Category: Book

Don’t Aim to be Happy

Why me? Why not me?

I was once asked what my aim in life was. I gave a somewhat scripted answer about reaching a pinnacle in my career, having financial freedom, a family and so on. The person asking the question looked me in the eye and said “aim to be happy. Nothing else is important.” That was a view I held, only it was my internal, private aim. From that day on, I made that my vocal aim – I want to be happy. 

Today, that is no longer true. I do not aim to be happy. 

I have finished listening to ‘Happy’ by Derren Brown. The mind-reading magician has put pen to paper to share his views and knowledge of the various philosophies surrounding happiness, with a focus on stoicism. I’m a big fan of Derren as a magician and to hear that he was releasing a book was intriguing, however, I was sceptical at the topic at hand, yet he delivers the subject perfectly. He combines informative lessons on the stoic beliefs with practical instructions for implementation, whilst drawing on his experiences to show real-world use cases.

What is stoicism?

Image result for define stoicism

Stoicism was developed in the times of ancient Greece. Many of the beliefs are attributed to two people; Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, an emperor and slave, respectively. Two people at the opposed ends of the societal scale, yet with the same views on how they should conduct themselves. The application of the same rules in two scenarios that from a macro view looks polar opposite, yet when breaking it down to a micro level, they are the same. This is what makes this philosophy so powerful.

Ok, that’s cool and all, but what does it actually teach us? 

Stoicism is the idea of controlling the controllable and not concerning ourselves with the rest. It is recognising our current state and making peace with what we have. It is the removal of outward expectations that could harm our well-being. It’s understanding that you are not owed anything and that “the universe is change: our life is what our thoughts make it.” – Marcus Aurelius.

The essence of the philosophy is that we should live so that our happiness depends as little as possible on external causes Marcus Aurelius
Sick and yet happy. Dying and yet happy. In exile and happy. In disgrace and happy.Epictetus

What about the real world?

It all sounds nice and ideal doesn’t it… a bit too nice. Ok, so what if some people years ago were able to live in harmony, that’s not exactly relevant to the masses.

This is the issue Derren Brown tackles in his book. What are the applications for the masses? How does it compare to the self-help solutions available today? Can it really help in the worst scenarios imaginable?

Point 1 – Lots of self-help advice is harmful

Many ‘experts’ teach the power of simply thinking positively and your aims will come true. If they don’t it’s because you don’t believe enough. That simply isn’t true, good things don’t come from nothing. The right frame of mind can be a critical component, but you also need other factors, such as hard work.

Point 2 – Happiness is a state of being, not an aim

If you aim to be happy, you may never reach it. You’ll have criteria to meet that will ‘make you happy’, but what if those don’t occur, will you actually be happy once you have them? Happiness is a state of being that you can have right now. It is the ability to filter out what we cannot control and focus on only the things we can; usually, these are only things related to ourselves – how we act, talk, think and so on. How people treat us, for example is not in our control, and therefore should not interfere with our happiness.

I view it as the below image. If we view happiness as an external desire, we will remain surrounded by the negatives, the barriers and the reasons why ‘life is unfair’. Instead, if we remove those things, we will only be left with happiness.

You aren’t owed anything. You aren’t immune from anything.

This final point is potentially the most powerful, but also the hardest to explain. It feels wrong telling people in life-changing situations how to act and behave when I am not in a similar situation. Derren expressed the same concern, instead, he drew on the views of others and I will do the same, quoting directly from the book, the words of Debra – a cancer patient, the victim of gross malpractice and miss-diagnosis and failed operations. She knew she had a minimal amount of time left to live, yet remained upbeat and optimistic about what each day could offer.

“Very often as children we are set up for a fall … the downtrodden skivvy marries the prince, the wicked stepmother is defeated by the fairy godmother, etc. I’m sure you get my drift. The general moral of the story is that the ‘Goodies’ always defeat the ‘Baddies’.

