Why I’m not using Spotify

I know a few people who are completely sold on streaming music services like Spotify. I tried Spotify, and enjoyed it, and would love to jump on board. I don’t have a big music collection, and the appeal of being able to listen to anything I want, legally, for a fee of just £10 a month is tempting. I almost signed-up, until I realised that I will be paying just £10 a month for the rest of my life.

I hope to live a healthy and strong life, which for me includes enjoying music, at least to the age of 80. I’m 30 now. At just £120 a year, that’s a total of just £6000.

And if during the next 50 years I decide to stop paying just £10 a month, all of that music is gone.

That’s as negative as I will get about streaming, because I can see how it’s a powerful service. If I was really into new music, it would be the right choice for me. It’s great how many record companies have got on board, and how easy it is to use. I could well be the future of the music industry, and in a couple of decades it might be what everyone is be doing.

But I’ve gone for a different approach. I’ve made a little spreadsheet which earmarks just £10 a month for what I’ve called my ‘music fund’. As you can see, I’ve been busy the last few months and haven’t had time to do my intial goal of buying one lossless1 album per month:

my music fund

If I do this for 50 years, I’ll have 600 albums. I probably won’t, and that’s where we hit the crux of the matter: I can stop paying into my music fund at any time but still get to keep what I’ve already invested.

This system is simple, slow, and I don’t get instant access to everything I would like. It takes me time to track down a lossless format, and some record labels aren’t even selling them.2 But something about this feels more solid, and I’m taking pleasure tracking down these files, and supporting the label directly.

September’s purchase:

Jaga Jazzist

Notes:

  1. I’ve commited to buying only lossless audio, which future-proofs my collection. For more on lossless and why it will supercede mp3, check out this podcast.
  2. I’m looking forward to the time that the iTunes store starts offering lossless audio, to fill-in these gaps.
by Kit on . 

three technologies that have made me healthier

This post does not contain any affiliate links. I’m sharing these things because they’ve made a difference to my life, and they might help you too.

People complain that technology adds stress to their lives. This is true, but it’s not the whole of the story. In this post I’m going to describe three changes I’ve made to my life, with the help of technology, which mean that I’m feeling healthier today than ever before.

Andrew Johnson is a clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist who has produced some great apps and mp3s. I’ve been a fan ever since I tried Relax Plus, and found myself in a deeply relaxed state after just a few minutes. The app I use most regularly, especially to turn my brain off before sleep, is Infinite Relaxation, but Andrew also offers a wide range of therapy topics. I tried one of these recently that has made a very big difference in my life.

I’ve often felt that I drink more alcohol than I would like, and so I decided to try the stop drinking mp3, which the description says will help you “stop drinking altogether or cut down and regain control”. I was hoping for the cut down option, but I got more than I bargained for.

I fell asleep as I was listening to the recording, but woke up towards the end. As I regained consciousness, I inexplicably felt that something powerful was taking place. I didn’t know exactly what, but it soon became clear: I was becoming a non-drinker. Andrew Johnson was planting the seed, which I accepted, first unconsciously and, later, consciously. Alcohol had been causing me needless stress, expense, and negative physical effects, and my whole being realised that enough is enough. No more alcohol.

My positive habit tracker, lift.do, tells me that I have been alcohol free for 34 days. I’ve never felt better, and thanks to the power of Andrew Johnson’s hypnotic suggestion, letting alcohol go from my life has actually been easy. It’s like a weight has been lifted from my mind and body, and I’m free to spend my evenings in more healthy ways.

The second change I’ve made to my life, which I started in June this year, is doing regular physical exercise. I always knew that physical exercise would help me feel better, but I also always found an excuse not to do it. What has made all the difference has been setting small, achievable goals: one seven minute workout, at least five times a week. Seven minutes is such a short amount of time that even if you’re feeling lazy, you can still do it. Go on, just seven minutes! And there are many high-quality, free apps if you search for ‘seven minute workout’1. I’ve been mixing that with bite-sized yoga sessions, 15 minutes long, with the beautiful Yoga Studio app.

Lift.do tells me that since I started in early June, I’ve done checked in to the physical exercise habit 70 times. That’s almost every day. And it’s not because I’m super-motivated, it’s because I’m using the right tools and have achievable goals.

