the exact type of meditation that I want to build. It's a very anabolic period where my body has blood racing through it and hormornes are kicking off everywhere. I want a more chilled out, quiet and catabolic, period where I sit and meditate. I've read about tons of health benefits, and it's something I feel would just benefit me personally quite a bit.

So what of the steps? I'm trying not to look up things online (dedicating this time to writing). Reflecting for a moment on all of the knowledge I've gleaned about growth and habit building, generally I've found the steps are somewhat akin to

  1. Know your enemy (also known as collecting underpants): what have others done? Where did they fail? How did they succeed?
  2. Plan your approach. What this entry is about, setting out the steps (meta eh?)
  3. Dedicate time. It has to be a priority, at a particular point in the day/week.
  4. Low barrier to entry. For me, I'm an evolver when it comes to daily habit building, not a revolutionary. Start low, with a minimal commitment.
  5. Regular. Drilling in the habit is hard when the accountability is low. Daily is best.
  6. Language. I don't have to meditate once a day, it's just something that I do.
  7. Accountability. Who am I accountable to for this?
  8. Logging. Need a dedicated log that serves as a repo of progress; even if I don't look at it.

Ok, so now I know how I build habits. How does that apply to meditation?

  1. Zero Day -- spend 30 minutes researching daily meditation, what people meditate on, what helped others build the habit, how do people set up their environment?
  2. Daily habits are best. When have I got the most time? If I'm not training I'm sleepy when I wake, so morning meditation presents a risk. It'd be good to have an evening habit, but too late in the evening and I'm likely to put it off. Afternoon or early evening would be best, so between 1600 and 1800. Simply go into bedroom, and meditate on the floor.
  3. Low barrier to entry. I only need to meditate for 2 minutes. Knowing me, I'll want to do a bit more once I get going. But 2 minutes a day isn't a barrier to me, and builds to over 670 minutes over a year even if kept at this minimal level.
  4. I have a spare notebook that I've not used for ages. This can serve as a temporary meditation log.
  5. I can use Google Drive (eurgh) and a friend in order to log the days boolean style so that they can chase me up if I don't do the thing. I might give them money which they dripfeed back to me in order for me to build the habit properly.


There are some risks to this habit that I can already see looming. I think I can tackle them, however.

  • Noise My flatmate, and our upstairs neighbours can be very noisy. There is a risk in meditating in my room. Once my initial barrier to the habit has been smashed, I can move outside into the back yard with the firepit (a repurposed wok) and meditate there.
  • Scheduling I work evenings on Mondays, and some Saturday day times until the evening. My low barrier to entry will be used to combat this, as 2 minutes can be performed before work on Saturdays. I am also lucky enough to have a quiet space at the Lab to utilise at 1500 on Mondays where I'm at the charity.

So. There we go. Now all I need is accountability.

reflection meditation journalling challenge

Journalling 002- Via Negativa

As it turns out, I'm way too impatient to wait a week for my next journal prompt. Today's prompt is Via Negativa. According to AoM this term originally comes from Christianity where one explains their god by focusing on what they are not. This term, then, can apply to personal growth by a focus on not doing things. Ie avoiding bad habits. Today's journal will thus be discussing a habit that I want to get rid of, a habit that's holding me back, and how I plan to eliminate it from my life.

My habit, funnily enough, is idleness. Those closer to me may sound shocked by this, as I'm always dipping into personal projects; and I'm famed in particular for my early rises in order to undergo my morning strength training ritual. I'm generally thought of as being in quite early to the Lab, which is how I justify extending my personal evening time by leaving at 1600. However, as my training schedule has developed over 2016 I've begun training literally half as often as I used to. I now train two very heavy days (Monday and Thursday) whereas I used to include the Tuesday and Friday as well. This means I've not had motivation to wake up early on those days, and have used the time to "get myself some extra rest" as part of the catabolic phase of my weekly training/life. Don't get me wrong, this has had some very good impacts on my training and I've continued to improve steadily. My problem stems from the empty space that has been left behind. I resort to laying in bed, watching YouTube or Netflix to "chill out" before work and inevitably wind up spending way longer than I want to and have thus developed an unfortunate habit of arriving into the lab a bit later than what I'd normally be comfortable with. This has been consistent since September at least, but I think it was creeping up on me beforehand.

On top of this, the non-habit of empty space means that I feel frustrated that I've resorted to consuming entertainment instead of working on my goals or projects. It's not that I feel that I can't enjoy entertainment at all, it's just that I want a particular balance of production and consumption in my personal sphere that's been thrown off-balance. One of my goals is also to read more philosophy and more fiction, instead of video. Provided that I go to bed early enough, I can still give myself extra rest by sleeping in until 0630 and then working passively and at peace that I'm actually doing something that has purpose for me (purpose being a key element in happiness).

Sorry again for another Guardian link. Of all the broadsheets that review things they're often the first in my searches, and are at least not explicitly right-wing

I think the main steps to producing a blueprint of eliminating my bad habit is to replace it with a good one. I mentioned that I'm sleepy when I haven't trained, so until I'm already in the habit of meditating then I'm not comfortable jumping in there. This also provides space for a greater variety of activities in my life, by using my mornings better. The goals that spring to mind at the time of writing are:

  • Stretch more
  • Meditate
  • Read more, either philosophy / politics, or fiction
  • Listen to more podcasts
  • Get a better handle on dusting my bedroom (as opposed to expending the energy picking up after my flatmate)
  • Write more code for Brimstone
  • Journalling (meta!)
  • Meal prepping

Since I'm a creature of schedule and habit, it's probably best for me to produce a weekly schedule of these morning activities. They have to be completeble by about 0730 so that I can get into the lab nice and early to begin my day there; giving me more time in the evening (We'll deal with idelness in my evening routines later...). Having a few weeks, or a month, of performing each of these activities on a daily rotation will give me a good overview of where my priorities are and what is sustainable (as well as which activities can be performed concurrently). Here's my proposed schedule:

  • Monday Strength Training (routine established)
  • Tuesday Podcasts + Stretching
  • Wednesday Reading and tea
  • Thursday Strength Training (routine established)
  • Friday Journalling

I've deliberately left of my Saturday and Sunday schedules, as they're often dependant on a work schedule or how late my partner returned from work the night before. I've also deliberately left out certain goals, in order to really focus on the low barrier to access ones. All of them are really low barrier to be honest, but in terms of the physical or cognitive grinding; I've chosen the easiest.

