Take a Break

If you’re a regular reader of Next Starfish then you’ll know I occasionally take a short break from blogging.

I think taking a break from things is a very healthy thing to do from time to time . It’s all too easy to get caught up in the day to day – work, routine and commitments – and loose touch with what’s important, enjoyable and right.

A short break let’s you get perspective back, takes off the pressure, and helps keep you fresh.

As the late Steven Covey pointed out: it’s all too easy to confuse URGENT with IMPORTANT.

Many of the things we do because they’re urgent, not because they’re important . . . taking a break can help with sorting out which is which.

Join me – take a short break from doing something, and afterwards you’ll come back to it refreshed and revitalised. Alternatively you might decide it’s not that important after all, and decide to ditch it. Either way is good !

I’ll be back in a week (refreshed and revitalised) – untill then, quotes:

“Once in a while you have to take a break and visit yourself” – AUDREY GIORGI

“You should never take life so seriously that you forget to play” - ANON

“There is more to life than increasing it’s speed” – MAHATMA GANDHI

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is what are we busy about ?” - HENRY DAVID THOREAU

“If you’re too busy to help those around you succeed, you’re too busy” - ANON

 Photo by Michael Pollak, via Flickr

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Choice is Voluntary

We all have busy lives – having to make decisions how best to juggle the various demands on us from jobs, family and friends.

Barack Obama’s day is busier than most, and typically involves an endless stream of decisions and choices.

All of us, Barack included, can become tired and jaded by the mental and emotional effort of having to make so many choices, affecting our judgement, mood, and happiness. Psychologists use the phrases ‘choice fatigue’ or decision fatigue to describe this effect, and studies have shown we all tend to make poorer, less logical decisions when overburdened by choices and options, or when we are mentally exhausted from having made too many.

It’s a condition that can have significant consequences when applied to doctors, High Court Judges or stock-market traders, but equally affects us all – shoppers and dieters included !

Barack Obama limits his decision fatigue by delegating the more mundane decisions to other people. In an interview he recently said “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing, because I have too many other decisions to make”.

We all like the freedom to make choices, but sometimes all these choices combine to make life draining. Endless possibility can easily seem a bit daunting, as any writer (or blogger) faced with a blank screen knows !

Sometimes we just want the relief of being told what to do . . . sound familiar ?

We can make life easier on ourselves by automating many of the routine decisions of daily life (from shopping lists to meal planning), taking decisions in batches, and just not ‘sweating the small stuff’ (spending energy worrying about things that don’t really matter). You never know, by only worrying about the big decisions you might enough emotional energy to do some more of all that good stuff you keep putting off.

If you’re someone who is full of good intentions, but never gets round to them because you’re bogged down in other stuff, or is always planning the next big thing, but somehow gets sidetracked and never gets started, then feel free to treat the rest of this post as a FIRM TO-DO LIST for the week, rather than a list of possible options.

1 - Visit the Give Blood website, type in your postcode and a few details and arrange an appointment to donate blood. It’ll take just a couple of minutes and you can do it now sat in your chair, and you will help save someone’s life.

2 - Visit the They Work for You website, type in your postcode to find your MP’s contact details and email address. Take ten minutes to participate in our democracy and send a short few line email to your MP to let them know you’re thoughts on whatever’s on your mind – from energy policy and climate commitments, the overseas aid budget, sustainable development and the green belt, the badger cull, the economy, or any pressing local issues.

3 - Next time your out shopping, make an effort to drop into a few charity shops and look through the clothes, rather than your usual stores. If you’re not already in the habit of buying used clothes from charity shops, try giving it a go, even if just once, and see how you get on – it benefits the charity, recycles unwanted items, avoids the production of so much ‘new stuff’, and saves  you money you can put to other use.

4 - Give something to a stranger today. It might be a few pounds online to a charity, a few dollars lent to a developing world entrepreneur, or a few cans of food to your local food bank.

5 - When you get chance make a list of DVDs, CDs, books, tools or anything else that you would be willing to lend to someone, and take it into work. Encourage your colleagues to add their ‘stuff’ to the list, and develop a mini-sharing co-operative. It’s might avoid having to buy quite so much stuff, and you’ll get to know all your colleagues a lot better in the process.

