Courage

A friend doing a brave thing

Courage, oh you brave lion heart. Where would we be without it? Where could we be with it? A common coaching question is:

What would you do if you had no fear?

Easy to ask, hard to imagine. The idea, of course, is that you will see that it is only fear that gets in your way. But let’s dig a bit deeper. What is that fear about?

Back when we were tiny tots we started to learn what would keep us safe, well-liked, out of trouble, and in good favour. What would make people smile and what would make people cross. Our brains are really very very old, parts of our brains are even called the lizard brain, and it is that part that is wired toward fear.  In order to survive, our brain became wired to pay attention to negative things: that rustle in the tree might be a snake, that strange noise could mean danger, that angry face could mean trouble. The negative stuck to our brains like velcro, to use a term coined by the imminent neuropsychologist, Dr. Rick Hanson. So fear is normal. The courage to break away from the wiring, to turn away from the fear is extraordinary. In order to become braver, happier and more positive we can actually re-wire our brains. Scientists have shown that, with sufficient training, we can rewire the neural pathways that regulate our emotions, thoughts, and reactions. Our brains are more plastic and changeable than we thought. Could we actually rewire our brains to take risks and be braver?

So. Courage. 

 Courage is the driver that gets us to where we want to go. I don’t think anything can happen without courage. It takes huge courage to use your voice, to speak up, bear witness, tell your story, and also ski fast down a mountain. Courage is a key value of mine, but that doesn’t mean I have a lot of it. People have often said to me “ Wow you are so brave! You have moved so many times!” But to me that is not brave, that is a necessity. What is courage to one, might be completely normal to another.  I am terrified of cold water and therefore find people who jump into icy ponds, or the winter sea at dawn, magnificently brave.  I have three friends who do cold water swimming. They don’t get into ice buckets, they actually swim, in icy ponds or even in the sea, in December. They don’t consider this brave. They love it and believe it thoroughly enhances their lives, and makes them feel fully alive and awake. But since I am terrified of cold water, I think it is the bravest thing I can imagine.

Likewise, I think writing is brave, but some people get paid to do it every single day.  Some years ago I used to write an award-winning blog. I wrote at least 3 or 4 times a week for more than 4 years. And then I stopped. I love writing and I think I have something to say but recently an inner voice has stopped me from putting my words out there.  Maybe it is the thought of someone watching you, reading you, hearing you that is most terrifying. Especially if you compare yourself to others. It takes courage to only compare yourself to who you were yesterday. 

Then I heard something clever the other day: What scares you or what challenges you is exactly what you should write about. And so here I am writing about courage. The courage to say “no, thank you” to the voice that keeps me quiet. To the voice that says I shouldn’t. To say “yes please” to the desire to use my voice.

So what I am finding is this. If we want to re-wire our brains, if we want to face fear in the face and do the thing, if we want to live with courage then we need, to borrow someone’s famous words: just do it.

Think of one thing you would do if you didn’t have fear. It might be a tricky conversation with a boss, or maybe you would sign up for that marathon, take a solo vacation, write the book. Now consider a tiny step that you could take that would set you on the path. Maybe register for a run, write a page, share an idea, or tell someone you are going to do it. That tiny step is a start that will tell your brain that yes you can. 

For me, I am going to keep writing, and sharing my ideas, my learning, the things that inspire me. I am going to try hard to turn away from the voice that says “who are you to write such things?” It is not easy to click publish, it doesn’t come from a place of entitlement, more of a place that wishes to be brave, face fear and live facing the sun rather than, like an ostrich, face in the sand. Hiding might feel safe but I choose a bigger braver fuller life. Courage is doing it even if….

Again and again, even though we know the landscape of love

and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,

and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others

fall: again and again the two of us walk out together

under the ancient trees, lie down again and again

among the flowers, face to face with the sky.

RAINER MARIA RILKE, ‘Again and Again’

I acknowledge that courage and feeling brave is a choice for me. There are many people for whom courage is not a choice, it is a necessity. Choosing courage is an act of privilege.

As always, thank you for reading and for sharing this with people. It makes my heart full to know that you are enjoying my words, and makes my courage grow.