And how many of us, who are parents, are guilty of saying, ‘If you’re a good girl/boy you can have some sweets or a toy.’ The subliminal ethos being subtly weaved is that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. This is utter balderdash. The reality is that good and bad things happen to all people, death perhaps being the most extreme (and yet the most common) example. As the saying goes, ‘Sh*t happens.’ Therefore, when I was diagnosed, rather than thinking (as specified in the NHS leaflet), ‘Why me, what have I done to deserve this?’ I thought ‘Why not me?’.”


It is an extreme case that we all hope to never encounter. Yet, we can surely apply some of the thinking to the minimal day to day occurrences. Perhaps, the secret to happiness each day isn’t to seek all the good in the world, but to accept the inevitable bad, understand it for what it is and continue to control what we can in an ever-changing world.


Fiction v Non-fiction

I recently finished the book, ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. I’ll be blunt, I wouldn’t recommend it. Perhaps to a child, but it didn’t do it for me, despite being highly rated.

It seems like a sensible question to ask why I’d read it in the first place. Well, recently I’ve been looking for more fiction books to read. Non-fiction books are great; autobiographies, stories of how companies started etc, all full of great advice, stories and lessons to learn. Sometimes they are also some of the most gripping books I’ve read. However, I think they sometimes lack the human touch or the personal side. Perhaps due to the real topic in question not wanting to be exposed too much, whereas, with a made up topic, you can reveal all.

So, for now, I’m switching to a few more fiction books, to see if they too can teach lessons – I have no doubt they can. Also, you would imagine that on average they are more gripping (leaving out The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). I am also certain that many fiction books contain lots of true examples. My current book is All Quiet on the Western Front. Unless the war suddenly starts to be fought with laser guns, I’m expecting to get a real feeling for what life was like in the war and that could be invaluable.

So a little ask to anyone reading this. Have you read a fiction book that taught you a lot? Please let me know!!

The Religion of Data – Homo Deus

What happens when computers know us better than we know ourselves? What happens when they predict how we will act and respond accordingly, when they can answer all questions and can respond to any change faster than we can comprehend it?

To some degree it’s already happening – large amounts of the stock exchange are automated due to the speed advantage and people are consulting IBM’s Watson for health information. However, very soon all aspects of our life will be influenced or controlled in some way by computers. This is the message put across by Yuval Noah Harari in his latest book, Homo Deus. It is the follow-up from the highly regarded Sapiens. In the book, Yuval explores the future of humankind in a world that is increasingly being taken over by computers.

From page one this book is gripping as it explains ideas and concepts that, by nature, are incomprehensible to us. The book also doesn’t shy away from challenging itself – throwing in the classic argument of consciousness and emotion, robots always lose in films because of love, right? But what if our emotions are just algorithms, then one day our personal computer will know our next emotion before we even feel it, they’ll be able to choose a wife or husband better than we can, they’ll know how we’ll feel if we don’t wake up in time for the gym and can change things according to ensure we follow our true intentions. This makes you sound very predictable, doesn’t it? What about our free will, you might ask. We have the control to change our mind if we really want to – if you think this, please read the book. The argument against this was very interesting in my opinion (no spoilers from me).

The Contradiction

There is a rather obvious contradiction or conflict in this book – it starts by talking about the human desire to eternal life and that such things may be possible in the near future. We only need to extend our lives by 20 years, to then find a way to extend it 50 years, to then find a way to extend it 100 years and so on. That will create a world full of people, literally. If the population increases then we will clearly reach capacity, yet the book goes on to say “individuals will become4242 just a collection of ‘biochemical subsystems’ monitored by global networks”. The book offers no suggestion for how the overarching computer systems might respond to an ever growing population and whether their algorithms will deem ‘population control’ necessary for efficient operation. Sounding a bit like the robot uprising now isn’t it…

In short, this is a book that will make you think, and quite honestly I will say this is a must read! It is easy to look back in history to see how nieve and clueless humankind was to the changing world and today is no different, things will change in ways we can’t yet imagine, so why not start understanding the possibilities.

