Cynical? You May Be Hurting Your Brain.


According to new research, being cynical doesn’t just make you a bummer to be around, it may also cause actual brain damage.

A team of researchers at the University of Eastern Finland surveyed nearly 1,500 people – gauging their level of cynical distrust by their responses to statements such as “I think most people would lie to get ahead.” They found that the risk of developing dementia in later years was three times higher in the participants who were more cynical than those who demonstrated low levels of cynicism.

“These results add to the evidence that people’s view on life and personality may have an impact on their health,” the study’s author explained in a statement. Other studies have shown that people who are cynical also have higher rates of heart problems and cancer.

So how do you stop yourself from becoming too cynical? I have no idea, but maybe this article will help: How to Stop Being a Cynical Asshole.

It probably won’t though. ;)

How Full is Your Bucket?

This past year I have not managed my leave well. I took a large chunk of it upfront in January, which left the rest of the year one long slog with little or no reprieve. In running terms, I shot out the gates too soon and was left having to stagger over the finish line, instead of sprint over it. Lesson learnt.

Now, imagine that your health and energy are a bucket of water.

In your day-to-day life, there are things that fill your bucket up. These are inputs like sleep, recreation, nutrition, time with friends, time off, prayer or meditation, etc.

There are also forces that drain the water from your bucket. These are outputs like work stress, relationship problems, lifting weights, difficult conversations, etc.

Your Bucket

Of course, as James Clear notes, “The forces that drain your bucket aren’t all negative. To live a productive life, it can be important to have some of the things flowing out of your bucket.” Working hard in the gym or at the office allows you to produce something of value. To make an impact.

But even positive outputs are still outputs and they drain your energy accordingly.

These outputs are also cumulative. Even a little leak can result in significant water loss over time.

I usually exercise four times a week. For a long time I thought I should be able to handle five or six days a week. However, every time I added the extra workouts in, I would be fine for a few weeks, and then end up exhausted or slightly injured about a month into the program.

This was frustrating. Why could I handle it for four or five weeks, but not longer than that?

Eventually I realised the issue: stress is cumulative. Four days per week was a pace I could sustain. When I added that fifth or sixth day in, the additional stress started to build and accumulate. At some point, the burden became too big and I would get exhausted or sick.

Of course this is not just true of physical stress. The stress of building a business or finishing an important project. The stress of parenting your young children or dealing with a bad boss or caring for your aging parents.

It all adds up.

I may be able to get away with one or even two years of poorly managed leave, but if I don’t change something, I’ll be completely depleted by year three or four. Similarly, nothing drains your bucket like unresolved relational tension. Unforgiveness, bitterness, anger – these are slow leaks that over time leave you completely empty.

That is why it is so important to figure out what fills your bucket up. Because recovery is non negotiable. You can either make time to rest and rejuvenate now or make time to be sick/injured/burnt-out later.

So be intentional about refilling your bucket on a regular basis. That means catching up on sleep, making time for laughter and fun, eating enough to maintain solid energy levels, time with family, and otherwise making time for rest and recovery.

Because a FULL bucket leads to a FULL-filling life!


This post was adapted from and inspired by James Clear’s article.

Learn How to Memorise a Speech Successfully


Memorising a speech can be an almost impossible task for many, especially if the speech is a long one. And let’s face the facts, not all of us have those fancy teleprompters like the President has. The real question then is – do we have other options? How can one go about memorising a speech, no matter it’s topic and length?

Here is a handy infographic from the folks at EssayTigers that will help you learn how to memorise a speech with some effective ways of memorisation. Whether using in politics, church, or business presentations, these tips should help speakers deliver great speeches.


My Brain is a Dog

“I don’t trust my brain. It’s got some good qualities, sure, but it needs constant supervision. It’s like an unruly Boston terrier – left to its own devices, it will scamper off and rummage through the garbage can, spreading rotten guacamole all over the house. In my brain’s case, this means the hours spent wallowing in unrealistic worries, time-wasting regret and revenge fantasies. My brain needs constant tugs on its leash to redirect it. And I think I’m not alone. Most brains are like that.”AJ Jacobs

Mine certainly is.

