Curbing the need for social media dopamine hits

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Yesterday, I used my phone so much that my thumb started hurting. Not that it stopped me, I simply switched hands so I could continue tapping away.

But if it’s getting to the point that holding a phone is starting to hurt, that’s probably a as obvious a warning sign as any.

This prompted me to do a quick stocktake of the way I’m using my phone. In particular, I looked at all the ways I’m connected. The numbers aren’t particularly pretty. I’m on four different social media apps which I check throughout the day. If I’m honest, I’m scared to know the actual number of times I open each app, because I’m sure it’s probably over 20-30 times in a day.

On top of that, there are at least five additional apps (e.g. WhatsApp / Telegram, but also Discord and Slack + other apps with in-built messaging). Through these I receive message notifications as well. This is without including checking my emails, and before actually considering that I also have work emails and MS Teams notifications as well. How many methods do I need to be notified about something?

Whilst for most people, the feeling of overwhelm would have hit by now – for me I have learnt an efficient system to keep on top of my messages, essentially by replying quickly so that I respond to people in good time. This has certainly helped my workflow with emails, and I’ve simply taken the principle to my messaging as well. And whilst this has been effective, it has also made me a message responding machine with an insatiable appetite for more stimulation.

Connecting with people can be very fun, and I’ve been doing it more so than ever. But I’ve been finding that this thirst only gets stronger the more I consume. So when I stop getting messages, my body gives me a feeling of anxiety. This is the definition of an addiction.

Like any addiction, the constant need for a new hit can be incredibly hard to resist. I did a short experiment of turning my phone off to see how I would feel – turns out not great: it really put into perspective how many times I reach for my phone without really thinking about it.

This is having a wider impact on my life. I feel more tired in my body, most likely because I’m not resting as well as I could have. My brain is far less clear and more reactionary than it otherwise would be. It’s hard to have peaceful thoughts in this state.

I’ve also been finding it extremely challenging to not get bored recently. I feel the physical pain of anxiety when I do not have a replacement for the stimulation I get. This means that even doing genuinely fun things like playing on my Playstation can feel boring because the dopamine hits aren’t as intense as receiving messages from someone.

So like many people in the modern age, it’s a moment to reevaluate my connection usage. I think it’s also about being honest with myself that going cold turkey – i.e. a complete disconnect – will probably be too intense for me at the beginning, especially if there’s not another thing to stimulate me in its place.

Small habits can really make a difference, and I can even tell the difference between connecting to the internet on my laptop compared to my phone. Whilst using my laptop has a certain level of intentionality, my phone is so easy to use, that it is almost dangerously so. I can simply pick it up whenever I want, and do so without thinking. Considering I use it for so many different functions too, it can mean that the behaviour for checking on notifications and social media can become automatic even when I wasn’t meaning to.

This is despite me generally keeping my phone on silent & reduced notifications – I have no idea how anyone can live with actual regular messaging alerts. It’s the first thing I turned off when I got a new phone!

Social media is probably the most apt example of modern day self-discipline training. Whilst I respect certain people for steering clear of it all together, I think there are many benefits that I enjoy in my life with it. Yet it is also addictive, so it is important to keep it in check.

Properly managing connection can leave you feeling better, and for many people I know it would actually mean that they are more responsive too. Many people check their messages when they are too tired to actually respond, which actually leads to more disconnection.

So if you’re reading this, I invite you to take this as a prompt to examine your own social media and messaging uses.

There’s nothing revolutionary in what I’m saying. You know it. I know it. But it’s probably time to have a look at it nonetheless.

Overcoming the guilt of standing up for yourself

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been speaking quite a lot around the subject of raising issues to the people around me.

I actually had something in my personal life – I felt uncomfortable with something around a social gathering. But I also felt very uncomfortable around causing a fuss for other people.

In the end I raised the issue. Despite finding a solution, I ended up feeling guilty and a feeling that I was too delicate and difficult. Even though it was important for me to speak up for myself, I still feel extremely awkward for having done so.

The truth is that it’s never really comfortable to raise an issue. At best, it is instinctive, and so happens without needing to overthink it. Whilst blowing up based upon emotions is not helpful, If this is done in an emotionally controlled way, it can be a good way to get things off the chest without letting them ruminate. It’s why giving space for issues to be raised as they come up can save a lot of time and stress for all involved.

