bookmark_borderPaying for Calm

On Tuesday evenings Becca goes out to work, so it’s just me and my boy from about 4:30pm through to his bedtime (anywhere between 8-8:30).

So far, regardless of the rest of his day, we’ve managed to get him into a pretty good routine in the evenings;

  • Dinner time at 5pm. Finishes whenever he announces he’s ‘aawww dunn’
  • Time to play – current favourite is to run from one end of the house to the other and crash into Daddy on the sofa!
  • Fruit at 6pm with strawberries and grapes currently the favoured options (I say favoured, he eats them so that’s all that counts)
  • More time to play, or sometimes we just lie on the floor rolling his toy cars around.
  • A glass of milk is offered at 6:30pm and drunk over the next 15mins or so.
  • Teeth get brushed at 7pm, right before his bath.
  • After his bath it’s straight to his bedroom for wind-down time. I’ll read him a story or two as he sits quietly on my lap…. hahahah not really, as is more often the case, he spend the time burning up the last of his energy, running up and down, giggling his head off.
  • From about 7:30 I’m watching for signs that he’s slowing down and getting tired again, as soon as I can it’s into his sleeping bag, big light off, and into bed (or sometimes we cuddle in the chair for a wee bit first).
  • He’s usually in bed by 7:45pm or so and asleep by 8:30 at the latest most nights.

When Becca is working, then during all of this my sole focus is him. No phone, no other distractions, even the dogs now just doze on the sofa knowing they won’t get any attention from me. Even if he’s at his toddler tantrum worst (which to be fair he’s never really all that bad with no reason) it’s still oddly relaxing, having a singular focus like that.

And I love it, but I wonder if I only cherish these moments because I work 5 days a week so I regularly have time away from Jack when he’s not on my mind every second of the day (just every other minute…) because I’m focusing on something else even if I still think about him often.

Recently someone posted this on Threads:

“something I didn’t realize about parenting before I experienced it is that you always have some sort of tether to your kid. if they’re asleep, you’re listening to the monitor. if they’re with grandparents or at school or daycare, you’re watching your phone. I don’t regret becoming a parent, and I also wish I could hyperfocus the way I used to.”

I had to agree, that ability to hyperfocus on something was lost to me for a while but it’s definitely coming back, admitedly that’s mostly because my work is keeping me busy (my previous job, not so much) and, as I’ve recently mentioned, it comes coupled with the sense that I can start to plan to do things just for me, I can be my focus.

That said, there is something I find very refreshing about my evenings with Jack, the routine to be followed and the simple singular focus helps to clear my mind of the usual noise and I typically end my evening feeling very calm and accomplished (even if all of this has been in the midst of the tiny chaos agent running amok in our home!).

I don’t think it’s just because it’s wonderful and fascinating to spend time with Jack, seeing the world as he is seeing it. Rather I think it’s likely something to do with putting my phone away, and letting myself focus without distraction.

Becca and I joke about who spends the most time on their phone (probably me!) but it’s telling that Jack now demands us to ‘poot pone way’ at times when he wants our attention. It’s so easy to pick up your phone and get lost in something largely unimportant and whilst we both use our phones for important things as well – and those things tend to be about Jack which makes his demand a little annoying at times – we both know it’s better for him if he knows he has our attention. He is far far more important than our phones!

It’s also telling that iPhones now have much better ‘Focus’ controls, something I’ve been experimenting with to limit what I see on my phone throughout the day, which is where having a clear routine for Jack really helps, I can schedule my phone to turn off all notifications during his bedtime, for example, so my phone isn’t buzzing and lighting up whilst I’m trying to get him to go to sleep.

There is a balance to be found here of course, Jack is growing up in a world where these miniature hand-held computers are the centre of how we run our lives. We don’t always cede to his demands to put our phones away as he also needs to learn about boundaries and that, sometimes, Mummy and Daddy are allowed to say no, and no that doesn’t mean you throw yourself down and start banging your head on the floor (tellingly he only does this on carpet, not the laminate… just saying. Not daft this one!).