The video on the left is the serious stuff, the one on the right just a bit of fun.

I know, it’s another choice . . . sorry.


Photo by o5com via Flickr

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A World-Changing Life Can Be A Modest Life

A guest post by Eric, a blogger from the site Coffee and Warm Showers. Eric made a decision to ‘escape the rat race’ and lead a conscious life – quitting his job, moving to the Idaho countryside and having downsized and de-stressed, is now living a life he describes as ‘anything but ordinary’.

For the last year I have been obsessed with my blog and personal development.  Both for myself and for my readers.  What is happiness?  How do you get there?  How do I learn from my experiences and share them with others in an effort to help them too?

But for the last month I haven’t had any grand ideas, enlightenment, epiphanies, or anything of the sort.  Well, not necessarily.

I had a conversation with my soon to be wife (in 5 days!!!) the other night about what I’m going through mentally right now.  For the last year I have had a passion for being happy.  A year ago I would have told you I just want to live in a small town where I can have fun doing what makes me happy in that moment.  Low stress, high fun.

Well, here I am in the exact environment I wished for.  The exact environment I made huge sacrifices for.

Then why am I not 100% happy ?

Yet, after talking to her I realized that although I achieved what I wanted, I feel like there’s something missing.  There’s a missing link in my life I’ve grown so accustomed to.  A passion – a thirst for something inside me that I can’t quench.  I’ve become almost content with my life (which is what I wanted a year ago) but now I have an urge to want something more.

Don’t misinterpret your goals

In the past few months I have lived my life for two primary goals:

  1. Waking up every morning inspired, and going to bed fulfilled.
  2. Balancing a life of saving the world and savoring the world.

Take a second to think about those two goals.  Interpret them how you will.  Apply them to your life and think about what things you would do in order to achieve those goals today.

What did you come up with?

If you’re like me you thought of these as massive, grandiose ideas.  World-changing plots to create a life-lasting effect on yourself and others.  Go big or go home, right?

But I think I (and we as a society, really) have misinterpreted what is “world-changing”, saving the world, and generally worth living for.

You can save the world from your backyard

I use “backyard” because it’s close to home and it’s modest – humble.  This urge that I’ve found has popped up is because I feel as though I’m not part of something bigger than myself.  I’m not creating a force that others can join or would be excited to join.

I am not living by my two goals.  In fact, I am waking up happy, but not inspired.  I am going to bed happy, but not fulfilled.  And I feel as though I am savoring the world as much as I can, but saving it ?  Not so much.

I think it’s time that I (and all of us) reframe what it means to do something meaningful.  It’s time we reframe the idea of “the world.”

“The world” is “your world.”  That means anyone and anything directly relevant to you and what you do.  This could be your home, or your town.  But don’t automatically assume it literally means the entire world – don’t put that added stress on yourself.

What if . . .  

What if waking up inspired just meant that you were inspired to drink your coffee this morning outside in the fresh air?

What if going to bed fulfilled tonight just meant that you increased your jogging time from 25 minutes to 30?

What if you decided to savor your life just by heading out of your house and just being nice to strangers?  Helping in any way you can, starting a conversation with someone you know just wants to be heard, or trying something new?  Wouldn’t you be enjoying and helping at the same time?

Modest life is where it’s at

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all of the answers.  I find myself fighting with my thoughts all too often on deciding what kind of life I want to lead.  Sometimes I decide I want to get away from it all, live off the grid, and just live a self-sufficient life on my own with my family.  Other days I’ll want to take on the entire world and be the next Nelson Mandela.

But what I’ve found out after making these sacrifices and deep reflection in the life I live now is that not everything has to be a world-wide feat.  Changing the world doesn’t have to be done by you directly.  If you love your life and are good to people then change will happen.  It may not be in your lifetime or even in the next generation but it will happen sooner or later.

What are the goals for your life ? Can you reframe them so they’re not so enormously large they aren’t truly what you want anymore ?  What can you do today to start making headway ?

Let’s stop focusing on what could be one day and start focusing on what is today.  Baby steps.  Take a step out of your front door and then another closer to the street.  Share your story and passion with everyone you meet and let them take the baton.  Eventually, your dream will make it all the way around the globe.