Sam xx

Chasing Awe

I was practicing Awe when I stopped to admire this guy on the door of a cafe

A few weeks ago I wrote about our complex relationship with time. I wrote about how we are rushing, running and scrolling through our days and often resisting the discomfort of just sitting with the unease, the quiet, and the often too-slow track of long days. Today I want to continue that discussion but this time to write about our desire to slow time down. When my daughters were little girls there were moments when I just had enough and their 8 pm bedtime couldn’t come fast enough. There were other times when I just wanted to freeze time and stay in this very sweet moment, the here and now, feeling everything and stretching time.

How can we slow time?

There is one solution and it is this: We chase Awe.

Dr Dacher Keltner, a world expert on chasing awe as a means to happiness says this:

“Awe occurs in a realm separate from the mundane world of materialism, money, acquisition and status signaling, a realm beyond the profane that many call the sacred.”

Awe is the state that connects us to the web of life, calms the restless and busy mind, and forces us to be completely present. Awe is hard to define but it is what connects us to the vastness of life. Awe is the key that unlocks happiness and awe also stretches time. Just 5 minutes of practicing awe in a day can have huge health benefits – as there is a definite relationship between happiness and our life span. 

Gratitude, compassion, forgiveness and laughter, pleasure, and meditation correlate with life expectancy findings. Practicing gratitude, getting outdoors for a walk, serving, and giving to others matters. You will live longer. Social connection can add 10 years to your life. 

There is evidence seen in the neuro-physiological pathways, the proof is there: awe activates the vagus nerve, calms inflammation, helps the heart, and de-activates stress regions of the brain, (the amygdala), all leading to the conclusion that happiness is good for your body. 

And you do not need to get on a plane and go to see the Northern Lights or gasp at the expanse of the Rift Valley or the Grand Canyon to take part in this practice. Since Awe is a response to something vast, and mysterious and can make us feel small and full of wonder, you can experience awe today. You might stop to look closely at a butterfly or the shape of a cloud, read a poem or smell freshly ground coffee beans. To consider what awe is for you ask yourself: when was the last time you got goosebumps? Or felt tears prick when listening to a song. When did you last feel part of a collective, what Keltner calls “collective effervescence.”  It might happen at church or at a football game, at a music concert, or when singing in a choir. Or marveling at a ladybug. Have you noticed how awestruck a 3-year-old is?

I consider myself an awe-hunter. I will stop during a walk and marvel at the shadows on a wall, seemingly painted there by the reflections of leaves. I will stop and point in wonder at the roots of a tree that curve and coil and wind for meters. I will bend to examine the shocking pink of a flower or stand and observe a tiny bee doing what bees do.  But I also feel awe in an art museum, or when the lights go down and a film rises onto a screen. When I come across a line of poetry or a passage in a book that is so beautiful it takes my breath away.

Katherine May also writes about the power of Awe to connect us to things beyond ourselves in her book “Enchantment.” And, like Keltner, she calls on us to find awe in the smaller things within our daily grasp.

“Our sense of enchantment is not triggered only by grand things; the sublime is not hiding in distant landscapes. The awe-inspiring, the numinous, is all around us, all the time. It is transformed by our deliberate attention. It becomes valuable when we value it. It becomes meaningful when we invest it with meaning. The magic is of our own conjuring.”

When was a teacher, I made time, when I could, to bring Awe into the classroom. Whether through a photo, lines of a song, a painting projected on the board, a paragraph in a book, or the booms of thunder outside, I made a deliberate effort to name Awe. Schools need to make Awe part of their mission. Imagine what a school would look like, what students would learn and feel if we stopped to include moments of Awe into the day. Jennifer Garvey Berger calls it the Genius of Noticing and they can turn days, classrooms, busy schools into a treasure hunt of joy.

What you pay attention to will grow.

This poem by the wonderful Mary Oliver is often read incorrectly and seen as a call to do more, to act, to forge ahead, and not waste time with your one rare life. But what it is actually saying is to do less, and pay attention to what is in front of you. What could be a better way to spend your wild life than to slow down, pause and watch a grasshopper?

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean—

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

What Awe are you chasing today? Next time your interest is pulled somewhere, go along with it. Make time to focus in, and experience Awe.