The third change is unloading stuff from my mind. I posted before about how being more productive has given me more inner calm. The key has been making sure every job, no matter how small (remember to polish my shoes) or big (pass driving test), goes onto a list. The app I use to track my lists is great and it’s called Things2. When it’s out of my mind and onto a list, as long as I have a good system of checking the lists, my mind can let go of the tasks. So it’s emptier and freer to think about other things, or just to relax.

A few people have asked me how life has been different since leaving Facebook. Undoubtedly, when I closed my personal account, a huge amount of stuff—some good, some bad—was unloaded from my mind. And I haven’t regretted that for even one second.


Thank you to all the people who have devoted themselves to creating these amazing systems and apps. (I’m not talking about Mark Zuckerberg here, rather, Andrew Johnson, the team behind Lift.do and Yoga Studio, that really cool fitness trainer in my seven minute workout app and the developers that made it a reality, Cultured Code, and David Allen for Getting Things Done.). And thank you to the core of potential and strength within me—and you—that has taken hold of these tools and made my vision of health into a reality.

And now it’s your turn. How has technology helped you live a healthier life?

P.S. If you use the lift.do app, please follow me—accountability encourages successful habit forming. Just search for oldmankit within the app.

Notes:

  1. The one I use is Johnson and Johnson’s Seven Minute Workout.
  2. It’s Apple only, sorry, but there are so many out there. One is sure to be right for you.
by Kit on . 

Daniel Kvarn

Daniel Kvarn

Daniel Kvarn

Even since I met Glen Allison in Laos, I’ve been developing my skills as a portrait photographer. It’s harder than you would think. Really. Lighting is a technical subject. I love to read everything I can about a technical subject, understand it thoroughly, and then execute it perfectly. But getting beautiful lighting has been much harder than I would have predicted, and I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded. This is because, as I’ve come to realise, lighting is not just technical, it’s an art.

When Daniel came round, I had already got my studio set-up, loosened-up with a couple of whisky and sodas, and was ready to try once again. But as I fired some test shots, I stared in disbelief. I’m turning this up, which means the exposure should be going up, but actually it’s going down. Yet again, frustrated. Is even the technical side is beyond me?

Doing what anyone who understands technology does, I restarted my camera, my radios, my flashes. Ahh, that’s better.

by Kit on . 

Cloud Atlas

I’m struggling to digest just how much I loved the film Cloud Atlas. I’ve been reflecting on it so much since watching it 24 hours ago.

by Kit on . 

Why I’m quitting Facebook

When people quit Facebook, they write a list of reasons why Facebook sucks. But I’m not going to do that, because I think there’s a lot of good in Facebook. For me, it’s like opera music. I don’t think opera is bad, I don’t need to write a list of reasons why I don’t listen to it, and I don’t feel threatened that you like opera. But yeah, that’s right, I don’t listen to opera music.

But because Facebook has become a big part of our lives, I think it’s fair that I give it some respect and try to explain why I’ve just downloaded all my account data and am about to shut-down my personal profile. Here goes.

Everything in our lives both gives energy to us and requires some of our energy in return. So to listen to music I need to invest in audio equipment (headphones, speakers etc.) as well as buy the music itself. That’s energy, because money needs to be earned. Of course if I listen to music on the radio, I don’t pay with my money, I pay with my attention to adverts. Torrenting requires minimal energy (just the time to find a good torrent), and that’s why it feels like stealing: asking for something for almost nothing.

Some things give us so much and ask for so little: positive relationships or good music, for example. Some things seem more of an even balance: I have to do physical exercise if I want a healthy body, and doing regular exercise sometimes feels like a job. But the feeling of well-being is so worth it. Some things seem like a poor deal: a relationship that gets you down, or a job that sucks away your life in return for mere money.

Facebook gives me connection with friends, which is immensely valuable, but it asks a lot in terms of my attention. There are so many adverts, and they even put these inside my feed. That’s a big negative for me. The feed itself is also crammed with a lot of noise, and it takes time to find the good stuff.

For me—and this is a very personal decision—I felt Facebook was asking for too much of my attention. But walking away, like walking away from any relationship, is not easy at all. I will miss connecting with you on Facebook. I will miss your photos. I will miss your little bits of news that let me know how you’re doing and how your life is progressing. So please don’t be a stranger, because it’s Facebook I’m giving up, not my relationship with you.

