Living a conscious life?

manchester skyline may 1st

I hadn’t really considered that I might be living my life in a conscious way. But the more I look into it, the more I see the difference between my life previous to my brush with death.

So what is a conscious life? A life which is deliberate and thought-out, by listening to yourself and making conscious choices.

There’s no absolute, but rather a number of common elements which point in a certain direction. After some research and thought here’s a small incomplete list.

  • Do what makes you happy
  • Feel comfortable with saying no
  • Accept yourself and stop comparing yourself to others
  • Ignore the messages of the mainstream
  • Live in the moment
  • Be choosy
  • Focus on what you have
  • Practice a life with gratitude
  • Don’t let your ego lead
  • Spend your time and resources wisely
  • Let go of negativity and judgement

Its easy to see how all of these can seem either obvious, patronising or some hippy spiritual nonsense? I get it, maybe 10 years ago I would be thinking a similar thing. Maybe its just one of those things which you are ready for or not?

So how does this manifest in my life?

Happy Programmers

Do what makes you happy

I pretty much do what makes me happy and ignore much else. Its not out of ignorance but rather feelings of overload. I guess this is why I can sleep well at night? Don’t get me wrong, there are feelings/tensions about this being selfish but I tend to balance it out in my head by helping people when possible.

Help takes many forms but trying to encourage more people to be a little more conscious is something I quite like. Although I guess in retrospect, it can seem like I’m pushing my ideology on to others? Of course its about balance and also if the person is receptive to the advice.

Going back to doing what makes me happy. My trip to Japan was a great example. I got much advice about where I should go and visit from a great number of people & places. Although I took them on-board, I spent most of my time in Tokyo wondering the streets of different prefectures of the city. I visited every single roller coaster park except the Disney ones. I did what made me happy and still ended up trying new things. So this isn’t about the filter bubble. Its not uncommon for me to end up in the middle of a new city and just go exploring, alone or with others. Usually on a quest for the best cocktail establishment in that city.

This also applies to what I see and experience. This does unfortunately means making some tough decisions about places, things, friendships, etc…  Doing what makes me happy also means I tend to go and do things which others wouldn’t do alone. Its not unknown for me to go to the cinema, city, dinner, holiday alone. I’m quite comfortable with my self and don’t need others to reaffirm my happiness.

Feel comfortable with saying no

Following on from the previous one, saying no and personal happiness are connected. Saying no means theres less guilt and less mental pain. Saying no does mean being honest and rejecting people, but in the long run, its a much better place to be. Its great being strong willed too, great for the character. This has also stopped me from ending up in places/doing things I honestly wasn’t happy about.

Accept yourself and stop comparing yourself to others

This is something I learned very early on, maybe back when I was in primary school to be honest. I was taken out of class to go up to a special room, where a teacher/specialist would give me tests for dyslexia. That combined with being one of about 3 black kids in the school, all this made me less focused on comparing myself. I also wasn’t the most photogenic person in school, but it didn’t matter so much to me. This followed through into later life and

I’d argue this also fits well with not letting your ego rule, because what others do with their lives doesn’t concern me much. Its only when it affects others or myself I start to wonder.

Every once in a while people near me, have said they are jealous of one thing or another. I always say,

“don’t be jealous, focus on how your going to get better”

I try and get people to rethink the situation by turning that early stage envy around. Be happy for the other person and use them as a pointer. This does require some re-framing but is important and directly fits with the notion of being conscious not just reactionary.

Live in the moment

I alluded to dyslexia and links to living in the moment, but honestly my personally has expanded quite a bit to seek out more opportunities, now I notice them more. Its one of the big noticeable differences after my brush with death. Lisa Upton talked about it too, so did Derren brown’s in the secret of luck and of course there was what happened at TedxManchester3 with  Carrie Green.

Funny enough I recently found where the coffee conversation with Carrie went; into her book She Means Business: Turn Your Ideas into Reality and Become a Wildly Successful Entrepreneur.

From the chapter – The little voice in your head

A guy called Ian Forrester climbed up to the stage, I handed him £20, the audience applauded and he went and sat down. A few weeks later we met up over a cup of tea and he told me how a brush with death a few years earlier made him make the decision that he was never going to let anything stand in his way. He said, “People are paralyzed by their fear of what might happen, and so they won’t reach out and grab what’s in front them. And that’s pretty much what I did.”