I’m enjoying my solo parenting evenings (and weekend mornings) more and more, and finding that quiet calm has definitely been something I’ve missed and there is no doubt that spending time with Jack is helping me find it easier to put my phone down and focus on one thing at a time.

It’s reminding me that I used to be able to this, and that I know how much it benefits me (and my loved ones) to have a calm mind and a clear headspace and all of these thoughts are prompting me to get back into a habit that I’d set aside for a while; Meditation.

I’ve mentioned my discovery of meditation and it’s benefits before and for a long time I used an app called Calm. It’s one of the better known meditation apps, and usurped Buddhify (which I loved) because of the simplicity of the ‘Daily Calm’ a 10 minute guided meditation.

It was possibly timely that I’d drifted away from meditating each day (hey, life gets in the way) as, when I got the subscription notification for the coming year, I was a bit shocked to see it was £50. I was immediately conflicted for, whilst I’m happy to pay for software as I recognise the effort that goes into building and maintaining it, I don’t consider meditating as something I WANT to pay for… surely it’s something I should be able to just DO, without an app.. yet I don’t and have used Calm as a trigger to remind me of the benefits I know I get from meditiation and… ok look, I’ll be honest, I struggled to properly understand my feelings here, I just know that something didn’t sit right with me when asked to pay £50 for an app.

And I’m absolutely certain I did not pay £50 for using this app in the past as anything over £20 gives me pause. I know it shouldn’t especially for an app like Calm that offers constantly updated content, and from which I have derived a good deal of personal pleasure. I think it’s simple because it’s an APP on my phone that makes me consider the price point this way. Weird.

Anyway, rather than splash the cash straight away I decided to look around for alternatives and stumbled head long into the world of ‘for profit wellness’.

Looking at the top hits in the App Store (and looking at the In-App Purchases available, which is in and of itself a complete clusterfuck of similarly named and priced options…), it quickly became apparent that Calm is not alone.

  • Headspace – £50
  • Balance – £63
  • Mo – £60
  • Breethe – £70

The good news is that there are, still free options available, Oak, Smiling Mind, and Medito.

I thought I’d start with Oak and whilst it’s the same 10 min meditation every day it was working ok for a week or so but I quite quickly realised I was missing having new content each day. Medito and Smiling Mind didn’t really land for me (aesthetics and UX just not ‘for me’ but might good for others), so I found myself a little stuck. I perserved for another couple of weeks but I was starting to ignore the ‘Meditate’ reminders more and more and the entire practice was slipping away from me.


Along came Black Friday and Calm had a 50% off sale and, £19.99 later, I’ve signed up for another year. Morals, what morals?

I did swither though, honest I did, and whilst part of me doesn’t really like the fact I am, once again, supporting the “wellness” market this way, I have to be honest and say that Calm worked well for me over the past few years so it’s nice to have it back. Sometimes we need to put ourselves first I think, compromise where you can, but given this is all about helping me find more calm (how apt) then it’s a compromise I’m willing to make.

Looking ahead to 2024 I hope I can keep carving out 10 mins each day to meditate. Just as I hope I can get back out on my bike more often, as it too brings a level of focus that brings a level of calm to my busy brain.

And of course I still have time with my son, existing in his world is a focus in and of itself. And when he’s not diving around burning off his toddler energy, we both enjoy little moments of calm. A hand held during a walk, a cuddle on the sofa , or just lying on the floor rolling his cars around.

P.S. The CALM offer is still on if you are interested. No, I’m not on commission nor is this a paid for post.

bookmark_borderManaging the News

One of the earliest pieces of advice I was given, in my first lecture at Glasgow Polytechnic (now Caledonian University), was to always read the newspaper. Didn’t matter what direction, read the Sports pages first if you want, but read it all, stay up to date, know what is going on in the world.

I should point out that this was before the internet took off, when news was delivered via radio, TV, or on paper, and it was good advice and, although I’ve not bought a newspaper for decades, I do try and keep up with what is going on in the world and ohhh my days what a shit show it seems to increasingly be.

