Matt Marshall

5 Posts with Tag happiness (All tags)

Journalling 010 -- Nostalgia

Today's journal prompt is to reflect on the period of my life for which I have the greatest nostalgia, and then distil what I find nostalgic about that period into actionable things for me to implement in my life at the moment. This is quite a tough one for me since, as a general rule, I try to ensure that I'm happy as I progress through life; I feel that if I'm ever unhappy and pining for a past state of being, then I'm doing something wrong in the present. This generally prompts a series of reflections to identify an area I'm unhappy in, and implement changes to get it to work. For the sake of the post, however, I'll pick a random period and run with it.

Most people I've spoken to about when they were happiest are happiest about High School. Certainly this is the case for my partner, B. I'm not sure why really, as I became steadily happier when I left School, 6th form, and my family home behind in order to pursue my degree. My High School years were a very mixed bag, and I certainly don't like the person I was when I was back there. Same goes for my first year as an undergraduate. Whilst I am nostalgic for the sense of freedom, and relative lack of responsibility, and a few of the romantic entanglements I found myself in; I lead a much more fulfilling life now. I suppose if I absolutely had to pick a period of my life to be nostalgic about, it'd be the second year of Uni.

The second year of Uni was the year that I began strength training, although I started it with Powerlifting. It was the year that I had my ego broken down and rebuilt through training, as well as meeting V. It was the year I discovered both Feminism and Socialism. I was also doing very well at Uni, and making a name for myself with the staff there doing extra jobs here and there. If I was to distil this, I'd say that what made me happy about this time period was primarily excitement, anticipation, and playfulness at my newfound sense of discipline and purpose with strength training - learning for the first time that I can actually shape myself mentally, emotionally, and physically, into the human being that I want to be. At the same time that this training made me receptive to this sort of thing, I became involved with V which changed my life in a lot of positive ways and gave me a sense of being loved and feeling valued as a romantic partner. These two aspects of my life -- growth and nurturing, combined with my part time work at Domino's and my studies at Uni gave my life an all-round feeling of actually being a life as opposed to being just something I did.

Some parts of that are difficult to recapture and be actionable. Namely my romantic situation. I'm in a position of a sorts where my role has been reversed, and I currently try to make somebody else feel valued on a daily basis; using the strength that V once helped build in me. I'm not trying to say I'm shouldering a burden, or that my romantic relationship is in dire need of reconfiguration, or that I'm ultimately unhappy. I flit between states of unhappiness and periods of contentment with my partner. What I'm saying is that it's frustrating giving a lot, and not receiving what you need to nurture yourself in return. V must've been so patient. On the other hand, I have maintained my strength training to this day, albeit in a more calisthenics-y form. It still fills me with joy, it still prompts a reflective period. Progression occurs at just the right pace in order to keep me excited at it, whenever I pull off a hard set or add a rep. Forever thankful for it. Love it.

My work life balance is also something I feel quite happy about at the minute. There was a period last summer where I wasn't very happy with anything. And I was trying to reflect on what it was that was making me so unhappy. I started implementing little patches here and there, and experienced a shift in attitude for some things, and I've ultimately arrived at quite a happy place. I'll give you some examples:

  • Buying a new PlayStation let me recapture the feelings of being 10 and 12 years old, playing video games of a weekend/evening. This is tempered with constraints that I put onto when I am allowed to play as my perception of time when playing becomes slightly skewed.
  • Making things with my hands, no matter how bad I am at it. Instead of watching other people build cool stuff I've just started getting mucked in and de-alienating myself from the act of production.
  • I read a lot, like I used to. I was unhappy wasting my evenings and portions of my weekends even though I was entertained. I thought back to when I was 14 and spent all weekend with my nose buried in a fantasy book; I gave it a shot and now I'm reading every night, morning, and all day Sunday. I'm very happy.
  • Getting rid of clutter. Whilst I arguably owned more things as a child, due to toys being relatively plentiful (thanks Aunties!), each and everything I owned was used and served a purpose. Since December I've been engaged in a conscious effort to declutter my life and get rid of things that I don't need or use. I'm a lot happier for it, and I've partially managed to recapture that feeling of living in a spacious room at Uni for the first time in a while. This is still an ongoing process, but I'm happier for the decluttering.
  • Changed my diet and eating habits. I was trapped for a while in what I call "The Takeaway Spiral". First, I adore takeaway food. Like, really. Whether it's chemical or nostalgia I don't care. The next step of the spiral is a period of stress removing some of the time that I take to cook things from my life. That leads to a takeaway, which leads to cravings, and also a lack of energy because holy hell is takeaway bad for you. That leads to a downward cycle of the same, until I finally break out. I have rearranged a few of my dietary practices to minimise the input of labour and maximise nutrition, whilst lowering costs and also producing meals I've historically loved to eat.
  • I've set aside time for things I've always envision a "Perfect Marshall" would be doing such as writing.