What I need now, is accountability for these. I could check in with a close friend / colleague each morning; just by sending a message telling them what I was up to and what time I woke up? That's the positive aspect of accountability. I need a consquence as well, and that's the tough part. Conversations with colleagues before have resulted in them being uncomfortable with the idea of donating my money to a nasty cause, and there's nothing else really they could do. I could ask them to walk over to my desk and yell "Shame!" at me?

I will need to reflect on this further.

goals reflection journalling challenge vianegative habits

Journalling 003 - A Letter

Today's journal prompt is to write a letter to a loved one. The hardest thing for me to get started with this prompt is to decide on a loved one to write to. I am very privileged in the regard that I have had the opportunity to amass a host of people whom I love (or have loved) very dearly, and in a comfortably diverse series of ways. Romantic, friend, undefinable, etc.

Got it.

Hi, we speak often; but you know me well enough by now that messages and Skype calls don't scratch the itch that I get around writing long-form communications. Sometimes, when we've not spoken in a while and I have no way of knowing if you're ok - I'll email you. You know this, of course, but what you don't know is that the mere act of emailing you - of forcing myself to form a comprehensive paragraph to express my concern and dump my three months' of emotional baggage into something you can read and follow; helps me more than you know.

Then, of course, there's the anticipation of a reply. "Are you ok? What if you don't reply? What if you're ill and I can't do anything?" becomes mixed with "I love reading your replies. I can't wait to just look down at my phone, LED blinking, and see that email icon" in a swirling vortex of adrenaline and anxiety that I can't turn off. Selfish right? I'm sorry. Emailing you because I become worried about you, quickly becomes about me. Sorry for that.

Anyway, digressions from my point. I think this letter is becoming a letter of gratitude in my head. What I'm trying to say with it, is what I've tried to say a million times, in a million ways, still hasn't got across the message that I want to convey. Thank you. Just that. Thank you. You've saved my life in so many ways. I was headed down a dark path, a one filled with spite and hate. I needed your guidance. And now look at me. I'm definitely not perfect, but when I look at the alternative path - turning right instead of left at the junction where we met, I see nothing but images of what I was to become had I continued down the road; hollow people leading lives without purpose and without true joy. People who rely on the half-artificial dopamine rushes, without the growth that is supposed to come with it. MRAs, basically. That was a dangerous path, and one I'm glad I didn't tread.

I still remember the light, dancing through the red brick arches as I walked towards you. Strands of damp hair were clinging to my shoulders, and my gym bag was digging into my right neck. I remember the light, the golden light of spring morning, bathing the world, and made the grass appear the most wonderful shade of green. I saw you see me, I saw your face light up. Of course I remembered you, how could I not? I remember you saying "Hi" and hugging me closer than I'd ever remember a relative stranger hugging me. I remember the light, making your skin appear as the softest substance I'd ever seen. What would've happened had I turned right, as I was supposed to that day? Ever since, then - I always turn left.

Part of me feels that I've robbed you by remembering you this way. You're not my saviour, and you're not a narrative construct who plays an important role in a male life. You're a person, whom I still love dearly in that way that we do. I'm glad that our paths became entangled, I'm glad that we did something for each other, and I'm glad we both understand that. I'm sorry if I sound sycophantic, or that I'm reducing you to a narrative device; it's honestly not my intention, it's just I can't think of any other way to describe the impact your life had on mine. And I can't think of another way to emphasise how much I'm grateful.

Thank you, I will forever turn left.

reflection journalling challenge letter love chance

Journalling 004 - 6 Word Memoir

Today's journal prompt was to Write a 6 word memoir of your life so far. I must admit that I've cheated in that I peeked ahead, and I've been ruminating on this one since I actually looked at the prompts. I guess the whole point of this exercise is to force one to sit down and actually think about their life.

I've looked back on the hard events of my life. High School, University, various relationships. I looked back at remembering my mental and emotional frameworks at those times; how my interests and passions have evolved. I thought about the people who affected my life. What I'm trying to say is that this was a hard task, but here we go.

Restless. Fell down, got hurt. Grew

reflection journalling challenge thought memoir short

Journalling 005 - Reflections on Career Path

You get two in rapid succession this time, since I cheated on the last one and spent the bulk of the dedicated time ahead of the scheduled journalling hour. This prompt is to reflect on career and to write a timeline of it. I'm going to keep this one short to start with, and then maybe add more in later since I've been ranting about how the power of the Internet is that we're free from static paper-emulation and that content can be dynamic etc. Time to put my money where my mouth is I suppose.

My labour in the sphere of what you'd probably call 'career' has, by-and-large, been concentrated in the academic sphere to date, but it's worth reflecting on how I got here.

2002 - 2008 (Middle and High School)

The reason I've went this far back is that I have very distinct memories imagining various careers and lifestyles for myself at this age. Now, 6 years is a long time and where I grew up in Northumberland we still operated on a three-tier school system. So not only does this time period consist of over half a decade at formative years, but it also covers two different schools and the growth involved with moving to a new one.

Early on in Middle School (aged 10 and 11) I was primarily interested in Mathematics. I'm not sure why, now. I remember, though, that by the time I had hit aged 12 this had shifted significantly towards English. My favourite subjects quickly became English, History, and Science. In fact, actually - Maths became my least favourite subject aside from PE and it's more patriarchal cousin Games (sports). I was known for a being a tubby in the Middle school years. It was during this time that I got drafted into the school Christmas Play, this time taking the form of a Pantomime version of the Nativity story called "A Lad in a Manger" and I fell in love with acting. I kept this up for a while, and enjoyed performing in the play the year after this. That being my final year at the school, I didn't know if I was going to continue. At this time I very much wanted to embark on a career in acting, on the stage as opposed to in films. I dreamed about it regularly.