Unless I’m paying attention to it, here are some of the unpleasant mental neighbourhoods my brain likes to wander into…

  • Worries about things that might never happen.
  • Jealousy of people about whom I know practically nothing.
  • Stewing about perceived slights from years ago.
  • Indulging in ancient regrets (like that horrendous speech I gave at my flatmate’s 21st – I honestly think about this a lot!).

But none of these are very helpful. So what is the solution? How do we reign in our thoughts?

Well, it’s simply about being your brain’s own babysitter.

Which is why it is so important to “think about your thinking” and to ask yourself on a regular basis, “What am I thinking about? Is that really a good use of my brain?”

The official term is “metacognition”, and I believe it is one of the most significant keys to personal happiness – right up there with supportive friends, and Netflix.

But how? How do we remind ourselves to monitor our own thoughts? Here are few ideas.

1. Link metacognition to regular behaviour.

So every time you take an elevator, ask yourself: “What am I thinking about?” Or every time you go to the bathroom. Or un-pocket your smartphone. Or when you pray (this is one of the reasons why prayer is such an effective mental act).

2. Take a step back and breathe.

I try to be especially aware of my thoughts whenever I start to get angry. Some things deserve righteous wrath, but most of the time the angst lies within us. The guy who cuts you off in traffic, the lady at the front of the line who is taking forever – does fuming about them help anyone? Is that a good use of my brain’s time? I think not.

3. Think happy thoughts.

Coming up with realistic solutions to problems, brainstorming, constructive nostalgia (by which I mean reinforcing good memories), thinking about others, gratitude for small things… these are all much better uses of our brains, and research shows that the positive effects of such thinking is exponential.

4. Set up external reminders

This is a more radical tactic, and it’s not for everybody, but maybe you’ll find it helpful. Try scheduling texts or email reminders, such as “What are you thinking about?” or “You only live once.” Write it on your mirror. It may just help automate your conscience and snap you out of a mental funk.

The good news is, once you start engaging in metacognition, it gets easier and easier. It becomes a habit. And you won’t need the triggers.

The other day I read a comment on someone’s Facebook feed that got me all riled up. I felt my heart-rate increase, but I took a step back and self-monitored. Otherwise I would have spent the next 20 minutes crafting an imaginary response to the “idiot” who obviously didn’t know what he was talking about! But no. That’s not helpful. Get back here brain. That’s better. Good boy.


This post was edited from, and inspired by AJ Jacob’s insightful post, Supervising your Brain.

Why is the Pope So Popular?

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As part of our church‘s latest sermon series “What Would the Church Say to…” I had the oppourtunity to speak about Pope Francis and the incredible impact he is having on the world. I also had the privilege of interviewing Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, the Archbishop of Durban, to hear his thoughts on the new pope. If you have 8 minutes to spare, this interview is really really interesting…

In terms of the Pope himself, here is an article from Relevant Magazine, that expresses my thoughts exactly:

Ever since his election, Pope Francis has taken a series of actions that seem to be very, well, un-popelike:

He used public transportation as a cardinal, he lives in smaller quarters than he could and he asked for a blessing before giving a blessing to the crowd which gathered in St. Peter’s square on the day of his election.

What is stranger than Pope Francis’ actions has been evangelicals’ reactions. Never before has a pope become so widely accepted by Protestants and evangelicals. In a recent Op-Ed for Christianity Today, Timothy George called the new pope, “Our Francis, Too.”

As you look at the stories surrounding the new pope, it’s very difficult to dislike him. Through his actions and his profound, visible humility, Pope Francis has demonstrated a Christ-like character, not only Christ-like rhetoric. And this has brought him respect across the spectrum of Christianity.

Every pope in the Catholic Church’s past has had a mastery over Catholic rhetoric — the pope always says the right thing. But Pope Francis has decided to lead with his actions.

Before delivering his message at the Holy Thursday Mass (an extremely important mass in Catholic tradition), Pope Francis spent time on his knees, washing the feet of young women incarcerated at a nearby prison. This was the first time the pope has ever washed the feet of women—not to mention that one of them was a Serbian Muslim, which is another break in papal tradition.

This type of servant leadership is precisely what has connected the new pope to our younger, more cynical generation. He is breaking the rules in the right places: where they shouldn’t exist.