  • I check my email six days a week, and it’s the best way to get in touch with me. I love email. Send me a quick email now (my address is listed on my facebook about page) so I can save your email address.
  • When I close my Facebook profile it will be converted to a Facebook page. If you’re my Facebook friend now, you’ll automatically be made a follower of that page. I don’t know what that page is going to be like, I just know it’s going to be there.
  • If you like to hear what I’m thinking about the world, just put your email in this box to get updates from this blog:

by Kit on . 

Are you a Christian?

When Gandhi was asked the question "are you a Christian?" he answered "ask the poor."

If being a Christian is about heaven and hell, sin and forgiveness, I’m not a Christian. But if it’s about transformation–personal, communal and global–then I am.

by Kit on . 

what we should be feeling

The church usually focuses on what we should be feeling or doing rather than spending time exploring, and accepting, the realities of our lives.

by Kit on . 

Anki

I’m a big fan of Anki for learning languages, or anything you like. I’ve used it for 3 years: learned 1,300 cards.

by Kit on . 

Today, I’m open

Today I took a break from every kind of work. I like to do this on Sundays. At 9am I jumped onto the boat bus, which traverses the canals that cut through the centre of Bangkok, and got off at the very end of the line. Old town Bangkok.

When you go about your daily business, you always have an objective. You’re going to work, or going home, or going to lunch. There’s always some goal in everyday life. This is normal; it’s routine; it’s fine. But it’s one reason travel is so great. Travellers don’t have so many interesting stories because they’ve been all over the world: they have these stories because they have opened themselves to whatever life has to offer.

As I get off the boat I notice an elderly monk carrying a bag. I think it looks a bit heavy, and think about offering to help him, but I don’t. This is everyday mind: I’m busy; he probably doesn’t want my help; someone else will offer.

A few paces later, I stop and look back. Today I’m open. Not sure how to address the monk, as I don’t often speak to monks and don’t know the special Thai words you’re meant to use, I offer to help. He responds in the most normal Thai I can imagine, in a way that puts me immediately at ease. He doesn’t accept the offer, and he doesn’t turn it down. So we chat a bit, mainly about how we are right in the middle of a protest area, and how he doesn’t know how he’s going to get to the temple with all the blockades. But in the end, I’m going with him.

His bag is damn heavy, and I wonder how this 70+ year old guy would manage on his own. But mainly we’re talking, relaxed, enjoying the sights: thousands of monks and nuns have come here from all over Thailand for some big ceremony. He leads me around, and everyone we pass is bowing to him. This event is huge. There are stretch limousines, Rolls Royces, and high ranking officials strutting about. He takes me in to the temple area through the ‘monks only’ entrance, chat a bit more, and then we part ways.

Later on, I’m walking, and the strap of my huaraches (home made, Mexican-style sandals) breaks. Instead of getting pissed off about how I was going somewhere and can’t be late, I think about how I can fix them. I find a hair pin from a local shop, sit down, and have just enough strap left to re-thread and re-tie the sandals. In no time I’m walking again, happy that the monk needed help and happy that I got to do some DIY that actually worked. (I’m actually really crap at DIY; just ask my wife.)

If I had been working today, none of this would’ve happened. If I even had a bunch of things I wanted to get from this day-off, it wouldn’t have happened. It’s only because I had no plans, no agenda, that I’ve had such an interesting day.

You don’t have to be in Bangkok for this. You don’t have to be anywhere special. You just need to tell yourself "today, I’m open."

by Kit on . 

Four productivity techniques to build inner calm

Over the last few months I’ve got a lot better at getting stuff done, and I’m going to share some of the techniques that have made this happen. This website isn’t about productivity, it’s about inner freedom and wholeness, so why am I writing this? It’s because of the effect that productivity, and lack of productivity, has on your state of mind.

I’ve been amazed what a difference getting on top of my to-dos has made. My mind feels more relaxed, open and calm, and a little knot I often felt in my solar plexus is gone. We often look to spiritual or psychological approaches for this kind of thing, but this can, to borrow a phrase from Thai, be like riding an elephant to catch a grasshopper. Not only is it unecessary, it’s not the most effective way to get what you want. When you’re riding on the top of an elephant you’re going to find reaching down to grab that insect difficult.

