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An Advent Calendar of Awesomeness 2015

It's right about now that you start freaking out about how fast the year flew by. "January feels like yesterday," you'll lament. "It's like time goes faster every year".

Well the good/bad news is you're not just being paranoid. Time does seem to move faster every year, and we know why. It's because of cortisol.

Cortisol, the hormone commonly associated with stress, is also heavily involved in the storage of memories. So much so that people on cortisol suppressing drugs have poorer recall after watching videos of stressful events like car accidents. When you have a novel or stressful experience, more cortisol is released, meaning the memory you store is much richer in detail. As a result, when you recall the event, it feels like time was moving slower.

Think of it like frame rate on a video. A time lapse camera takes a picture every ten seconds, so you can flick through an hour of footage very quickly. If everyday memories are "filmed" on time lapse, then stressful memories are given the full HD treatment. That's why time seems to slow down during an accident and why you vividly remember where you were when you heard about the attacks on September 11th.

So think about it: The younger you are, the more novel experiences you're bound to have. For a toddler, everything - from spinning round in a dribbling circle to throwing your dinner at the wall - is a novel experience, so times seems to move slowly. But as we age, we slip into routine and have fewer novel experiences.

The upshot of this is simple: The more new experiences you have, the slower time will seem to pass and the richer your life will be.

To help you out here are 25 vaguely health related things you can try this month to make your life better. Hopefully some of them will be new to you.

1 - Do the unthinkable in your training. If you always do X, stop for at least a month and replace it with something new, something you're bad at. For me this was bench pressing (in fact, 'chest' workouts in general) which I haven't done for four months now. I replaced it with standing barbell press, which I've always been crap at. Funny enough I made more progress in those months than the rest of the year.

2 - If you use social media a lot, stop for a week and see how you feel.

3 - Write down a tiny, achievable, behaviour-based objective and do it for the rest of the month. It could be as small as taking ten deep breaths whenever you feel anxious or calling your parents once a week. Small things are big things.

4 - Read a hard book. When you finish it, read some articles about it, read about the author's life, there'll be plenty of stuff you missed. This is weight lifting for your brain. I recommend Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. It's such a staggering work of genius it makes me want to chop my hands off.

5 - Do something good and don't tell anyone about it. There is research supporting the benefits of kindness and altruism. We get more joy from buying lunch for someone than having it bought for us. Do something good and don't seek credit for it.

6 - Binge watch Master of None on Netflix, a ten part sitcom from comedian Aziz Ansari. It's funny, poignant and beautifully filmed with long rambling takes and beautiful New York vistas a la seventies Woody Allen.

While you're at it, check out Jessica Jones too, even if superheroes aren't your thing. It's the least superhero-y superhero show ever, mostly a noir-ish detective story that happens to contain people who can lift cars. As a side note, netflix are really nailing the whole effortless diversity thing in a way that puts the big screen to shame. Both MoN and JJ take place in a New York that actually reflects the city's ethnic make up, and JJ will occasionally go whole minutes with only female characters on screen, talking to each other about something other than men. Mind blowing, right?

7 - Stretch your goddamn hip flexors.

8 - Recognise that you are and will always be a work in progress and give yourself a fucking break.

9 - Make an effort to cook a vegetarian meal at least once a week. Like time-travel, it's not impossible, just improbable.

10 - Check out this exhibition about the Soviet space program at the science museum. You will believe a man can fly...Around the Earth, in what looks like something a thumbless chimp welded together.

11 - Think of something you wanted to achieve this year but didn't. A general lifestyle thing like changing your job situation. Sit down for ten minutes and come up with ten ideas on how to do it.

12 - Further to that last point; if you're a procrastinator, try the pomodoro technique. Simple but stupidly effective.

13 - Include some easy but frequent cardio. Fifteen minutes five days a week beats an hour twice a week.

14 - Check out this amazing exhibit on abstract art at the White Cube. With works by masters like Picasso and Matisse alongside modern artists they've influenced.

15 - Look at this amazing thing.

16 - And this.

17 - Stop believing quotes and stats posted on the Internet just because they're superimposed over a nice image. Any idiot can do it, including those who want you to be as racist and misogynistic as they are.

18 - Keep a bottle of water by your bed. Drink it when you wake up.

19 - Spend more money on better wine and drink less of it, more slowly.