As Pope Francis accepts his role, a new generation of evangelicals accepts theirs. As young evangelicals have rejected the mega-church and the televangelist and embraced a more rugged, grassroots Christianity, these actions by the pope fit perfectly. He has refused to live in the massive papal quarters in Rome and has chosen to live in the guesthouse, instead. One of his first actions as pope was to cancel his newspaper subscription at his home in Buenos Aires.

These small things go beyond his radical, public acts of humility and reveal his dedication to simplicity. Evangelicals have grown in their love of the simple things. Public evangelicals like Shane Claiborne and David Platt have fascinated crowds and sold hundreds of thousands of copies of books about these principles. As Pope Francis leads in simplicity and continues to dedicate himself to living in this way, it will only increase his popularity.

The pontiff’s simplicity carries over to his language, too. Catholics have always had trouble connecting their message to young people. Many who grew up in the Catholic Church struggled to connect with its liturgy and message. To a newcomer, it’s often overwhelming.

But Pope Francis’ language is accessible and concise, which works perfectly with the Twitter-speak of young Christians like me. His quotes are simple and yet profound: “The Church is a love story, not an institution” and “War is madness. It is the suicide of humanity.” As many reject the King James Bible and the complex, irrelevant theological language of the past, they embrace the succinctness of Pope Francis’ words.

It is important here to realise that the pope is popular with evangelicals not because he’s doing what they already do, but rather because he is doing what they are not doing but wish to begin doing.

As I scour the landscape of evangelical leadership (authors, speakers, mega-church pastors), it is difficult to find a man like Francis. In the age of best-selling books and church auditoriums that rival arenas, we do not see many leaders take the route of Pope Francis. And perhaps this is why we enjoy him so much: He is leading us in a way we are not leading ourselves right now.

Pope Francis is popular not for what he does, but how he does it. He’s popular not for what he says, but how he says it. These are character issues we are seeing displayed; he is adopting an attitude, not an office.

I see Pope Francis respected because he reminds us of Jesus, which unfortunately is a bit of a surprise when seen in public religious leadership. He is a breath of fresh air. He did not see the office of pope as something to be grasped, but instead made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, which is an imitation of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-11). This adoption of servanthood has turned critics into followers. Because it’s difficult to be critical of someone who serves the poor and spends time with the victims of the world’s worst violences.

As evangelicals move ahead, I pray we would not be afraid to be led by a servant like Pope Francis. For if we cannot be led by a servant, how can we be led by Jesus?

Oftentimes I see myself less like Francis and more like Peter, refusing to accept the servant leadership of Jesus by trying to convince Him not to wash my feet. In a day where our churches grapple for power through money and numbers just as much as our governments, may we adopt the words of Christ from Matthew 20: “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…”

Pope Francis knows what Jesus knows and what I so often forget: True power comes from true humility, and true leadership comes out of true service.

Let’s not just celebrate this pope; let’s imitate him.

For my full message entitled “What would the church say to the Pope”, check out the video below:

Choosing Sides.


I recently read an interesting article about a guy named Matt Honan who decided to like everything he saw on Facebook for 48 hours, and the disturbing impact it had on his News Feed, as well as on his life. As he writes,

“See, Facebook uses algorithms to decide what shows up in your feed. It isn’t just a parade of sequential updates from your friends and the things you’ve expressed an interest in. In 2014 the News Feed is a highly-curated presentation, delivered to you by a complicated formula based on the actions you take on the site, and across the web. As day one rolled into day two, I began dreading going to Facebook. It had become a temple of provocation. Just as my News Feed had drifted further and further right, so too did it drift further and further left…”

This is a problem much bigger than Facebook.

It reminds me of what can go wrong in society when we polarise ourselves, and why we now often talk at each other instead of to each other.

As Honan remarks, “We set up our political and social filter bubbles and they reinforce themselves – the things we read and watch have become hyper-niche and cater to our specific interests. We go down rabbit holes of special interests until we’re lost in the queen’s garden, cursing everyone above ground.”

So, don’t be so quick to jump to a side.

If you really want to engage in healthy debate – then start by learning to argue the upside of the opposite.

Seek to listen and learn first. Choose to read things and expose yourself to books and cultures and ways of thinking that are different from your own. And even if you don’t change your mind, at least you will be able to respect a different perspective.