I also remember a while ago hearing about smutslam and decided to give it a try. During the course of the evening, I decided to give it a shot. I ended up winning 2nd place. Totally living in the moment, just going with the flow.

Practice a life with gratitude

Been thinking about this one quite a bit, especially since I attended Sarah Raad’s workshop at Thinking Digital Newcastle. The benefits are huge for such a simple practice.

There are many gratitude apps and platforms, I’m just trying to pick one which contains all the things I respect like being opensource, decentralised, multiplatform, etc.  Currently I’m drawn somewhere between using Mastodon and trying Micropub.

What ever I decide, I’ve started writing weekly in Standard Notes, which also has a nice little micro blogging system called listed.

Let go of negativity and judgement

This is a big one. It was a workshop talk from Bobby from the happiest which unfortunately closed not long afterwards. (still like to see a distributed take on happiest); which got me thinking about negativity and how much we hold on to it (or it holds on to us?). He said something like 65 million thoughts we have everyday, 85% are negative. Although maybe not right, it got me thinking quite a lot about the possibility of changing our thought process.  Could we learn to accept and let go? Why do we hold on to negative feelings so tightly?

For me the totally irrational fear of injections was overcome by conscious thoughts of the same mind which was hosting that fear.

Although still fearful, I do feel much lighter because I was able to let go.

Inception, distraction and the war for your attention


Its been hard keeping on track and not being sucked into all the other things around me. Of course the biggest thing has been the Manchester arena bombing which was shocking and of course ever so sad (especially for those involved or lost their lives to this mindless act of violence). But generally the amount of noise/static, peer/social pressure and people telling you to pay attention to their thing is pretty bad.

Of course this also has a massive bearing on the happiness and wellbeing of people too (feel like I should have been writing this a few weeks ago during mental health awareness week). I’ve watched how colleagues & friends have struggled not to stay distraction free from stuff others have pushed their way. I have offered to help and sometimes suggested removing certain apps or changing certain settings. Sometimes its been useful, sometimes its worked for a short while but theres not the motivation or drive to follow it through.

I totally understand why… heck we’re all human!

It’s not easy, heck there’s a whole industry setup to shift your attention/reality into their world. Some of it is the bubble where you are like Silicon Valley, but also the systems/pressures around us as summed up so well by Tristan Harris and Sherry Turkle. It’s really dark patterns stuff but it’s so ubiquitous we don’t question them. It’s like a friend who messaged me and asked if I was in a place because she couldn’t see me on Whatsapp, or the notion that if it’s not on Spotify it can’t/doesn’t exist. Someone seemed a little puzzled when I mentioned Spotify doesn’t have most music (crazy but true)! Or even when I decided I wasn’t going to do the icebucket challenge.


Once the mind is bought into the system and ultimately their opinionated world, its extremely difficult to leave it. (The book – The confidence game, I’m currently reading which is about cons actually has a bit to say about this all)

Magic Trick

I would actually go as far as to say for all the difficulty of stringing together system and services yourself (like free software/open source/decentralised/federated systems). Its forces you to come up with your own world narrative and thoughts; and I’m very sure independent thinking is critical for wellness, health, self-confidence, resiliency and character!

Its slightly ironic only 9 days ago I was in Sarah Raad’s Gratitude Habit workshop during Thinking Digital Newcastle. I’ve been practicing my gratitudes most days including the Monday night of the Manchester arena bombing. Even been thinking of Tweeting them or Tooing them via Mastodon, because most are not secret or really private. I also want to establish that having a gratitude about places which are not full of nature, noisy and busy is as valid as the typical stuff you imagine when you talk about wellness and health.

yoga sunset

Its the point of independent thought. I’m sure Sarah would say deep down underneath most of this will be common human traits or those of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

La Défense, Paris

I guess the point I’m trying to make is… develop your own mindset and don’t be directed into someone elses. Yes it will be difficult but ever so rewarding in the long run.

Ambient intimacy the new loneliness?

A few weeks ago I took part in the eye contact experiment in Sheffield. The purpose was to connect with a fellow human being in a way we usually avoid in modern society.

I have already wrote about the use of Mobile technology in Japan and crossed it with the selfie craze. But I have to admit although the selfie/narcissism was bad. There was a low level almost ambient undertone to the silence of people looking at rectangular LCD screen.