I think the point I'm trying to make in this post is that nostalgia is a useful tool, and I've kinda been using it for 6 months prior to this post in order to prompt growth. This post has been useful, especially compared to the doom and gloom of a few of the previous posts. All in all, I'm happy; and I'm on the up. Road of Trials come at me, my foundation is solid at the moment.

nostalgia reflection journalling happiness hero journey

Journalling 012 -- If I were a folk of leisure

Today's journalling prompt is to imagine that I have been provided with a liveable income for the rest of my life, not too much money so as to be rich, but enough so that I didn't need to work. The point of this being to reflect on how I would spend my time as that would denote the priorities in my life. Again, this is something I've been thinking of recently as the possibility of actually having a mortgage and owning a house in the future seems like a tangible possibility, whereas once it seemed like it could never be. I should qualify that.

It's no hidden conspiracy that my generation has been dubbed Generation Rent because of the dire situation of the UK Housing market. Whilst I shan't get into the ins and outs, it basically means that house prices are ridiculously high and that my entire generation is being sucked into a neo-feudalism where we live in a permanent state of paying rent to landlords. If you think my use of the term neo-feudalism was a bit dramatic, re-read the language in that previous sentence. Permanent, rent, landlords. Aye.

Anyway, I'm incredibly privileged to have gone to University, even if it landed me in crippling student debt, and to have earned myself a 1st Class Computing Science degree from a respected school which, if the media is to be believed (hmm), is hot as shit right now. So once I finish my PhD, the chance to slide into full-time employment seems real. This would grant me a salary, and therefore the ability to get a mortgage. Having already wrestled the lifestyle inflation demon mostly to the ground (damn you crafting), my basic monthly expenditure is pretty low when I'm not on holiday or buying for people's birthdays. This means, with careful planning, that I could pay off my student debt and my mortgage relatively quickly. Although that would still likely leave me approaching the age of 40…

Anyway, I had a romantic notion in my head of what I would do once my basic expenditures are taken care of. This romantic notion consists of moving from full-time to part-time work in terms of income, and using my spare labour to focus on other aspects of my life that would suffer under the tyranny of a 40-hour work week. I would spend more time training, and a lot more time crafting. I would probably increase the amount of time that I spend volunteering, and attempt to travel a lot more. I don't plan on having kids, or living with a romantic partner. What follows is a short scenario of my romanticised view of a day in the life of leisure

A Day in the Life

It's a training day. I awake at 0450, and rise. A few minutes are spent gathering and folding my bedding into a cupboard, followed by the futon mattress that I sleep on. I dress in my training gear and move outside to train. My backyard is simple, and small, but has a pull-up bar bolted to the wall just out of reach if standing, and a simple shed at the bottom of the space near the gate. My training session consists primarily of calisthenics strength exercises, but is followed by a series of either sprints or Tai Chi movements depending on how I am feeling that day.

After an hour of training, I move inside and strip off to wash in the bathroom basin. My training clothes are either sent to the laundry basket or folded into a drawer depending on their state. I dress in my leisure clothes, and begin cooking myself breakfast which consists of eggs fried in lard, and some pickled vegetables on the side. Breakfast and the obligatory two or three rounds of tea are accompanied by the sound of a podcast pumped from my phone through a small speaker system that mimics the aesthetic of a tabletop radio.

Since I am not working today, I take a look at a large corkboard that adorns the wall of my kitchen. On it are lists of chores, tasks, and projects that I am working on. I shift through them and select two projects and several chores that are disparate enough to give my day a varied feel.