20 - Remember that when it comes to exercise, it all counts. Maybe you don't have a spare hour to train. Do something anyway. Twenty minutes still counts.

21 - The chicken wings at Blues Kitchen in Shoreditch are life changing.

22 - Pick a challenging body weight exercise and get good at it. The front or back lever, handstand push up or L-sit are all great choices. There's a shitload of tutorials online.

23 - You know when you wake up after a night out and are afraid to check your sent messages because you've done something stupid? Delete that person's number now.

24 - Offer to help a friend with their health and fitness goals. If you're reading this you probably know more than they do.

25 - There's probably no heaven, so whatever it is you're scared of doing just say fuck it and do it anyway.

Happy Christmas, jerks!


How To Lucid Dream in 5 easy steps

The first thing to accept is this: The divide between sleep and waking life is permeable, fuzzy. Two cities that occupy the same space.

For example, if you've ever looked at a clock, you will have experienced the odd sensation that the second hand took longer to move when you first looked at it. What's going on there? In the microsecond it took for you to move your head and focus on the clock face, a jumble of blurred images went past your eyes. Your mind had no use for them, so it retroactively edited them out and reinserted the lost millisecond once you had something to focus on. In this case it happened to be a clock, which gave you a reference point. It allowed you to spot the trick. But really, things like this happen all the time without you ever noticing.

The mind is constantly taking shortcuts. We see an object moving toward us and in an instant it is scanned against a database of images. Some key points are noted and we decide it's a car, how fast it's moving, what direction. Complex calculations performed almost instantly, usually with great accuracy. But optical illusions are an example of this mechanism misfiring.

The point of all this is that the mind isn't just an observer. It takes cues from external stimuli but it is constantly interpreting, streamlining, disregarding irrelevant data, filling in gaps and cut-and-pasting over blind spots. It's a reality generating engine. The amount it generates depends on how close we are to a dreaming state, but it is constantly generating.

For the experienced lucid dreamer, dreams can become every bit as vivid, as real, as the world you perceive around you right now.

Most of us have experienced a lucid dream at one point. It's the awareness that you're dreaming, while you are still in the dream. Typically we'll experience a brief moment of excitement, maybe even try flying for a bit, but all too frequently our excitement wakes us up. So you need to learn how to lucid dream more often, and then maintain the dream once you realise you're in it.

Step 1- Cultivating awareness in waking life.

Dreams are an analogue of waking life and our habits and values are reflected in them. So, to be lucid while dreaming we need to become more lucid while awake.

So how do I do that?

The 'reality check' method. In daily life, sporadically "check" if you're dreaming. You might do this by checking the time, looking away, then checking again. If you were dreaming, the numbers would be inconsistent or meaningless. It may seem silly, because you intuitively know when you're awake, but building the habit is what is important.

While using the reality check on a regular basis, we can then try and induce lucid dreams directly.

Step 2- The wake/back-to-sleep method.

Set your alarm for two hours earlier than you would normally wake up. So if you need to be up at eight, set it for six. Then, when it wakes you, stay awake for 30 minutes. Then, go back to sleep with the intention of having a lucid dream.

It's a good idea to use that time to write down what you intend to dream about.

This method works by starving your mind of REM sleep, so that it increases the duration of the REM state in the following half hour. This has probably happened to you by accident before. Think about when you naturally woke up earlier than necessary, went back to sleep and had some of your most batshit mental dreams. The difference here is that you're waking yourself up on purpose then going back to sleep with the intention to lucid dream.

It may take practice over a couple of weeks but you should eventually be able to induce lucid dreams at least some of the time.

So you're lucid dreaming, now what?

Step 4- Maintaining the dream state

It's common to become over excited in a lucid dream and wake yourself up. There are some weirdly specific methods that seem to help with this. Some suggest looking at your hands in the dream as a method for calming and refocusing the mind.

Again this may take practice but over time you should be able to calmly realise that you're in the dream and then maintain that state.

At which point you can start to have some real fun.

Step 5- Do what you want to do

There are some obvious options I don't really have to detail here. Indulging your every hedonistic fantasy will probably keep you busy for a while, depending on how imaginative you are. But when you've exhausted that depraved stockpile, you might try a more spiritual route.

