With 2016 almost behind us I’m in reflective mood and looking back at some of the key things I’ve learned, re-learned or discovered anew this year.
Some have been there all along whilst others have reappeared like long-lost friends and brightened up my life.
1. The Power Of Meditation
I listen to Tim Ferriss’ podcast. I, therefore, know that the single most common denominator amongst the high achievers he interviews is that they have some kind of meditation or spiritual practise (around 80% of the guests do this, he reckons).
And for a mere mortal like me (and you, probably) that should be enough of an endorsement.
But I couldn’t make it stick.
I’d dabbled. Had a go. But not with any consistency.
That changed this year during a tough spell overseas.
I went to classes (30 minutes at the end of yoga). I used Headspace. I listened to Tara Brach’s guided meditations.
And I got something very helpful and cathartic from it. For a few minutes out of each session, there was some kind of peace or tranquility. It felt amazing.
www.headspace.com offers a ’10 Minutes Per Day For 10 Days’ Free Course
2. Food Nourishes My Soul
I used to love eating out. Proper eating out. Fine dining.
Years ago, armed with a modest work expense allowance I’d traverse London seeking out bargain-priced three course Michelin-starred pre-theatre deals with the Polish Princess, a gem of a filly who worked for the L’Oreal beauty company.
They were heady days, indeed. Not least because we had our three courses for as little as GBP $17.50.
Yes, that’s right. 17.50 for three courses in a Michelin joint. That’s $30 in A$ in today’s money.
Could you imagine getting three high quality courses of food for $30 anywhere in Sydney? You’d be in there every night.
Alas, no. Fine dining in Sydney requires a second mortgage and the restaurant scene is so fickle and the general quality is mostly indifferent.
And then you have a kid. And the whole things becomes even more of an expensive gamble.
But in London there is more competition and the general standards are that much better which means that you don’t have to go right to the very best places to be assured of something totally memorable.
So I rekindled my love affair with food and was reminded that this was something I am quite passionate about.
Just not in Sydney. Sadly.
Elsewhere in the world you can dine like a prince on pauper’s wages by seeking out the best set lunch deals that come in at a fraction of the price of a full dinner.
Restaurants To Check Out
At Helene Darroze at the Connaught you can feast on three courses, two glasses of wine, half a bottle of water and coffee for 52 princely Great British Pounds (GBP).
The joint has two michelin stars and is a fantastic old building in a part of Mayfair that’s worth checking out, if only to see how the ‘other half’ truly do live.
Similar deals abound at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester and Marcus at The Berkeley which come in with three and two stars respectively.
The Dorchester comes complete with a sweet shop that’s completely free and Marcus offers five courses for something like 50 pounds. The wine is extra and pretty pricey, though.
But whilst the big boys in Sydney needn’t play ball (and why should they if their restaurants are full) a few highly innovative chefs are coming to the party.
Sixpenny serves up highly innovative fare that blew me away (admittedly a couple of years ago) and offers a four course lunch or midweek dinner for a sort-of paltry $85, whilst the Devonshire practically gives away their lunches on Friday with a $35, three-course jamboree – check out a sample menu here.
With a bit of scavenging around, it is possible to eke out a bargain. Just.
[I’ve just remembered that Bentley (in its former abode on Crown Street, Sydney) used to do a five course lunch for $55 that was such good value I a) went there a lot, but b) felt guilty each time I did so. As if I was stealing from them somehow.
Whilst The Bentley’s new lodgings no longer allow for or necessitate such benevolence, the team continue to experiment and innovate at Yellow which treads in the venerable footsteps of Alain Passard’s L’Arpege by offering a solely vegetarian menu. Having the cahunas to do this anywhere is stupidly impressive.]
3. Your Physiology Determines Your Psychology
This should be number 1 on the list.
In fact, if your only take-away from this post is this point, then we’ve succeeded.
It’s close to a direct quote from Tony Robbins that so uncannily accurately distills a solution to a major epidemic it almost seems pithy.
I had a lean spell early this year where my mojo disappeared. I knew I was in a tight spot because I didn’t want to exercise. For 4 days straight.
Despite telling myself to move but I just couldn’t.
And then I went to the gym and within ten minutes I felt a switch flick psychologically. And then I felt like a massive dickhead for not exercising three days earlier and saving myself three days of torment.
Movement, even walking but ideally something vigorous and intense, provides the physiological shift you need to rewire your psychology. Other stuff like cold therapy will help but, for now, I’ll leave that to Wim Hof.
The actual movement performed is largely immaterial although there’s a strong and convincing argument that, for once, ‘more is more’ here.
To actually shift our physiology we need to do stuff that shocks it. That’s why the cold therapy works.
In lieu of that, some high-intensity training should do it. And short burst are fine. Steady-state cardio (like a cruisey jog) probably won’t work so well but if it gets you moving, it’s a start.
If you’re in the gym try 30 seconds of work / rest intervals for 10 minutes. There’s a setting for this on a Concept 2 rower found in most gyms. Lock in a “sensible” distance for the first round (I try to work to 145m) and try to stay above that for the full 10 mins.
If there’s a Ski-Erg machine, try to crank out 10 calories every minute for 10 minutes, resting for the remainder of the minute.