To your world-changing life, from Eric

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Photo by AntwerpenR, via Flickr

Be Your Own Choice Architect

If you’ve just read the title of this post you’re probably thinking ‘what’ ?

More specifically ‘what on  earth is a choice architect meant to be’ ?

Anyone who consciously designs an environment in which people make choices, is a ‘choice architect’. So, for example, a supermarket manager who decides where in the store, and on which shelves, various items are placed, is a ‘choice architect’. A restaurateur writing a menu, a software engineer deciding how to display search engine results, an interior designer presenting a portfolio of options for a new look living room, or an investment banker presenting a portfolio of stock options, are all ‘choice architects’.

All are presenting their customer with a choice – but deliberately setting out to influence that choice.

It should be obvious that the way in which options are presented, their context and their timing are all significant factors in determining the choices we all actually make. Virtually all our choices are influenced by others – the car we drive, what we’ve bought for tonight’s dinner, the make of our mobile phone or the next music album we listen to.

The thing is we all like to think we make well thought out, rational decisions when we decide between options – but the reality is that’s far from the truth. All of us are subject to a wide range of inherent bias, beliefs, judgements, preconceptions and preferences, of our own, which others can exploit to help direct our choices.

For example, most of us, most of the time will opt for the status-quo, and avoid change unless necessary (we find change stressful). Most of us, most of the time will tend to favour a scenario that confirms our own pre-existing beliefs, rather than one that challenges them (we like it when our beliefs are confirmed). Most of us, most of the time will choose familiarity over novelty (we stick with what we know). Most of us most of the time will support something presented by someone we like, and react negatively if presented by someone we don’t like, regardless of the actual merits either way (we’re influenced more by the messenger than the message).

Social scientists have been busy listing so many of these cognitive biases, that subconsciously affect the way we think and act, that well over a hundred are now recognised.

We’d all like to be better people – most of us have a mental image of how we’d like to be. The problem is at times these emotional biases get in the way of us doing what our more rational self would like – getting fitter and healthier, loosing weight, working more – or less, spending more time with family and friends, being more generous with our time or money, or clearing the accumulated clutter from our lives and homes more frequently.

We’re all only human, and it’s hard. We get tired, worn out, hungry, depressed, bored, upset, hurt and angry, and when we do we easily end up doing something our more rational self would rather we didn’t – whether it’s going to bed too late again, or something far worse.

If we’re smart we try to overcome these moments of weakness and exercise self-control. So we should, but we might do much better if we also simply accept we will have them sometimes, but try to put in place a framework that helps us make better decisions even when we are being ‘less than perfect’. ‘Nudging’ ourselves, so we have to rely a little less on our willpower alone.

If we know we always make bad food choices going shopping while we’re hungry, or when faced with having to cook tea from scratch after arriving home – then eating before shopping, shopping online, or having pre-prepared meals ready to simply heat up when we get in, will all help.

If we tend to make excuses not to go to the gym, perhaps arranging to go with a friend will introduce sufficient accountability to encourage us to go, as will leaving our gym bag somewhere visible, or consciously organising our diary and day so we have time to go.

If we’re prone to distraction by social media, random surfing or playing games when we’re meant to be working, perhaps we could install software that automatically disables Facebook and Solitaire etc during certain hours, or perhaps tracks the time we spend doing certain things to make us more aware of the time we’re wasting.

There are many ways we can structure the architecture of our own lives to help ourselves become more like the people we would like to be.

I’m a firm believer that if we’re more balanced and better organised in our own lives we’ll face fewer distractions and pressures, and generally make better choices as a result – both for our own good, and for the benefit of others.

If we are healthier, happier and more content with what we already have, we will perhaps consume a little less. If we waste less of our money on unnecessary, and ultimately unrewarding luxuries, seeking status or personal affirmation, then we will have more money available, perhaps being inclined to spend a little more of it for the benefit of others. If we can get more sleep, be more productive and procrastinate less, then perhaps we’ll have more time and more energy to help improve the lives of others . . . as well as our own.