The problem

My life generates a huge amount of little tasks: a form to fill in, an email to reply to, a doctor’s appointment to make, a shelf to tidy. I guess your life might be similar. The problem is that when tasks pile up, you get buried beneath them. When there is a backlog of little things you know you should do, but which don’t have to be done right now, just some day, maybe next week, or when the next vacation comes round; oh I’ll think about it later, it’s not urgent, after all… you find yourself struggling under its weight. These little (and big) to-dos require processing by your brain. Without realising it, you’re living with a constant source of background mental noise and, at least for me, this creates tension.

I’m going to tell you the four things that have helped me get out of that trap.

1. Do it now

If you can do a task now, and you have time, do it. Your default reaction might be to a task to put it on a to-do list, but this means extra work for yourself because you have to 1) write it down and 2) review that list, and decide when to do it, which is extra mental work. Make your default reaction to do it now, unless there’s a good reason why you can’t.

One good reason why you can’t do it now is because you need to rest. Rest is an excellent reason. We need rest throughout the workday, at the end of the workday, and at the end of the working week. More on this in the next section.

2. Give yourself a break.

Lots of breaks. You will not thrive by over-working yourself. Since I’ve starting using this system I stress less and do more. Before my work day looked like this: I would sit down to my computer in the morning and come up for air two hours later wondering what exactly I had been doing, why I hadn’t completed any of the tasks I had planned for the day. I would then plunge back in for another two hours of more focused activity, but have to stop because I was feeling restless and hungry. I would do another three or four hours after lunch, without any real breaks, finishing hunched up in a poor posture, stressed, and needing a strong drink.

Bugger that. The system I now follow looks like this. You work in 90-minute periods, because that’s enough time to get a lot done, and after 90 minutes of focus you are probably ready for some kind of break. The break should be 20-30 minutes, if you’re in a job that allows that, followed by another 90-minute period. That’s three hours of real focus, and you will then be ready for a leisurely lunch. This break will preferably be well away from your work place, both mentally and physically, and last one to two hours. The afternoon has two more 90-minute periods.

If that seems like a relaxed work day, it’s because it is. I work best when relaxed and at ease, and get significantly more done in three or four of these ninety-minute sessions than I used to get done in much longer, more stressful workday. And in the evening I am freer to enjoy myself because I haven’t got stressed.

If you have a boss, she might not allow this kind of schedule, but you might still find a way to work in some of its principles. It might for example be about going to the coffee machine after a ninety-minute session and having a good chat with colleagues and not feeling at all guilty about it: it’s part of your system of productivity.

One of the keys of this system is that ninety minutes doesn’t seem like a long time. Before this, I would think “I have a whole day ahead of me, which must be plenty of time to get things done”, so I would start with email, social media, and getting lost in endless trails of fascinating google searches. Now *I only have ninety minutes*, and there’s no way I’m going to make Facebook my home base for that short length of time. I don’t check my email at the start of the day, because *I only have ninety minutes*. And I’m going to get stuff done.

The more I force myself to rest, the more I get done.

3. Inbox zero

As soon as I came across this concept, my email habits were changed forever.

inbox zero

I get peace of mind just looking at this screen.

I used to believe that checking my email was a time to read friendly messages from loved ones. Then I woke-up to the fact that almost all of the emails I receive are actually jobs for me to do. So I turned off push notifications, and starting checking my email only when I actually have time to read, reply, and do, all in one sitting. If it’s something I can’t do now, I will leave it in the inbox (for something I know I can do within this week), or file it in a ‘waiting’ folder and set a reminder to deal with it on a certain date in the future. If it’s personal, I will enjoy reading it and then file it in a personal folder. There’s no pressure to reply to these, as they’re not tasks.

Once you’ve experienced an empty inbox, you’ll never want to go back to all that chaos.

4. A book

I’m reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done. People rave about it, and follow the system almost religiously, and I can see why. If you want to go deeper with this productivity stuff, read the book.

In conclusion

The techniques I’ve mentioned here might seem too rigid. But they don’t have to be. I don’t follow them like laws, rather as principles. The more often I achieve them, the better I feel, but I never beat myself up for not doing them right.

OK, I’ve been working on this long enough, time to go and get a nice leisurely breakfast.

by Kit on .