If you enjoyed this please consider forwarding it to someone who might find it helpful. And be sure to check out previous posts by clicking on the blog tab. Thank you for reading, I really appreciate it.

Sam x

Hard talk: Preparing for challenging conversations

Has this guy got the right mindset?

My clients often tell me that they have a challenging relationship with someone they work with, or that they struggle to have challenging conversations. It comes up time and time again and I have been mulling over the conundrum of having to communicate but fearing it, having to work with someone but not knowing how to speak freely, and our tendency to put hard conversations either on the back burner or firmly under the carpet. I once worked with a woman who never shied away from a hard talk. In fact, she lived for them! Conflict and challenge were her bread and butter, and not just for the sake of a good argument but because she kept her eye on the prize. And the prize was what was essential.

Sometimes it is easier at home than at work, and sometimes vice versa. Raise your hand if you know someone who has never feared having a tricky conversation with someone.

Let’s count the reasons:

  • -too scared they won’t like me
  • -don’t want to hurt their feelings
  • -I might lose my job
  • -It will make my relationship with this person so much harder
  • -I don’t want to appear difficult
  • -Maybe it is no big deal
  • -If I say what I think or feel it might open up a scary can of worms
  • -I don’t even know how to start
  • -I am intimidated

Sound familiar? So what to do? 

There are two ingredients we need here: What do you want to do (achieve, clarity, resolve) and who do you want to be ( courageous, clear, strong, firm, humble).

One of my favourite things to do in a coaching session is to take a situation, pick it up and look at it from all angles. Let’s look at the doing and being of this thing. This immediately leads to clarity and options about how to proceed.  As a coach, I don’t give advice but I do ask some powerful questions. Let’s try some here.

Think about a difficult conversation you need to have. As you proceed through these questions take notes. One of the best things you can do is prepare before you head into the discussion and these will help.

Why do you want to have this conversation? What is the desired outcome? What is your intention?

What is your fear? What are you actually scared of? Is this an imagined fear or is it likely? Do you have any fear or is it a different emotion? Get curious about how you are feeling.

Who are you being in this conversation? Dig deep here. Think of a word, an animal, or a person you admire. Let their characteristics guide you. An example here could be: I want to go into this conversation as compassionate so I am going to find my inner Dalai Lama. Or I want to stay firm and rooted in what I want so I am going to find my inner Rocky. It might be as simple as- you want to be someone who holds fairness.

Is this about you or is it about the issue? This is key! Often keeping in mind what you want to discuss, and keeping your eye on that prize, that issue, will help give you some distance. This is not about you it is about the thing you want, the obstacle you want to overcome, and the changes you want to make. Who will really benefit? Is it only you? What is essential?

How will you start? What will your opening words be? Write a script! Put your opening on paper and see how it sounds. Make sure it reflects who you want to be and what your intention is.

What are the possible reactions? What might happen? Look at it from all possible outcomes. How will you respond in each case? Be prepared for any response.

What’s your definition of success here? Do you need an outcome today? Can you walk away and return to it another day? Will it be a success if you introduced your ideas and thoughts but didn’t resolve anything? How could you see that as a success?

Finally, choose an appropriate time and place and visualise yourself having the conversation. Visualize what is essential, the prize. Take 3 deep cleansing breaths before the meeting. Slow down and focus on who you are and not just on what you are doing.

If you enjoyed this please consider forwarding it to someone who might find it helpful. And be sure to check out previous posts by clicking on the blog tab. Thank you for reading I really appreciate it.

Sam x

Our complex relationship with time

A dog’s ability to be present is something we can all aspire to.

Dr. Susan David has said, many times, that growth only happens with discomfort. So being uncomfortable is the breeding ground for change. I have been thinking about this concept a lot recently as I have been sitting with my own discomfort in this strange period of transition. Last December I left my full time job, a job filled with structure and routine and I am now in what I am calling my ‘waiting to feel normal’ stage. But what if this stage is not really an in-between, liminal stage but actually the place to make myself at home? What if I need to make peace with this time instead of rushing it.