My final two years at the Middle School also saw me develop a very sincere love of creative writing, and I spent a lot of time devising stories and plot lines with some writing friends. At this point, I was always more excited at the macro-scale world-building than the gritty wordsmithing. In my final year (aged 13) I became Head Boy as well. This didn't really lead to anything except a bit of an inflated ego going into High School, which was sharp sorted out.

I began High School with much the same enthusiasms I did when I left Middle School, and did well across the board in all subjects. I did exceptionally well in the subjects I was passionate about. The British School system, whilst fundamentally broken was basically built for people like me. I did well at exams, and in classrooms. At home, my parents were from working class family backgrounds, and they'd used their drive and limited class-mobility to provide us with a slightly better environment than they'd had. Namely, a supportive one for doing well at school.

During High School I began to care more about my writing than I did about acting. I did join a local theatre group (BATS) to continue with that passion, but I co-founded a Creative Writing group with peers and support from a teacher and this formed the basis for what I wanted to do for a career. I would run home from school, and sit in front of the family computer for hours and hours; writing out various chapters of my envisioned fantasy epic. Being a published author drove me, and the thing I wanted to do most for a career in the whole world. The other thing that I got into, was HTML. Whenever I wasn't writing terrible fiction, I was writing terrible HTML pages. You can read about how bad I was here. I didn't particularly envision a career in web development, however, and I needed a back-up plan if the world didn't recognise my literary genius… At this age, I hadn't yet begun to question my parents' fallibility; and my passion for the Sciences lead my father to get excited and convince me that I wanted to be a Pharmacist. His reasoning was "Pharmacists get paid a lot of money, and they don't get the blame as much as Doctors do as they just dispense the drugs" Obviously I can't just blame him, but I took that logic to heart; why wouldn't I? My parents obviously knew best, they had jobs, and I was good at the sciences (very good). This caused me a lot of pain later on.

My GCSEs came and went. I sailed through them on my ability to revise a bare minimum, and do well at exams. I came out with some sterling grades (especially in Chemistry and English), and made my way to the 6th form sign-up day at the school.

2008 - 2011 (6th Form College)

Between receiving my GCSEs and signing up for A-levels, I scored a job working for the local Domino's pizza franchise. This provided a little pocket money, the knowledge that I didn't want to make pizza for my career, and (as I would learn later on) - the ability to undergo severe physical discomfort by gritting my teeth to earn under minimum wage due to my age.

When I began 6th form college, I took what I was good at and (thought) that I enjoyed. This happened to be Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and English Literature. I still had the mentality of a successful GCSE student, though, and didn't put in any effort beyond getting myself some stationary. That in combination with my new proper girlfriend (ooh) and my job at Domino's, meant that my college work didn't really take priority - after all I managed to do well at GCSE without effort! I got way more into computing at this point, and had begun to be using Linux as my main OS since about April 2008 at the end of my GCSEs. At home instead of homework, I'd be reading wikis on file permission systems, and playing around with "penetration testing" software.

I got smacked around the head with my first exam results - essentially Ds and Es in everything except for English Lit (B) and Chemistry (U). This was the first time in my life I'd ever failed at anything 'academic' and the experience promptly forced me into my first ever genuinely reflective period. I realised two things. First - that I hated the idea of being a pharmacist, and studying chemistry and physics; wanting instead to work with computers (although at the time I didn't think I'd study at degree level). The second, that people re-sat Year 12 at 6th form all the time and I wouldn't be alone if I did this. So I went to the college heads and told them what I wanted, they agreed to let me resit the year.

So resit it I did, and I was a changed Marshall. I re-sat the year with a Double Award in ICT (giving me two A-levels at the end), I-Media (a meaningless course I basically took to fill the timetable and because it complimented ICT), and Science in Society (scratched my itch in science mostly). Armed with the knowledge of how to balance priorities now, I managed to sail through the ICT tasks, and did pretty well in SiS. I-Media bowed before my years of experimenting with Open Source media software and file formats; Audacity, GIMP, OGG, etc. I worked hard, bonded with new friends, and basically had a lot of fun in my two years of 6th form. I even developed a work ethic, staying behind in Computer Clusters on non-Pizza days to finish sections of reports.

I began to tire of the endless slog that seemed to be school, though, and was put off of the idea of university initially. I won't pretend that the idea of debt scared me - I never even really thought about it. I was tired of taking work home with me and not being paid. I looked into apprenticeships in being a 'tecchie', the support for organisations and schools. Luckily, a friend who was ahead of me in 6th form had been through that system and served as a warning of what could happen - there were very few jobs in it, as tecchies often buried themselves in until ready to quit and it was a recession. Positions rarely opened up, and rarely in towns like Cramlington.

As my grades were pretty solid, and I began experimenting with more computing things like Python scripting, I took the idea of attending university seriously. After a quick discussion with a few peers, and teachers, I decided to give the whole thing a shot and applied to a bunch of local universities; with the idea of having Newcastle as the dream (good credentials) and Teeside as the back-up (living away from home). I didn't know what I wanted to do for a career at this point - only that it involved technology, and that I wanted to put off the decision for a few years. It was off to uni then!

2011 - 2014 (Undergraduate Degree)

I managed to score an offer from Newcastle University and consigned myself to spending 3 years of being that student who lived with their parents, and who got the bus every morning. I have to admit, it put a bit of a downer on the whole experience. That I'd just broken up with my then-girlfriend (pretty messily too) didn't really help matters. My saviour came in the form of my current flatmate, I, who was moving into a flat ran by his landlord father and was in search of a flatmate. I ran some quick maths, quit my job at Domino's and moved in.

Actually, quitting didn't really happen. I handed in my notice and worked it. I then ran into an old manager I'd had, who was opening up a new store in the centre of Newcastle. I hesitantly agreed to work for him. Turned out to be a good decision, and I managed to have the money for an actual social life during the first few years of my degree.