We don’t all have to agree, but we can at least be nice about it.



Why is Marriage a Good Thing?

This is an interview my wife and I did recently with Impilo Media on Marriage, Sex & Relationships.

“When you have another person so close, so in your space, so part of your everyday life – and they see you at your best and worst – then you have to forget that it’s all about you. And the best life you can have is when it’s not only about you.” – Jess Basson

The Story You Believe May Be a Lie

A few years ago I had dinner with a bunch of friends at a local restaurant. It was arranged by a good friend of mine who lives overseas and was back in town on business. I was excited to see him again and catch up around a good meal, but from the moment I arrived, and pretty much for the entire evening, he gave me the cold shoulder.

I was confused and a bit hurt. What had I done wrong? I wondered.  I know I haven’t been great at keeping in touch, and I know he’s been going through a tough time, but is he so hurt as to not speak to me?

When I got home I told my wife what had happened. I admitted to her that I hadn’t been a good friend, and that night made a conscious decision to be more intentional with our friendship. Then the next day, my friend called me up to see if we could meet for coffee. He wanted to chat.

Oh, here we go. Now he’s gonna let me have it. And I probably deserve it. 


In this picture, I’m Batman – feeling guilty.

He told me that he was really struggling with another friend of his who was also at the dinner, and that he just needed my advice.

Sorry, what? You’re not mad at me? And last night wasn’t about me at all? 


In fact, my friend went on to tell me just how much he appreciated our friendship and the effort I had put in to stay connected.

I had completely misread the entire situation, and made something that had nothing to do with me all about me.

My capacity for self-centredness knows no bounds, apparently.

The whole thing made me wonder what other false narratives I was inventing in my head. How many people have I been offended by when I actually just misunderstood them?

Since then, I’ve been careful to follow up on every story I tell myself about somebody else or about someone’s attitude towards me. And it’s been remarkable. I’d say up to 90% of the time, I’ve got the wrong story floating around in my brain.

Unwarranted insecurity. Unfounded suspicion. Unnecessary negativity.

Imagine how much of this negativity floats around in our brains because we’ve made up a story in our mind, convinced the narrative is true.

It’s not all about you, Batman.


Change One Thing. Change Everything.

Put on your shoes.

I am a runner. Haven’t always been, but I am now.

And there is something about running, far more than aerobic breathing and oxygenated muscles, that I find freeing. There is an almost mediative dimension to it: the uninterrupted quiet, the metronomic repetitiveness, the sensual immersion in the environment, the zen-like emptying of the mind – not having to do or say anything. Just running.

And yet despite my love for running, I still find it incredibly difficult to motivate myself to do it. When that alarm begins to beep on the outskirts of my warm duvet, I immediately commence a wrestling match with myself…

“I’m tired. I went to bed late last night. I’ll run tomorrow. I deserve a break. I’m sure it’s raining outside.” 

All the excuses I can muster come marching through my mind in defiant procession. And then when I do give in, I always regret it later. “I should have run this morning!”

So now I have a system that works every time. A little trick I play on my brain.

I tell myself, when the beeping and the wrestling begins, “I won’t go for a run. All I’ll do is get out of bed and put on my running shoes. That’s easy. I can do that. Then after that I can take them off and get back into bed and go back to sleep. Simple.”

Except it’s never happened. I’ve never gotten back into bed.

Because the reality is once I have my shoes on, I automatically put my running clothes on, and then once I’m dressed it’s like, “Well, I’m already up now, I might as well go running.” 

And then I run. And I love it.

There is actually brain research that proves why this works. And the fundamental principle is that when we decide to make one small change, it can actually make a huge difference. Neuroscientists call it a “keystone habit” – a habit that has the potential and capacity to change many other habits in its wake.

When you change one thing, it changes everything.

I think sometimes we get so overwhelmed by all the things we want to do and change and improve that we become paralysed. It’s all too much. And we don’t always know where or how to start. So whether you’re trying to eat better, read more or connect with your kids – instead of striving to overhaul your whole life and change everything you eat/do/think, rather focus on one small next step – like drinking an extra glass of water a day, or having one family meal a week. You’ll be amazed at where it might lead.