At approx 0830 I cycle down to my allotment garden, and spend two hours de-weeding, and tending to the chickens that I keep. I harvest their eggs and cycle back to my small flat. Once the eggs are safely in the fridge, I wander to another room, and select some material for today's project. I dedicate four hours to working the material in the manner for which the project demands. This could be a carving project, a metalwork project, or a materials project. What matters is that it is physical and places me into a focused state. I break for lunch, a stew that I'd made in batch, and then get back to work. After the material is worked in the way that I want, I tidy up after myself and move to my workstation where my laptop sits. My second project of the day is digital, and is working with the material of software and electronics. I glance at the small notepad on my workstation to read the note I left myself upon finishing last session, and begin where I left off. I take breaks as often as I need to with this form of labour, and often spend several minutes pacing the kitchen waiting for tea to brew whilst I work through a logic problem. At the end of the session, I upload my project to an Open Source project repository in whatever format is appropriate (software source code, electronic circuit design, etc)

It's evening now, and I've not explicitly planned to do anything, and I know that the next day holds neither work nor a training session. I ring around a few friends, and decide to head down to the Quayside where I've a small sailboat moored. Together we skipper the spool down the Tyne river and just out of its mouth, and eat an evening meal that is prepared by BBQing meat and vegetables on the boat. Around 2300, we sail back up the river and I am home by midnight. I unpack my bedding, and lay down to sleep.

reflection journalling happiness whatif romanticisism future fiction

Fasting Pt 2: Towards my new Dietary Fast

Earlier this week I outlined my need to fast on two fronts. In summary, I feel that my evenings are the weak link in the chain of my life that bad habits tend to creep in on; it's when whatever plans I had in the morning become derailed in lieu of consuming poor nutrition and over-stimulating media, resulting in poor sleep. All of this has a knock-on effect all about my life, but it's mainly felt when I train. This post is about the first front of these fasts; the dietary one, in order to get a good handle on my nutrition.

I'm actually pretty accustomed to fasting these days. I started in 2014/15 during my MRes year engaging in two 24-h fasts on Wednesdays and Sundays to deal with the poor eating habits I'd developed during the Autumn and Winter months. This worked nicely, but the habit was fairly fragile and I couldn't maintain it after some disruption occurred. When I later adapted my training routine into a circuit, I was left with some free mornings and basically started using them to skip breakfast and enter an intermittent fasting routine on those days. Even now when I need to occasionally skip a meal unexpectedly, I can actually do so in relative comfort.

So my dietary fasting will be an intermittent one; since that's what I'm most accustomed to. However, there need to be a few changes to ensure that I adapt and eliminate the risky evenings.

Intermittent Fasting (IF) is generally achieved by deliberately skipping a meal, or consuming your day's calories only within a given window of time. Where I've read about it (mostly Nerd Fitness), people seem to generally skip breakfast, magically have a daily routine which includes the ability to train around late morning, and then break their fast. They'll then eat their last meal of the day around 1900ish.

The general wisdom seems to be that you train in a fasted state, and then your calorie window begins. People are usually fasted for around 18 hours, including the 8 hours sleep they get and the time in the morning. Since I train in the morning, this will need to change. I'm unable to schedule training for mid-to-late morning, and unwilling to move it into the risky zone of my evening -- that's the point! So I'm adjusting the fasting practice to suit me.

If I train from 0500 -- 0600(ish) and begin to consume my daily calories immediately after that, I will need to skip my evening meal in order to achieve the 'window' effect of eating and achieve a fasted state. Now, since I train before breakfast anyway I'm always mildly fasted but this will be a step up from that. I'm a little bit anxious, but I think since I've spent several years training before consuming any nutrition then this will just be the next level, and I'll adapt. If we put 8 hours on the clock from 0600 then my window ends at around 1400, and I need to space my meals around that. It's going to be a tad socially awkward, as I generally like to socialise with others over the midday meal. I'll also fill up very quickly and possibly struggle to eat my 'dinner' ahead of the window. But I'll experiment to see what works.

On the night before training, I'll therefore be fasting from 1400 to 0600, which is a fast of… 16 hours! Mission achieved, theoretically. From the nutritional angle, I'll be using this opportunity to jumpstart a practice I've wanted to start for a while: meal prepping, and eating more simple foods. I've always got a tonne of mixed views around Paleo and Keto (although of the two Paleo always appeals more than Keto) but I'd like to at least reduce my reliance on grains for my main meals.