Otherwise, the whole experience can be laborious. We can get so caught up in the question of whether we are making too much of a fuss about things. I’ve seen it time and time again where people have minimised their own feelings because they fear coming across as too difficult, loud or unreasonable. This is often followed by finding justifications for why they should maybe instead just accept the situation. The brain can end up going in overdrive finding a whole plethora of extenuating circumstances as to why we may be overreacting.

Through this process, we learn to invalidate our own feelings. We end up convincing ourselves that the issue is that not that big of a deal. We end up losing touch with how we really feel about things, and end up instead following others opinion of what we should think and feel. This can erode our connection with ourselves and our moral compass, which will likely have negative effects across all aspects of our life.

The complex part of raising an issue is that we cannot control how other people are going to react to it. Chances are that if you are with someone who you feel would be receptive, this whole subject is far less of a challenge (it’s why making ourselves open to challenge is so important). But the real difficulty comes when we are speaking with someone that we do not expect to take it particularly well. There are certainly ways that we can raise issues in a constructive, non-confrontational way. Yet I’ve also seen people ruminate so much on this that the fear only increases as to ‘find the right time’, meaning that they end up putting off doing what they need to say.

The next step is the importance of staying the course. This has been a real challenge for me – I often feel guilty for causing a fuss, and I’ve even deleted messages I sent to people because I felt they were maybe too strong, toned them down and apologised before they even heard what I wanted to say. The problem with this is that it is self-defeating. I undermined my own message and ended up being the bad guy for having the issue in the first place. I set the narrative as me overreacting, when in reality I was just reacting.

I’ve found that when we want to take a stand, it is important to do so with a level of conviction. If we wilt at the first sign of anyone pushing back, the whole exercise ends up being even more painful. We compromise out of social pressure or anxiety. At the same time, people will subconsciously learn to never take your concerns seriously.

People are not usually used to having someone taking such strong stands either. I’ve been described as stubborn for sticking to my guns in the past. This is a challenging one, because an accusation of being stubborn can poke us to compromise because we want to demonstrate that we are not. This is where self-belief really comes in; I’ve learnt to acknowledge myself and my openness to see this is not the case, meaning I don’t need to respond to the accusation.

It’s important to remember that there is a clear difference between being stubborn because you refuse to be wrong compared to having conviction where you have considered all the information and are still sticking the course.

If you’ve been reading my article over the last few weeks you’ve probably seen me talk about having a clearer connection to our feelings. This article follows a similar theme. I believe that many of the moral woes come from an avoidance of raising our voice when we need to. By learning to ignore our feelings, we learn to ignore our conscience.

I think the world would be a better place if people raised issues more often. It would mean we sort them, rather than sweeping them under the carpet.

So if you’re considering how to deal with a situation where you raise an issue, my suggestion would be this: be guided by the emotional feelings that you have, but do not let them control you. If you face a choice of whether to raise something serious, make sure you have the conviction to follow it through, rather than backtracking at the first sign of push back. And be willing to accept that you may not get what you want, as ultimately the decision may not be in your control.

Standing up for yourself may be very uncomfortable, but your conscience will thank you for it. And the world will probably be better off for it too.

Navigating the moral dilemma of buying new things

Photo by Christopher Gower on Unsplash

I finally bought a new phone. This was after five years since purchasing the last one.

I previously had a decent android which worked well. The battery started to fail me, but I got that replaced last year. When I did that, It actually felt like a new phone.

But by late last year it started to fail. Some internal overheating error meant it stopped charging at all. I basically had a phone that I could only use if it was plugged in. The ‘mobile’ part of mobile phone was lost.

I ended up borrowing my mum’s old phone to keep me going. It was a phone that was a few years old. It was living in an old drawer anyway.

The issue once again was the battery. Even when I started using it, it would die when it got to about 30 percent battery, sometimes very rapidly and without warning. I had one moment where I was following google maps to a friends house, only for it to dramatically die without warning. I got lucky and managed to find their front door by some old visual memory.

This only got worse, the battery had degraded so badly it would die almost instantaneously. The last time I used it on Monday, it hit 97% and died. I now own two phones that only work when plugged in.

So this week was time I finally upgraded. Yet, I had a moral quandary here. After all, the constant purchasing of new phones is one of the most obvious examples of needless materialistic waste. New phones rarely have much better features anyway.