Japan is always known as way ahead of the curve. When most of us were still using desktops and laptops to connect the internet, residents of Japan were using their phones. Theres many other examples but I spotted something which deeply worries me. Sherry Turkle’s connected alone was playing out everywhere you went.

I was in the queue for a rollercoaster and 4 guys were standing in silence through out the whole 40-50min queue. There were each transfixed to their phones not uttering a single word till we finally got on the ride and then they were best buds, laughing and chatting away. I saw them again later (the theme park wasn’t that busy and isn’t that big – about the size of Thorpe Park) and it was more of the same.  They may have been playing the same game but together they were alone.

Alone together

Sad as it may be (you could say its part of the Japanese culture, but I’m not so sure), you are seeing more and more of this. And its not just a age thing. The online world can be very seductive and some people forget the offline world for many reasons. Maybe things are difficult there, things are not going so well, they can be somebody else?

Sounds familiar right? Some people have been calling it ambient intimacy, something I heard a lot time ago but hadn’t really stop and thought about.

I  forgot the term, which I saw as the logical conclusion of what I saw in Japan and seeing to a lesser degree here. I first wrote about it when listening to Leisa Reichelt talking at the future of webapps 2007.

This thought catalogue piece sums up quite a bit is the new loneliness

Our generation of sadness and loneliness is of the unchecked variety. Of wallowing. Of letting ourselves be disconnected from both others and ourselves. Learning to soothe more than heal. Learning to put a band-aid on problems instead of working through and solving our problems. If something is not immediate, we don’t want it, even if it’ll make us stronger. We’re not growing as people, not really. We’re shoving away “bad feelings” we don’t want to face by clicking, refreshing, scrolling until we’ve numbed ourselves out enough. It’s addiction.

I was talking to a friend recently and she was telling me about the massive effect grindr is having on the gay men of Manchester. The once vibrant gay village of canal street is now full of hen parties and hetrosexual men chasing them. The gay men so addicted to the new reality of grindr, they don’t waste time meeting/socialising down canal street, when there is a sea of faces and other parts of the body on the comfort of your screen. Of course there is human contact but its short lived, fleeting but also highly charged and very exciting.  If its not, don’t worry theres other fields to go explore and why not?

This is something I talked about during my ragged talk.

In years, decades to come will we see the ambient intimacy the same way as we see smoking now? Or if Adrian Hon is right, eating meat?

I’m confident that in a hundred years, eating meat will be regarded in the negative way we now view racism or sexism – an ugly, demeaning, and unnecessary act. Like smoking, it will simply fall out of fashion because we’ll find better and healthier alternatives, although we’ll still occasionally eat humanely reared-and-killed animals. Note that I still eat meat even though I should know better.

If there was one picture which sums up this slow backlash, it has to be this one… removed.


As the author says…

The joining of people to devices has been rapid and unalterable. The application of the personal device in daily life has made tasks take less time. Far away places and people feel closer than ever before. Despite the obvious benefits that these advances in technology have contributed to society, the social and physical implications are slowly revealing themselves.

I saw it a while ago but frank reminded me of the picture while we were talking about the eye contact event.

There was a number of talks at Thinking Digital Manchester which strayed deep into this area., including our own workshop.  Authenticity was the word of the moment. Be yourself and talk with a human voice. Something the Cluetrain Manifesto talks a lot about.

I have bounced back and forth and about this whole thing, creating many revisions (62 to be honest) and drafts of this blog post.

Part of me wonders if this is just the new reality and I’m actually just getting old?

Who couldn’t be excited by the new possibilities to be connected to many people at the same time? Jason Silva called itcollapsing geography with cellphone wormholes. However this also pulls us out of the moment (must finish reading Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock) creating physical barriers with the people we spending time with. Maybe its the intent or even the lack of intent which is the problem?

Like checking your phone at the table, your subconscious intent is that the current situation isn’t interesting enough to fully engage? Or a sign we feel strangely lonely?  The fear of missing out is a double edged sword, and is a really strong motivator in this all. Then throw in the paradox of choice and you have a recipe for long term problems. This is what I thought when I first heard the term present shock to be honest.