Many of my coaching clients talk about time: not having enough of it, not knowing how to make the most of it, fearing it will run out and also wishing it away so that the good times can come. When I worked as a full time teacher, I noticed that often teachers often had a countdown to the weekend, or the next holiday. One of my line managers would send out emails starting with a countdown “4 more days”!  Many people seemed to be rushing through their days to get to the ‘good bit’, when they could rest.  I wondered when we would stop shaking the hourglass in the hope that we  could hurry that sand. 

Now my days are slower and it is giving me pause to think about time. I have felt myself in the same trap, as if there were an internal countdown inside my brain urging me towards the next thing. This is the next thing. Many people are in a period of flux and change. Someone I know is adjusting to having no children at home, another to having a puppy and another to living as a single woman for the first time in 15 years. A good friend of mine is struggling with working full time and raising two rambunctious busy toddlers. She asked me what it felt like to be on the ‘other side of all this.’ I said it is both the sweet spot and also often too quiet. But it is where I am, and I accept that. When she felt guilty counting the minutes till bedtime I said maybe it is okay to want the hard times to be over and to also enjoy the moment.  This is the paradox, the tension between sitting and being with it and rushing through it.

How many of us are being fully present in our lives instead of being busy as a way of avoiding being uncomfortable. Are you allowing yourself to sit with all the feelings, even the discomfort? Or are you numbing the feeling and running away from the spaces where you live?

Dr Marcia Reynolds has given me a mantra that I try to live by when I am coaching: Your clients want you to be present more than perfect. What I am realizing is that I need to be present with myself first.

Have you noticed yourself wishing minutes, hours, days away in the hope of getting to the end of the work day or the end of the week? We are what we do with our hours, are we not?  Anne Dillard says “the way you live your days is the way you live your life.” I am restless by nature and often pace around, walking into the kitchen opening cupboards, shifting books and papers from one side of the table to the other, scrolling on my phone, falling into rabbit holes on the internet. The lesson I am trying to learn is how to lean into the space, feel the discomfort of change, embrace the paradox of grieving something and at the same time feeling so joyful that I can have the chance of change at all.

Above all, what I am learning is how to “feast on my life.”

Here are some ideas that I am trying, not always doing well, but leaning into.

  • Notice: Go for a walk without earphones. Chase the ‘awe’ of the breeze moving through the trees, the light painting shadows on the wall. Pay attention.
  • Listen: Sit and listen to a song all the way through, instead of doing two things at once and having music as the backdrop.
  • Disconnect: Have designated no phone time by leaving it in another room
  • Let it out: journal writing. It doesn’t have to be prose, bullet points and doodles are fine!
  • Be intentional: Set a purpose for the week rather than for the day
  • Use all your senses: taste your food, listen to the wind, touch your sweater, lean into the way things feel. And listen to your instinct. What do you notice?
  • Get inspired: Read a poem. This one is a good start.

Love After Love by Derek Walcott

The time will come

when, with elation,

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

If you enjoyed this please consider forwarding it to someone who might find it helpful. And be sure to check out previous posts by clicking on the blog tab. Thank you for reading I really appreciate it.

Sam x

Change

Two things can be true at the same time. You can feel sad and excited, you can grieve and feel relief, you can love two people, you can wish the best for a person and mourn their leaving, you can feel alone and married, you can be scared and over-the-moon-can’t- wait-excited. Many things can be true, we can doubt and have faith, we can love one flavour but hate the rest, you can be a feminist and love Barbie.

There is little more dangerous than the tendency people have to silo people and feelings into neatly packaged categories, boxes and binaries. This is how we end up in the world of assumptions and stereotypes and that leads to being misunderstood and worse, stigmatized.

But this is not about politics and level playing fields and the importance of open minds and the capacity to think again.  (Although all of these things are essential.) This is about me, at this moment in time when I am straddling two worlds and many opposing feelings all at the same time. This maelstrom of emotion is in my body, my heart and my mind and I wonder how I can feel it all.