Photo by Breahn via Flickr

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7 Tips for Dematerializing

We all know that our homes, lives and economies are becoming increasingly digital – with mountains of ‘physical stuff’ being increasingly replaced by ‘virtual stuff.

While there can certainly be environmental downsides to this (such as the energy and resources needed for device manufacture, and data energy footprint etc), there’s no doubt there are very significant environmental benefits – with far less paper, plastic and other materials being needed, processed, transported and ultimately thrown away.

A physical edition of a single national newspaper would use thousands of tons of processed paper, tons of ink and a sizable fleet of trucks to deliver it . . . and one day later it all would be sat in people’s rubbish bin, newsprint and colour suppliments alike, waiting to be landfilled, incinerated or just possibly recyled !

Replacing our collections of CDs and DVDs, shelves of books, racks of magazines and albums of photos with a collection of ones and zeros stored on computer memory will not only provide us with the benefits of easy use and sharing, but also declutter our homes and lives, and reduce our impact as consumers on the environment.

If you’re not fully digital yet, here are a few ideas how you can make the switch.


Set aside time to plan your digital storage system. Physical stuff like books, CDs etc doesn’t need much in the way of filing – just pick a shelf and line them up – but digital files all essentially look the same, and need a bit of organisation if you’re to be able to find and use them easily. Think about what you’re storing, where you will store them, naming and filing systems, tags or labels, how to transfer and share them to other devices or across the internet. There’s no doubt in the future the art of collecting, curating and organising a personal digital archive will be more important than ever.


Another key difference between shelves of physical stuff and digital is the potential vulnerability of electronic files – a crashed hard drive, lost laptop or dropped ipad could be the end of your music collection, financial records, or personal photos. There are all kinds of ways to develop a backup strategy, but broadly its a good idea to ensure as much as possible is backed-up, in as many places as possible, as often as possible. The cost of storage has fallen considerably in recent years, and cloud storage options are also increasingly affordable. A wide variety of backup software is also available, to automate the backup process – so there really is no excuse for not backing up your stuff.


Everyone has their preferences when in comes to devices to interact with their ‘digital stuff’ – desktops, laptops, smart phones, tablets and ipads, media streamers, ebook readers, games consoles, big screen TVs etc. There’s obviously no right or wrong choices, but a few things are worth considering: from an environmental and cost perspective it’s obviously not a good idea to be change or upgrade our devices too frequently, or to have devices sitting around unused for large periods of time. Consider buying second hand, or holding off on every single upgrade – if you’re gadget minded it’s easy to get swept up in the techno-hype surrounding new devices, focus on whether the improvements really warrant you buying a new device.


Once you’ve got a well organised digital system you can trust, and is secure, set about replacing as many of your incoming paper documents as possible. Ask for digital bank statements and utility bills, insurance details, warrantys, travel documents, manuals and instructions etc. Cancel hardcopy magazine subscriptions and sign-up for digital editions instead. Scan anything paper that does arrive to move it into your digital system. Build a habit of quickly and routinely adding documents to the right place in your filing system.


You’ve probably got a box, trunk, filing cabinet or cupboard full of paper documents of various types – birth certificates, qualifications, car details, house details, medical records, old financial documents etc. Many (thought obviously not all) can be scanned then shredded and destroyed. Work through systematically, scanning, naming and filing, either retaining or shredding the originals as appropriate.


Many of us keep hold of paper and other things, out of a sense of nostalgia, rather than utility – old school reports, scrapbooks, children’s art work etc. I’m quite a fan of nostalgia, but increasingly try to digitize these items, either by scanning them in, or by taking a photograph. As well as helping declutter your home, you’ll probably find things are easier to find, look at, share and store safely in a digital form. Various online digital scrapbooking groups and forums provide a large range of ideas for how digital nostalgia can be organised.


As more and more of our lives are digital, and we spend more and more time sat still, looking at screens as a result, it’s worth remembering that the ‘real’ world is still out there, and we should take care not to become too detached from it. Getting enough exercise, spending time in the company of others, nature and sunshine are good for us . . . try a screen free day a week, or have a ‘no screens after 11:00pm rule’.

Photo by Motoko Henusaki, via Flickr