Mozfest Global Village

This was some of the motivation behind a short pathway of two great sessions at Mozfest 2015. Hacking Mental Health: Changing Views in Tech and Happiness in the digital era. (reminds me of  The Practice of Happiness workshop by Bobby Paterson at Thinking Digital 2011). We even ran our own eye contact experiment in the crazy space of Mozfest.

Eye contact at Mozfest Global Village

With all this playing on my mind (and the fact its a link between all the events over the last few weeks)…

I bought a copy of Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. I decided enough with the drafts, I’m putting this thought on hold for a further blog post or maybe a discussion some day?

The endless pursuit for happiness

Had a great lunch conversation with Laura about her change of career

It’s scary as hell to not have a model of what that looks like yet but it begins with following the truth in my heart and my intuition.

I’ve given in my notice. Just 1 month left until, well to be quite honest I have no idea what will follow. Only that it’s the right time for me to look deep within and embrace the fear, and do my best to transform it into excited energy that will fuel my unknown future.

We got talking about following her heart and there were a number of things I wanted to throw into the mix while we were talking. Luckily Laura’s new medium blog has enough pointers.

Surely life is about the journey?

I sense a deep amount of dissatisfaction in people in respect to their lives and jobs. Most of us are focused on building an awesome career, getting bigger houses and nicer cars. But it’s never ending and often unfulfilling. We are as a culture focused on living for this awesome happy future but when we get there we have no idea we are there or how to appreciate it as we already focused on the next goal.


I can’t tell you how many people I know who just work to get money. I’m not saying its wrong, just not really what I want my life to be about. I have to admit I’m one of those lucky people who is doing what they love. Don’t get me wrong its not always sugar and sunshine but I can’t really imagine doing something else. If I wasn’t getting paid to do this, I would do it anyway somehow.

I don’t agree with Laura on this point…

So as I think you can tell, I ’ve decided to give up a great job and a career with lovely people and company.

You can still have a great job and ultimately career. But also follow your own path, thats where the risk comes. Somebody once said to me I was a bit of entrepreneur within the BBC. I usually rejected that, only because it conjures up visions of  solo activity working to make the most money. But when thinking about it again in the light of social  entrepreneurship, it makes more sense. I guess the senior firestarter job reflects this a little.

I got use to the idea that I will have to carve out my own career a long time ago. That career is full of collaborations and passionate people with similar goals and aspirations. I didn’t want to make a choose between the two, so I combined them.

Laura’s aspirations, (Happiness Documentary Series,  School of Life style Social Enterprise and Wilderness retreat) could be a collaboration and a career in themselves. She’s going about it the right way but its a easy mistake to think of them in a exclusive way.

Unfortunately there’s no manual for this kind of personal quest but I’m hoping sharing my story will connect me with others who have or are in the process of changing their lives.

Following your own path is the key here and I think there is something big about documenting the experiences. I started blogging 12 years ago and I still do it, not just because of the halo effect but its useful to rationalise my own very busy connected thoughts to myself and sometimes to others.

The journey and the experiences/stories I collected along the way, really form my personality and  its important to never waste your life living someone elses life.

Si Lumb always says something like… “If there’s an opportunity to experience something which will make a great story and it won’t put you or somebody else in danger… you should do it

This drive to live life for the opportunities is powerful and transforming. I look forward to hearing how things progress Laura.

Common regrets before dying


Lisa added this to her Facebook wall and got me thinking and writing.

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

Absolutely. Its really hard to express in words how this feels being so close to death myself. I want to die living my dreams and doing exactly what I feel is right not what others expect. This fits well with my post about being yourself.

Its also why I beat myself up about following what certain people said around me. Learned a precious lesson about following my own path and ignoring others. I’ll have the courage to make my own path through life.

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

Yes this is going to be the big one for me and many others around me. I’m very lucky my job is also my joy. Its what makes waking up and getting out of bed a little easier. But I imagine this is going to be a difficult relationship to have when I have a partner and kids. My parents worked really hard to bring the best of the world to me and my sister. So I always feel like I should be working harder. Its a slight amount of guilt that I’m not working as hard as they have done.

However I do believe in working smarter not harder. To work smarter I need to find a path which suits me not one presubscribed by someone else. We are all so different and the idea this worked for people previously isn’t a good enough reason to keep going.