Currently my two consistent meals are breakfast and lunch. Post training breakfast (which is the only time I HAVE breakfast) generally consists of between three and four fried eggs. Lunch, on the other hand, consists largely of a four-bean chilli that I've batch cooked in a slow cooker. Of these two, my lunch isn't generally that 'Paleo Friendly' but it's important to note that I've experimented with different forms of carbohydrates, and my body really only reacts negatively when there's large quantities of grains such as bread and pasta. I react slightly better to rice, but I get very bloated around my gut and start storing surplus body fat a bit more. This generally doesn't happen with beans for some reason, and I'm thankful for that.

The 'extra' meals I'll be prepping will largely consist of things I've wanted to add back into my diet for a long time: organ meat and veggies. I'll be producing some really simple dishes of fried vegetables and organ meats with a variety of spices in order to achieve this, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm sure that, if nothing else, my body will really appreciate the extra green matter. I'll be throwing in some sweet potatoes here and there but largely, it's going to consist of veggies and some liver.

I'll be taking a few exceptions to the days, generally where I intersect with rituals and companionship. Health isn't just nutritional and training. Friday nights are 'Curry Night' with my partner, which contain rice and some sugars in the sauces, as well as naan breads. And Saturdays I tend to make sushi or an East Asian-inspired dish; again including plenty sugars and grains. I'm not going to force myself to deal with these until they actually present a problem, if they ever do. The point of this exercise is to eliminate unhealthy practices that I'm not happy with.

Anyway, I'll write about how it goes later. I might actually take some quantified measurements!

training calisthenics happiness fasting diet risks health

Fasting Pt 3: Towards my Media Fasting goals

This is the third and final post describing my future plans for fasting on two fronts. The others are located here and here. The previous two posts focused on my need to fast, and the details of how I'm planning out my dietary fast. This post will outline my first cycle of re-evaluating my relationship with consuming media, through an 'entertainment fast'.

The motivation from this comes from a concept that I read about concerning an 'Information Fast'; wherein the person fasting stimulates their output and creativity by deliberately removing themselves from all forms of information input. The reasoning behind this being that in this age of fast information flow, it's easy to become overly focused on getting a piece "just right" in planning before moving to execution. In academia this looks to me like "Oh I'll just read a few more papers before getting started on my Lit Review chapter" and in my personal life like "Oh I'll just look up a few more carving/smithing/etc videos before getting started on that project."

For me, this methodology definitely holds true. By removing input and working only with whatever I currently have, I end up producing more things or just doing more things that bring my greater peace of mind. I mentioned in my earlier posts that my evenings were the nexus of fragility in my tasks, chores, routines, and goals. I'm tired by the end of the day and all I want to do is consume media. Usually this takes the form of TV shows and YouTube videos, and specifically I have an issue with consuming too much video media in my diet. Other forms of consumption bring a much deeper feeling of joy when I make time for them in my life, and I always seem to get more done in terms of chores when I limit video media.

My plan going forward then? I suppose I can outline things that I want to limit, and things that I want to increase.


  • YouTube
  • Netflix


  • Reading
  • Cleaning / Tidying
  • Podcasts
  • Handiwork hobbies

On the surface, it appears that the solutions going forward are obvious -- Podcasts should take the place of video media as my immediate relaxation technique in the evening. I adore listening the Podcasts, I'm not sure exactly why. I like listening to people talk, I love the subjects that they deal with, I like how it gives my eyes a rest from a screen. Moreover, Podcasts also let me free my hands for doing stuff like Cleaning and Tidying, and also small handiwork things. Some handiwork things will require a degree of concentration meaning listening to Podcasts is not advised, but surely I can just carve out (heh) the space for them first and deal with the nuances later?

In terms of reading, I think that this will work wonders as well. Podcasts do a lot for me, but they're substantially less "moreish" than video media. Largely because currently there's very little prompting me to watch one more. With Netflix and Youtube there's autoloading and suggestions -- they're actively trying to keep us hooked. I use a 3rd party app to parse Podcasts so I have a set number of channels that I like, and I construct my own queues. When they're done, they're done. That means when the queue ends at a predetermined time of the evening, I should have finished my chores and be ready to read.

My partner is around on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. Luckily, Fri - Sun are basically "off routine" in terms of how I live my life, since a lot of my chores and goals can be met prior to the evenings on weekends. This means that for four days a week, I'll be effectively creating a space for myself in my evenings where I only let certain things in, and no "Watch next" can derail me.

I'm excited for this -- I'll update people as and when it's appropriate. Probably after a week, then probably after a month.

goals happiness fasting media addiction slowness lifestyle