The Tired Thirties

tired-dad

I am 32.

I am tired.

I am not alone.

A few weeks ago I managed to get away for a “boys-only” weekend. No kids. Good surf. Lots of meat. Bliss.

But one thing we all were aware of was just how exhausted we all felt. Pretty much all the time.

We concluded that the decade between thirty and forty is often the time you are making the greatest advancements in your a career, stepping into bigger roles, and taking on more responsibility than ever before. At the same time most couples in this age bracket are raising small children, who are arguably at their most demanding. These two combine to form a perfect storm of tiredness.

Case in point, all of us on the weekend were in our thirties, all running our own organisations or taking on higher leadership positions, and all of us with two kids under the age of four. And lets not even talk about the sleep deprivation that comes packaged with our little bundles of joy.

No wonder the famous writer, Madeline L’Engle, called it “the tired thirties”.

Of course, alongside chronic exhaustion comes a whole host of others nasties. These include irritability, anger, confusion, decreased sex-drive, and depression.

Wow… this blog just got super depressing! Did I just write decreased sex drive??

My point is, next time you see a young parent in the shops and their kids are running amok, or we react defensively to your innocent comment, or we can’t seem to pay attention to your story… cut us some slack.

We’re just tired.

It doesn’t mean we aren’t happy. We love our kids, we love our jobs. We wouldn’t change it for the world.

We’re just tired. Really, really tired. And not getting enough sex. That too.

 

26 Tips for a Healthier & Happier Life.

Sunrise running woman
I’ve just finished reading a fantastic book by “StrengthsFinder” author Tom Rath called “Eat, Sleep, Move”. The book features the most proven and practical ideas – all based on research – to improve the way you live. Of course, no one is expected to do everything in this book starting on the first day. The idea is rather to pick a few actions, and integrate them into your daily life, then pick a few more. Here are some of the ones I’m working on…

EAT

  1. Build your meals around fruits and vegetables, especially those with dark and vibrant colours.
  2. Replace chips, crackers and dried fruit with nuts, seeds, apples & celery.
  3. Select a healthy standby snack & carry it with you wherever you go.
  4. Eat slower. Try make every meal last 20 minutes.
  5. Use smaller cups, plates and serving sizes to eat less.
  6. Sugar is a toxin. Stay away from it, and any refined carbs.
  7. Structure your days to eat more early, less late, and nothing after dinner.
  8. Steam instead of grilling or frying.
  9. Never go a full day without eating something green.
  10. Check the sugar content of so called “healthy” foods. If it’s more than 10g – find a replacement.

SLEEP

  1. Sleep longer tonight to do more tomorrow.
  2. Track your sleep time & quality.
  3. Dim your lights in the evening and block out all light in your bedroom at night.
  4. Keep your bedroom cool at night.
  5. Create a bedtime routine where you don’t eat or use electronic devices in the hour before you sleep.
  6. Wake up at the same time everyday to keep your internal clock on track.
  7. Banish the snooze button for good. Snoozing adds nothing to your sleep quality.
  8. Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night.

MOVE

  1. Try working without sitting.
  2. When you have to sit for long periods, stand, stretch, & walk around every 30 minutes.
  3. Track your daily movement.
  4. Aim for 10,000 steps every day or 70,000 per week.
  5. Do 1 hour of vigorous exercise in the morning for a better mood, more brainpower, and to burn calories all day long.
  6. Figure out a way to exercise at home.
  7. When tempted to skip a workout, just start exercising for a few minutes. Starting is often the hardest part.
  8. Take the stairs & park far away.

South Africa: Stay or Go?

Home sweet home.

Home sweet home.

I didn’t want to write this blog.

Because it seems like whenever South Africans get into the discussion of whether to stay or whether to go it only creates armies on two sides. The “leavers” and the “stayers” – both defensive, both trying to justify their case.

And that is not my intention at all.

There is no right or wrong answer here. It’s a completely personal choice and I understand why many have left.

What worries me, however, is often the motivation behind all the debate: to find a “better” place or a “better” future. And again, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a better future for yourself and your family (we all want that!) – but what exactly is better?

Is it merely got to do with safety, comfort and convenience? “Everything just works”, “We can leave our doors open”, “Better job oppourtunities”. Of course these things are great but surely there is more to it than that?

We live in a culture that continually tells us to pursue a higher standard of living in order to improve our quality of life. But “standard of living” and “quality of life” are not the same thing.

