Thinking About Me

Recently I’ve been thinking About Me.

No wait, I’ve been thinking about my “About Me”. You’d be surprised how similar the two statements are though, despite sounding different. Both require a certain understanding of myself.

I’ve known for ages how old my About Me section is outdated. Hell, the photo I was using on it was from when I was between 19 to 21. To put it into perspective, I’m 27 now and 28 in less than a month! Time for an update, right? Not to mention I didn’t even have a beard back then… I’m not me without my beard!

 So, with thanks to Suzie’s post How to Create a Successful About Page, I’ve refereshed mine!

I’ve added a more current interpretation about who I am, along with what I’m trying to achieve in both life and on the Clouds. I’ve also summarised my Posting Schedule, in case you find yourself so inclined.

You can find it by clicking here: About Me

Creating Coincidence

I don’t believe in fate. Simple as that. I’m not someone who believes in horoscopes, or destiny, or that the world owes me anything. I don’t believe in karma, I don’t believe in judgement, and I don’t believe the world is fair… I do believe in coincidences though, but I also believe we can create these coincidences for ourselves.

For those of you that have been following, I’ve been a bit down recently. I don’t have a lot to grumble about, I mean I probably find myself stuck at work too often, and the house is constantly needing work done, but overall I have a good life. What I’ve lacked though, is motivation. The worst thing about feeling unmotivated is it can snowball; by feeling unmotivated you end up doing nothing, and the more you do nothing the less inclined you are to do anything. It’s harder to fight the inertia of doing nothing and actually do something.

This is where coincidences come into play.

You see, I have a cycle. I have moments of pure, unadulterated enthusiasm, where the world is open to me and I am en route to achieving my dreams… then I have moments where I wallow, unimpressed with my previous efforts (or lack of) and let myself sink into an unmotivated state. It can take a while for me to break this cycle, heck it can take a while for me to realise the cycle is happening, despite the amount of practice I have dealing with it and despite how obvious the signs should be by now. Sometimes, though, life breaks the cycle for you.

You may know by now that I’m a Partner of Level Up Photography LLP, well, on Saturday, Greg and I shot our first Wedding of the year! It couldn’t have come at a better time. What a kick up the ass! What a way to fuel a dwindling passion! What a way to fight the inertia! What a coincidence that it came when I needed it most… but hold on, it’s not exactly a coincidence is it?

The timing, and my mind-set, were both a coincidence, I’ll grant you. The timing was perfect, I needed inspiration and here it was handed to me on a plate. The set up though? That’s a different matter entirely. The thing is, we’d been booked to do this Wedding for months. We’d done the legwork, we’d contacted the Bride, we’d provided the service; there was no coincidence there.

The point I’m making is we can create these opportunities, we create these coincidences. I may not believe in fate, or destiny, but I believe that if you put yourself out there you stand more chance of getting results. That’s just logic. When I lie around grumbling that I’m uninspired, unmotivated, unfulfilled, I am simply not putting myself into a place with opportunity… in fact, I’m slipping away into reclusion where talents go to waste. If it hadn’t been for our previous Photography work, Greg and I wouldn’t have been booked for that Wedding. Similarly, If I hadn’t written blogs previously, you wouldn’t be here reading today.

Saturday has been a fantastic motivator. It’s been a reminder of the end goal and proof of what can be achieved with a bit of time and effort. Do I wish it happened more often? That my life was spent more often in a creative pursuit than a 9-5 office role? I do, but when I wallow in that I close the doors to my preferred future. By taking the smaller steps and by keeping up the motivation these days of inspiration are more likely to occur. That, really, is today’s message.

Today’s message, both to readers and to myself, is simply: Put yourself out there. Opportunities will appear only when you open yourself up to them. You’re going to have days, weeks, months where your work feels unsatisfactory, where you feel it’s all for nothing, but as long as you keep creating, keep putting things out there, your own work might provide an opportunity and, coincidentally, it might arrive at just the right time. Keep creating your own coincidences. Keep yourself open to opportunity.

Have you had any moments like this? Where inspiration occurred at just the right time? What do you think, was it fate or was it self-made? Let me know in the comments below!

Making Connections: A Thursday Thought

For a reason I can’t explain I’ve been thinking a lot about connections.

It’s strange to think just how many connections we make in everyday life, be them professional or personal, big or small. The word itself has connotations of business, the old adage of “It’s who you know, not what you know”, and from there there’s a pressure around the need to network; the need to find people who can provide a helpful step up the proverbial ladder, a proverbial foot in the proverbial door.