In 3 weeks I will walk away from the classroom, after 16 years of teaching. Teaching is a huge part of my identity. It is also a significant part of my life; I am good at it, I am compensated with a decent salary, good benefits and consistent, positive feedback. I am surrounded by collaborative and kind colleagues, all equally passionate and devoted, no two days are the same, and, being institutionalized, I have a pavlovian response to a bell: when I hear one, I turn on my heels and go to the next class on my pre-set timetable. My job as a teacher is vital, creative, time pressured and often fun. It is also exhausting and we often feel like mice scrambling to keep up with a spinning wheel. The texts and topics I teach keep changing and I am kept on my toes, intellectually, reading and learning every day. Staying in this job would be safe, I would know what the next months would look like, it would be the same life as I have now. I would get to teach cool kids and hangout with cool friends and eat cake with them all at break time.

So why leave?

Because I listened and I heard a voice telling me it was time. Because I found something I like more, because I found the courage to leap off a cliff and I made the parachute that will open as I descend into a new world. Unknown, different, scary and quite possibly lonely.

I am feeling sadness and fear. I am also deeply excited, tasting the edge of freedom, hovering on the edge of a new discovery. I am going to miss the classroom so very very much but I am also so relieved that I won’t have to mark another exam or meet another deadline. I am both ready to leap and feel trepidation as I look at the view. I am going to miss those young faces every morning and I am also ready to set my own schedule. I feel guilty about the money and also ready for the challenge to build a business. 

You can feel all the things and then crawl under a blanket to stifle the noise. You can embrace change and feel your heart beating with nerves as you wonder what the days will look like.

Susan Cain writes that “the bittersweet is about the recognition that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired. “Days of honey, days of onion,” as an Arabic proverb puts it.””

These last days are bittersweet and from this place I feel intensely alive, ready to find a sense of communion and belonging with myself at this point in time. It is my turn to discover, seek and try. Not knowing what I will find, might, in fact, be the greatest gift of all.

Let everything happen to you: Beauty and Terror.


Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

Rainer Maria Rilke

I did a podcast

It feels very brave to put this out into the world. Courage is a key value of mine and I showed up to this podcast as my authentic self. I ask nothing of my clients that I would not do myself. So here it is, I hope you enjoy it. You will learn a lot about me, about coaching and you will also hear a live coaching demonstration. Many thanks to the extraordinary Saara for the invite and for being an incredible host who created such a safe place for us to be and to go within.

My word of the year

I have just returned from a month off. My heart is filled with gratitude and love that I got to spend quality time with my family in a beautiful place after such a long and painful time apart. I completely switched off. I hardly read, which, after reading 34 books this year, is unusual for me. I didn’t think about work at all, I didn’t strategize or vision the future, instead I was fully present, and I embraced the views, the walks, the light and the air of southern France. I also laughed with and embraced my beautiful, brilliant daughters, the light of my life. At the end of our weeks together I was forced to cancel the last leg of my journey, to London, to see my mother as she caught Covid. My family flew off in different directions and I was left alone, in France, for 4 days of solitude. Not only was I alone but due to the change in plans I didn’t have a confirmed flight home and nothing makes me more unhappy than uncertainty. When my husband drove away, after leaving me at my airbnb, I stood on the pavement and burst into tears. How would I manage all by myself? How would I fill my days? How would I walk the same streets that just days before we had walked, laughing, as a family and not be struck with the kind of nostalgia that grips your heart? My heart. It was both broken and filled with gratitude, at the same time. I had a physical pain in my chest and I knew I had to feel it all, and feel it alone. Over the days, I walked, I wrote, I read, I drank wine, I watched tv, I talked on the phone and I fought the silence with music. Choosing what music to listen to was tricky, it had to be upbeat but not irritating, foot tapping but background, it had to be gentle and familiar. I ended up listening to soft rock from the 80s. Music I listened to in my bedroom on the radio, growing up. I took hot baths and slept in layers of clothes, hugging the spare pillow. I stood and looked out of the window a lot. The tiny, ancient fishing village was so blindingly beautiful, that I gasped each time I turned a corner on my many walks around the looping streets. I carried a camera loaded with film and took photos whenever I felt moved. At first I listened to podcasts, then nothing, as I started to listen to the sounds of my boots on cobbled streets, the waves bringing  the mediterranean sea onto the long beach. Sea air, French voices, warm bread, hot coffee, every sense was magnified. On Day 1 I found it hard to sit still and kept standing up for no reason. Stillness and silence threatened me. I grieved the loss of company but as hours passed I started to listen to ideas that popped into my head. After a month of close knit company, card games, laughter, shared meals, long drives, singing, debates about which movie to watch, deep conversations and re-discovery of our family, I was suddenly alone and quiet with only my own company. And I realized, this might be the very gift that I needed.