In terms of a career, I envisioned a post-degree career in the Royal Navy. I'm honestly not sure where I came up with the notion. None of my family were particularly militaristic. The idea pretty much arrived in my head fully formed. It made sense both financially (security was more important than luxury to me) and in terms of lifestyle. I'm a creature of ritual and routine, and I liked the idea of long stretches of working with breaks in them. I got as far as signing up, and undergoing the medical, physical, and aptitude tests (passing them), before I met a person who changed my life entirely. I've said enough about this event tbh, and risk trying to make it out to be something that it wasn't. What this meeting did for me though, was open my eyes to feminism and the influences of patriarchy. This lead very much down a road to where I am now. The effect this had on career plans was a bit prospect-killing. I didn't want to serve a nation that the workers didn't own, and especially one ran by a Tory government and a decrepit monarchy.

In the 3rd year of my undergraduate, I realised that I needed to delay for another year in order to ensure that I had time to think about stuff and potentially get a foot in the door somewhere. I transferred from the BSc to the MComp, which would give me a funded Master's degree and a year to think about things.

In my 3rd year I also found myself really enjoying the Interaction Design and HCI modules. Coincidentally, the lecturer for the second semester module told us about a Centre for Doctoral Training that they'd managed to get funded - giving people the opportunity to apply for PhDs in the area. I looked at it. I liked it and, after speaking with the lecturer and the Prof who was head of the lab, I applied. I somehow managed to get through the interview process (I genuinely think it was because I was technical and they needed technical folks for the inter-disciplinary model) and I was in! I transferred back to the BSc and collected my certificate from a desk in the Uni office.

2014 - 2017 (Present at time of writing)

I started the MRes with anticipation and excitement, as it looked like I was going to be having a chance to develop full fledged projects using my technical expertise. The MRes year itself was incredibly challenging, and changed me in a lot of ways. I was introduced to a vast quantity of different and deep worldviews. My conceptualisation of Satanism was challenged. My understanding of feminism deepened. When I began the MRes I was a whiny fledgling; and the challenge forced me into a very serious period of reflection that lead to me seeking a greater understanding of strength, and the hero's journey that I found myself on.

This is the journey that I still find myself on today. Very much entrenched in the Road of Trials. I came into the MRes not particularly knowing what I wanted from a career other than "build cool stuff and help people". That mantra stays with me today, although I think the way that I envision it playing out has changed. My PhD thus far has only involved building stuff at the very recent stages of it (Feb '17). My work with charities, specifically a charity, has lead me to question my desire for an academic career. The whole process of applying to be an RA seems to be pretty straightforward, but there is very little security in that role and acquiring a permanent position (ie Lecturer) seems to be a tooth and claw process. Don't get me wrong, I'm not naive about positions in or as a charity -- getting funding for those seems to be equally as tough. Both domains talk about 'impact' a lot. Both offer opportunities to do the things I want to do - build cool stuff, and help people. Both involve taking less money than working in the private or government sector. Neither provide particular job/funding security. The Third Sector does seem to offer a reprieve from the self-centred, career-driven, realm of academia. There are those in the sector that try to climb ladders, and end up as CEOs etc; but it seems to be the expectation that in academia you climb over each other to grab at lectureships handed down. Survival in the Third Sector doesn't seem to depend on climbing ladders made of your peers' potential, but treading water.

Both gloomy images. Let's see what happens.

reflection growth journalling challenge career school

Journalling 006 - A Day in the Life

Today's journalling prompt is "Write about your day, or if you're journalling in the morning, write about the previous day". This is actually a really nice one for me, as it gives me the opportunity to quickly reflect on whether I'm hitting some of my goals I laid out in previous journalling days, as well as give people a quick snapshot into what I do with my life day-to-day.

I'm writing this on Tuesday morning, so will be writing about Monday. Mondays are a strong start to the week for me.

0450 Wake Up

I wake on a Monday at 0450 in order to exercise/train. I usually wake up a bit before this, actually, but I wait until the 0450 mark because my flatmate is usually smoking in the back garden where I train until about 0430. I grab my training gear, my training diary, and my water before I head outside.

My routine consists of a progressive calisthenics circuit derived from adapting the movements contained in Convict Conditioning. I perform two warm-up rounds of easier / standard variations of most of the movements, and then three 'work' rounds of my current stage. Currently a typical work round will consist of

  1. Close/Diamond Push-Ups x 12
  2. Box Pistol (Knee high box) x 5 (each leg)
  3. Classic Bridge x12 (performed for reps, like a Push-Up)
  4. Assisted Pull-up (purple band, no idea what the assistance is in newtons)
  5. Hanging Straight Leg Raise x 5

I normally perform the work rounds three times, and then finish with some fingertip knee push-ups and some bar hangs to strengthen my grip. Yesterday, however, I was feeling really drained and tired and I felt myself beginning to doze during the 2 mins of rest between rounds. I put this down to erratic sleep, and the fact I'd just gotten back from a physically intensive holiday in Spain with plenty of hikes and climbs. So I performed one work round at maximum intensity and thought I'd call it a day until Thursday, and catch back up then.

0530 Rest and reading

My training usually finishes at approx 0600, so I found myself with an extra half an hour. I used it to doze on the sofa, and read the odd Wikipedia article about various bits and pieces of philosophy and political economy that I'd been trying to wrap my head around.

0545 Breakfast and dishes

I quickly grew bored with resting, but I'd cooled down from exercise so didn't want to go back to it. I needed to cook my breakfast and a carbohydrate component for my lunch so I set some potatoes to boil, and started off a jalapeño omelette. I ate my breakfast, checked the potatoes, and did some leftover dishes. Over breakfast I listened to a podcast I'd been meaning to catch up on whilst I folded my training clothes into a pile.

0630 Tea time

At 0630, I wake up my partner, B, from her slumber and navigate the fallout by ensuring she is presented with the proper tribute. Tea. Our morning ritual is thus that we lay in bed for a while, cuddling and sipping tea. We usually chat about our week ahead as well.

0720 Get ready

I'd normally begin my getting ready process a bit earlier than this, to account for needing to cook something for my lunch. However, since I had extra time due to a shorter training session I'd already performed this task. My getting ready routine essentially just looks like heading to the bathroom to wash quickly, and returning to the bedroom. Usually during this time B has dressed herself and began helping out by making the bed (something for which I am ever grateful because she's awesome at it). She then takes her wash bag through to the bathroom and I get dressed and pack my bags. We're usually ready together for about 0745, and leave.

