November & December Overview

“How did it get so late so soon?”

Dr. Seuss

I’d apologise for being late but, like Antoine de Saint-Exupery said:

“The time for action is now. It’s never too late to do something”

Ok, I apologise. No excuses.

In a previous post I set a number of goals to accomplish for November. Launch date was 5th November and, in general, it was a healthy start to monthly goals and check ins. There were a couple of set backs but ultimately most goals were accomplished. 

Here’s how things stand:

  • Book a floatation experience @ London Floatation Centre or Floatworks
    • Booked: @ London Floatation Centre. Due to the rather busy last few weeks  and now being in Vilnius attendance will be in January so as to make the most of it. See below. 
  • Contact a new hero/inspiration: Ella Frances Sanders
    • Emailed: 12th November, after several read-throughs of both ‘Lost in Translation‘ and ‘Speaking in Tongues‘. Both of which are beautiful books and both come highly recommended.
  • Join a class @ Foundry Fit
    • Joined: NOT ACCOMPLISHED
      • I managed to pick up a delightful helping of De Quervain’s tenosynovitis [the swelling of the tendons on the inside/thumb-side of the wrist] after getting a bit carried away with handstand practice. This repetitive strain injury is a very annoying and painful niggle that means weight-bearing exercises wherein the wrist is flexed and pressure applied (yup, handstands, but also press ups, military presses etc.), or reaching movements coupled with extension of the thumb (even grabbing the bar for a pullup is a bit tasty), are particularly troubling. I’ve taken to wearing a wrist restraint in order to accelerate recovery but given the nature and location of the injury, it will be sometime in the new year that I’ll be able to get back to normal. For now, workshops, classes and handstand practice will have to go on the back burner. The good news is that the wrist is clearly on the mend. 
  • Go swimming at least twice; consider Sunday afternoons.
    • First Swim: 26th November
    • Second Swim: Missed. Dammit.
  • Finish reading The Slaughterhouse Five and then read The Year of Living Danishly.  
    • Slaugherhouse Five: Completed 11 November 2017
      • Witty, sharp and relevant then, now and tomorrow. Super short read. It’s filled with hilarious lines like:
        • ‘Montana was naked, and so was Billy, of course. He had a tremendous wang, incidentally. You never know who’ll get one.’
      • …and cynical ironies like:
        • ‘That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones’
      • Note to self: watch the movie now and see how it compares. 
    • The Year of Living Danishly: Completed.
      • Loved it for its charm, inspired by its image of Denmark [I wouldn’t mind a year of living Danishly myself now…] and encouraged by Helen’s bravery to up sticks and embrace a new culture with wide open arms. 
  • Learn 300 new Lithuanian words
    • Video: Technical difficulties
  • Book in for a deep tissue massage
    • Booked: Royal Spa, Birštonas. 30th December.
  • Post a blog for each of the following:
  • At the end of the month upload a video detailing the success/failure of the above
    • Technical difficulties
  • Other accomplishments:
    • UKAD accredited adviser

Difficulties

A couple of things happened during the month that threw a bit of a spanner in the works. The first was a wrist injury. Despite having a slight twinge for a few months it became significantly more debilitating at the start of November and it became clear that I had De Quervain’s tenosynovitis. I’d had this before and recognised it immediately after waking up and feeling the tendon ping during the regular morning stretch. It’s not a particularly uncommon condition and though the causes are not precisely documented it is most likely to stem from repetitive actions.

De Quervains tenosynovitis affects the tendon/s on the inside of the wrist that facilitate thumb movement. It makes thumb flexion (i.e. thumbs up and grasping the thumb in one’s fist and rotating the hand downwards) painful and consequently renders anything like pinching, grabbing, making a fist and internal rotation very uncomfortable. It also makes excessive flexion painful too, hence the difficulty with pressups and handstands. Also, say good by to screaming guitar solos.

As the tendons in the wrist are protected beneath a sheath there is a somewhat restricted area for them to move through. In this instance as the tenosynovitis is ultimately inflammation of the synovium sheath (which is further protected by the tendon sheath), that space becomes less and so whereas once the tendons could slide smoothly beneath it that movement will continue to irritate it.

In most cases simply resting the wrist is the best way to deal with the condition although in more extreme circumstances it is possible to have steroid injections or minor surgery to release the pressure.

Whilst resting the wrist there are a few things that can be done to help, all of which can be done whenever and wherever is most convenient:

  • Limit and avoid activities that may promote further stress on the tendon and therefore increase pain and discomfort
  • Wear a wrist brace or a splint to restrict movement and lock the hand into a more consistently stable position
  • Apply ice packs for 5-15 minutes, several times a day
  • Adapt necessary lifting activities [like lifting babies, super cute puppies and bags of delicious, fresh vegetables]
  • Do rehabilitation exercises such as those below:
    • Thumb lifts and opposition stretches
    • Manual thumb flexion
    • Self massage
    • The Finkelstein stretch
    • Wrist flexion and extension
    • Ulnar deviation (with and without resistance)
    • Finger spring
  • For pain relief anti-inflammatories such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help but I’m not a big advocate of any kind of drug use. So, this one is here simply by way of acknowledging a relatively obvious remedy.