That’s my perception at least, that the world is getting worse and worse, with more and more of the news being dominated by extreme acts/events/people. Wall to wall horrors assault our senses from all angles. Every day something awful happens that seems to trump (horrific pun intended) the last, and it’s gotten to the point where I avoid news broadcasts purely to avoid the direct assault on my senses.

Of course it’s likely that things only seem worse as global communication is so much better and faster so we hear abou tmore of these things as and when they happen, rather than being an article in a newspaper 2 or 3 days after the fact (if at all). These days the multi-angle assault we get across all our social media channels and news sources feels like a constant barrage and I, for one, am lost in the trenches. Defeated.

And then I read this – available to Friends of Dense Discovery – that Kai wrote:

“To combat defeatism and stay engaged, some more or less obvious things we can do: read, listen, watch broadly to gain more context; dip only lightly and occasionally into what I call ‘fast and furious media’, i.e. news and social platforms; be with friends and family; be an active citizen: sign petitions, write to MPs and join protests; donate; walk/hike/exercise; immerse ourselves in nature; help a local cause; be extra empathetic to the those around us; allow ourselves to grieve; allow ourselves to experience joy.”

Kai Brach – Dense Discovery

The dip only lightly and occasionally into fast and furious media is an approach I’ve taken over the past few years, if not longer. As a way to manage my own mental health and general wellbeing, it’s akin to the steps I’ve taken to remove toxic/negative people from my life. I do not need the drama.

Of course the rest of his advice resonates, immersing myself among the trees, or along the shore of a loch, is a surefire way to reset my humanity. And of course it’s also important to take a step back and remember that the one thing that news media has gotten very good at is reporting on atrocities. Alas they don’t report on the good things all that open. The world isn’t all that bad, on the whole.

In short; The world is awful. The world is much better. The world can be much better.

So my advice on how best to manage your consumption of world events? Turn off the news, pause a moment, look up at the clouds as they scroll overheard, find moments of beauty in your day and… breathe.

There will ALWAYS be more news tomorrow, let it go for today.

bookmark_borderToday is now

I’m a sucker for a plan.

I consider myself a goal driven guy. The type of person that’ll find the motivation they need by setting a goal, then doubling down by adding a healthy dose of guilt when I publicly state my intentions.

I’ve always got half a mind on finding new challenges which inevitably means I end up signing up to do a ‘thing’ and that’s when the real fun can start!! The planning to do the thing!!

I won’t lie, it’s perhaps my favourite time with any new project as that means I can research different techniques, maybe look for some new kit or a gadget or two and, most importantly, crack out a new spreadsheet to track it all! Ohh yes my inner geek revels in such things.

The upside is, when it all works and everything goes to plan, I end up doing things I didn’t think I could and the sense of achievement is wonderful.

When it doesn’t then, obviously, I’m a failure (but that’s a whole other post).

Yes dear reader I am, once again, talking about my lifelong quest to become fit(ter) and healthy(er) (and more productive?).

Let’s wind the clock back a couple of years; I’d rediscovered my love of cycling and was training for Etape Caledonia – 40 miles and a fair few hills – and as part of my training managed to tackle a fairly epic ride on the way, including part of the (locally) notorious Crow Road climb; they used part of the route I did in the recent World Championship race so it’s definitely a ‘thing’ and it remains my longest cycle to date.

I had a plan for all of this, what exercise I’d do and when, and on the whole I managed to stick with it week by week. That helped me to find the motivation to get up at 5am to get out on the bike on a Sunday morning, helped me push myself to get up that first big hill and, the more I followed the plan and could start to feel the effects, so the long term goal of not just completing the Etape but doing myself proud was in sight. And on the day itself, if I do say so, I smashed it! My estimated finish time for the 40 miles, based on all the data that Strava had for all the cycling I’d done before, was 2hrs and 47mins. Actual time on the day was 2hrs 16 mins!

As you’ve probably guessed, I’ve gone and signed up to Etape Caledonia again and, on May 12th next year, I’ll tackle the 55 mile route (even more hills!) and why yes, I do already have a plan in place.

