The Weekend Read – Solitude by Michael Harris

This makes the ideal companion to “Deep Work” of which I have already written. This book which feels like a collection of essays explores the fact that our connectedness means that we have lost something that is vitally important to our lives, namely our solitude. I found it entertaining, thought provoking and important.

The author’s argument is that our increasing busyness, our being always “on” and the ever present communication devices (count how many of the next 50 people you see have got a ‘phone, smart or otherwise, in their hand) has resulted in our being unable to turn ourselves off, to experience being alone with ourselves. We all need time to think, to re-charge, to turn off without it we are losing something wonderful and valuable.

Our days are consumed by the desires that others place on us. These others are often unseen and unknown from advertisers trying to convince you that you need whatever they are selling this time through Facebook checking to see that others are having the time of their lives whilst you’re Billy no-mates to the incessant supply of emails that “demand” to be read.

We know that choice does not make us happy, that many Facebook users have or develop a need for social assurance. We are now being encouraged to make our homes connected via “The Internet of Everything”. When I ask the question “why” the only answer that I understand is, “because we can”. That’s not good enough.

When was the last time that you were truly on your own, disconnected from “the grid” as some say? Have you consciously allowed this lack of solitude to develop or has it just crept in without your specific permission, “everybody is so everybody should”.

Earlier this week I used the “Google Maps” app on my phone to guide me to someone’s house in a suburb of Manchester. I had looked at the route before I set off, it was a 25 minute walk, a pretty easy route but rather than trust my memory, my good sense of direction and my instinct I used the app. I had been there once before 4 months or so ago and didn’t want to get lost. The result – I did get lost, for some reason the app chose (can I really say it chose? Surely I was the one making the choice) to take me round three sides of a square instead of leading me to the destination directly. I knew it was wrong but allowed it to happen. Why trust something so fallible, something that has been programmed to sell me things that “it” has decided I need? I don’t know either.

A lovely book, entertaining, amusing and questioning, you’ll never see your iPhone in quite the same way again. I agree with Douglas Coupland, “I came away from this book a better human being. Michael Harris’ take on existence is calm, unique, and makes one’s soul feel good.”

You can get it from The Book Depository.

 

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The Monday Morning Quote #442

“The solutions are all simple – after you have arrived at them.

But they’re simple only when you know already what they are.”

Robert M. Pirsig

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The Weekend Read – The 50 Rules of Life by Eric Sanford

I can find little about Eric Sanford online but I know that he is a journalist and photographer who fell into writing after spending too much time “drinking beer” when studying engineering at college. I believe he spends as much time as he can sailing – there is a scary account of his being swept overboard (when breaking one of the rules of sailing as it happens) in Ocean Navigator.

I have no idea when I bought this little (82 pages)book*. It has a dedication in the front which reads, “To Alun – If you play by the rules you miss all the fun! Eric”. Delicious Library (my cataloging programme for books etc) tells me that this was first published in 2005, the year that I decided that clinical dentistry was no fun anymore but this edition was released in January 2011.

So far so good, in the forward Eric explains that he wrote the book when, after making the same mistakes over and over again, he determined to learn some lessons so he wouldn’t keep repeating his blunders. Although his rules are personal many can apply equally to most of us. Using “50 Rules” helps me to stay grounded, reminds me of my core values and helps me gain perspective. I think Eric’s exercise is one that most of us could and should copy. I have a document on the desktop which I copied from the Guardian, “This much I know” which makes a start.

The reason that I have re-read it this week is that I am in the middle of one of my regular periods of re-appraisal, examining my mindset, my motives and my methods reflecting on what’s working, what isn’t and what adjustments in course I need to make for the next year or so.

Here are some examples from the book:

  • Rule #1 Make your dreams come true.
  • Rule #2 Write it down.
  • Rule #3 Do it now.
  • Rule #28 Believe only what you see with your own eyes or hear with your own ears.
  • Rule #33 Don’t assume that others share your views.
  • Rule #47 Question authority.

Having now written about “The 50 Rules of Life” I am minded to write my own as an exercise, why don’t you?

I believe you can buy a copy from LULU.com.