The Other Mighty Pain in The Buttocks

My phone contracted a serious battery illness and I had no choice but to admit it into a specialist care centre for a transplant. That was at the start of December. This meant that for most of the time I was without a conveniently sized camera to record daily life. That’s put a bit of a spanner in the works for goals 20-22. So, either I need to reconsider how I can achieve them (currently I have no idea as to when I can expect the phone back as my emails to the tech centre are being ignored) or retrofit those 3 spaces with other exciting items. 

In apprehension of retrofitting them, I propose the following amendments to the Developmental section:

  • #20 – Start a blog and commit to it
  • #21 – Schedule a self-development day before the end of February 2018 and schedule one for every month that follows
  • #22 – Do something painful, scary and/or both every day [post on IG once we’re back in the 21st century and have a phone to do so with].

Sorted.

Now, as we’re already in January it’s pertinent to outline the goals that I set myself at the end of November for December before slipping into the plans for January. Many have already been acted upon.

December

  • Tough Mudder
  • Nordic Race
    • Signed up. 19 May 2018. Strandparken
      • In a beautiful twist of a fate a very good friend, who happens to live right by Strandparken, is also running the race. Hurrah for race buddies. 
  • Blood Work [including RBC, cholesterol, testosterone, Vitamin D]
    • Completed, waiting on results.
      • Fun fact: I can only get my blood test results through the GP I initially requested them through. I did not know this. Having lived in London for 3 years I only signed up to the local GP surgery in December… in order to request the blood tests. Here’s the process: 
        • Call surgery to arrange registration then attend surgery to complete paperwork.
        • Make appointment to have initial consultation with doctor. Expect to wait approx. 2 weeks.
        • Visit doctor and chit chat about this and that. Ask to have a blood test and receive a document to take to nearest blood test centre.
        • Plan not to eat and drink (except H2O) for 12 hours.
        • Arrive at blood test centre and take a ticket. Wait to be seen. 
        • Have blood taken (by a very professional phlebotomist – I’m not a fan of blood tests. It’s not the sight of blood but rather the cringe-inducing image of a sharp object being inserted into the tender, tender crook of my elbow. Yeuch) and head to work.
        • Wait a week for results. 
        • Make another appointment to see the GP. Expect to wait another 2 weeks.
        • Wait for phone call but doctor never calls.
        • Make new appointment, wait longer. 
      • But, I jest. I completely understand the need for a GP in the process of collecting results: a blood test is a blood test no matter the reasons it went ahead and the test may very well throw up some unexpected, and potentially distressing results.
  • Skydive
    • Provisionally pencilled in for June
  • Swimming
    • First Swim @ Impuls. Vilnius. 23rd December
    • Second Swim @ Impuls. Vilnius. 28th December.
    • Third Swim @ Royal Spa, Birštonas. 29th and/or 30th December.
    • Fourth Swim @ Impul. Vilnius. 31st December.
  • Blog Posts
  • Read
    • Artemis – Andy Weir
      • I’ll say this: Artemis proves The Martian wasn’t a fluke but it might take a few chapters to appreciate the language style. Jazz’s first person narration is even more chatty/mate-y than Watney’s vlogs.
    • The Book of Dust – Philip Pullman
      • Welcome back, Mr. Pullman. 
  • Contact a new hero: Helen Russell
    • Contact: 31st December 2017
  • Have a manicure
    • Done. What a dream! Who knew? 
  • Application to NFTS Diploma in Script Development
    • Submission pending.

December was unexpectedly more busy than planned. Hence the serious lack of posting. I did a lot of getting stuff done, but finding the time to make substantial posts was a bit too tricky. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise in relation to the above goals was the manicure. As a (I like to believe) relatively typical male, nail care hasn’t, historically, been near the top of my list of concerns. But now that I’ve had one. Oh boy. It’s just skipped a few places closer up that list. For the first time since birth my nails looked sharp and tidy. There’s no before picture as evidence but Operation Clean Up T’s Nails resulted in something special. Observe:

IMG_0966IMG_0963IMG_0965

Ok, enough of the nails already because then December screamed into January…

I love new year. It’s a blank canvas if you want it to be, a fresh stage upon which to be someone new or try something different. Or, it’s simply a new space on the calendar. I posted a recent blog about it. 

I’m still feeling excited about the year. Here are some of the chief goals:

January 

  • Flotation Tank
    • Booked and scheduled for 22nd January
  • Porchester Spa
    • Scheduled for Friday 19th January
  • Pedicure
  • Book a massage
  • Swimming
  • Begin new training
    •  In preparation for the runs I need to incorporate more cardio into my workouts alongside endurance work, more mobility drills and, unfortunately, cold water acclimatisation. Expect to see a post for this shortly (and see below).
  • Blog posts
    • Monthly weigh-in and muscle-in: Going into #project20nine what are my baseline stats?
      • To be posted on 14/01/2018.
    • 29 Things to be Grateful for in 2017
      • To be posted on 15/01/2018
    • How Much Coffee is Too Much Coffee?
      • To be posted before end of Jan
    • Where’s my concentration? The disappearance of the human attention span
      • To be posted before end of Jan
    • How to make the most of a long weekend in Reykjavik
      • To be posted before end of Jan
    • How to Meditate With Purpose
      • To be posted before end of Jan
  • Contact a new hero: Tim Ferriss

That’s it. Happy new year: make January count!