One particular lucid dreamer told me about a series of dreams he had where he gradually built a control room within his mind. A sort of observation deck (which in retrospect sounds eerily similar to the one in the Pixar movie Inside/Out, although this conversation took place years ago).

Eventually, a voice within the observation deck said, "what do you want?"

And he responded: "Show me something I've never seen before."

I don't want to tell you what his mind showed him, because it might skew your own version. Plus it's not the point. The point is to use lucid dreaming to plug into a deeper part of your mind, a part that's usually inaccessible in waking life.

This is the real magic of lucid dreams. There's a person inside you who is much smarter than you. That person is where all your best ideas, all your bursts of inspiration come from. You just don't have access to them most of the time, at least not in any way you can control. As flaky and new age as it sounds, lucid dreaming is your chance to spend more time with that person.

Sweet dreams.


A Simple Quiz To Change Your Life

Here's an exercise you can do without standing up from your computer. It's not going to burn any calories, it doesn't involve lifting anything and it's easy to do, but the results may be powerful all the same.

I also didn't invent it, I stole it from David Wong, a writer on a great website called

Find a piece of paper - just a scrap of something will do - and write down the five things that are most important to you right now.

You're writing this for yourself and no one else - so don't try to sound like a wonderful person.

You'll end up with something like -

1- Progress my career.
2- Have a happy relationship.
3- Travel.
4- Spend time with friends.
5- Be healthy.

Your answers may be different but just be honest. This is a list of what you consider to be your values. Your life philosophy.

Now make another list. This time write down what you did yesterday, except for essential biological functions like eating, crapping and Facebook stalking your ex.

Now it's probably more like (and honestly I'm not judging here, just go with me) -
1- Work, 8am-6pm
2- Netflix 7-9pm
3- Facebook / Twitter 9-10pm

Or whatever, but you get the idea. Again, I'm not holding myself up as some paragon of productivity or claiming I don't have days like this too. But the point is this: You can basically tear up the first list, because the second one is your real life philosophy.

This sounds incredibly judgemental and condescending. Yesterday might have been an unusually lazy day or you may have been knackered from teaching underprivileged badgers how to read the previous night. So go back over the last week, or month and repeat the exercise. I think you'll see a similar disparity between the first list - your desired life - and the second - the life you're actually living.

What's the point of this, besides making you feel like shit?

This: You are what you repeatedly do, NOT what you believe about yourself. The first list is a bunch of nice ideas. The second list shows you who you are and who you'll be in ten years.

So, obviously you can change that, that's where a lot of articles like this would end. If you want to crush your career, ditch all that Facebook time and spend an hour a day pursuing your career in goldfish wrangling / palaeontology / whatever the hell it is you want to do. And it'll work. Start doing that now and you will soon be far closer to living that first list.

But there are a couple of important things to understand: All of the things on the seconds list fulfilled an important need, in fact they were the things you wanted to do MOST in that moment. Faffing about on Facebook, however trivial it seems, still provided a social connection and allowed you to wind down from work.

Okay, but what if you're a heroin addict? Your second list may have read -

1 - Try and get hold of heroin.
2- Take heroin.

Does that mean you want to be a heroin addict? Absolutely not. Nor am I saying your addiction is your fault, or any of that judgemental crap. But in a purely biological sense, the point stands: The heroin was fulfilling a need, an incredibly powerful one. For complex, horrible reasons and through no fault of your own It was the most important thing to you in that moment.

That's a huge subject and beyond the scope of what's supposed to be a fun little blog, but it was important to clear up.

Here's a less depressing example: Your first list, your list of what you think is most important to you, says; "I want to look like a fitness magazine model". And your second list, the things you actually did yesterday said: "spent the day dressing and feeding the kids and ferrying them around".

Again, that second list tells you what your actual priorities are, what was most important to you in that moment: Looking after your kids - and rightly so because you're a good parent rather then a narcissistic asshole.

So here's my point: If you want to move toward the goals on the first list, you need to change something about the second list. BUT, you also need to recognise what you will LOSE by changing something on the second list; That you will be giving up something that may sound trivial on paper but still fulfils an emotional need.

In the example above, don't think; "I want to look like a fitness model". Think; "I want to spend less time with my kids and look like a fitness model". Because, as shitty as it sounds, that's the reality. Something needs to be bumped off that second list if anything's going to happen.