It doesn’t even have to be a great next step, just a doable one. Like putting on your running shoes.

And my guess is, if you put on your shoes, you may just find yourself running.

And you’ll love it.

How I Got My Life Back Under Control (and Started Blogging Again)

Procrastination: Hard work may pay off later, but laziness always pays off now.

Procrastination: Hard work may pay off later, but laziness always pays off now.

Have you ever started something and not finished it?

Well, you’re not alone. We all have a tendency to start out with great intentions but then not follow through. Starting things is simple in fact. It’s progress that is hard. Think of all those books you couldn’t wait to read, but never actually finished; the projects you giddily started that petered to stagnation; the ideas that never moved into actual conception.

Of course, not everything is meant to be finished, but many of us have a boatload of projects, books, emails, and to-dos that have been relegated to a kind of purgatory of incompletion.

My blog is one such example. I started out with a bang back in 2010 and never missed a week without putting out an article for nearly three years. I even wrote a blog post congratulating myself on how consistent I was.

Then I fell of the wagon.

Oh the shame…

So how did I pull myself together and climb back on the bike? Well, here are three things that helped me, that hopefully can help you too.

1. Find a Reason

“I’ve found a reason for me, to change who I used to be. A reason to start over new, and the reason is ______” – Hooberstank.

We all need a reason – a “vision” you might say – to get and keep moving. A vision is a picture of a preferred future that inspires action, and in my opinion nothing gets us and keeps us motivated like a compelling vision.

For me, I had lost my “why” for blogging (I found it again so stay tuned), and because of that – there was no reason to push through the inevitable barriers I would have to face (not enough time, too many distractions etc etc). So whether its wanting to exercise more, stop smoking, or write a book – get a vision as to WHY you want to achieve those things. What will achieving your vision feel like? What difference will it make to you or to the world? Then write your vision down. Stick it somewhere as a reminder. Then…

2. Make a plan

Vision without action is merely a dream. If we are to see our visions realised, we must have a plan, and work the plan! If your vision requires multiple smaller steps (most do), then map out a progression plan. Break it down into smaller bit-size chunks. If it requires time out of your day or week or month (which it most certainly will), then SCHEDULE IT. Actually take out your diary or calendar or whatever you use, and carve out time every day or every week to ensure you do something. If you need help in doing this, check this out.

3. Give yourself permission to do crappy work.

A bad plan put into action is far better than a perfect plan un-acted upon. A lazy workout at the gym is better than no workout at all. Similarly, when it comes to writing or blogging or preparing a presentation, give yourself permission to write bad content. Almost every first draft is awful, but know that you have taken a huge step forward in the process. Just start something now and get going.

And you’ll find that if you give yourself permission, you’ll actually end up doing some pretty good work in the end.

4. Keep going…

The law of inertia tells us a body in motion stays in motion. And the same goes for projects, creative ideas, daily tasks, half-written emails, and that thing you stopped working on to read this article. So, minimise distractions, and if you fall off the horse, don’t get discouraged or throw it all away – just pick yourself up and keep going. Momentum builds momentum.

The Balanced Life??

“When it comes to work and life, most of us know what it feels like to be out of balance. But do we know what it feels like to be in balance? It’s not a trick question — even if it seems so at first.” – Michael Hyatt


A few years ago I watched a documentary about slacklining that blew my mind. Then I had the oppourtunity to try it myself, and it was even harder than it looked! In order to stay on the line, I had to make constant adjustments, my legs wobbling and arms waving, straining and struggling to keep from falling. Even when I got the hang of it and could stay on the line a long time, there was never a moment where I wasn’t  making little corrections to stay upright.

It didn’t feel like balance, but it was.

That’s how life is: Sometimes when we’re doing exactly what is required to keep our balance, we feel the most unbalanced.

That’s because we’ve believed the lie that “the balanced life” is fun, fast and easy, rather than difficult, necessary and rewarding. But don’t be discouraged. Here are three paradigm shifts from Michael Hyatt that we can all make that will help us to adjust our perspective around living a “balanced life”.

1. Balance is not the same as rest.

If we think that attaining balance means finally getting a much-needed break, then we’re missing something important. It’s not about rest, though it does include it. Balance is about distributing demands so we can stay on track. And sometimes that takes a lot of work. If that’s where you’re at right now, don’t be discouraged. It’s just part of the challenge.