Over and out until the next one…


This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 

9 Things Everyone Should Do Before 9am

“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment.

Full effort is victory.”

Mahatma Ghandi

21st century living is busy. Life is full on and time is not on our side. A full-time job, kids and social responsibilities mean that we’re often left with little space and time for ourselves.

It seems like we have little opportunity to grow, right? How do we do it? If we don’t figure it out, before we know it the day, the week and the month will have passed us by and all we’ll have done is…well, got up, gone to work, and fulfilled our responsibilities.

Before we know it we’ll have blinked and fast forwarded 25 years and be left standing in the dust, wondering where all the time went.

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose”

Lyndon B Johnson

Winning the day by being super productive and motivated immediately upon waking is a message that we’re surrounded by and it’s not a new ideology.

Carpe Diem? We’ve got Horace to thank for that one.

It’s a message that we’re surrounded by for a reason: it’s a truth. And more than that, with a little effort the output can be tenfold the input.

But it’s all well and good being told this: actions speak louder than words.

So let’s take 9am as the average start to a working day and work backwards from there. If you’re an early riser then bonus points to you, but rising early and having a good night’s sleep too might not equate with certain lifestyles so it is necessary to find balance.

We must shape our days with focus and value. If we want to achieve things then we need to understand how best to use the time we have.

First things first:

Recalibrate

Like putting on a pair of slippers, sliding into a comfortable routine is easy to do. Most of us have our routines and those routines are most likely to be effortless.

But here’s the secret: we have to put a little effort in. The more effort we put in, the greater the return on our initial investment. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And to do that we need to lay new foundations.

21st Century Debt & Mission: You

This article is a call to arms.

This is Mission: You, and it’s designed to help cultivate a more fulfilling lifestyle that will eventually become second nature.

Is your downtime spent well? Spent conscientiously? Or, like many of us, have you somehow become accustomed to filling your time with distractions and inconsequential activities? An hour flicking through IG feeds? Youtubing one too many cat videos? Binging on boxsets a bit too often? Fun things, but in the grand scheme of it all…fruitless.

It’s the 21st Century debt. We’re spending more and more of our own time on nonsense and accruing an interest on it that can only be paid back one way: making smarter choices on what we spend the rest of our time on.

But we have to consciously make the decision to switch.

Here’s the truth: we’re all masters of our own destiny.

That means YOU are the master of your destiny. And mastery of one’s destiny begins with mindset.

Believe in You.

Here’s another truth: small changes add up to a big difference.

With new year upon us why not set yourself the small goal of experimenting with making a small change to your comfortable routine? Replace those comfy old slippers that you’ve worn in just how you like them with a new pair and soon you’ll find that you’ve worn them in just the way you like them too. Only, that new pair of slippers will be the 2.0 version. Super slippers worn by a super you.

All it will take is a few hours every morning doing 9 simple things summed up by 9 simple words:

  1. Hibernate
  2. Hydrate
  3. Meditate
  4. Activate
  5. Invigorate
  6. Ingurgitate
  7. Motivate
  8. Evaluate
  9. Facilitate

Get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep [1. Hibernate]

Getting enough sleep is a basic, fundamental need. Our candles are not designed to burn at both ends. Maslow (1943, 1954) identified five tiers of human needs:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs 

At the foundation of the hierarchy are our physiological needs: those things that we cannot do without. ‘Food, water, warmth, rest’. These are basic needs.

In the UK, the Royal Society for Public Health has recognised that the population is under-sleeping by an average of almost an hour every night. That would equate to an entire night’s sleep lost every week. That 21st century debt of ours? It’s accruing from the get go.

Under-sleeping has knock-on effects too:

  • Poorer dietary choices
  • Higher levels of stress
  • Loss of focus and concentration
  • Higher risk of cancer and strokes
  • Increased weight gain
  • Reduced immunity
  • Reduced libido
  • Mood fluctuation
  • Impulsivity
  • Substance dependency
  • Decreased memory
  • Reduced communication, creativity and socialisation

On the other hand, getting enough sleep has a myriad of benefits*:

  • Less stress
  • Increased creativity, communication and socialisation
  • Better metabolism
  • Less risk of depression
  • Reduced risk of cancer and strokes
  • Less weight can and greater muscle gain after exercise
  • Improved memory
  • Increased immunity
  • Less inflammation
  • More stable moods
  • More likely to have a better diet
  • Less impulsive

For adults, we generally need 7-9 hours. Getting enough sleep is fundamental to the success of the 9 steps identified in this post so the key is to work backwards. Do you function better with 7, 8 or 9 hours? Maybe you need less, or more? The point is this: if you want to wake up at 5am to capitalise on those early morning hours then bedding down at 1am isn’t going to cut it.

Remember: recalibrate. If you need 8 hours and want to get started at 5am then it should be lights out at 9pm.

The other thing to note in here is the value of sleeping in the nude. Sleeping butt-nekkid has been proven to be incredibly healthy.