Sort of, but not really.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a rough idea of what exercise I’m hoping to do in the weeks and months ahead to get my fitness levels back to where they’ll need to be but instead of planning out each week in detail, I’m only really going to look at specific training in the weeks before the ride itself, until then I’ll be mixing it up a bit and fitting in what I can, when I can.

I’d love to say that I’d done a lot of research about this, that my decision was based on scientific principles, instead I’ll happily admit that this approach is entirely circumstantial and, looking back, it’s taken a while for me to get to a place that such a plan is acceptable (to my planning focused, perfectionist brain).

A few years ago, going out on my bike during the COVID lockdown with the car-free, empty roads was glorious and, as I was working at home and Jack hadn’t arrived yet, I had more freedom and control over my own time so my days were largely mine to plan as I pleased. I made copious plans and by the time I was able to tackle Etape Caledonia for the first time I hit virtually all of my training goals. Hey, it’s easy to stick to a schedule with few other obligations to work around.

Since then the last couple of years have, obviously and rightly, revolved around Jack to make sure he had all the support he (and Becca) needed to be healthy in mind, body, and soul, as he grows. With that as my focus I deliberately chose not to head out on my bike as often, or for as long, as I had been.

However, the goal driven guy that I mentioned early had signed up for a few cycling sportives this year, and of course I had a plan on how I was going to tackle them as, with each event, the mileage was building and building, with the ultimate aim to complete my first 100km before I turned 50.

I didn’t take part in any of the sportives and in hindsight I have no idea how I was going to follow the plans I had laid out. How I thought I’d be able to carve out 4-5 hours for one cycle (and the hours of training it would’ve taken to get to that) when I’d much rather invest my energy spending time with my son and those previously laid plans now seem a bit laughable!

Or maybe I was using life as an excuse to be lazy? Maybe, but I have gotten to spend a lot of time with my amazing, fast growing, cheeky boy and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. He’s doing so well these days and as a family we settled into a pretty steady routine ~ including reliable sleeping patterns for him ~ and I do not regret a single time I decided NOT to go out on my bike, or NOT to go for a run.

In a sense I guess the past couple of years have been an investment in my son, and we are definitely seeing the payoff. If for no other reason than he’s regularly sleeping through the night these days (I know, I know, I’ve just jinxed it), which means I feel considerably more rested which, in turn, means I have more motivation to commit to things that I’ve made plans to do. Tired Gordon does NOT want to go for a cycle or a run, Tired Gordon wants to sit on the sofa all day long, thanks.

Sidebar: In my head there are two versions of me. The one who achieves and plans and does things and commits 100% (often to the cost of other things) and the one who is the laziest lazy person of all time.

This has given me a sense that I can start to set some goals again, that I’ll be able to manage the training required. So, as soon as I saw the early bird signups for Etape Caledonia were open, I jumped at the chance. It’s something I’ve done before so isn’t a leap into the unknown and it was an event I enjoyed the last time. However, this time around, as soon as I was finished completing the signup form, I didn’t find myself immediately reaching for Excel, my brain wasn’t rushing to break down the coming months into training schedules and rest days.

It appears that my mindset has changed.

I am planning to exercise when I can but, rather than structuring each week carefully, I’m going with the notion of “every little helps” and I know I’ll find times to get some exercise done when I can. Since we moved we now have a garage with an area cleared for workouts and soon I’ll get my turbo set up so, rain or shine, I can crack out 30 mins or so on the bike. That should do for the winter months, especially if you add in a goal for 2023 to complete the local ParkRun course and that’s plenty! (I don’t mind running in rain, or even snow, but cycling? No thanks).

Some of this new mindset is based on circumstance, but I have to acknowledge that there is also an element of personal growth at play, some things I’ve learned the hard way but which have, over the past couple of years, brought me a new sense of self. It’s nothing radical, but something I’d been trying to embrace for a few years and which has, almost by stealth, become a much more prevalent part of my outlook.

Living in the now.