I could have bought a second hand phone, or something more socially conscious like a Fairphone. It probably would have fit a nice, conscientious looking mould. But honestly, I didn’t want to. I am one of the heaviest users of a mobile phone that I know, and I much preferred getting a new, higher spec one which will last me a long time.

I know many people who find this question challenging, particularly who work or care deeply around environmental issues. I felt a tinge of guilt for wanting something flashy and new, especially when I literally work on circular economy policy. Yet I also knew that I would use it and it was what I really wanted. I think it would have been worse to not purchase it out of self guilt.

So how do we square this conflict of views?

Well, firstly, I think it’s okay to want things. Wanting and using is part of our natural behaviours as humans. I don’t see much value in chastising ourselves for this.

That said, I believe that it is important that we appreciate the items we consume. It may sound somewhat weird to say it, but one of my most prized possessions is my TV. I love the quality of it, and the graphics when playing games on my Playstation brings me a real sense of joy.

I find this sort of consumerism different to items that we buy but then do not use. If I am genuinely appreciating the materials, I think it is worth it.

Moreover, I’ve seen so many people working in the environmental space get into an existential angst around basic consumption that it makes them miserable. Whilst its great to be conscientious, we must not forget that life is to be enjoyed. If we are going to have some marked impact on the environment through the fact that we exist, we might as well make our existence a joyous and fulfilled one.

On my quest for a new phone, one thing that I did not expect was how underwhelmed I felt when it actually came. It was so quick to setup and transfer my data that I barely had time to notice it happening.

I reflect that with tech upgrades being so easy now, some of the magic and delayed gratification has gone away. If I were to buy a new laptop, I could probably have it setup within hours. The tech is so good that it could sync up all my applications and settings pretty much instantly. This feels very far away to the magic of when I bought my first laptop, where I had to set everything up, along with seeing what wallpaper I wanted to put on.

I think we would benefit from appreciating our purchases more fully. A key element of this is having that delayed gratification, as well as focused appreciation in what we have bought.

Whilst I do not want to turn back the clock on the heightened level of convenience we now have in the world, there is a space for us to build our own rituals to genuinely enjoy the new creations in our hands.

If we took a moment to genuinely consider how much effort went into making the things we own, I think we would live our lives in a far higher state of gratitude.

How we can live life more emotionally

Emotional reactions aren’t exactly hard to find. Online, the world can feel very polarised, so it can be a challenge to keep a cool head when discussing divisive topics – be that climate, diversity, war or anything else.

For many of us, we’ve been taught the value of avoiding emotional reactions. It’s important for us to be able to listen to others without reacting straight away. Yet whilst we are better off not reacting to the first emotion that we have, I also feel we have gone too far the other way.

We have inadvertendly idealised the idea of being cool, calm and collected over the ability to express genuine feelings. Indeed, the idea of expressing how you feel is still seen as a risk in a corporate workplace, for fear of being called unprofessional.

Growing up in a mix of UK and Bangladeshi culture, I learnt to keep emotions in check. Whilst the British side taught me the value of the ‘stiff upper lip’ to avoid causing a scene (particularly in public), the Bangladeshi culture focussed on the need for respect and humility.

Whilst there are definite positives to these values, they also contribute to the lack of balance within people in society. For males, expressing emotions is something that is neither expected nor often wanted. It is no wonder that we see so many men in the world unable to share how they were genuinely feeling.

For women, this can be a challenge for being seen as ‘too emotional’, particularly in a workplace setting. For everyone else on the gender spectrum, expressing emotion can be tricky: there are less obvious examples to follow, whilst other people’s reactions can also be negative when these go against the expected gender norms.

In last week’s article, I talked about how I was a far more emotional and sensitive creature than I had previously realised. This week for me was about tying this realisation with the way I act on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve realised how the usual response to something that genuinely upsets me is to push down the emotions. When someone has done something that has hurt me, I jump to their perspective. I try and be understanding without properly understanding how I am feeling. My trained, instinctive response is often to play down a situation, only for my upset or anger to surface quickly after. I would then feel unable to express these feelings as I had already said things were fine.

So I’ve been looking to express myself more closely with how I’ve been feeling. This has been quite a big shift, and honestly, probably not a popular one. Internally, I’m letting go of a filtering system which put me closer to a cool, calm and collected response. It’s also made me realise how much I self-censor: as someone who already has the image of being outspoken, I’ve been unconsciously tuning out a lot of my ideas for fear of being too radical.