By sleeping naked you can help reduce your body temperature and a lower body temperature leads to much better sleep thanks to lower levels of cortisol. Higher levels of cortisol lead to feeling anxious and unsettled. Cortisol is the stress hormone.

The production and release of melatonin and growth hormone is also affected by higher temperatures so stripping down will only help that magical growth hormone work its magic in helping to keep you looking, and feeling, more youthful for longer. In fact, HGH is intrinsic to weight loss and muscle gain too.

Other benefits include:

  • Increased confidence
  • Higher sex drive and improved sex life
  • Improved metabolism
  • Increased blood circulation
  • Healthier skin

At the very, very least you’ll also be less stressed thanks to better, deeper sleep.

A Glass of Water is Your New Best Friend [2. Hydrate]

According to The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the average adult male and female needs an intake of 2.5 and 2.0 litres of water respectively, per day. The Natural Hydration Council provides further, succinct guidance here.

So, once you’ve woken and sprung right up and out of bed, drink a small bottle of water. A 500ml bottle of water consumed first thing in the morning will do a handful of things:

Fire up the metabolism

A study published in the Journal of of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism exploring the effects of Water-Induced Thermogenesis found that ‘drinking 500 ml of water increased metabolic rate by 30%.’

Flush the body of toxins

The kidneys eliminate toxins and waste products from the blood and urine, as well as process water-soluble toxins from the liver. Without proper hydration, the kidneys will not have enough fluid to do their job and so instead of flushing out waste through urine, the body will retain it.

Rehydrate you

You haven’t taken in any fluids since you went to sleep 7 – 9 hours ago. If you need more proof of dehydration, check out the colour of your urine.

Keep you from eating too much

The logic here is simple: if your stomach is filled with a zero-calorie substance, you’ll be less likely to feel hungry and, thanks to the lack of calories, will also be less likely to put on weight.

Refresh, and improve, brain function

The brain is 75% water and the most fatty organ in the body. Without water you’ll feel lethargic, be less focused and be more prone to mood swings.

The Japanese Water Theory of consuming between 800 – 1.2l of room temperature/lukewarm water upon waking is equally beneficial, if not more so. In addition to the above, it is said to:

  • Help clear the colon
  • Reduce the risk of headache
  • Give the skin a healthy glow
  • Rid the body of waste
  • Improve immunity
  • Help alleviate conditions such as diabetes, kidney stones, asthma and angina.

Our bodies are over 70% water; we’re literally made of the stuff.

Clear Your Mind and Focus [3. Meditate]

Ed Zwick made his first Tom Cruise movie in 2003. Inspired by the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigō Takamori, The Last Samurai is a historical epic that follows a United States calvary captain, Nathan Algren (Cruise), as he ventures to Japan to help train Imperial soldiers in the war against the rebelling samurai warriors. During the first conflict he is captured but rather than be treated as he expects to be, Algren is invited to understand the way of the samurai and treated as a guest.

One of his earliest lessons is to clear his mind:

Nobutada: “Please forgive…too many mind.”

Algren: “Too many mind?”

Nobutada: “Hai (yes).  Mind the sword, mind the people watch (watching), mind the enemy, too many mind.  No mind.”

Algren: “No mind?”

Nobutada: “No mind.”

This exchange between Nobutada, a young samurai warrior, and Algren is a wonderful way to think about meditation. If there are too many things filling your mind, they’re distracting you and destroying your focus. ‘Too many mind’ is distracting – aim for ‘no mind’.

Meditating early in the morning/soon after waking is a great way to cultivate positivity. One way to meditate is to focus on the things that bring you joy and those that you are grateful for.

“Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

Robert Emmons

Beginning the day in a state of gratitude and thankfulness will make you more likely to attract positivity and the best the universe has to offer. Gratitude begets gratitude: it’s magnetic and infectious.

Exercise [4. Activate]

According to the British Heart Foundation’s ‘Physical Inactivity Report 2017‘, around 39% of adults in the UK fail to meet the government recommendations for physical activity. In a population of 65 million, over 20 million people are not active enough.

Put another way, the World Health Organisation ranks sedentary behaviour among the top 10 leading causes of death worldwide.

If you want to increase your health, happiness and productivity then there’s no time to waste: get familiar with a regular exercise routine immediately. This doesn’t mean pulling on the lycra, headlamps and reflective arm bands and setting off for a trail run at 5am in the bleak mid-winter. Get thee to a gym or a pool, or to a morning yoga class. Or maybe stay home, throw on your copy of Insanity and forgo putting on any gym kit.

The key is to get moving.

The benefits of physical activity are endless and need no introduction. But if you need just a little more inspiration, exercising for just 60 minutes in the morning can lead to:

  • Less stress
  • Greater, and sharper, attention
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle growth

Sound good? Treat your body well and in return it will treat you better.

Use it or lose it, mi amigo.

Wash Off [5. Invigorate]

Once you’ve got your sweat on, it’s time to get it off. But if you thought exercise was a tough packet of biscuits to open, this one ratchets things up a notch.

Ever spent time in a sauna and then cooled off under a nice, icy cold bucket of wet death? Or ended up midway through washing your hair when the hot water runs out? For an instant, the world ended, right?