This is not entirely down to having the aforementioned wonderfully bright and engaging boy to spend time with, nor is it entirely due to having to deal with both the upheaval of moving house twice within the last year and suddenly losing my job, but rather it seems that the accumulation of all of these life events have actually helped me learn the simplest of lessons, the ability to be present in the moment, the mindset to live in the now and not worry (too much) about the future or the past.

It’s most evident when I have dedicated time with my son. Viewing the world through his eyes, watching him grow, and develop, becoming this cheeky, inquisitive, gentle soul makes most other things diminish into the background completely. What is more important at those moments in time than just being present for my son? It’s perhaps telling that he is now able to say ‘Daddy, pone dow’, suggesting (rightly) that I spend too much time on my phone, and that I should put it down and focus on spending time with him.

For me I think the most notable, recent, example of this shift was when my last work contract was cancelled out of the blue, on the very evening we were about to set off on holiday. In the past that would’ve consumed me for weeks, my mind churning over what I could’ve done differently to change it (nothing), and what the impact was going to be in the immediate future (a new job) but after chatting it through with Becca it quickly became just something to deal with. Sure it took me a couple of days but in the past it would’ve consumed me for weeks.

And it is increasingly becoming the way of things. I may still get annoyed by things, but they don’t consume as they used to. What’s the point in letting all that negative energy build up?

I can’t take all the credit of course, Becca is calmness personified, measured in her thoughts and with a wonderfully balanced view of the now and the future, and a pretty good take on leaving her past in the past. I’ve learned so much from her and without doubt her consistency and support have been a large part of helping me get to where I am now. What a lucky guy I am.

I know that I will always set myself goals and I’ll always be a sucker for a plan, those aspects of me I don’t want to change as they can be useful at times. It’s just that the these days the plans are a little more vague and a little more open to adapting to whatever life throws at me next and the goals, if achieved, will be accepted a bit more graciously with the knowledge that they were achieved without throwing the rest of my life out of balance.

I recently decided to get back on track with my Couch-to-5K efforts, something I completed a couple of years ago but which I didn’t sustain, and lo and behold I broke my little toe and haven’t been able to run now for the past 3 weeks, with another 2 or 3 weeks recovery ahead of me. It was annoying (hell, it was bloody agony at the time) but all it is is a minor setback. I know I’ll get back to it, my toe will heal and all that’s happened is my plans, my goals, moved out a little.

Tomorrow I will assess how I feel and make a decision. Because by then, it will be now.

bookmark_borderAlmost 50

Apparently old age hits when you are 68, or so I read. I’m not sure why that is, and I’m sure smarter people than me have outlined the reasons in great detail but, on the whole, it sounds about right given that I’m soon to turn 50 and I do not think I’m all that old.

Some days I feel old but I’m not really 50, I’m somewhere in my late twenties I think, it’s hard to pin down an exact number but that’s where my head usually lands when someone asks me how old I am. Isn’t that weird.

The truth of the matter is that I am very aware that I’m about to turn 50 but that’s entirely down to the fact I have an almost 2 year old son. He is at once a constant source of delight and wonder, and a reminder of my advancing mortality.

When Becca and I first got together, she shared her desires to have a baby. It was something I’d consider in the past (and obviously decided against) but with Becca it felt right, it felt like where our lives would head naturally and I quickly found myself delightedly agreeing.

With that thought in my head I found myself starting to think what would be required to bring a healthy baby, safely into the world. From conception, through the pregnancy, and the birth itself I admit there were many worries on my mind. As soon as we knew we were pregnant, despite all the checkups going well, it was hard for me not to worry about the baby being healthy, and when it was time to head to the delivery suite my head was full of conflicting thoughts should the worse happen. Thankfully it didn’t, with Jack arriving safe and sound, and Becca handling all of it (and the post-partum issues) with the strength and compassion I knew to expect from her.

There was also one recurring thought that still pings around my brain. It started soon after we agreed that we would be having a baby and continues to this day.

How much of my son’s life will I see?

How old will I be when Jack starts school, how old when he learns to drive, when he turns 21… 30?

Early on I hoped these thoughts would drive me to get healthier and fitter, the longer to live to see him grow up, and whilst that hasn’t really panned out, it’s still a big factor of my thinking.