In fact, connections can be something completely different; it doesn’t have to all be red tape and white collars. My blog was born over 5 years ago, a mere journal for me to jot down some thoughts at the time, but it was only ever something I looked at once a year, if that, and never really took seriously. Fast forward to last year, one of my best friend’s, Andy, convinced me to join a creative writing course, where we were introduced (and then ‘connected’) with Shelley. She convinced me it was worthwhile taking my blog seriously and really putting myself out there. From that connection, I’ve found many different people from all around the world; I’ve joined writing prompts, I’ve joined challenges, and I’ve joined Facebook groups. Connections leading to connections.

It can be easy to think a connection is something more tangible, it’s someone you can point to, someone who’s number you have, someone who ‘knows a guy’; really a connection can be something as small as a shared smile. By writing, by creating art, by simply giving form to our internal thought processes, we create potential connections that can span further and longer than mortal life. We are still connected now by works of art, by literature, by film or by photograph. We are connected to people we will never meet, or who’s names we’ll never know. To share our art is to create a connection en mass. To me, that’s beautiful. To me, that’s worthwhile.

Connections give us a power. They can give us support, they can give us guidance, and through them we can share our passion and our philosophy. We were born a social species, our evolution was encouraged by our communication, and through it we continue to better ourselves. By sharing our thoughts we are able to better each other; simply by increasing understanding and by portraying different perspectives. We live in a time now when our communication has transcended physical movement and speak; we exist in a world where we can learn from people across the globe. Right now there has been no better time to forge ‘connections’.

When I sat down to write this Thursday Thought, I wasn’t expecting to write so passionately, but now, writing this final paragraph, I feel genuinely moved. A connection is something more than a mere contact in a faceless industry, it is an ability to create understanding between us. When I write my blog posts, I first and foremost write them for me, but within them I try to include a positive angle; I try to promote my belief that we can all be good, that we can all be inspirational, and that we can all benefit from sharing. Nothing warms my heart more dearly than when I see us helping each other. Regardless of how we do it, be it charity work, random acts of kindness, or something as ‘trivial’ as writing a blog, we put aside differences and judgements to make the world a better place. If that isn’t making connections, I don’t know what is.

*****

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In 5 Years Time: A Thursday Thought

Where will you be in 5 Years time? Can you visualise it? These are the questions being asked today.

I’m doing something a bit different this Thursday, by answering the questions posed by Shelley’s Blog in her post January in Review!

Q1. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What small steps can you take between now and December 31st to achieve it?

In 5 years I see myself as a writer/photographer. I’m out of the daily 9 – 5 grind, I’m out of the sterile, stressful, impersonal office, and I’m in a studio of my own. Level Up Photography is bringing in frequent customers, Dark Background is publishing my work and the works of others, and in the down time I’m writing my novels or working on the Clouds.

The small steps to get there are the usual: Do more! Write more! Greg and I over at Level Up have been meeting this week, we’re getting the paperwork sorted, the website sorted and we have a client meeting in a few weeks. Things are running smooth there. As for my writing, I just need to write more, as I always need to, but thankfully I’ll finally be getting my study set up this month so that should create a dramatic increase in productivity.

Q2. What does a day in the life of your dreams look like? Write your perfect day from the minute you wake up to when you go to bed. Where are you, who are you with, what would you do?

I wake up next to Kirsty. We snuggle for a bit before getting up.

We go downstairs and feed Toby (our Cat) and, if Kirsty has it her way, the dog (She’s Pug-Obsessed).

We cook breakfast and call down the kids (I’m assuming this is the 5 years’ time, scenario)

I leave for the studio, and drop the kids to school along the way.

I work on my latest novel, or read the latest manuscript, or edit the latest clients photographs.

When all my appointments are done I drive back home.

I spend some time with Kirsty before we have to pick the kids back up.

Then in the evening we all eat together, we watch TV, read, or play boardgames.

The kids go to bed, Kirsty and I snuggle on the couch, Toby tries to squeeze in between us as always.

We go to bed together, I read for a bit, then we fall asleep to begin the day anew.

Q3. If money was not an issue what career would you have or what lifestyle would you adopt?

Studio! Studio! Studio!

Writing, Photography, Publishing.  They’re my main aims; they’re how I want to make my livelihood.