0800 Workish

My lab is only about 10 - 15 minutes walk away from my flat, so I usually arrive at this time in the morning. I spend a few minutes going over some stuff from a few weeks ago, when I'd left for Spain, and head upstairs to the 'Design Space'.

My tasks for my PhD at the minute are quite diverse, including some development work and some writing, but I wanted to focus on writing yesterday. I've got to start and deliver a rough methodology chapter by the end of the month so I spent the majority of the morning reading other thesis methodology chapters that included a lot of ethnography in order to understand the animal that I was dealing with. I also picked up a few book chapters on the subject, and skimmed them.

During this time I also spent a few minutes at a time chatting with my friend, K, over instant messenger as she needed a chat about some stuff.

1200 Lunch

I ate lunch, 5-bean chilli which I'd batch-cooked plus the potatoes I'd made before, with my colleagues A and J. Afterwards, I drank some tea and moved back into the Design Space.

1245 Workish

I spent my afternoon revisiting the reading I'd done, and searching for some papers around Marxism and Ethnomethodology. I want to take a bit of a Marxist critique of the labour of transparency in my thesis (also I'm a massive fan of Marx), and need a solid way to link that analysis with the Ethnomethodology I've been performing. I found one good one, and printed it.

During this time, the WiFi in the workspace must've been playing up as everything requiring the internet on my machine was taking forever and I spent ages waiting at the printer for my documents to be printed. I only got about an hour of solid reading in.

1500 Fieldwork / Volunteering

Mondays I go to the West End to visit my research participants. I booked a taxi at 1500 and it arrived for about 1520. I skimmed a paper whilst I was waiting outside.

My fieldwork generally consists of arriving at the charity, and spending some time with the staff where I can show them some of the software I'm building, and then help out with various things. Today the manager, M, and I got some free play equipment from another organisation and brought it to the Play Centre that my partners run. It was some blocks to play with and some plastic hockey sticks. From about 1630 the staff and the young people arrive at the centre (8-12 yrs). The hockey sticks went down a treat and we actually spent the majority of the session playing an enormous game of hockey between two opposing sides. Afterwards, the charity used the free bread alongside some cheese and salad (and crisps) they'd brought to get the young people to construct their own sandwiches. There was only 10 mins left after that so people played for a bit before filtering out.

Leaving took a while, and I spent some time chatting with M about various topics that were on my mind such as reflexivity in ethnography (this was actually me probing him to check that he realised that I was still performing research as I volunteered etc. He knows.), and also the state of the working class in Britain at the moment. After a few stops in the minibus, he drops me off close to my flat at about 1900

1900 Relax

I don't usually eat dinner on a Monday, however I had some leftover curry I'd cooked the previous day. I threw it in the microwave, changed into my 'home clothes' (loose shorts and a baggy tee) and stuck Netflix on for two episodes of a cartoon show. After that I checked YouTube to watch some of my favourite Blacksmiths forge an axe, and then I turned off my laptop in order to concentrate on reading my book at about 2115. I've decided to tackle the 'Wheel of Time' again. It's loooong. I started Book 3 of 14 last night. After a few hours of reading I turned out my light at 2300.

reflection journalling challenge everyday work

Journalling 007 -- Levelling up, a roadmap for myself

Today I'm going off-piste and giving myself my own journalling prompt. Last year I read the book Level up Your Life by NerdFitness founder Steve Kamb. The book, whilst very nicely written, is essentially just a swiss army knife style summary of some of the things I've also been reading over the last few years. Namely, it contained a very condensed version of the Campbell's Hero's Journey, some advice on goal setting, a bit of minimalist philosophy, and a (relatively) low barrier to access exercise regime in order to allow people to "live a life of adventure". I should note that whilst I enjoyed the book, it read very much like the "if I did it so can you" that is common amongst white middle-class cisstraight males. THere was a good section covering different socio-economic circumstances, and Kamb did a good job of pointing out others who could act as mentors for those with different backgrounds, but I feel that this is worth noting.

All in all, I enjoyed the book as it served as a very good summary of a lot of other things I'd been reading such as Happiness By Design, some minimalist stuff, and even The Spirit Level. Also worth a note is Homo Deus as it also covers some of the same themes in part.

The common themes in the books was that purpose is an essential part of how we derive joy in our life. Both from our actions (we could speak of Marx's theory of Alienation as well here…) as well as the objects around us. I've since embarked on a de-cluttering mission designed to evaluate each of the objects that I have about my personal space and get rid of the things I don't need. On the other hand, this has also involved an evaluation of personal habits that I want to affect change in. Unfortunately, the change I want to engage in occasionally requires that I purchase or otherwise bring new items (shudder) into my life. The fact I want to save money towards a mortgage doesn't help with this cognitive dissonance.

To get around this, I've began utilising Kamb's concept of "Levelling up" with my purchases. A purchase that I make should enable me to do something. This can be making an existing process more efficient, in attempt to reach a grander goal, or can allow me to do something new within the context of an existing hobby (e.g. a new pull-up assistance band). This post, therefore, is a way of cataloguing all of the things I have floating around in my head and how I think that they will level me up in various aspects of my life.

Bike Gear

I recently got a bicycle from the charity that I work with, for my consistent volunteering on Mondays. The reason I wanted a bike in the first place was to make me more mobile, without having to invest in learning how to drive or actually get a car. As I exist primarily in urban areas, it's relatively easy to peddle around a my bike affords me cardiovascular exercise, recreational activity, and increased mobility between places (and therefore a net saving on time spent travelling).