The reality, though, is that I am radical. I’ve seen it time and time again that the way my mind thinks is very different to the people around me. It’s taken some time, but I’ve also learnt to see this as a gift – the world is facing so many challenges it needs the space for more radical thinking. I shouldn’t be toning down my ideas in a space where creative thinking is desperately needed.

At the same time, this has only increased my feelings of being an outsider. Whilst I enjoy the uniqueness of my life most of the time, I often wish my life was a little less unique and I found it easier to connect with others. But I also know that this is my life path, and any attempt to pretend otherwise would only lead me to dimming my own light and ultimately being unsatisfied.

I honestly don’t know whether what I am doing is good life advice for others. I think (or perhaps hope) that better emotional expression leads to a more fulfilling life. But I also am still in fear of the repercussions. Will this be ultimately damaging for my friendships, career and everything else?

In the short term, it might just be. But hopefully in the longer term it will lead to better things.

Don’t cry for me Argentina – trip reflections

Lago Falkner, on the Route of the Seven Lakes, Patagonia

I’m on my last leg of Argentina. In fact, I’m currently writing this article thousands of miles in the sky, on my way back to Europe. This week I went to Bariloche, Patagonia. I returned to Buenos Aires for one night before returning back to Brussels (with an exotic layover in Frankfurt).

Patagonia is breathtaking. I wasn’t expecting to see such a wide array of beautiful landscapes in such a small space of time. I expected Patagonia would be beautiful, but I didn’t think there would be so much of it. I became overwhelmed rather quickly. The views were incredible, but there are only so many stunning scenes you can take in within a day before it becomes exhausting.

Otherwise, my trip to Argentina has been weird. It had a mix of solo travel, spending time with some family (brothers/cousins) and also travelling with extended/new friends. What has also been travelling with me is a consistent cough, which has been a particular challenge on certain days too.

I’ve not been shy to share that this trip did not come at the greatest time for me. The beginning of the year has brought a pretty intense level of existential questioning. Sometimes this has felt like a real burden – I felt guilty for not enjoying my trip more. And yet, I also realised with hindsight that it is better to get on with life rather than what I would otherwise be doing – staring at my ceiling from my bedroom in Brussels.

I think I’m entering my chaotic era in life. This trip had less planning, more emotional vulnerability and greater amounts of spontaneous fun. Whilst I did go see the tourist sites, I also went out in Buenos Aires to a techno party till 7am, which definitely wasn’t part of the usual itinerary. I also had more of a sense of obligation to be there for my family, which was the primary reason for the trip. I find such things difficult, and this was no exception here.

When I stop to think, it’s actually amazing what I achieved. I booked a full trip a few weeks away, turned up to a brand new country in a different continent and rolled through speaking Spanish from day one with no issues. I often take my skills for granted, and it was only when I was travelling with non-Spanish speakers that I remembered how far I had come with my mastery of language and cross-cultural communication.

In the last few days I noticed something about myself. My urge to conform and connect with local cultures with respect is something that really drives me. On the positive side, this is what has spurred my strengths in understanding others. On the other hand, this can also make me feel very uncomfortable when not doing what I’m supposed to do. I had a sharp pain in my chest when I was travelling with others and I felt like we were not respecting the local customs. I had never connected the dots around my sensitivities with the deep desire to conform within a culture.

I think that deep down, I am someone who really desires harmony and peace. When I go to my core, I am actually the ultimate people pleaser – this has come out really intensely when I’ve gotten close with people.

The painful part of this is that this does not really reflect how many people see me, or indeed how I saw myself for a long time. The nicer words people have used about me are that I am passionate and fight for what I believe in, the less nice words are that I am a troublemaker.

This trip has been a reminder that at my core I am deeply sensitive – for many people probably overly so. So I have learnt to adapt, whether that be to attach myself to more masculine traits of logical thinking whilst also heavily suppressing my emotional side, or learning to be more outspoken as a way to follow my beliefs.

After all, if I was still the quiet, peace loving ethnic minority, I would probably be doing some admin job in the back of an office with half the salary with my skills being wasted. The troublemaker brand is one I’ve reluctantly accepted to make it in a world not built for people like me.