*PS. I realise that I bought it on the recommendation of my friend the ocean rower, environmental campaigner and coach Roz Savage MBE, FRGS, who is mentioned, but not named, in the opening chapter. 

 

 

The Monday Morning Quote #426

“Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them; but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.”

Arthur Schopenhauer

As I look forward to catching up with my reading during July & August I realise that he was right.

The Weekend Read – 20,000 Days and Counting by Robert D. Smith

The concept of this book is simple, instead of living your life in years, as most of us do, measure it in days. On the 20,000th day of his life the author decided to test the concept and planned his next 20,000 days.

Written to be read quickly because, as he points out, “life is short”, Robert Smith urges you to read with a sense of urgency, with purpose and anticipation.

I routinely ask my clients what they truly want, and very few of them can come up with a specific answer. My role in life is not only to help them reach their goals but, more importantly, to assist them to find what those goals are.

When was the last time you thought of what you wanted to do with the next portion of your life? I mean sat down on your own for more than a few minutes and planned the next year, the next decade – I suggest that you take time away – a couple of days distanced from the routine day-to-day to think, to consider to decide what it is that you want to achieve, to be. It is rare that anybody does this unprompted.

In late December 2012, my wife and I did just that, instead of indulging in the “one-day, wouldn’t it be nice” we decided to sell our home in Gloucestershire and move to what had been our “holiday home” in West Cork as quickly as possible.

  • What is it easy? No way.
  • Was it the right decision? Without a doubt.
  • Are we happy? Definitely.
  • Might it all come crashing down tomorrow? Of course.  But then “life is dangerous, nobody gets out alive”.
  • “No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.” (William Borden)

“Many men live lives of quiet desperation and die with the music still in them.” wrote Henry Thoreau in Walden, if that describes you in any shape or form then this little book will help you.

The chapters are short, the messages simple yet profound.

Take the time now and visit the day counter at Robert’s website HERE – to see how many days you have been alive – at the time of writing I’m at 23,438. Where  are you and what are you going to do with the rest?

Available from The Book Depository HERE

The Weekend Read – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

A great work of the genre known as “popular philosophy” I believe. I read this many years ago and it left its mark on me, if only for a desire to ride a motorcycle through Montana. The author died this week at the age of 88, coincidentally I had been searching without success for my copy of the book last weekend.

The lasting impression was the author’s pursuit of the meaning of “quality”. Bought during my impressionable “hippy” days in the mid 70s, I thoroughly enjoyed the tale of  the author and his son who together with a couple of friends make a 17 day motorcycle journey from Minnesota to Northern California. There is a great contrast between the author’s approach to motorcycles and that of his friend John. The author drives an old bike and maintains it himself whilst John has a newer cycle and doesn’t want to learn how to look after itself instead he relies on paying mechanics to keep it going.

It took me until I was an experienced dentist and practice owner to better understand the differences between the classical and romantic approaches to life as explored and explained by Pirsig.

Worth a read, unfortunately I wasn’t able to get along with his next book Lila – I’ll try again.

Available from The Book Depository HERE.

The Weekend Read – Deep Work by Cal Newport

This is a “must read” for anyone who feels they are getting overwhelmed or even too distracted by 21st century life. Subtitled, “Rules for focus success in a distracted world” it does exactly what it says on the cover. I regularly hear complaints from my clients that they are having problems focussing on the most important things in their life, that their surgery or office door is opened too often, that they feel the need to deal with emails, phone calls and social media as soon as they are aware of them. If your appointment book is ruling your life and you are having problems finding space & time in your life then do yourself a favour and read this.

Newport defines Deep Work as “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. Their efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

He contrasts Shallow Work as, “Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much value in the world and are easy to replicate.”

In the first half of the book the writer explains his hypothesis, which is, “The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.” He then describes examples of Deep Work from a variety of walks of life and how it has helped individuals to success.

In the second half of the book he lays down The Rules for Deep Work, which are:

  • Work Deeply – Remove distractions.
  • Embrace Boredom – Schedule the occasional break from focus for distraction.
  • Quit Social Media – Initially off putting but his argument is cogent and correct.
  • Drain The Shallows – To eliminate the amount of time for shallow work aggressively schedule your entire day and quantify every activity.

Essential.

Available from The Book Depository HERE

 

 

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