That said, “if money was not an issue” I’ve always said I’d love to run my own small games company. It’s a daydream of mine that, when I win the lottery, I’ll hire a bunch of students and create video games… Put my writing into that form as well as books and blogs!

*****

So, there we have it. That’s where I will be in 5 years… Give or take. As always, thanks to Shelley for those reflective questions, was great fun to fill out! Why not give it a go? Feel free to ping back here so I can see yours too!

3 Steps to Help Combat your Anxieties!

Problems are causes of anxiety, of unhappiness, of stress and we need to combat them effectively as soon as we can; most importantly we need to make sure we combat the source and not the symptom.

For me here on the Clouds, the running theme of January, and 2017 in general, has been about self-improvement. There are a few ways we can improve, we can find areas where we have room to grow, areas that aren’t necessarily problematic, or we can find the areas where our bigger issues lie. I’ve written before about expanding my horizons, about taking risks, and about stepping out of my comfort-zone, and whilst these are areas I want to improve, they’re ‘nice to have’; they’re not active problems in my lifestyle. If I don’t read more books, and if I don’t get out more, I’m not necessarily going to negatively impact my life so much as I’m just not going to excel. It’s a negative to an extent, but it isn’t a source of stress. Instead, today I want to talk about finding the root cause of your problems, the aspects of life that have a negative impact, that bring you down, that stack up over the course of a day, a week, a month, and gradually tug you down with them.

Step 1: Seeing the Smoke

To start, we need to make sure we notice the ‘Smoke’, the symptoms and the warning signs, that can lead us to the ‘Fire’, the cause. To do this, I make a mental note of all the things that bother me throughout my daily life. The same result could be achieved with a diary, or with a journal. Whilst I’d normally recommend keeping a Happiness Journal (or Jar!), that can serve as a reminder for all the good in your life, for the purpose of self-improvement it is useful to make note of areas, and times, that you feel anxiety or stress coming on.

Example 1: I feel stressed and anxious when I sit in traffic, well aware I’m about to be late. I do this almost every morning. The amount I feel fluctuates, depending on my mood, depending on how late I will be, and depending on what I have on that day.

Example 2: I feel stressed and anxious when Kirsty and I argue. The amount I feel fluctuates depending on the size of the argument, but it can leave me feeling shaken for the rest of the day or even impact a whole week.

In both my examples, I can see the ‘smoke’; I can see the building of anxiety. Whether it’s the stress of sitting in unmoving traffic, or the upset of a disappointed love one, these are two situations that really impact my life. Maybe, on a good day, I shake off the fact I’m late; I get into work, I laugh and joke, and I get on with my day. It’s fine really, I don’t notice it, I don’t think about it again… but it’s safe to say it does build up, it’s safe to say it does have an impact, albeit a small one. By combating the small impacts, we lessen the bigger ones by default.  

Step 2: Dousing the Flames.

The ‘Flames’ here are the causes for my anxiety; in example 1 it was because I was late. This daily stressor, which impacted me almost every day, was causing a knock on effect to the overall anxiety in my life. So, how do we combat this? How do we douse the flames? Well clearly it’s simple! I just stop being late. There, done. Bish, bash, and boom. Now watch as my anxiety and stress fade away…

Ok, my sarcasm aside, maybe Example 1, being late, is an easier fix than most. Where do we stand on Example 2 then? Example 2 was that I argue with Kirsty, my girlfriend, so the solution by this logic is just to stop arguing. As much as I’d like it to be that easy, it’s not. Suddenly we realise the flaw in this plan, we realise how ineffective it is to say “just fix things”.

I left Step 2 in to make a point; it’s not easy to just keep firefighting. I could take steps to ensure I’m no longer tardy, or to minimise the arguments Kirsty and I might have, and it might be effective in the moment, but this really requires Step 3, the magic step.

Step 3: The Source of the Fire

Like a fire department, we want to combat the flames before they spread and do irreparable damage. Also much like a fire department, we can try to work out where a fire started and avoid it. I firmly believe that many people stop before Step 3, that they go through life ‘firefighting’, which in this case I’m using to mean sorting problems when they arise rather than working to avoid them all together.

This is where things get really interesting, and this is where it would benefit from having a list of all of your stressors as, and when, they come about. The thing is, when you spell out all the things that are bothering you in life, no matter how long the list might look, many of these factors may stem from a common source; a gas leak or a lit candle (I’m determined to keep this analogy).

