Open Thinkering


Month: December 2020

Christmas slobbing about

Sometimes, after a period of what I can only describe as ‘not writing very much’ I have this need to, well, write something. The problem is when I don’t have a particular thing that I need to write about, in which case I literally sit down, as I am now, and start typing words onto a screen.

The words come, eventually, as they always do. The process starts by noticing the things around me, by performing a kind of ‘situation report’. So here’s mine: oblique rays of the sun stream in through the velux window in the ‘penthouse suite’ (as I call it) of our recently-listed house. I’m propped up on pillows and cushions in bed, able to hear noises from outside such as our kids playing football in the back lane, and birds cawing and tweeting.

I’ve already written a short post today, comprised mostly of a quotation from Katherine May’s Wintering. Other than a post commemorating my fortieth birthday (which I actually wrote back in November) it’s the only thing I’ve published in the last week. Thought Shrapnel is on hiatus until 2021, but I couldn’t resist sharing the most popular articles from this year with subscribers to the weekly digest.

It’s close to 10:00, although it feels much later, having woken up at 05:15 and not being able to get back to sleep. I enjoyed making a morning fire and being able to sit in front of it, reading while the house was peaceful. Reflecting on someone else’s experiences of this time of the year was especially poignant, and the similarities and differences enhance and reinforce my own.

Today I will achieve nothing, which exactly corresponds with my aim. I will, no doubt, play some Sniper Elite 4 which is a game I did not expect to like when I tried it on our TV thanks to the technological magic of Google Stadia. But I’ve found it strangely addictive, and have poured hours of time into completing various missions over the last week or so.

My wife has just informed me that this is the last day of “Christmas slobbing about” by which she means we need to get ready for potential house viewings over the coming week. She’s right, of course, and we do need to get this house sold soon, but the lethargy is strong at this time of year. It’s the only period of time in my calendar when I allow myself to do nothing of importance. There are no expectations of me, and I have none of myself.

I’m not sure if it’s worth pressing publish on this post but, as I have a mere 4% of laptop battery life remaining, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

This post is Day 79 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

What day is it? What date?

Unable to get back to sleep, I got up and continued reading Wintering this morning:

Then, we enter that strange period between Christmas and New Year, when time seems to muddle, and we keep finding ourselves asking, ‘What day is it? What date?’ I always mean to work on these days, or at least to write, but this year, like every other, I find myself unable to gather to the necessary intent. I used to think that these were wasted days, but now I realise that’s the point. I am doing nothing very much, not even actively on holiday… I go for cold walks that make my ears ache. I am not being lazy; I’m not slacking; I’m just letting my attention shift for a while, away from the direct ambitions of the rest of my year. It’s like revving my engines.

Katherine May, Wintering, p.149

The book was a gift from my friend Eylan, an unexpected but very welcome source of joy during this yuletide period.

This post is Day 78 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

40 things I’ve learned in 40 years.

Signpost showing the number 40

I turn forty years old today. Some people will be surprised at this, as my hair has been turning grey for the last 15 years!

A decade ago, I wrote a post entitled 30 things I’ve learned in 30 years. While I still agree with most of that, on reflection it just doesn’t seem particularly… deep? So, here, in no particular order are 40 things I’ve learned in 40 years:

  1. There are things you can control and things you cannot. There is no point in worrying about the latter.
  2. Inspire other people to be inspired yourself.
  3. Most people care less than you think about almost everything that you deem important.
  4. Get some therapy, even if you don’t think you need it. Especially if you don’t think you need it.
  5. Keep your options open.
  6. Sometimes it’s OK to burn your bridges and to do so in a way that other people notice.
  7. Resist the urge to suppress randomness.
  8. Nobody knows what goes on inside your head until you say it or write it down.
  9. Happiness is not something that you can find, but rather is something that you discover when you stop looking for it.
  10. Organisations are groups of people that can have a positive or negative effect on the world. Do not work with or for the latter.
  11. Money can only buy choices, not happiness, time, or anything which constitutes human flourishing.
  12. Life is too short to deal with adults who display little in the way of emotional intelligence.
  13. Listen to what people actually say.
  14. Read inspirational things often, especially quotations and proverbs. Dwell upon them.
  15. Education is not the same as learning. Nor are qualifications the same as real-world knowledge, skills, and experience.
  16. Focus on routines and rituals. Nail these and you’re (mostly) sorted.
  17. Practice eloquence. People like listening to those who have a way with words.
  18. At the end of it all, the only person who stops you doing something is yourself. Confidence is a preference.
  19. Stand for something bigger.
  20. Find somewhere that is completely quiet and you can be undisturbed. Visit it often.
  21. Ask. People can only say no.
  22. You are a human, not a machine. You don’t need to sound grown up, or professional, or ‘respectable’.
  23. Money is important only in the way that it flows (both in society, and at family/individual level).
  24. 90% of ‘success’ (as other people define it) is being in the right place at the right time, the other 10% is extremely hard work.
  25. Perfect is the enemy of done.
  26. How you do something is as important as what you say or what you do.
  27. Transparency is the best policy.
  28. Exercise more than you think you need to. When you’re young you think your body will be in peak condition forever. It won’t.
  29. Endeavour to be the least knowledgeable person in the room at any given time.
  30. There is no final authority. Seniority is a mindset.
  31. Try and explain complex things to other people as often as you can. It’s a valuable process for both parties.
  32. Travel, both literally and metaphorically. Go on journeys and adventures by yourself and with others.
  33. Let other people boast and do your PR (but don’t believe everything you see/read/hear)
  34. Writing is a form of thinking
  35. Know what you like, but don’t get stale; mix things up sometimes.
  36. Habits can make or break you, so create positive ones.
  37. Avoidance is rarely the correct option.
  38. Technology can free people or it can enslave them, so work to give as many people as much freedom as possible.
  39. Removing ego from the equation gets things done.
  40. We all will die and don’t know when, so act today in a way whereby people will remember you well.

Much of these come through my daily(ish) reading of Stoic philosophers but also come via therapy sessions, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s rules for living an antifragile life, Buster Benson’s Live like a hydra, and Dancing Fox’s Inappropriate Guidelines for Unacceptable Behaviour.

Image CC BY-NC-ND Jeronimo G+E