We can travel away from everything except ourselves

My gloriously tidy hostel bed in Iguazú

This article marks two years of writing articles each week consecutively. The last time I missed a week was in January 2022. And it just so happens that I’m writing this one from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I’ve been posting pretty frequently on social media around the different things I’ve been seeing. I didn’t really have a set intention to do so, but I just felt like getting the thoughts out of my head and into the world.

Throughout my posts, I wanted to ensure that I kept a level of grounded realism about travelling. We’ve all seen the exotic lifestyles being portrayed on social media that are far from reality. Instead, I wanted to talk about how I genuinely experienced the parts of my trip.

I’ve been sick pretty much throughout. I’ve generally been fine enough to do what I had planned, but the constant coughing has made it tougher. I also came into this trip with probably the least amount of enthusiasm I’ve ever had for a ‘grand adventure’. I was, and still am, in the midst of some soul searching as we hit 2024.

The untold truth about travelling is that whilst it can be great, amazing, breathtaking, it is still living life. There are exciting moments, and there are boring moments. Nothing illustrated this better to me then when I went to the Iguazú waterfalls and saw amazing things in the morning. By the afternoon I returned to my hostel bed with very little to actually do. I ended up scrolling more on social media than I would have done at home.

The one person we always travel with is ourselves. Many people travel the world to escape their lives, only to find themselves still unhappy 5000 miles away. Travel can do many things, but it won’t fix your happiness. Only you can do that for yourself.

For me, I recognise that I’m having a moment in life where things need time to settle. It’s like a operating software update – until it’s done, I’m a slow-moving loading screen. This would be the case if I was in snowed-under Brussels or travelling across Patagonia. There are no shortcuts in this game.

Fortunately, I have the wisdom to recognise this point. Although there were moments with getting anxious for not ‘enjoying this more’ or getting frustrated with my body for getting sick, I could realise that this was just part of life. I can feel what I’m meant to feel. I don’t need to change anything.

On a positive note, yesterday was the lightest I’ve felt in a long time. Despite still coughing a lot, I felt a sense of floating through life again. I noticed the beauty of the trees. I noticed the smiles of the people around me. I wanted to wave my body with music. I felt a greater sense of inner peace. I think the software update is getting close to completion.

It’s funny that after a period of angst and confusion, there simply comes a point where it just passes. This only happens if we learn to process the emotions without either avoiding them or hanging onto them unduly.

Whatever hardships or challenges we have faced, one day we can wake up and see the beauty of life again.

This too shall pass.

The subtle art of getting on with life

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

Life doesn’t stop. Even if we want it to.

I’ve been slowly reawakening to life after the new year. Honestly, it’s felt lethargic and difficult.

Alas, life does not wait for us to feel in tip top condition. For those of us in the EU bubble, the return to work has felt more intense than ever. We’ve hit ‘la rentrée’. People are back in town. Social activities have restarted. Emails are flying around in abundance. The break is officially over.

As humans, many of us are feeling rusty. Indeed, at my local Toastmasters, the overriding feedback was that we all seemed pretty rusty.

This week has been a lesson in practice of getting on with my life despite how I feel. I still feel under a cloud of existential questioning. But I realise that it’s better I go out and do things rather than avoiding them.

This week was intense. I landed straight into a week of grant proposals, reporting deadlines and planning meetings. I came into the office a few days, including a half day HR training on Wednesday and a team planning session with my team on Friday.

One of the (rather unwanted) benefits of a job is that it prompts us into action. When we commit to working, it pushes us to do things, even if I didn’t really feel like it. By the end of the week, I found the interest and passion slowly return.

This principle also shifts towards our personal lives too. This week I had a team social on Tuesday evening, a pole class Wednesday evening and my Toastmasters club meeting on Thursday evening.

These are all things that I wanted to do. After I did them, I felt better for it. But before them, I really didn’t. Part of me was tempted to bail and stay home.

There is a comfort in withdrawing back into the comforts of our homes. Yet I also know that if I were to not do the things I actually want to do, I would have felt worse. Getting back into the activities that we enjoy is an important part of living.

It is also a way to break the cycle of misery. Many of us tend to withdraw when we feel low. Whilst sometimes this can be beneficial – particularly if we are burnt out or need time for ourselves – often this is to our detriment. We end up reinforcing our sense of isolation because we do not feel like going outside.