In fact, studies reveal that many of the countries with the highest standards of living have the most unhappiest people. Why? Because the one does not necessarily equal the other.

I myself have lived in the UK for two years, Canada for a year, and the US for four years, and I absolutely loved it! Great people, incredible geography, and of course first-world efficiency. But whilst I had a great time, I missed the sunshine, the smiles and the generous spirit of our people. I missed biltong, “howzit”, “just now”, and the simple freedom of space. I missed hanging round the braai and early morning surfs with mates. I missed the vibrancy and diversity of our streets. Most importantly though, I missed the oppourtunity to be an active part of a country that needs me.

Yes, life in South Africa is hard. Yes, it’s risky. Yes, its messy and complicated. And yes, there are HUGE challenges before us. But that, in many ways, is why I love it!

Because “comfortable” and “safe” and “easy” are not the goal.

Because no matter who you are, if you want to, you can make a real difference here.

“All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” We still have good people in South Africa who are willing to stand up and fight, and as long as I’m alive I want to be part of the solution.

Maybe South Africa will go to the dogs, but I would rather be actively involved in our future then criticise from a distance. I am choosing to take my chances in this incredible country and whilst there are other positive people like you living here, making a difference, then I believe our future will be very bright.

5 Powerful Reasons Why You Need a Morning Routine

morning-routine

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” – Ben Franklin, famously

“Morning is wonderful. Its only drawback is that it comes at such an inconvenient time of day.”Glen Cook

Wether you are a morning person or not, small adjustments in your morning routine can lead to big changes in your life. Because if we start out our day well, we increase our chances of living out the rest of the day well too.

Hear are a few things I have learnt about morning routines:

1. You need a morning ritual.

If you investigate the daily routines of famous and successful people, you will discover they all have a predictable morning ritual that they repeat 5-6 times per week.

A ritual is a “series of actions or type of behaviour regularly and invariably followed by someone”.

Regular. Invariable.

So figure out yours. Example: Get up, drink a glass of water, take a walk, make a coffee, then get to work. Repeat.

2. Do your most important work first.

In their book Willpower, Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney make a compelling argument that the brain works like a muscle, meaning it gets fatigued as the day goes on. For this reason, a productive person will tackle their most important project first. In fact, if it’s possible to get an hour or two’s worth of work done before any significant conversations, answering email and, for some, even breakfast, you’ll find your productivity will dramatically increase.

I always try to turn off my phone and email until after my first work session is complete. Some studies claim that people get more done during their first two hours than they will over the next twelve!

After a good night’s sleep, the brain is sharp, fresh and ready to work in the morning. So don’t let that time go to returning emails and helping other people get their work done. Or worse, don’t let it go to reading dumb internet sites. You can do that later. The idea is to get into the chair and start working as fast as possible before anything can interrupt you. If you have to take the kids to school, tackle that important project immediately when you get to the office.

3. Eat a good breakfast.

We’ve all heard it said that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Without breakfast, your body is running on fumes until you are so hungry at lunchtime that you eat whatever unhealthy thing you can find. The fattier and sugarier, the better. But eat breakfast, and you are sated until later.

So rise a little earlier and give yourself time for a decent breakfast. Healthy and wholesome can still be quick and easy, especially when it comes to breakfast. Plus, eating breakfast while reading your book and drinking your coffee in the quiet of the morning is eminently more enjoyable than scarfing something down on the way to work, or at your desk.

4. Exercise

I’ve always loved exercising first thing in the morning. It gets my blood pumping and makes me feel ready for the day ahead. Of course, there are other times to exercise besides the early morning, but I’ve found that while exercising right after work is also very enjoyable, it’s also liable to be canceled because of other things that come up. Morning exercise is virtually never canceled.

5. Reflect & Plan

Got goals? Well, you should. And there’s no better time to review them and plan for them than first thing in the morning. I have found spending just ten minutes reflecting on scripture, and planning the day ahead makes all the difference once the day actually gets rolling. It gives you confidence and clarity on what is important and also the courage to say no to that which isn’t.

So commit to making some adjustments to your morning routine. Because small choices in the morning can lead to big changes in your day. If a writer, for instance, writes 1,000 words each day before 9am, they will complete more than 6 full-length books each year! You do the math.

Protect this time like it’s your retirement, because it is.

Cynical? You May Be Hurting Your Brain.

cynical-man

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.

how-to-memorize-a-speech12

My Brain is a Dog

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“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.

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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. 

versus

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? 

Oh.

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.