2. Balance is dynamic.

“Life is like riding a bicycle,” Albert Einstein said. “In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.” We’ve all experienced this. The slower you go, the more trouble it is to keep your bike up. Momentum helps us stay on course. It’s the same for all the corrections and adjustments we make along the way. Balance requires tweaking our schedule, task lists, and more. If you have it right one week, it still requires attention the next.

3. Balance is intentional.

Our bodies are programmed to stay upright, but it takes a bit more focus when it comes to the complex responsibilities and relationships that make up our lives. We have to make purposeful decisions and actions if we want balance. It’s not accidental. Those decisions and actions will look different for each of us, but they’re essential for all of us just the same.

Balance isn’t easy, fast, or always fun. It requires constant movement, constant attention. But at the end of the day – for the sake of your work, your family, your kids, and yourself –  it’s something worth fighting for!

The Cost of Continuously Checking Email

This article appeared in the Harvard Business Review and is deeply poignant in our distracted and fragmented world.


Suppose each time you ran low on an item in your kitchen – olive oil, bananas, napkins—your instinctive response was to drop everything and race to the store. How much time would you lose? How much money would you squander on gas? What would happen to your productivity?

We all recognize the inefficiency of this approach. And yet surprisingly, we often work in ways that are equally wasteful.

The reason we keep a shopping list and try to keep supermarket trips to a minimum is that it’s easy to see the cost of driving to the store every time we crave a bag of potato chips. What is less obvious to us, however, is the cognitive price we pay each time we drop everything and switch activities to satisfy a mental craving.

Shifting our attention from one task to another, as we do when we’re monitoring email while trying to read a report or craft a presentation, disrupts our concentration and saps our focus. Each time we return to our initial task, we use up valuable cognitive resources reorienting ourselves. And all those transitional costs add up. Research shows that when we are deeply engrossed in an activity, even minor distractions can have a profound effect. According to a University of California-Irvine study, regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take, on average, upwards of 20 minutes.

Multitasking, as many studies have shown, is a myth. A more accurate account of what happens when we tell ourselves we’re multitasking is that we’re rapidly switching between activities, degrading our clarity and depleting our mental energy. And the consequences can be surprisingly serious . An experiment conducted at the University of London found that we lose as many as 10 IQ points when we allow our work to be interrupted by seemingly benign distractions like emails and text messages.

The trouble, of course, is that multitasking is enjoyable. It’s fun to indulge your curiosity. Who knows what that next email, tweet or text message holds in store? Finding out provides immediate gratification. In contrast, resisting distraction and staying on-task requires discipline and mental effort.

And yet each time we shift our focus, it’s as if we’re taking a trip to the store. Creativity expert Todd Henry calls it a “task-shifting penalty.” We pay a mental tax that diminishes our ability to produce high-level work.

So what are we to do?

One tactic is to change our environment to move temptation further away: shut down your email program or silence your phone.  It’s a lot easier to stay on task when you’re not continuously fending off mental cravings. This approach doesn’t require going off the grid for a full day. Even as little as 30 minutes can have a major impact on your productivity.

The alternative, which most of us consider the norm, is the cognitive equivalent of dieting in a pastry shop. We can all muster the willpower to resist the temptations, but doing so comes with considerable costs to our limited supply of willpower.

Another worthwhile approach is to cluster similar activities together, keeping ramp-up time to a minimum. Instead of scattering phone calls, meetings, administrative work, and emails throughout your day, try grouping related tasks so that there are fewer transitions. Read reports, memos and articles one after another. Schedule meetings back-to-back. Keep a list of administrative tasks and do them all in a single weekly session. If possible, try limiting email to 2 or 3 predetermined times—for example 8:30, 12:00 and 4:30—instead of responding to them the moment they arrive.

In some jobs, multitasking is unavoidable. Some of us truly do need to stay connected to our clients, colleagues, and managers. Here, it’s worth noting that limiting disruptions is not an all or nothing proposition. Even small changes can make a big difference.

Remember: it’s up to you to protect your cognitive resources. The more you do to minimize task-switching over the course of the day, the more mental bandwidth you’ll have for activities that actually matter.