Whilst I only gave you two examples from my longer list, I can tell you now that many of my daily stressors stem from the same place. In Example 1, and numerous others, it’s a lack of organisation. This means I don’t get my stuff ready the night before, this means I don’t have a routine to stick to every morning, this means I don’t make enough time to get to work in the morning. It also means I don’t have my finances in order, and I haven’t paid that bill I’ve been putting off, it means I haven’t written a blog in advance, and I have to panic and stress to get one ready for my self-set deadline. By realising that much of my anxiety stems from the same key factor, disorganisation, I can start to work on that as a whole and hopefully avoid the stressors in future, rather than just trying to fight them when they arrive. There’s also the potential there that I’m stopping a problem I haven’t even noticed I’m having, something that’s stressing me out but I simply haven’t realised yet.

I believe it’s far more important that we combat these sources, because it’s here we can make the biggest improvements to our lives; it’s here we can minimise future stress and save ourselves from bouts of anxiety. That said, everyone is different, different tactics work for different people, and my method is certainly not a (fire)blanket intended to coat absolutely everyone’s lives. I just hope it helps in some way!

How do you combat your anxieties? Do you have some helpful tactics to share? Or maybe even just a story to tell? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Small Steps Out of Your Comfort Zone!

Variety is the spice of life, they say. Yet, I find myself so secure in my comfort zone… Did I say secure? or did I mean stagnant?

The thing about comfort zones is they’re comfortable and, therefore, I’m never all that eager to leave mine. It’s something I’ve been focusing on a lot, recently and it’ll probably be a recurrent theme of my blog posts in the coming year. I mean, I’ve written before, not even long ago, about stepping out of comfort zones by taking risks. I want to talk about something a bit more fun; some ‘risks’ that aren’t even risks. I want to talk about how I’m planning to bring some more variety into my life for 2017.

2017’s Resolution was simply (see: broadly) to improve myself. One of the ways I want to do this, is by getting more variety in my life.

Films

Kirsty and I do love a good film; snuggled up all cozy in the couch, lights off, candles on, just us and the TV (and Toby, if he shows his furry, whiskered face). What we don’t tend to do, however, is branch out with what we watch. We watch a lot of films that are fairly “safe”, ones we know we’ll like or have seen before. What we’re starting to do this year, is compile a list of films from the last couples of years into a spreadsheet, and randomly pick an entry whenever we sit down to watch a film. What this does, is not only force us to watch films we might not have usually ‘been in the mood’ for that night, but also takes away the hours prior where we scroll down Netflix trying to work out what it actually is we’re in the mood for. This should help us see more films that didn’t necessarily jump out at us to begin with, that weren’t necessarily in genres we had favourite’d across our various streaming services.

If you find yourself stuck in a rut, watching the same old reruns on the TV, or scrolling down Netflix to no productive end, why not watch a film you wouldn’t normally go for? Take a look at a “Best of 2016” list and watch a film you completely missed.

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The Oscar for “Most Variety in Film Choices” goes to…

Cinema

In a similar vein, Kirsty and I have also signed up for Cineworld cards, meaning we pay our monthly subscription of £18, and can see as many films as we like. This takes away the question of whether a film is worth the money or not, and opens us to seeing more films than we usually would. Hopefully it’s not just a novelty, because right now we’ve had at least one film booked a week, sometimes two. It also gives us a large discount on seeing live performances that are streamed to the various Cinemas, meaning we can start to see plays or musicals at a cheaper cost. It’s also a great excuse to get out the house at least once a week.

Whilst I wouldn’t advise everyone goes out and immediately subscribes to a Cinema, maybe check what’s on in your local and pick a film/production you wouldn’t normally have gone out to watch!

Books

2016 saw me reading a lot more; something I’m very proud of. As a self-proclaimed writer I was always a bit ashamed of how little I actually read. Now, armed with my brand new Kindle Paperwhite from Christmas (Thanks, Kirsty!) I plan to top my achievements once more. It’s not quite the 52 books other people are aiming for, but I’ll be reading more than I ever used to. That said, the books I chose always come as recommendations from friends, and they’re almost always Fantasy/Sci Fi. We like what we like, once again. To combat this, I’m setting up a Monthly Book Group with my friends. Once a month we’ll have a book assigned that we all have a month to read. This takes the decision of what to read out of my hands and means that at least 12 of the books I read this year might be ones I never thought of choosing to begin with.

Why not join or start a book club, either in person or online? Or, if you don’t fancy that, why not take part in one of the challenges online that actively encourage you to think about your book choice before making it? 