But cold showers have been proven to have many positive effects and choosing to embrace the cold for a few moments each morning can actually have a big, positive impact on your wellbeing. They can:

  • Build willpower
  • Speed muscle recovery
  • Relieve depression
  • Increase your alertness
  • Improve immunity and circulation
  • Increase testosterone and boost fertility
  • Improve skin and hair

It might take nerves of steel to turn that dial from the red to the blue, but a couple of alternating blasts of cold water will amount to less than a minute. You’ll step out of the shower feeling tingly, energised and ready for the day.

Eat A Healthy Breakfast of Protein, Slow Release Carbs and Good Fat [6. Ingurgitate]

Ok, so I struggled to find a word ending in -ate for this one. I’m talking about refuelling. I’m talking about…

Breakfast.

Breakfast is probably the most vulnerable meal of the day. It’s the first fuel we give to our bodies so getting it right can be tough, or boring. Or both. We’re busy people and skipping the Most Important Meal of the Day is easy to do, and certainly easy to neglect.

It’s common knowledge that:

  • Sugary cereals.
  • Buttery white bread toast.
  • Office donuts and a latte.

…are bad. And that:

  • Oatmeal
  • Eggs
  • Greek yoghurt

…are good. But how do we get the balance right?

There are plenty of studies out there telling us what’s good and what’s bad but as with any meal planning and macro counting, being sure seems to get more and more complicated the more we look into it.

As a rule of thumb Dr. Jacob Wilson, professor and director of the skeletal muscle and sports nutrition laboratory at the Applied Science and Performance Institute in Tampa, Florida, suggests to aim to consume 30-40g of protein, 30g+ of slow release carbs (oatmeal is an easy go to) and 20g of fats (nuts, seeds) at breakfast for a clean, longer lasting source of energy and quality nutrition.

For me, that’s a 5 egg omelette and a small bowl of almond milk cooked oats topped with a spoonful of nut butter. In other words, every day is Christmas.

Listen to Something That Gets You Going [7. Motivate]

Are you partial to an audiobook? A certain podcast? A little bit of ABBA Gold?

Try making the switch to listening to something that is both uplifting as well as educational on your commute to work and you’ll be adding an extra depth to your cognitive stimulation.

If the average length of an audiobook is approximately 11 hours and the average length of a daily commute is 90-120 minutes then getting through a book a week, or just over, is very doable. Over the course of a year you could squeeze in an additional 50+ books.

That’s a valuable acquisition from little input and little inconvenience: time spent waiting is wasted time spent.

What’s more, you’ll feel good: you’ll arrive at work entertained and engaged.

Consider Your Goals [8. Evaluate]

Keep a log of the things you want to achieve, both in the long term and the short. Ideally a 5-15 minute stint of journaling each evening will allow to you assimilate ideas. It will also allow you to highlight the more pressing goals.

Each morning, review them. The few minutes spent reading through them will help to provide the day with purpose and give it a perspective.

What’s more, considering the long term goals on a regular, or daily, basis will encourage you to think about them frequently too. Engaging with them will contribute to the mindset of accomplishing them and propel you towards doing just that.

Carpe Diem [9. Facilitate]

Seize. The. Day.

You worked through the 8 steps to get here and it’s not even 9am yet. You’ve woken, hydrated, meditated, worked out, washed off, eaten a healthy breakfast, reviewed your goals and learnt something. You’ve done the important stuff and you still have a full day ahead of you.

Congratulations, you’ve just won the day. Now, go crush it in those mighty, champion hands of yours and be safe in the knowledge that the seeds you sowed this morning will flower into a beautiful crop.

With all of the above completed, you’ll find you have a sharper focus, a higher degree of productivity and a bounty of motivation to keep you moving forwards. And upwards.


Conclusion

By the time 9am rolls around, think of all you will have achieved before most of your colleagues have even thought about seizing the day. You’ll have laid the foundations for a successful day.

You’ll feel more motivated, work better, exude more positivity and generally be the winner we spoke about earlier.

What’s more, you’ll soon begin to see real change in your life. You’ll attract more of what you want, you’ll do work that stimulates you more and your relationships will become even stronger, deeper and more fulfilling.

The Law of Attraction, which states that the universe manifests the things that we give our energy and focus to, will reward you with greater success and happiness and all it took was the seed of a tiny change to how you start the day.


*For further reading on the benefits of sleep, the RSPH has published an interesting guide here.

How to Learn a Foreign Language in 30 Minutes a Day

I recently wrote an email to a family member. She’s Lithuanian and the last time I saw her (3 months ago) I did a pretty decent job at saying ‘hello, how are you?’ and then looking blankly as she answered. In contrast, my email was an actual conversation that translated meaning. It was the beginning of a eureka moment for me and a confirmation that my new approach is paying off.

Frankly, just try and shut me up.

Man labai labai patinka kalbėti lietuviškai. 


Did you know that 43% of the world’s population speaks 2 or more languages and 13% of the world’s population speaks 3 or more? That means that almost half of the world speaks a foreign language. That also means that the mono-linguists out there are almost in the minority.

I expect 43% is the lowest that figure will ever be again. For next week, next month, next year, more and more of us will have foreign language communication skills and, moreover, more of us will want those skills too*.