It’s now Friday night, and I’m sitting in Frankfurt airport waiting for a flight to Buenos Aires for a two week trip. I’ll have a chance to properly disconnect for a few weeks. I’m looking forward to a change of scenery and new stimulation, even if I haven’t really thought about it too much yet!

I’ll still be writing my articles and reflections (often when I travel I actually post more because I feel more creative). So expect my next article including some insights from my travels. It’ll also be a nice way to mark a landmark too – next week I’ll have posted articles for two years without missing a single week.

Embarking on an exciting trip is as good a reminder as any: go ahead and live your life, even if you don’t feel like it right now.

Managing the existential questioning after the holiday period

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

The last two weeks have been a lethargic period for many people. For me, I’m noticing that I’m probably more frazzled than I was before this ‘rest period’ started.

It is often the period of rest that allows issues to surface. When we are too busy, we don’t give space for the bigger questions in life to arise. For me, this has been a new layer of existential questioning of who I am. I think deep down I knew I was due such a moment of crisis. Knowing this does not make it any less confusing or painful.

I look at this philosophically – I wouldn’t be able to handle this level of confusion compared to the version that I was a year ago. As we grow, life gives us new, larger challenges. So in other words, I’ve been given a bigger challenge because I’m now able to face it, compared to before.

I’ve learnt to let go of the small things much better than I used to. Usually, if I have something bother me, within a day or so I’ve probably forgotten about it. But with this, the feeling of confusion and fatigue has lingered for over a few weeks now.

The temptation is to retreat from the world. I could tell myself that I need my ‘me time’ and to block out everything and everyone else. But with maturity and wisdom, I realise that this often actually compounds the problem. I can’t ‘outthink my problems’ and my tendency to withdraw only makes me disassociate further from the world. I also feel worse because I am no longer doing the things I enjoy either.

I’ve had a pretty sociable last two weeks. Considering I spent it in Belgium, I ended up seeing quite a few sets of friends over the last two weeks, rather than the self-imposed isolation which it could have been.

I’m very grateful for this. Going out and seeing friends, especially when I don’t feel like it, breaks the monotony of being in my head. It has allowed me to remember that there is a world out there, and the cool winter breeze helps me ground back into reality.

There is no escaping the fear and confusion. It is part of the process. Running away from it does not make it go away, it just merely prolongs the experience. But neither does trying to fix it, or rushing through the process to the ‘everything’s fine’ moment. Such thoughts risks us falling into denial about how we really feel.

Instead, I’m content to experience the experience I’m meant to be having. And, this does not mean that I need to pause my life.

Truly, one of the greatest levels of mastery in life is being able to do things you commit to, even when you don’t feel like it. This can be as grand as writing a 100,000 word novel or as small as doing the dishes after having dinner.

At the same time, a key part of this is being gentle with oneself. I recognise that I’m not at my tip top shape, so I don’t force myself to be. I’ve spent more time laying in bed than I usually would, sometimes into the afternoon. This might not necessarily be the ‘healthiest’ thing, but it’s also comforting. Sometimes comforting is nice and okay.

If we never took time to question what we are doing in life, we would never do anything new or different. Questioning ourselves is a key part of our existence. It is something to embrace, rather than escape.

What does 2024 hold in store?

Photo by Danil Aksenov on Unsplash

One of the great things about writing articles weekly is that it’s pretty easy to go back to them and see how life panned out in 2023.

These last few days I’ve been resharing some of the most meaningful articles that I’ve written this year. It’s a good way of being able to reconnect with the ebbs and flows of the last 364 days.

So in my 52nd and final article of 2023, let’s first look back to help me look forward.

But let’s start with what I’m feeling right now. Although in the short term I’m still feeling tired from a year that seemed to finish late, I feel like I’m in a much better place than I have been throughout the course of this year. Last week, I described this as a ‘foundational year’, in that I feel far clearer in many aspects of my life compared to the beginning of the year.

I dug out my old articles, and found one looking at how 2022 went. I also found one of 2021 as well.

Ironically I wrote that I thought 2022 would be my foundational year. Instead, it turned out to be a year of frantic exploration and kicking off some radical change. 2022 was the year where I really shook the snow globe of my life. 2023 was about letting the snow settle into place.

It’s also interesting to read about the evolution of the way I see the world. in 2021, I wrote about achieving a lot, but not feeling particularly happy. We were still in lockdown times, and I was still settling in with a new job and moving countries. The emotional separation of leaving the UK was still weighing heavy on me.