Sharpen The Saw

I recently finished the book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. There are many books that attempt to explain the secret to success, sometimes coming across far too practical; if you don’t for X or Y you won’t achieve Z. Whilst others are too vague and ‘spiritual’, giving no tangible actions – this book seemed to find the balance!

The book tells stories, gives examples, and provide frameworks to help understand and implement the habits. The whole book was very interesting; sometimes obvious, other times eye opening.

There’s one habit I want to talk about, habit 7: Sharpening the Saw.

Image result for sharpen the saw 7 habits

Essentially this habit is the ability to take a step back and re-charge to become for effective. The analogy is a workman sawing away at a tree. He is in the zone and working 100% efficiently, however, the saw it blunt. Someone suggests he stop and sharpen the saw. Scared of breaking his rhythm he angrily refuses, exclaiming he may never be as efficient again if he were to stop. Yet if he sharpened the blunt saw, he could chop down the tree in half the time, even with a slower motion. The principle makes sense!

However, there is another reason this habit sticks in my mind so clearly. A quote from Gary Vaynerchuk on ‘meditation and mindfulness’. (Jump to 21min 50sec)

Doesn’t this sound exactly like the workman? Or perhaps Gary really is superhuman 🙂


Zorba the Greek

This week I finished the book, ‘Zorba the Greek’ by Nikos Kazantzakis, published in 1946. Hailed as a classic, this book really was hard to put down.

The book is a tale of the narrator setting off to find fortune from mines, before setting off he meets Zorba. The book follows their journey together – and this is where the book impressed.

I’m not quite sure what happened, but I got completely lost with the storyline. At one point I had no idea where they were or what they were doing, yet I was hooked! I know I missed something, rather than it being a fault of the storyline line, yet I felt this wasn’t an issue. I wasn’t hooked to see what would happen next, I was hooked to hear the words written about Zorba.

The majority of the book follows conversations between the two characters, one a bookworm and businessman, the other an ageing man with an immense passion for himself and life. The conversations cover all aspects of life, sometimes reflecting our own deep thoughts and feelings, other times saying exactly how we wish we thought or lived. It is an easy, engaging and comforting read. It makes you feel good – Zorba makes you feel good.

At times I felt I was there in Greece, listening to Zorba talk about his love for his 2nd or 3rd wife, or hearing him play his Santuri, and for these times I did not need to know the story. Perhaps that was the main message of the story anyway, you don’t always need to know what’s happening, sometimes being in the moment with yourself and those with you is all you need for happiness and peace.


With that said, I’m still planning on watching the film just to make sure I haven’t missed anything 🙂

What can we learn from Elon Musk?

In short, a lot!

I have finished reading ‘Elon Musk – Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future’. It was actually the first autobiography I have ever read, so I was sceptical as to whether or not I’d enjoy it. However, I have definitely found a new passion, the book offered insights that will only be shown through such books.

So what did I learn from the book?

1 – It’s not all sunshine and rainbows!

Elon Musk’s life has been tough! You see the fame he has being associated with PayPal, Tesla etc. But did you realise he’s been ousted as CEO from a number of his own successful startups, and has had many legal battles to claim ownership of being a co-founder for many of his most successful ventures, including PayPal?

I spent a large amount of the book in shock, learning about what actually happened at these companies, how he actually reached his heights and what it has cost him. The tough times are never re-told once success has arrived. This presents an extremely dangerous image that he was always bound for success and his talent saw him sail to the top; that wasn’t the case for him and it won’t be the case for you!

2 – When you really know what you’re talking about, you’ll be respected.

Elon is known for his extreme requests, his tight deadlines and orders to cut costs. Many times his requests seemed impossible, but when people refused to do it, he would complete the action himself. This was extremely powerful, especially at SpaceX where his team literally had to invent new processes to reach expectations.

Elon was only able to set these expectations and pull them off himself if needed because he knew what he was talking about. He wasn’t a genius from birth, he just had a huge thirst for knowledge and a very impressive memory. SpaceX engineers recalled being quizzed by Elon; initially not because he was checking they knew their stuff, but because he wanted to know! Over time he became one of the most (if not the most) knowledgeable SpaceX and Tesla engineer, so when he set a target, he knew it could be reached.