I’ve not reached fluency in any other language than my native tongue. I’m basically a mono-linguist with a predisposition to saying ‘hello’ and ‘thankyou’ in as many different languages as I can. Bonjour!

Interestingly, aside from Ireland, the UK (in joint second position with Portugal) is where folks are least likely to be able to speak any foreign language. Uh-oh UK! Not cool.

I have a compulsion of playing around with language no matter where I travel and love to really utilise some very basic skills. But my attention is currently focussed on Lithuanian: I’m taking classes, and taking self-study seriously.

But learning languages is not easy. It takes a lot of time and a lot of focus and a lot of dedication. A language such as Lithuanian has 7 cases, 6 declensions, several diacritics and a sentence structure that, for a native English speaker at least, can be tough to get one’s head around.

Here’s some stats:

The Foreign Service Institute is responsible for training US diplomats and ambassadors to speak foreign languages. Since 1947 they’ve built a very strong bank of data regarding language learning for English speakers. According to them, a native English speaker looking to reach fluency in Lithuanian could expect to do so in 44 weeks (308 days) with a total of 1,100 hours (an average of 3.5 hours a day).

Basic maths puts 44 weeks at just short of 7,400 hours. Let’s break that down:

  • Average sleeping hours: 7.5 hours per night.
    • In 44 weeks that’s 2310 hours
  • Average working hours: 37 (37.4 according to the ONS) per week.
    • In 44 weeks that’s 1628 hours
  • Average time in the bathroom (washing and doing your business): let’s call it 1 hour a day, although it’s a very loose estimate.
    • In 44 weeks that’s another 308 hours
  • Average time cooking and eating: we’ll generalise another 1 hour daily.
    • In 44 weeks that’s another 308 hours
  • Average commute time: the ONS report from 2011 shows a varied commuting experience across the UK but, using my own experience from a life in London, the time spent getting to and from work every day is around 90-120 mins. As we’re optimists, we’ll use the lower end.
    • So, in 44 weeks that’s 330 hours

Therefore between sleeping, working, commuting, eating and washing oneself, we’re already at 4,884 hours. Which leaves 2,516 hours of our 44 weeks remaining. That is, 34% of our time. Therefore, once we factor in those 1,100 hours of dedicated language-learning time, we have 1,416 hours left to ourselves. That’s time we might spend grocery shopping, working out, seeing friends and family, watching movies etc.

Look at it another way. 1,416 hours is 19.14% of our 44 weeks. We’re left with 20% of our lives to do with as we wish once we’ve done all of the essential stuff (not counting any number of other responsibilities like, being a parent, having a dog, running a side-hustle, going to the doctor/dentist/hairdressers, travelling, date nights etc) and the language learning.

Yes, that’s not much time left to do all those cool, sexy things but here’s the point: if we’re learning a language, we’re likely doing so by choice so 1,100 hours of language learning isn’t really to be subtracted from time that we can call ‘Me time’. It does, however, highlight a real sense of priority.

I learn for myself and I learn for another reason too. And I love learning. Period. But, like most of us, I’m pretty busy and, even though I’d very much like to, I don’t really have 3.5 hours a day, every day, to assign to language learning. So I’ve tried to simplify the approach to learning by finding a more efficient way of engaging with the language.

N.B. I’m not a language coach, a polygot or even a bi-linguist. The following has simply proven hugely helpful for me.

My approach to learning a language:

  1. Nailing the basics
    1. Learn how to read through understanding pronunciation. Where do you roll an ‘r’, and what sound does ž or ė make? Once you have this down, and with a good bit of focus you could have it down in less than an hour, you’re setting off with your best foot forward.
  2. Frequency dictionaries
    1. These are, without a doubt, a game changer. Frequency dictionaries list words in order of their usage within a language. Typically they’ll be split into Verbs, Nouns, Adjectives etc. and what they offer is a wide open door to fairly decent conversations from the get-go. Logically, if you can use the first 1,000 or so words of those dictionaries you’ll be having basic conversations with comfort. Get to just 4-5,000 words and you’ll have a vocab strong enough to see you through the C2 test of the Common European Framework of References for Languages. That’s considered Mastery. The CEF doesn’t go higher.
  3. Weekly one-on-one/two lessons
    1. This does help and it’s helpful for 2 main reasons: specific guidance from a native speaker trained to provide specific guidance to non-native speakers, and a degree of accountability: I’ve paid for a block of lessons so I’d better do my best to ensure I get my money’s worth…
  4. Using the language in everyday settings
    1. I’ve found that forcing myself to using Lithuanian whenever I can is incredibly useful in rewiring my brain. The more I replace my English with Lithuanian the more comfortable I feel using it and the smoother I am at doing so.
  5. Exposure and Immersion
    1. Being in an environment where I can really only use the language: in Lithuania/ in the company of Lithuanians, is incredibly useful. It offers little opportunity to escape and the pressure of successful communication being almost solely dependent on one language is a great motivator. Sure, English is spoken relatively prolifically in the Lithuania, and certainly among my peer group, but the real heart of the matter is respect. There’s not a valid excuse not to try as hard as one can to speak the respective language of the country one finds themselves in.
  6. Daily targets of new vocab acquisition
    1. My target, at set out at the beginning of the year for Project20nine, is 10 words a day. Not many, but in a year that equates to 3,640 new words. Hello CEF B2. It’s also incredibly easy to routinely learn this many words. In a day I might learn these whilst making a coffee, on the lunch break, whilst waiting for the rice to cook. Add a few more words in a day and bingo, you’ve taken an impossible job, and made lightwork of it.