I know a lot of this train of thought was driven by the (still recent) passing of my Dad. He was only 73 and though my Mum is still going strong in my head I’m always hoping I can at least make it to the same age my Dad was, that’ll make Jack 25 years old and hopefully I’ll grow old with some comfort that he’s turned out ok (I mean, I know he will, but I’m a parent, we worry about these things).

It is a strange thing to have your mortality so clearly outlined. It’s certainly not something I’ve previously considered in great depth largely because I was only really concerned about myself. Turning 40 was seen as a celebration and a chance to mark ‘half a life’ lived, but with the constantly running commentary in my head centred around how many more years of life with Jack I’ll manage, turning 50 seems much more daunting, not to mention so much closer to, well, death.


I should pause at this point and remind you, dear reader, that I tend to write these posts with only a rough idea of what I’m going to say in my mind, barely an outline, and usually only a starting point. So forgive this rather morbid turn!

OK, so I’ll be 50 soon but I don’t really FEEL that age… that said can someone tell me how am I supposed to feel? From what I can tell, if my closest friends are anything to go by I don’t really see much difference, and whilst I know these days I’m mostly just a bit tired I think that’s more about living with a toddler than anything to do with how many years I’ve lived on this planet.

I am almost 50. I have zero complaints. I have a great life, have had many great life experiences, and find myself settled, content, and happy, with a beautiful family. I feel loved by many people, and none of that has anything to do with my age.

I’ll admit I do harbour a deep-seated desire to make sure that when I do pop my clogs I’ll leave my beautiful wife and beautiful boy financially sorted but that’s still a work in progress. For now we have a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and we laugh more often than we cry… actually we laugh more often than most things, we are a happy little pack of weirdos!

A few years ago, with this number starting to loom, I started a little plan I called Fit for Fifty, and it was going pretty well. I got back into running and completed a few 5KM runs. I got heavily into cycling, and last year I had about 5 different organised ‘sportives’ booked. I was driven. I was focused! Annnnnnd I hadn’t really taken into account the time it takes to train for these things versus the time it takes to nurture a baby…

I didn’t make ANY of those sportives and it’s only really now, since I’ve recently managed to get back out on my bike a couple of times, that I realise just how much of a back seat my plans had taken.

Yes, for the best of reasons (there is literally NOTHING I wouldn’t do for that boy) but it still has an impact on my physical and mental health. I’m slowing getting back into it, but still struggling to find time, and when I do have time I’m exhausted and struggle with motivation, it’s a horrible cycle (no pun intended) to be stuck in!

Perhaps this post is my way of giving myself a kick. Or perhaps that was when I signed up for the 2024 Etape Caledonia cycle sportive (55 miles up some big hills), either way there is a vague sense of being able to get my fitness goals back on track. Like I said I have a much bigger incentive than ever before, and I’m doing my best to use the happiest moments with my wife and son to coax my exercise mojo out from its hiding place.

So I’m turning 50, so what! It’s just a number and as I’ve mentioned here before, with life starting to open up again I can look ahead to the future with hope and love. It’s just a number, and if nothing else matters then I can take a look at how all of my closest friends are ageing and take solace that I’m still not quite as old as them, even if it is only a matter of months…

bookmark_borderGood advice

Stop trying to define yourself with negative labels

“Labeling yourself is not only self-defeating, it is irrational. Your self cannot be equated with any one thing you do. Your life is a complex and ever-changing flow of thoughts, emotions, and actions. To put it another way, you are more like a river than a statue.”

Don’t get hooked on praise

“The price you pay for your addiction to praise will be an extreme vulnerability to the opinions of others. Like any addict, you will find you must continue to feed your habit with approval in order to avoid withdrawal pangs. The moment someone who is important to you expresses disapproval, you will crash painfully, just like the junkie who can no longer get his “stuff.” Others will be able to use this vulnerability to manipulate you. You will have to give in to their demands more often than you want to because you fear they might reject or look down on you. You set yourself up for emotional blackmail.”

Hat tip to the Book Freak newsletter for throwing this at my inbox.