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

Yes I was in a restaurant with a couple of friends recently and one was telling the other how he felt. I felt this was fantastic and we should do this more. As men, were brought up not to express our feelings and this is frankly crap. Ok I’m not saying we should go around crying on each other but there’s nothing wrong with saying this is how I feel about this or that. Anyone who turns against you is frankly heartless and has the real problem.

As I was saying to Jody the other day… Haters always going to hate but ultimately they hate themselves. It takes courage to stand up and express your own feelings. Specially in the face of such hatred but you owe it to yourself to pick and choose your battles. When the time comes, let them have it!

Expressing feelings will be hard for others to take, specially as its seen as a female thing to do. Which is total nonsense. But hopefully through you doing so, others will see it as a positive thing.

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

Yes I try my best to keep in touch with old friends and to be fair have been good at doing this to a degree all my life. I try to stay in touch even if I’ve not heard from them in many years. And for goodness sake its so much easier nowadays. The likes of Facebook really helps you to connect.

I was talking to some friends recently and they were expressing there distance between them and other friends. They didn’t want to do the chasing all the time as they may seem like they were bugging them. I asked them who cares? So you insert yourself in someone elses life, whats wrong with that? Of course if they really don’t like it, they will tell you to get lost but if inserting yourself is always a positive thing, do it!

The longer you leave it, the harder it gets. Just don’t get caught up with the fear of rejection.

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Happiness is a choice and you need to work towards it.

I personally have made decisions recently to work towards it in different aspects of my life. I understand everyones happiness is different but what ever it is, you need to move towards it. This is self evident in my decision to go to Tokyo before 2016. Something which wasn’t very clear was I wanted to visit the city not really experience Japan as such. This might seem short sighted but frankly what will make me happy is visiting the city not the country.

I love cities and they make me happy, small towns and further a field are nice to visit once in a while but ultimately its visiting the metropolis of Tokyo which is going to make me feel most alive. I could pretend that “oh yes, the country side… the temples… etc” but it would be a lie. I’m kind of beyond lying to others. Kinda of done playing that boring game…

Getting over the fear of rejection…

Don't be afraid of rejection ~ don't let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!

There’s something which holds back many people from what they really want. Its the fear of rejection…

As most people know too well, the fear of rejection is a nasty fear… It can be totally inhibiting.

I could wittier on about it being a self-fulfilling prophecy, the nature of fear and what fear is… but frankly I’d rather not.

Personally I don’t claim to have the answer to the fear of rejection, I like everyone also fear rejection but deal with it in a different way.

You can watch me present on stage too but I would like to expand on the later part.

When I was lying in my hospital bed I thought a lot, maybe far too much. It was like my sabbatical (best way I can describe it?). I thought about many things. How my life was, what I had done with it and now I have a second chance what I’m going to do different.

When I finally made it to the next year’s Thinking Digital, I was at one of the workshops with talking about happiness. A couple things really hit me…


We have 60,000 thought’s a day 95% of those are the same as yesterday… 80% of those are negative thoughts

Fear is in the mind, we build it up in our mind till its inhibiting and all consuming. Now I understand better than most about what fear can do. I was terrified of needles and I still don’t like them but I faced my fear with hyponosis. I remember years ago people asking me if I needed to have a shot to save my life what would I do… Jokingly I would reply knock myself out and then let them do it, or just take my chances. Generally I was suggesting for real, than I would consider death over having a injection.

Sounds insane but thats how bad my fear was…

Our minds are incredible, we can achieve such great things, ponder infinity, dream about the impossible, conjure technology and spread our thoughts far and wide. Our minds can literally out do the matter.

So whats this got to do with the fear of rejection (if you’ve not worked it out already). The human mind’s capacity is endless limitless but fear holds it back from its true potential.

How I look at the fear of rejection…

One More Thing, Steve!

Death is the destination we all share, no one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because death is very likely the single best invention of life (…) Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life  – Steve Jobs (2005. Stanford University)

Once again while in that hospital bed, I thought about things and decided on the grand scale of my life. These moments of fear should/will not dominate my life and if so they are purely a blip in the graph. One which I won’t remember in many many years to come. With that in mind, I do things and not worry about the social ramifications as much, just telling myself whats the worst than can happen?. Don’t get me wrong I do wonder (rather than worry) but I don’t let it grow in my mind. If I want something I’ll go and get it, make it happen, make it so.

I refuse to live someones life, expectations, fears. Don’t waste your life living someones life