I would also argue that finding any excuse to listen to the new language as often as possible is helpful (audiobooks, podcasts, music, radio, movies), just as reading books in that language is, even if it’s just a case of becoming familiar with words rather than necessarily understanding 100% of them. I also really enjoy Lithuanian puzzle books for the same reason and find attempting to tackle grammar workbooks aimed at kids a lot of fun.

Kitą kartą senų senovėje buvo senelis ir senutė (from Eglė, žalčių karalienė). 

…žinau. Kaip grazu.

That’s really it. In addition to points 3 – 6 I spend around 30 minutes a day, on average, working through various self-study Lithuanian learning tasks but do often have episodes of Lithuanian Out Loud on in the background or any number of YouTube videos filling the silence whilst working. Like staying in shape, it’s a bit of a lifestyle choice but not inconveniently so. It’s a conscious effort to ease as much learning into the day as possible, as conveniently as possible: looking at my desk and mentally listing everything on it in Lithuanian, replying to a text message in Lithuanian etc.

Learning a new language isn’t just for those of us we think a particularly good at doing so. If you think about it, a baby can learn a new language pretty well (that is, we are born into the world without any language…) so why can’t we do it now? We can all learn a new language, it’s just a case of choosing to.


This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. Today the author doesn’t feel a day older than he should. In fact, if you asked him how he does feel, he’d probably tell you he feels no different to the way he felt at the beginning of being a 20-something. He would also tell you how much he enjoys being however old he is at any given moment and that he feels hungry. But then again, he’s always hungry

How to Make the Most of a Year: What to Do in the Last Year of One’s 20’s. Part 1: The Rationale

Part 1: The Rationale

On October 28th, I turn 29 years old and begin my final year on this side of 30. Some might tell us it’s the right side and that it’ll all be downhill from there. Others, the cool, optimistic ones, will tell us things only get better from there on out. Either way, it’s a big one. So big in fact, that I’ve decided that it’s high time for a reappraisal; an analysis exactly of who I am, what I’ve done with my life and how exactly, I believe, the final year of my 20’s should be spent. It’s a kind of pre-emptive therapy, a preventative measure against the possibility of waking up one morning with the realisation (or, rather, the misguided belief) that I have been wasting my life [i]. Over the next year I want to share the journey and my approach to leaving the 20’s behind with a bang and starting the 30’s with an even bigger one. After all, they also say life begins at 30. Right?

Before I begin, I think that it’s important to state, categorically, that #project20nine is not indicative of any sense of unhappiness. I am happy, I have a beautiful family and have few genuine worries in life. For this I am absolutely grateful. This project is about embracing opportunity, pushing myself in as many different ways as I desire, learning, growing and, most essentially, continuing to make the most of life in the fullest way I can. It’s also about asking myself exactly who I want to be, what I want to do, how I’m going to do it, where I want to be and, perhaps most importantly, why I want these things. These aren’t questions that I necessarily have the answers to right now, but one year from now I’ll either have new answers or reaffirmed old ones.


In 2017 there is a firmly established mindset, certainly among millennials, that places an emphasis on self-dependency, finding one’s passion and making a living from it, travel, real-world experience, not settling for second best and entrepreneurialism. Is it idealism? Is it a pragmatic belief that we can have all these things? Or is it the paradox of social media?

We live in an age with more opportunity to do what we find fulfilling than ever before and with a 24/7 window that overlooks everyone else doing just that it’s perhaps not entirely unreasonable to realise that a certain amount of envy, no matter how artificial those things our envy is based on are, is inevitable. What’s more, to assume oneself to be immune to such influence is naïve. I don’t feel affected but I have no doubts at all that the things I see, read, engage with and have even a fleeting interest in have a degree of impact on my desires and decisions. That said, as a starting block, #project20nine is as honest and as sincere to my own needs as I can make it. The variety of items are not there superficially: I am not concerned if one, some or all of them are impressive. What matters to me and should matter, I believe, to anyone looking to do something similar for any year of their life, is that the list reflects me, and not how I wish to be perceived.

Over the last several years I’ve routinely sought to achieve the things that I felt bettered me, stimulated me and/or offered an opportunity to open more doors and, generally speaking, and to my own standards, I have. Of course, those choices have never been infinite and any one of the them could quite easily have been replaced by another, but I own these choices and some of the highlights from the last decade include:

  • Age 21– I graduated for the first time with a scholarship-funded First Class honours BA degree with Distinction in Media Production.
  • Age 22 – I took my first solo overseas trip to a non-English-speaking country (Hallo, Deutschland!).
  • Age 23 – I became a teacher.
  • Age 24 – I graduated for the second time, this time in teaching.
  • Age 25 – I went back to university on another full scholarship, got a motorcycle license and fell in love with riding one.
  • Age 26 – I graduated for the third time (MA in Film and Television) and ran my first half marathon.
  • Age 27 – I moved to London from a small town in the UK and then travelled 3,500km around Japan.
  • Age 28 – I qualified as a PT, started learning Lithuanian, got a promotion, moved in with my partner, Vita, travelled around India and Sri Lanka, became a lecturer at Imperial College London, did my first muscle up and launched TwoFit.