The point is not to discourage you but to illustrate what it takes to actually change. Do this and you'll realise that some goals are worth cutting certain fun activities out of your life for and since you now appreciate that those activities fulfilled a need, you can prepare yourself for how tough that transition will be.

But guess what? Some other goals, when you look at what it actually takes to achieve them, may not actually be worth it...and that's okay too. Try it and see.


Why You Should Give A F**k

In the Internet age, "not giving a fuck" has become one of the most celebrated traits, the height of cool. We post memes proclaiming "not a single fuck was given that day". Sometimes we even go out of our way to be offensive just to demonstrate the lack of fucks we give.

I submit that the person constantly making these claims in fact gives the most fucks - at least by their own warped interpretation of what fuck-giving actually means. I also submit that the whole portrayal of not giving a fuck as some kind of badass or even psychologically healthy character trait is, well, pretty fucked.

Firstly, and most obviously, if you feel the need to constantly claim that nothing bothers you, that you don't care wether people like you or not (the basic tenets of alleged non fuck-giving) then you quite transparently do care an awful lot about how you are perceived. If you truly didn't give a fuck about what people thought, that would surely extend to not giving a fuck about wether people thought you gave a fuck or not.

So far so obvious. But how did this this brand of borderline sociopathy become a desirable trait in the first place?

In the 90's and 00's, "cool" became synonymous with post-ironic cynicism. Everything in the world was a bought-and-sold corporate shit show and if you didn't believe that then you were just a "sheep". This is just apathy. "The worlds a mess and there's nothing I can do about it so why should I give a fuck?"

This wasn't always so. Right through the 80's the counter culture was identifiable by the sheer amount of fucks it gave. Jesus, you couldn't move for fucks being given about everything from gender equality to nuclear power to workers rights. To care about something, to give a fuck, was actually quite cool.

But somewhere along the line the idea of giving a sincere fuck about anything came to be seen as hopelessly naive and sentimental, the very definition of uncool.

Nowadays not giving a fuck extends to the people who surround you, too. And of course there's some merit to this. We should all be free to be ourselves, to dress, act and behave in whatever way makes us happy provided we're not hurting anyone. We should of course be free to express ideas that other people may find offensive; in fact it's vital that we do. No one has a right to a life free from offence. (And anyone who says otherwise is a cunt).

We are free to be who we are, but this is not the same as saying we should not give a fuck. It may sound like I'm nit picking, quibbling over a turn of phrase, but I'm not.

This is the crux of it:

We need to care. That's all that's going to save us. And the don't-give/a-fuck attitude is the opposite of that. It's not brave or cool. It's lazy and apathetic.

Conversely, being kind and caring, though frequently portrayed as soft and bleeding-hearted and wooly and naive, is quite often the hardest thing to do in life.

Don't give a fuck what others think? You're not a badass you're just painfully incurious. Or a sociopath.

Don't read the news 'cos who gives a fuck it's all lies anyway, man? You're not a badass. You're uninformed. And contrary to popular belief you're NOT entitled to an opinion, certainly not one that anyone has to actually listen to, unless it's based on actual information.

Don't vote? You're not a badass. You're apathetic, and you're opting out of the most important conversation there is about the forces that shape our lives. I know you love to believe you're in control of your life, the hero of your own story, the captain of your own ship. And you are. You are the captain of your own ship. But society is the water.

So please: Be brave. Inform yourself. Be curious. Care.

Give a fuck.


Stop being so emotional 

Muscle is an emotional issue. By building muscle you are literally trying to create more of your self. Consequently people tend to get very emotional about how they achieve their muscle, there's a kind of religious zealotry around certain schools of training and nutrition and people will take offence if you disagree with their pet methods.

This is an unhealthy way to live. Not only is it pretty miserable, it guarantees you're not thinking logically and critically about you're training. It forces you into dumb choices and makes you anxious and insecure.

As much as the fitness industry is obsessed with "passion", I really feel we should learn to be dispassionate about our bodies. Ultimately, if you're not an athlete and just want to look good, training is basically a fashion decision. You are deciding to look a certain way because you think it's attractive or will make you feel good. That's no different to buying a pair of shoes, it just takes longer.

Some may disagree with what style of shoe looks best, but you're not going to call them an asshole for disagreeing with your choice.

Take the emotion out of the choices you're making, pick a sensible plan you can actually follow and enjoy, and then get on with your life.