At first, my bike sat unused for a month or so, then I began to take it on recreational trips. I couldn't use it for commuting, since it didn't have a lock. After a few recreational trips, I purchased a lock and some lights in order to be able to use it for quick jaunts to and from the city centre, and to local supermarkets (obviously role-played in my head as scouting and supply missions). What follows is a brief summary of my envisioned level ups for my bike:

  1. Helmet, will make me feel more confident using the city's roads as means of travelling more effectively throughout the city
  2. Hi-Viz Vest I am changing my clothes habits to be more layer based. A Hi-Viz jacket will combine with the helmet and the lights to make me more confident on the city's roads, as well as enable safer night cycling. Such mobility!
  3. Bike multitool Will allow me to perform basic maintenance on the bike, as by this point I will have invested enough points into it that it'll begin to get used quite frequently and thus see some wear and tear.
  4. Spare inner tubes and hand pump Punctures happen. Spare inner tubes, combined with the multitool, will allow me to adapt to dangers on the road. Puncture repair kits are a bit naff. This adaptability also increases me roaming and exploration capacity for when I'm out just riding, as opposed to commuting or travelling.
  5. Panniers These will allow the bike to become a much more effective transport steed, allowing me to perform much better-planned shopping trips.
  6. Phone case By this point, discounting any unforeseen requirements, I will have made myself quite secure and adaptable on the bike and it's time to take some longer journeys. A phone case that straps to my handle bars will allow me to plot longer journeys to commute between the city centre and some of the outskirts, as well as the outlying towns and places of interest.

The next question I need to answer is how do I determine when I've earned the level-up? I obviously don't want to fall into the trap of just buying a whole bunch of bike gear and then never using it. I've obviously started to use it, but I think that every month I should have clocked up so many trips on the bike based on what I want to use it for: recreation and commuting. There's no magic number during the month, but consistency should be the key element.

Cooking and diet

One of my current goals is to consistently ensure that I am not just defaulting to purchasing lunch at work when I could have prepared a meal. I bought a slow cooker some time ago, and have recently began using it again very consistently. Whilst I definitely enjoy the act of cooking things, when it's required in order to prepare a meal later I prefer to batch-cook and reduce the amount of labour required when it's divided across meals.

Since returning from Madrid, I've been really into making chilli in my slow cooker. This is good. Combined with the increased mobility from my bicycle I've been able to retrieve supplies and cook them really effectively. A quick reflection over my cooking practices has shown that this has been key in preventing me from defaulting to delicious yet unhealthy and expensive takeaway food. The fact that I know am ok with fasting in the evenings has also contributed to this. Where I've been falling down, however, and causing myself some stress, is that I require a means of cooking the carbohydrate portion I enjoy with meals (generally rice or potatoes) whilst minimising the attention I need to pay to pots boiling over.

On a Friday and Saturday, I also treat myself to a large bag of crisps. I've largely been successful in reducing snacking, but it's been creeping back in. Some way to increase the healthiness of the snacks is required, that isn't overly labour intensive.

  1. Rice Cooker I've been banging on about getting one of these for absolutely ages. I really want one. The ability to just turn it on, and then do something else for 20 minutes whilst the rice cooks will mean the absolute world to me. Combined with my slow cooker, this would effectively reduce the cognitive effort required to plan and produce my lunchtime meals to near-zero, with delicious results.
  2. Mandolin Something I've fancied for a little while, but haven't been able to justify until recently. A Mandolin will allow me to slice vegetables really thinly, which make for good sandwiches (good for scouting missions to the cliffs), and more importantly: good for crisps. I absolutely adore crisps, to the point where I have zero portion control. If I could offset the cost of crisps to producing them myself it would be good. I am not alienated from the product and thus lose an element of consumerism, and I get a bit more control over what I put into my body. Seems like a win win.

There are various other specialist items I want, but can't quite justify yet so I won't even mention them. In terms of determining when I've earned the level, I think that a similar approach to my mobility levels will be appropriate. This probably means I can get my rice cooker soon (in fact I am going to) since I've been realllly consistent with my slow cooker this year. I've only bought lunch on special occasions, where I've already brought in my chilli! The mandolin I can get some other time, really. One thing I'd like to try and do, though, is cook something like a curry in my slow cooker. That would be a good way to make the most of it.

Home space and Minimalism

It sounds really weird to say that you want to purchase things in order to become more minimalist, and in fact that's often my problem with the diehard approaches that people take to it. This section stems, therfore, from the relationships I have with my physical space at the moment and the ones that I desire to have in the near-future.

I've always enjoyed a reconfigurability for space. I like the idea that you can make the most out of something by just shifting some things around. I also enjoy large open spaces, which is difficult when you're trapped in the smaller bedroom of a flat. Unfortunately this requires some equipment to facilitate this reconfiguration.

  1. Electronics Trolley I don't much care what the material is, but a small trolley that would replace my main desk with the ability to move would be a fantastic thing for me. Currently, I envision that this allows me to enjoy the space of my flat's communal space whilst other people are engaging with the main television there. The trolley would contain my games consoles, a space for my laptop, and a power strip; being topped by the smaller television that I essentially use as a monitor. In the mornings, I could wheel this out of my bedroom into the front room to play games whilst my partner watches netflix on my laptop, or if I wanted to work she could keep the trolley in the room whilst I took the laptop to work on.

  2. Hard drives and USB pens Having recently experienced a catastrophic drive failure, resulting in the loss of nearly all of my personal data history from 2010 -- present, this is a sore one for me. Currently, I have a 500GB external drive sat on my desk that requires power, and is pretty static. We mainly use it to watch The Simpsons of an evening, but it's useful for quick back-ups etc. My problem with it is that it takes up room, and requires a separate plug in the power strip. Replacing this with a 1TB 2.5" drive would make this more portable and require less power. It also turns out that my television can accept a USB input. With USB pens being relatively inexpensive these days, I can envision a dedicated USB pen for TV shows (ie cartoons) so that I don't need to power both my TV and laptop in order to engage in our nightly rituals. The smaller drives would allow them to be stored away in drawers for space saving as well.

  3. Futon The big one. I'm talking about a proper Japanese futon as opposed to the ones associated with Ikea (not that I have a problem with those). My reasons for this being that I find sleeping close to ground very comfortable, and there are numerous health benefits to sleeping on the floor. The futon will provide a degree of comfort in exchange for a slight reduction in health benefits (a net gain compared to a bed) but, excitingly, is designed to be rolled up and stored when not in use. This basically allows me to reclaim the space taken up by a bed, prevents me from laying on the bed during the day (and therefore not sleeping), as well as providing a nice nightly ritual that signals to me that it's bed time.