I am fully aware of my luck and privilege. Gratitude is a key value of mine and it is front and centre of my conscious thinking. Growing wise comes from knowing myself and knowing how fortunate I am is clear. But I also realize that we have made this luck. We have made choices and turned our life in directions that have often been hard, stressful and very uncertain. Chaos has been present. But these choices, like a climb up a steep hill, have brought me to this point. In all the self help dialogue that seems prevalent everywhere one loud bell keeps ringing: In order to experience growth you need to get really comfortable with being uncomfortable. But who actually wants discomfort? Wouldn’t we rather be comfortable under a warm blanket, by a roaring fire with loved ones? And yet, being totally alone was uncomfortable and in that place I started to hear some hard truths.

 I have been pondering my word of the year. Last year it was courage, because I needed to be brave. Brave to use my voice, to create my coaching business and brave to sit with my own company. Bravery takes many shapes and forms. For some it is speaking in public, or using one’s voice, for some it is changing jobs, for some it is jumping into an ice cold pond and for others it is exploring extreme sports. For me, it is being completely alone and using my voice. I have been married for a long time and I realize that I rarely get to do anything by myself, rarely do I drive, book tickets, face and conquer hurdles, fix challenges. I am wrapped in the security blanket of a comfortable marriage and I live in a safe country. Rarely do I do hard things. For me, being alone is a hard thing. And I won’t apologize for that. Everyone has their own hard thing. 

My word for 2022 is LESS. Walking alone in France I started to think about what I want this year. Not more scrambling and climbing, not more content and noise. No. I needed more of this: quiet.

Less listening to the message that is louder than ever in January: You need a new you! Less believing that message. Less doubt.

Less striving for other people’s kind of brave, less of the things we don’t need, less complications, less stuff, less hassle, less shallow talk, less of what doesn’t matter. Less of seeing things from a perspective of scarcity, less hiding, less fear, less worrying about how I am perceived, less concern for people who don’t concern me.

More contentment, silence, listening, awareness, beauty, connection. More belief that I am just perfect the way I am. 

The last months of 2021 were very hard for me and I felt the familiar and terrifying grip of depression returning. Now I face a new year more whole, restored, connected and loved. I am comfortable. I have more clarity, the kind of clarity that comes from being around people who are your tribe and spending time listening to them. The kind of clarity that comes from being comfortable with your own company. Stepping into hard things with a conviction that I have everything I need. It is a journey, and I have not arrived. But with less noise I might be closer to where I want to be and what I want.

What is your word for the year?

Please get in touch if you want a no obligation chat to see if coaching is for you. I work with anyone who wants to take some time to pause and listen. Coaching can take you from where you are to where you want to be. Coaching starts with the belief that you are just fine as you are. Now it is time to ask for what you deserve.

Lessons from photography

All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassment, all is given to us as raw material, as clay so that we may shape our art.

Jorge Luis Borges

It is with my camera that I see and capture the world. With my camera I beat time, freeze the present, preserve the past. I can halt the race, stop the moment, revel in the magic in front of me. Photography is like poetry, it goes to the heart of the matter.

I recently did a photo project taking multiple exposures on film. Film photography is unique, hard, and depends on a dose of magic. It is not the exact science of digital photography and you only get one chance to get your shot right. It is also expensive, and you won’t see the photo you just took for weeks afterwards. On the other hand, digital photography offers instant gratification. That and the chance to add another layer of creativity with the virtual darkroom that is lightroom. The editing is a good part of the process. With film I generally leave the photos untouched, save for a few light and contrast adjustments, if necessary. So why do I love film so much? And why am I now adding another layer with multiple exposures?