During this time I also became an uncle 5-times over, saw one sister get married, saw the other come out and realise that I’ve got a lot of work to do to catch up my old man who just asked my mother to marry him again. Next year he’d like me to give her away and then stand beside him as his best man. What a romantic.

The above doesn’t make me any more or any less special than anyone else; any better nor any worse. Would I have done anything differently? Absolutely, but do I regret the decisions I made? Absolutely not, because there’s nothing to regret and it wouldn’t get me anywhere even if I did. I can’t change the past but I can affect the future by continuing to make choices and continuing to learn from them too. One of the ways that I plan on doing this is with this blog. It’s my evidence portfolio, my record of achievement and the chief means with which I’ll be able to look back on this year and see exactly where it’s gone. I keep plenty of notebooks but I’ve never kept any sort of diary. #project20nine is the most extensive diary I’ll have ever kept.

This is a year about living consciously. Achieving tangible, measurable things is fun and satisfying and practical but developing a mindset, that’s less immediately observable. I can’t take a photo of it, win a medal for it or take a video of its first steps. But I can develop it nonetheless. Like most of us I can sometimes be a big negligent of truly conscious mindfulness and so, alongside my intention to achieve the tangible, I also want to place the following questions at the forefront of this year:

  1. How can my approach to the next 364 days be more considered?
  2. What is the short and long-term value, and consequence(s), of my actions and decisions? Who will benefit from such choices?
  3. Am I living fully and with gratitude? Do I show appreciation to others; feel appreciation for the small things often enough; do things for others just because and without anticipation and expectation of reciprocation?
  4. Do I live each day confidently, with self-belief strong enough to really push myself
  5. Would my actions and/or decisions make my parents proud? Could I comfortably discuss them with them?
  6. Would my actions inspire my 19-year-old self?
  7. Would my actions make my 39-year-old self proud?

“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”

Tim Ferriss, The Four Hour Work Week

#project20nine begins with looking backwards but continues with looking forwards. Over the next 364 days I have a number of personal endeavours that I intend to embark on, to accomplish and to enjoy and the most straightforward way setting up the year ahead is to itemise them.

However, it’s a year that isn’t just about ticking stuff off a list. That’s a bit superficial and a somewhat misguided use of time. There’s no real value in that, no emotional investment or sense of appreciation. The title of the project is a celebration of each year of my life to date and so with respect to that number I felt it fitting to fill the year with twenty-nine exciting things. #project20nine is about doing things that excite me because the question one should ask oneself on a regular basis is not ‘what are my goals’ but rather, ‘what excites me and what can I do about it?’.

In order to get there, #project20nine has a couple of criteria that automatically rules certain entries out. First, travel is not eligible. I travel a lot and fully intend to keep doing it. There are plenty of dream trips (one of them, a trip to Iceland to see the Aurora Borealis, starts on my birthday) but travelling is not a specific aim for the year. Second, anything to do with commercialism or item acquisition is also out. Material goods come and go and I believe that life aspirations should be free of anything so temporary. An expensive pair of shoes are nice, but they’ll wear out much quicker than memories.

That aside, one of the big considerations regarding the list is plausibility and so entries need to be considered in such a way that doesn’t render the list unrealistic and/or highly unlikely. All of the best intentions, positive energy and belief that the if youre going to dream, dream big/ if youre going to fail, fail big etc. mentality will make dreams come true isn’t a logical approach. It’s inspiring and optimistic, but the list entries should be evaluated in such a way that whilst yes, they might be lofty ambitions given the constraints (whether financial, time or otherwise), setting oneself up for failure is, frankly, a waste of time and opportunity. What’s more is that the success of each list item should be quantifiable. After the fact, to what degree was it achieved and how can that achievement be measured?

Simply put, any item on the list is eligible should it meet the following criteria:

  1. Does it excite me?
  2. Are they within the realm of possibility? [putting ‘get a PhD’ on the list has a very high degree of implausibility within a year, just as ‘become an A-list movie star’ has]
  3. Does the entry have a measurable result?
  4. Will I look back on the memory of the entry and be glad of the time, energy and/or financial resources that I spent on it?
  5. Does the entry have a low-to-zero chance of negatively impacting on anyone else’s life?

If the answer to all criteria is a resounding ‘Yes’, it’s game on. If not, how can the entry be amended to still fit the bill and if it can’t then great, there’s a new space for a new entry.

Either way, game on.


[i] For the record, we’ve all been living our lives the best that we can. Our motivations, our ambitions and our contentment of those years leading to the Now are intimately ours and no one else will ever have the right and liberty of judging them. If we get to the point where we think we could have done better that’s precisely the point at which we step back, reflect and step up our games. The most important person to strive to be is yourself in 5 or 10 years. That’s the hero to look up to and hope to be because the 5/10 year Future Self is the Self with the gift of time and all that that time has to offer us.