This gave him the respect of many that worked for him as he couldn’t be seen as a clueless boss, instead perhaps he could be seen as an ingenious leader.

3 – Sometimes you’ve got to dream like a kid

Eliminate a country’s need for fossil fuels, and extend the existence of humanity. These are some of the dreams of Elon. Sound crazy don’t they, but he’s taking big steps towards achieving them.

Nothing is too big or scary to him and that is one of the most impressive qualities about him. He knows that he wants to change the world and he will do everything he can to make sure it happens.

A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled

“500 years ago no-one died of stress: we invented this concept and now we let it rule us. We might have evolved to be able to miraculously balance on seven-inch heels, but as far as our emotional development is concerned we’re still swimming with the pond scum. If we don’t advance our more human qualities then we’re doomed evolution-wise to become cyborgs, with an imprint of an ‘Apple’ where our hearts used to be.” In her book, Ruby Wax shows us a scientific solution to these modern problems: mindfulness – and yes this is the actress Ruby Wax.

Ruby proclaims to have suffered from depression almost her whole life. At almost any time she can suddenly slump into a phase of depression, getting out of it takes time and energy. After studying at Oxford for a masters in Mindfulness she learnt about the power and ability of being self-aware and self-conscious about our mental health. We take time to build our physical strength, so why do we ignore the mental aspect. She argues that this is one of the biggest mistakes of our species.

What is Mindfulness?

“The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”

When you bring it up, people will instantly think of meditation and the conscious effort to focus on breathing, but that is only one small aspect (that may not even be important to you).

The aim of mindfulness is to be aware of your emotions and surrounding. Why do you feel angry? What’s causing the anger? Can I proceed in a calm way? Ruby believes that we can choose to not feel some emotions and by recognising when they may appear, we can block them out.

What’s the benefit?

Being aware of your emotion allows you to act in the way that you truly want to. You may want to get really angry and yell out loud, but don’t you remember the times that you calmed down, wondering just why you got so heated? If your emotion controls you, then you can be unpredictable.

In the book, Ruby also explains how her awareness can help her understand when she is depressed. She can’t stop it, but she knows what’s wrong and why, meaning her road to recovery is that bit easier.

How can it be implemented?

Well in the book Ruby talks about how she went on a 7 day meditation retreat. Full days spent meditating. Did it help her? She says so! Do you have to do that? Nope!

For full information, give the book a read, but in summary, the best way to incorporate mindfulness is to force yourself to be aware of your surroundings. How does your food taste? Why didn’t you finish your work? How will you react if this or that happens? Making yourself aware and ‘in the moment’ is the best way to take control of your emotions.


#AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur’s Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness.

The new book by entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuck, #AskGaryVee is an extension of his YouTube show, The #AskGaryVee Show (or shoooooooooooooooooow to avid watchers). In the show he answers questions sent in by viewers, usually based around business, social media and his values, with the odd wine or sport question thrown in to mix it up. For a number of people these shows have become a way for aspiring entrepreneurs and general business enthusiasts to learn from someone who’s been there and done that. For the book, the questions and answers from the shows are mixed with new questions to add additional value from the YouTube shows. In the audio book all the questions are read by a variety of Gary’s celebrity friends and answered by him personally. He always jokes that when recording an audiobook he goes off script so much it almost becomes a different book from the written version, plus his crazy enthusiasm and energy makes it easy to listen to the 11 and a half hours of Q&A.

11 and a half hours of Q&A?!?!?! How many questions are needed to fill that time? Does it not get repetitive? Does he really have something new and interesting to say throughout the book?

“Well, yes and no, let me explain” (a phrase used many, many times when he answers).

Each chapter focuses on a different topic, from self-awareness to family business, each chapter offers a unique insight into his beliefs, rules, thought processes and experiences. However a lot of underlying rules are repeated – by that I mean his approach to building anything; go online, create content, engage, talk, create more content etc.