2022 felt like I had something to prove. I was leading into the December period with ambitions of doing many different things. I had just published my book, and was already planning on working on a podcast, as well as thoughts of a next book. Reading this all now sounds exhausting, and with the benefit of hindsight I can see how hard I was pushing myself to achieve all these things. It was as if I was fighting against time itself.

Whilst this definitely carried over into the first half of 2023, by the end of this year I feel far more relaxed. I don’t feel the need to have 50 different goals, nor grand ambitions to do new, cool sounding stuff. In contract, my December was left pretty empty this year. What is nice is that this was just an intuitive sense of keeping my schedule light, rather than something I had to force myself to do.

My shift in mindset is not due to a drop in ambition. If anything, they’ve only increased. But it stems from a deeper knowing that I don’t really need a bucket list of cool sounding things to drive my life forward. I know that I will do lots of cool and exciting things anyway, so pre-supposing lots of goals doesn’t really make too much sense to me anymore. Instead, I want to be put myself in a mental and physical space where I am best able to seize the opportunities that will appear in the next 12 months.

The idea of not having lots of goals can feel quite counterintuitive. We’re so used to being told that having goals are important. But I equate it to riding a bike with stabilisers. When we are just beginning in our search for direction, it is helpful to have goals to push us forward. Otherwise, we drift aimlessly, or fall flat on our face.

I feel like I’ve come to a moment where I don’t need the restrictive list of goals. I can take the stabilisers off, and ride where life takes me far more freely. This would have been too daunting before, but now I have reached a level of mastery where I am far more comfortable with the unknown.

So then, how do I look at 2024? Well, I think a lot of the things that I’ve set in motion in 2023 will bear greater fruit – my personal development, focus on relationships and greater focus on mental/physical wellbeing. I’m already seeing life feel more rhythmic and fun rather than a constant struggle to get somewhere. which is what it was before

Despite what I said about goals, there are a few things in my mind that I want to do (the difference being I won’t chastise myself if I don’t!).

Firstly, physical health is finally going to get top spot. For years it has languished lower down the priority list, but it’s time I really connect with my body and work to improve my fitness and general healthcare. It’s definitely improved over the last 6 months, but there’s further I can go.

This is probably one of the most daunting ones for me. I’ve made many attempts to ‘get fit’ ‘or ‘get in shape’, and they’ve never really stuck. Usually it’s because other things take precedence. This is not what I want to happen in 2024.

As another idea, I may go back to writing a new book. The itch for writing returned over the last few days, and I have a longstanding idea around a philosophical fiction book – currently entitled ‘Jane’s quest for meaning in the 9 to 5’. I wrote the first four pages this year, then stopped. It would be a nice project to return to, and I feel better equipped to write it as well.

I did a lot of personal development courses last year, so I feel less pulled to do lots more right now. That may change, but at least for the next few months I want to slow down with consumption of new material. Also from a financial standpoint, I’ve invested so much to the point where money has felt a strain. It would be good to have a few months pause, pay off some overdrafts and feel more financially solvent. I’m fortunate that this doesn’t require any dramatic cut backs, though it is an exercise in self-control.

If there is one course I would like to do, it would be a Vipassana retreat. These are 10 day silent meditation courses, hosted in retreat centres globally. I flirted with attending one this year, but honestly, I was already doing so much. One thing I’m noticing is how much I love the stimulation of life, to the point I just want more and more. I think this would be a great ‘reset’ button around a lot of my habits and way of living. No doubt it’ll be tough, but I think it would be so valuable.

Otherwise, I want to keep myself open and responsive to life. I want to allow free space and energy for new things to come into my life, rather than booking it all out already. Like many people, I think I’ve been guilty of letting great things pass me by. Whilst no one does this intentionally, it often comes from an overfocus on pre-set goals. This isn’t something I want for 2024.

What did I even do in 2023?

Photo by Christof on Unsplash

Before logging off work, I wrote a recap email of all the things our team had achieved this year.

It was meant to be a short thank you email with a summary. But I realised that this would not really be doing the task justice. So instead, I spent some time properly trawling through our achievements.