I think it is both the magic and the risk. It is a place to commit and carefully, mindfully compose the shot with intention. The risk is that it might fail. The magic is that it might not. It is playful, uncertain and when it works, the best feeling ever. And with multiple exposures more magic is invited in. I attempt to control the outcome by noting down the shots I have taken, before rewinding the film and starting again. I think of a theme, I know what I want to happen. But magic takes care of the rest. And when it works it is simply the best.

There is a philosophical layer to this.

Tennessee Williams said “Has it ever struck you that life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quick you hardly catch it going?”

The paradox is that while I am trying to cheat time and snatch that fleeting moment, it is disappearing before my eyes.  With multiple exposures I am trying to double the attempt, freeze two moments, find two perspectives and widen my gaze. The glory is in the futility and the failure.

Inquiry question:

What risks have you taken recently?

Can you recommend a book please?

Often people ask me for my ‘must read ‘list of books. This is by no means exhaustive and I might add or delete titles as I read throughout the year, but this is a good list for today. And a fine place to start.

The Goldfinch and A secret History by Donna Tartt

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Normal People by Sally Rooney

All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Tender is the Night & The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

 The Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Atonement by Ian McEwan

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Happy Reading! Love Sam x

Currently reading: Luster by Raven Leilani

Words from the wise:

“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”

Annie Dillard

Motivation

I am goal orientated. I love to stand at the bottom of the mountain, look up and start to climb. It is hard to get going and I might procrastinate for weeks or even months until I take the first step, knowing that when I do so I won’t stop until I am done. And generally, it is going to be hard work and probably hurt.

Four years ago I did the Nike app: Couch to 5K. It is an amazing audio program that literally takes you from zero to a 5k runner in 8 weeks. The 3x a week runs are cleverly constructed to incrementally build endurance and at least 3 times during a run a friendly voice tells you that ‘you’re awesome.’ It works. I am not a runner, I hate exercise and I would rather lie on my sofa, read a book and eat cheesecake than pretty much anything else. But this app works. Four years ago I ran 5K and it was one of the proudest moments of my life, especially because it was so hard and so out of character for me.  But I loved it and I felt fantastic.

And then I stopped.

Now four years later I am doing it again. I am on week 7 and it is starting to get hard. Some days I doubt I will make it, yet I still pull on my trainers, plug in my airpods and go. I am being ‘awesome.’  My worry, this time, is what will happen when I am done? I should hit week 8 around July 1st and I am already thinking about how to keep motivated. Once I am at the top of this particular mountain, enjoy the view and the sense of achievement, how will I maintain? Maintenance is not sexy. Maintenance does not give me the ‘awesome’ thrills. And no, I have no interest in finding a new mountain, a 10K is off the table and running faster does not appeal to me. I will never run with people, join a race or want a ribbon. So how does motivation work?

Steven Kotler, author of The Art of the Impossible, states that we are all hard wired for peak performance and peak performance comes from the experience of flow: An optimal state of consciousness when we perform and feel our best. So how do we get into a state of flow? Motivation is key.

Motivation can be divided into two kinds:  Motivation that is driven by inbuilt human attributes in order to pursue virtuousness, and extrinsic motivation that means pursuing an activity for an alternative, often a people pleasing outcome. Basically, are you doing it for internal or external reasons?

Extrinsic motivation is to get things we want in the world, for example: money, sex, fame, a great body. On the other hand intrinsic motivation is driven by curiosity, passion, purpose, autonomy and mastery. If you are driven by those things then you have flow. And you will keep going.

Are you doing it to avoid guilt? Because of pressure or anxiety? Fear? Vanity? Or are you doing it because the actions align with your life goals and core values? Finding your own autonomous reasons and your own intrinsic motivation will make it much easier to stick with things.

Start with making a list of reasons why you do something. How many of these reasons are extrinsic? Reflect on whether you can strive for an intrinsic reason. If you can find a reason why doing it will be just for you, you are more likely to keep it going.

I am running because it makes me feel strong, young and powerful. My hope is that I remember that after week 8 comes and goes.

Inquiry question: What do you want but haven’t found?

Reading: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

Words from the wise:

 “All highly competent people continually search for ways to keep learning, growing and improving. They do that by asking ‘why.’ After all, the person who knows ‘how’ will always have a job, but the person who knows ‘why’ will always be the boss.”

Benjamin Franklin