Or if you’re at home, set a timer for 10 mins and do as many rounds as possible of: 5 burpees, 10 push-ups, 15 squats.
You get the point, right? Just get your hear-rate up and get moving.
For more workouts, go HERE.
4. You Can’t Choose Who You Love
This is a work in progress that I’m still unpicking.
5. Less Is Most Definitely More
In a Lewis Howes podcast, there was a guest (whose name embarassingly escapes me) only owns 252 possessions. In the world.
I wouldn’t even dare to try to count how many I own right now but I’m sure it would be at least three or four times that amount.
What this does talk to, however, is the psychological benefits of decluttering and the knock-on benefits this provides in all areas of your life.
I’m actively experimenting with this now, inspired by this book.
6. The Amazing Power Of Affirmations
A friend was unhappy in his job. Loved his clients and his products. Not so keen on his Fuhrer-like boss.
He said he just needed three months worth of salary cheques and he’d leave in a flash. He said this quite a few times and wrote it down plenty, too.
This all seemed a little woo-woo and out-there to me but I humoured him anyway.
My friend eventually cut a break and a deal for a lot more than three months and it got me thinking.
What if his affirmations had somehow played a part in things working out the way they did?
What if, by imagining it to be true, he actually manifested it to be that way?
I’ll never know and he’ll never know but it’s instilled in me (hopefully) a newfound rigour about setting intentions and focusing on the “important few rather than the trivial many” when it comes to goals and aspirations.
7. If Something Seems Too Utterly Ridiculous To Actually Happen, It’s Guaranteed To Happen
Brexit, Donald Trump, Leicester City winning the Premier League…
Individually these three events had zero chance of happening. Less than zero.
The odds of them all happening together in the same year were so long that the bookies probably would have felt sorry for you and refused the bet.
How could this be? And how could all of the so-called experts be so wrong about it?
I wrote this piece on 27th February – Why Donald Might Trump America
A number of colleagues went into various shades of apoplexy (at Trump mostly, but me, too, probably). And I thought: interesting. Very interesting.
But then Jonathan Pie gets to the crux of it far more eloquently than I ever could. It’s genius, actually.
8. Life’s Too Short To Drink Cheap Wine
My brother retired from banking at 32 to become an oenophile (translation: a connoisseur of wines).
Bully for him, I thought between clenched teeth.
I won’t be doing that anytime soon but by flying on his coat tails at a couple of dinners and tastings I was able to experience wine more fully (read: at a different price point) than I usually do.
Turns out there’s all manner of layers and complexity that I don’t tend to encounter in my $14 table bottles.
I’m enjoying the journey of learning and tasting more.
2017 resolution: less, but better.
Watch the docos below: Somm – Into The Bottle; Somm; Sour grapes – to ramp up your knowledge.
9. Netflix Docos
By jingo, there have been some absolute doozies this year.
I don’t have the time or the patience for box sets so a couple of hours on a topic I’m interested in seems far more manageable. And cerebral.
These are a few that have mesmerised me and why you should watch ’em:
Somm – Into The Bottle
If you have the vaguest interest in wine or just want to sound knowledgable in front of your father-in-law, this is a jolly and informative tour through the history books of the finest wines.
I Am Not Your Guru (Tony Robbins)
I love Tony Robbins. So I found this somehow a little disappointing in terms of practical take-aways. But I watched it with a TR naysayer and, by the end, she was, well, not quite converted, but certainly more interested.
A wine-based whodunnit. Or did-he-do-it. This blew my mind.
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (Steve Aoki)
Steve Aoki may be one of the world’s biggest djs but that really plays second-fiddle to the familial mechanics that have driven him to become who he is. Strangely poignant.
Chef’s Table – Season 2
Any TV show that includes the line, “So we decided we wanted to make a balloon out of cheese,” has my rapt attention. And so began the second series of this sumptuous food-porn feast with Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago.
Chef’s Table – France
Probably for more serious foodophiles only (I know, that’s not a real word). I especially enjoyed the Alain Passard episode.
Froning – The Fittest In History
The Crossfit Games is now shown in blanket coverage on ESPN so all the world can watch ‘exercise racing’ masquerade as a sport.
And guess what? It’s brilliant. If you’re into Crossfit.
If not, you probably won’t watch it. Nor will you enjoy this documentary. But if you want an entry-level fix to see what the fuss is about and see what the ‘fittest man in history’ looks like, then this is a good start.
[Note: he’s actually pretty humble and self-effacing].
Jiro Dreams Of Sushi
A must for any over-indulged kids, or adults, this is a stunning portrait of the almost unimaginable struggle that goes into being the best in the world at what you do.
Jiro is hilarious and deadly serious in equal measure and seems completely unaffected by the celebrities (including David Beckham, frequently) beating a path to the door of his tiny restaurant. An absolute classic.
There have been plenty of others but these are the ones that stick in my mind. It’s been a funny old year, alright. I’ve definitely learned plenty, some of it in a joyful, exploratory fashion and some the good ole-fashioned hard way. It’s all been useful, though.
These are highly personal and subjective but there’s enough common threads and even a few hidden gems in here for most of us, I’d imagine.
Here’s to a 2017 filled for excitement, growth and play.