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Games

This is something I don’t actually struggle with so much. Years ago I played all the AAA titles, I lapped up all the hype, these days I’m far more skeptical; I’ve realised just how much value you can find in the smaller indie titles. Some of my favourite games of recent years have been these kinds of titles; Life is Strange, Stardew Valley, Bastion, to name a few. For this goal, I just continue doing what I’m doing; pick up these indie titles that appeal to me and supporting the smaller developers. I don’t really need targets with this section, I’m covered!

In the physical world, I’m also hoping to play more variety of Board Games. To do this, I’ve simply bought extra games I found interesting, or that were met with good reviews, and I’m arranging nights to play them with friends. I want to write a more indepth piece later on about board games, as I think they of all things can appeal across generations and families, but I think people are stuck in the ways of Monopoly, Scrabble, Etc.

Now, I understand that not all my readers are ‘gamers’; I’m not about to tell you to tell you to invest in the latest Xbox. If I was to set you a goal to increase variety here, it could easily just be ‘try playing a game with friends/family’. However, I’m going to go a step further. Why not avoid the traps of Monopolgy, Risk, or Scrabble, and play a board game that you haven’t heard of? I highly recommend Catan, Codenames, or Dixit to start.

Saying Yes More.

Last but not least, I’m planning to say Yes more. Too many times I get invited to something and my instant, gut reaction is to say “No“. Sometimes it’s well founded, but often it’s that I can’t be bothered, doubt I’ll enjoy something, or imagine I’d prefer that evening to do nothing but relax. Don’t get me wrong, relaxation is great, and I certainly wont be doing this to the crazy length of saying “Yes” to simply everything. I will, however, just be generally more open to suggestions. I might go on a night out I wouldn’t usually, or go see a band I don’t really know. I’m also going to put myself into a position to say “Yes” to myself; I’m going to book more things for Kirsty and I to do, I’m going to book events we wouldn’t usually have ever done.

Next time you’re invited to something, either by a family or friend, and your initial reaction is to just say ‘No’… Stop. Consider why you’re actually saying “No”. I find I say “No” because I think I’d prefer staying in, doing nothing, and wasting my evening and not because I think I wont actually enjoy the event.

Yes Man poster art.
There are some extremes I won’t go to…

These are small, tiny steps to getting out of a comfort zone. They’re not exactly moving abroad, they’re not exactly jumping out of a plane, but they’re hopefully small productive steps in the right direction; they hopefully promote an openness to new experiences, whilst making sure not to miss out on things going by. Hopefully with all this in place, I should have some variety! Hopefully with these suggestions you’ll have some variety too!

And I mean it, I hope you found this helpful in some way! If you have any extra tips, any goals I could set myself, why not share them in the comments below? I’d love to hear more ways I could tackle this!

Determination: A Friday Feeling

Today’s Friday Feeling is determination.

I’m feeling good about this year already, and I think it is almost 100% to do with my mindset. Nothing else has really changed in my life, if anything we’re in that post-Christmas fatigue when there’s naff all left to look forward to. What I’ve been doing instead, though, has been being determined. The best thing is I didn’t even really realise it!

You see, last week I made posts about the direction of 2017, improving myself, and about looking back at 2016, and showing gratitude/remembering the good times. I strongly feel that just writing these posts, and keeping these things in mind, has really changed the way I’ve been thinking already this year.

I strongly believe that 2017 is going to be a good year; I already feel as though I’m doing more towards it. I’ve been keeping up on my blog posts, writing them in advance and getting them scheduled, and I’ve been actively commenting and searching the blogosphere for more people to follow and learn from; so far I’ve already found a ton of interesting posts!

Outside my blog, I’ve been making other plans in life; I’ve been booking Cinema trips and family events. I’ve started back at Yoga with my Mom, I’m just back from seeing an amazing theatre performance I almost thought was too much hassle to go to, and I even forced myself back to the Gym (though I’m not boasting too much, not this early on). The thing that’s been highly prevalent through all these activities is determination; I’m not just living in a land of maybes. “I might go to Yoga”, “I could see my friends”. I’m not dwelling; I’m doing. It actually feels good, it feels good to not doubt myself, to not muse over my actions and to just put them to the test. It also feels a damn-site more productive as well.

How is 2017 feeling for you so far? You feeling determined in the year? Are you a dweller or a doer? Let me know in the comments below!