These are all relatively big purchases, and I wouldn't be making them for a little while yet. Especially since all of them explicitly require new purchases to be brought into my home. In order to level up to these things, I want to have gotten rid of swathe of things first.


I'm generally really good with clothes as I don't go clothes shopping a lot. In terms of the 'levelling up' aspect of this part of my life, though, sometimes I like to change my clothes around a bit for variety and to experiment. I don't think this is unique at all, and everyone does it. Eventually, I want to create a capsule wardrobe which I can just continually wear, and provide a lot of variety.

The main thing that I noticed when evaluating my wardrobe, however, is that I actually currently own less items of clothing than recommended by most minimalist guides! The reason for this is that I am fortunate enough to have a working environment in academia that is relatively relaxed in terms of the clothes that I wear. I've never owned a full suit, partly due to this and also partly due to the investment being useless since my body changes constantly due to training (mainly waist growth, although that's levelled off for the moment). Similarly, I've outgrown all of my old shirts and never bothered to replace them. I mainly exist in a state of switching between Workman's trousers, Cargo trousers, and a variety of tees.

Whilst happy with this, I did mention that I crave a bit more variety, and I also think that I can condense a few of my duplicate tees into a few nicer quality ones, that fit better and have been made by slightly-better-paid slave children (I joke but this really upsets me that it's difficult to escape this practice).

  1. Tees I used to by my tees from Primark due to their inexpensiveness and liking the cut. As my body has filled out thanks to push-ups the tees, even when bought larger, have begun to hang off my body in a way that I don't necessarily like all the time. I recently played with getting a plain tee from Gildan, and I like it much better. It fits good, I like the colour, and the cotton is of higher quality so it actually feels nice on my skin and I don't overheat. In future I would like to replace my Primark tees with Gildan ones, effectively collapsing the amount of tees that I have in my drawers. To illustrate, I have three of the same blue tee from Primark. I can collapse them all into a single higher quality Gildan tee. This means less clothes, but will likely mean I can wash the majority of my clothes in a single wash as opposed to only half. That appeals to me for future potential travelling.

  2. Shirts I've been trying to break into the shirt game for a while but have been put off for a number of reasons. Mainly, I don't want to invest in a nice shirt when I could outgrow it in 6 months (thanks pull-ups, you tough-yet-rewarding dickheads). Not-nice and cheap shirts make me overheat rapidly. Ideally I want about three shirts. A flannel one, and two cotton of different colours. Combined with my tees I should be able to make a fair few outfits from that.

  3. Hoodie A project I've been tossing around in my head for a little while. I currently have three hoodies; work, weekend, and training. They're all also different brands and qualities. What I would ideally like to do, is purchase a good quality build of hoodie and then modify it so that the arms zip off. This means it becomes an all-year hoodie that's modular and adaptable so I can use it for travel, training, and commuting (or wearing around the house).

This is probably the easiest part to decide when to level up. Whenever I've decided that I'm sick to death of wearing a particular set of clothes, I'll allocate some of next months' budget to condensing the wardrobe in a particular fashion.


This post has been the product of a morning's reflective journalling, and I'll likely have some leftover itches to scratch and reflect on. So I might update the post when I know more about what I want. Until then, this is more than enough to strive towards in the quest of my life :-P

reflection minimalism journalling challenge purchases budgeting levelling up

Journalling 008 -- Social Circles

In the order of prompts, today should be a reflection on the Hero's Journey. Turns out, I already did one a little while ago. So I've turned to the next prompt, which concerns friends. I'd like to quote the prompt verbatim.

From ancient times, men developed their manhood within a group of other men. Do you have a gang of friends who push and support you? If not, how could you make some good friends?

If we strip away the 'masculine' parts of this, it boils down to a good question about the nature of the people I surround myself with, and what they do for me, and of course what I do for them. Instead of literally listing and "reviewing" my friends (which would be creepy, yes?) I want to take the opportunity to reflect on what my social network actually means to me.

I am incredibly fortunate in that, with a few exceptions, I've always managed to find myself alongside some close friends. It's very rare that I've been sat wanting for raw social contact, and often in my late-teens/early 20s I'd actually have to make excuses in order to get time alone. I've also been lucky in that I've very rarely had to explicitly call in favours in terms of care from my social network, although they've almost uniformly jumped to action when they saw I was ever in need.

At a foundational level, this is incredibly heart-warming. For the most part, I know that if I ever stumble that there'll be some form of informal care thrown my way at some point (I use the term informal meaning not state or otherwise professionally mandated, not sure if that's accurate!). On the other hand, I very often feel isolated from others (as all must do sometimes I suppose). Specifically, I often look to others as peer mentors a la Hero's Journey mechanics, and I make a heavy use of symbolism in my day-to-day life. Whenever I bring this up in one manner or another amongst various circles of peers, it inevitably invites discomfort and occasional light-hearted mockery of my mannerisms and 'eccentricities'. Whilst I understand that this is a crucial part of bond-forming (when done in a circle of friends), often it still leaves me feeling alienated as I continually find that the way I engage with my life and with others' is disregarded by them as relatively amusing. To take an example, fundamental things like my drive to wake early and engage in physical strength training is mocked as "a waste of energy" by some circles, whilst they can somehow justify sitting and binge-watching Wrestling as if that is the pinnacle of self-determination.