Over the last year, my team had published 3 reports with 2000+ accumulative views, 5 events with over 400 attendees (including one in the European Parliament and another in Dubai for COP), 20 videos with over 17500+ accumulated views across platforms, 8 media mentions (either quotes or op-eds). We also ran ten working groups, a research workshop along with four individual interviews, 10+ stakeholder meetings, 15+ meetings with businesses, 4+ position papers on files, and 5+ speaking opportunities to promote our work at other events.

I’m not sure I totally did it justice, but I’m glad I wrote it out rather than just saying ‘we wrote 3 reports and did 5 events this year’.

We can really downplay the accumulative effect of what we have achieved. So I thought I would also do a similar exercise for myself, blending in the personal and the professional.

  • This will be my 51st article of this newsletter this year. They average about 600 words (if not more), meaning I’ve written over 30,000 words just through this blog. The readership has grown to 1600, and on average, about 450 people read each article. Accumulatively, my articles have been read at least 22,500 times this year. Pretty cool considering it’s something I do in my spare time! According to LinkedIn, this is my 156th article I’ve written too. Once I get passed January 20th, I will have not missed writing an article for two years.

  • I invested deeply in my personal development. I attended three 3 day seminars, one 2 day seminar and a 7 day developmental immersion. Additionally I had a one day in-person session with my coach. I also went to India for 10 days, which including some solo travel, was directly focused on attending The Ultimate Experience, another personal development conference. In total, I’ve spent a whole month’s worth of days on personal development – all stuff outside of my ‘formal job’.

  • This is not also factoring all the additional coaching calls. I’ve averaged fortnightly calls with my coaches, completed an online 8 week programme and tuned into numerous additional free personal development talks. I’ve easily wracked up above 100+ hours. Again, this is another 12 working day’s worth.

  • I got my voice out there far more this year. From a professional point of view, I wrote op-eds around circular economy policy – two in Euronews and one in Euractiv. I was quoted in the Brussels Times, as well as a quote at the bottom of an article in Forbes (the Forbes quote is longer than I remember!!) I’m also co-author for the three publications we did on circularity which I mentioned earlier on. (here, here and here)

  • I also spoke at more events – in the last month I spoke at two event in Brussels, at the Sustainable Packaging Summit in Amsterdam and to Spanish Clean Tech companies in London. Earlier in the year I also spoke on policymaking to sustainability start ups in Cambridge. This has been underpinned by my regular attendance of Toastmasters, where I’ve been honing my speech craft. I did four prepared speeches over 2023. I attended around 15 club meetings/socials (which include impromptu speaking exercises) – I am also Vice-President of Membership there.

  • I attended interesting events, including the EU Industry Days in Málaga, Innovate Zero in the UK as well as those on my doorstep in the European Parliament (one of which we hosted) and the European Commission (on the Paris Stocktake). There are also a few podcasts I’ve been on this year, I recorded 5 episodes with a friend sharing reflections, but also additional guest appearances around sustainability, diversity and personal development.

  • This has been a year around exploration and self-expression. This is the first year in my ‘nine year cycle’ which is a year of creating foundations for the next 8 years. I certainly started this year feeling pretty lost and unsure about what I really wanted, and I end the year with far more clarity and ease about myself. The journey between these two points have included some very difficult moments filled with confusion, but also many fun moments too.

  • I’ve also become far more comfortable in my own skin. At the beginning of the year I would freeze at the idea of dancing or moving to the rhythm of music. I’ve attended a number of ecstatic dance events which has really freed up my skin and allowed me to get out of my head. I’ve also been much more active and connected with my body through exercise, as well as shifted my diet towards regular intermittent fasting. I’ve gotten in much better shape (albeit a slump from stress in the last two weeks).

  • I am far happier with the relationships around me. I have put more effort into the relationship with my parents, which is one of the reasons I go back home to London more often than I used to. I’m glad I’m doing this now (even if not perfectly) whilst I still can.

  • I’ve become more discerning around friendships. I used to try very hard to maintain friendships, whereas now I’m much more content to let them go. For a friendship to work, there needs to be the time and energy from both sides. This has given space for new connections where I feel a much more equal balance.

It feels pretty nice writing out these things. Each time I go back I add a few more points when I realise I have completely forgotten to mention something! I had to go through my calendar to remember what I had done earlier in the year.

Whilst I knew I did a lot, the sheer amount was not really visible to me. So it’s nice to have it written out more fully (even if there are more things I could write here!)

So if you feel inclined, I recommend you doing a similar exercise for yourself. It will make you appreciate yourself far more.