At yet another level, my slide (some would argue that 'descent' is a more appropriate term…) into Communism and Marxist philosophy has somewhat ironically resulted in alienating me further from peers that I once held in high esteem as moral guides. I do engage in several Marxist and Communist circles, but these have been mostly limited to online activities since the scene around Newcastle (with occasional exception) is pretty dire. I am from a relatively rich nation, with a white cisgender background, I live in a city with a strong multicultural presence (probably weak compared with other cities but whatever), and I have spent the last 6 years of my life in higher education. To say that I am surrounded by liberal ideology is an understatement. Up until recently, this was a boon, and gradually afforded me the social and mental faculties to begin the reflection and study that eventually lead to my Socialist leaning. My point, though, is that my leap to the left and subsequent growing disdain for Liberalism has resulted in a tangible feeling of alienation from those I spend physical time with. I can go online and enter a world of glorious revolutionaries, but on a day to day level I feel ideologically isolated from those who form my close friends and colleagues. At first, the debate around various topics was fun and engaging, however as I began to debate more serious issues I felt the alienation further. Things like defending violent protest was met with looks of disgust, which is fine. I get that. These are relatively non-mainstream views and they require defending, it's just that when I did defend them (inelegantly, admittedly as I often find it difficult to vocalise my exact line of reasoning), the response to my defence was relatively hollow but more specifically echoed as I was outnumbered. I felt like I had to make a decision between continuing to argue whilst outnumbered 3-1, and risk ruining a series of incredibly close friendships, or backing down and looking like my ideas were half baked. Since my need for social contact vastly outstrips my desire to be proven right, I chose the latter. In defence of my friends -- my internal conflict was my construction, and I may have misread the situation and consequences of further debate.

On another note, my liberal friends provide a good way to break the Marxist-Leninist bubble I can sometimes find myself in due to my directed readings of philosophy and news online. I get exposed to some pretty good things, which I have to reconcile, that I otherwise wouldn't if I exclusively hung out with Commies. My colleagues at Open Lab do this for me a lot more than other friendships, though. To that I am eternally grateful.

I need to tie this post off now, and produce a positive message for myself. In summary, I have a series of really close friends. On whom I know I can rely for pretty much anything, pragmatically, in terms of support. In contrast, my mannerisms and political philosophy have resulted in feelings of alienation from them as I cannot engage with them on those terms. I am feeling starved of co-located contact with like-minded Commies, and every time I use the word 'Comrade' it rings hollow. To rectify this, I am seeking to become more involved in local Communist and Cuban and Palestinian Solidarity groups (there's a lot of crossover), whereas before I just attended a few meetings here and there.

Onwards and upwards eh?

reflection liberalism journalling challenge politics socialnetworks communism alienation

Journalling 013 -- Kaizen and Handstands

Goals are nice. Goals are inspiring, and they can often form the motivation to get you to perform that first set of push-ups, or write that first 1000 words of a thing, or begin Googling how to learn a skill. For me, I have a tendency to visualise myself at the end point of a journey having achieved everything that I want to achieve in that sphere. I breath it, I think about it before going to bed, I fantasise about it at work. Then, usually, after three or four days, nothing has changed and I've taken no steps towards the thing.

Of course, I blather on about growth and how I've developed all the gorram' time - so how can both things be true for me? The goals that I've achieved, and areas that I've developed in, have consistently been due to their nature as progressive journeys that are undertook and not a 'state' of being. The prime example for me is my strength training. Another would be my forays into crafting and making, or journeys into philosophy, socialism, and feminism(s). In each of these areas, I have managed to develop a strong habit of 'doing' or at least achieving what needs achieving to grow in them (usually reading or performing an action). The Japanese have a word for this; Kaizen (Edit 20/10/2017, due to the events described in this post, I have decided to include another reference to Kaizen. If you require a more accessible site than Wikipedia, please use this link for your definition of Kaizen). Continuous improvement. Usually westernised as the 'get 1% better every day' approach to improvement. In my language; making a goal into a journey. Today's prompt is to take something that I want to achieve in my life and speculate on a Kaizen approach to making headway towards that goal.

For a while now, I've been trying to motivate myself to get into doing handstands. The context for this is that Handstand Push-ups (HSPUs) are the final movement in my strength training system that I need to incorporate in my routine to give me a strong basis in most human movements. It's obvious to me that it's time now, and has been time for a while, to begin my handstand journey. To look at me, I have a relatively developed musculature around my upper torso and arms; however the muscles associated with vertical pressing (ie handstands and HSPUs) are under-developed compared to the rest. My shoulders are tiny compared to my triceps. More importantly, I can feel this with the movements I perform on an everyday basis and during training; I'm weaker pressing than I am pushing, or even pulling now.

So how to proceed? Kaizen would teach that I need to do three things:

  1. Start doing the thing
  2. Keep doing the thing
  3. Get a little better at the thing each time.

The issue I'd normally have with training a new movement is finding the time to slot it into my strength routine, but since the first level of HSPUs is simply learning the headstand; I think I can get around this by making it an everyday practice to drill home the motor skills. Little and often.

Starting today here's my plan:

  • Perform a headstand every day, working towards the goals set out in Convict Conditioning
  • Attempt to perform the headstand in the evening, scheduled for 1800.
  • Once intermediate level has been achieved (defined in Convict Conditioning as holding position for 1minute), begin performing two headstands a day, morning and night.

I'll probably check in with my training partner-in-spirit D, to keep me accountable.

journalling challenge improvement hand-stands kaizen

Memento Mori

Remember that you will die. I've been thinking a little bit about death lately, and specifically; my death. I've never particularly thought about it before. When beginning this exercise, I thought that the notion of my own death would terrify me. I thought that the realisation that the sum of all of my neurons firing will someday be extinguished unceremoniously in the grand scheme of the universe.

I'm not particularly nihilistic, and to this date my life has been entwined in certain purposes or the other -- mostly boiling down to the desire to spend quality time with or away from other members of my species. The notion of death doesn't make me want to leave a legacy, or climb the highest mountains, or sail the longest oceans. Contrary to my biological programming, it doesn't particularly make me want to have offspring, or seek to make the world a better place on a macro level. I suppose that's quite selfish.

Maybe it's because I'm still entrenched in academia; but death just kinda feels like a deadline. Don't get me wrong -- I don't want to die by any means. I generally find a lot of joy in my everyday existence, and if possible I'd want that to continue forever until it becomes actively terrible. I just kind know that I get some time, it flies by, and then it ends.

I dunno, this was quite a strained and hollow prompt to follow. Reflecting on death is important and people should do it; as a culture the British are terrible at discussing the concept comfortably and resort to euphemisms in order to avoid confronting mortality. That sounds deep enough to end a blog post on, so we'll go with that.

reflection journalling challenge death life,