However I feel as though this book could be cut by 25% as a minimum and bring even more value! At times it felt like content overload, too many questions in a chapter leading to similar answers. The beauty of the Q&A format is that it allows listeners to pick up key insights for certain topics, rather than having to apply the theory to practice. However, the answers fell on very similar groundings and a shorter book pointing out the common trends in a clear way would have been better in my opinion.

Is the book worth it if he posts everything on YouTube?

This depends on whether you are a Gary fan.

If you aren’t or don’t know who he is, or you just want to know what he’s learnt then the book is great! It will cover pretty much everything you want. It could be treated as a bible for some areas of business. Have a question, see if he’s answered it!

If you are a Gary fan, then I’d say no to the book and yes to a YouTube marathon. The majority of questions (or similar) can be found on YouTube, either as part of his #AskGaryVee Show or on his second channel ‘Entrepreneurship Answered’ in short, snappy clips. Why do I prefer these? Well, you get to see him react to the questions, react to the people around him, all in his businesses environment. He knows his best medium is video and I agree, so if you’re willing to watch all the videos to experience his vibe and energy rather than just to hear his answers, then the videos are for you!

The Thank You Economy

Gary Vaynerchuck’s favourite, yet lowest selling, of his 3 (now 4) books.

What is ‘The Thank You Economy’? It’s ‘the humanisation of marketing’. It’s ‘manner’s marketing’. (Both alternate titles).

Gary uses this book to explain just why businesses need to pay attention to social media. Not just to promote their brand and get the word out about their products, but to listen to customers, to react and talk.

He argues that your great-grandparents probably understood the value of nurturing personal relationships with their customers, but their wisdom vanished when big corporations grew and managers found it more cost-effective to ignore customer concerns. Social media has changed all that, giving marketers the welcomed opportunity to connect with current and potential customers in a manner unseen for several generations. If your customers like you, they’ll use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other networks to sing your praises. If they don’t like you, they’ll spread that news just as quickly.

What’s the underlining principle of the thank you economy?

You should care what your customers think. You should value the longevity of your customers, rather than maximising all initial sales and you should not control what is said about your company, only react to it.

Caring what your customers think

This should be pretty obvious.

If your customers like your products, find out why. If they don’t, do the same. It’s a great way to improve your products and customer service to maximise enjoyment for the customer.

But in the age of social media, it’s not just about caring, it’s about finding what your customers think. People are willing to tweet all sorts of opinions, both good and bad, without directing it to the company in question. Just think, if you got a new pair of Nike shoes and the laces broke within a week, some people might complain, others might tweet their frustration along with a picture, without ‘tagging’ Nike. Does this make their opinion invalid, of course not, so it is up to the community managers of Nike to find these tweets and respond appropriately. If they really want to take advantage of the thank you economy, this could be buy giving the customer a replacement pair and a second pair for good will. Chances are, this customer will then post a tweet (or maybe several) exclaiming how much they love Nike and their shoes… success for Nike? I think so!

Value the longevity

Don’t try to maximise the first sale with a customer. Don’t push too many items, don’t save on costs. Instead, maximise their experience, even if you make little, or no, profit.

Your aim with a new customer should be to turn them into a customer for life. Not to increase that months numbers.

How can you do this? Give them a thank you gift or discount after their first purchase or even for their first purchase. Go out of your way to make sure they get what is best for them, not the product with the highest profit margin. You want them to come back, you want them to talk about you on facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Want an example? Here’s what Gary says….

React to what is said

Many companies try to control what is said about them online. They want bad comments remove, or they try and crowd them out. It’s true, bad publicity can create a bad reputation. However, there are two issues here; what happens when the criticism is on a large scale and you can’t hide it, and bad comments are made for a reason, hiding these does not address the underlying issue.

What do you do if a public newspaper slates your company? It’s no longer just on paper, its online, on social media, on google search results. You have to know how to respond, that comes from practice and from caring. By treating every single customer in the same way, you will know how to respond, how to change people’s opinions and you can dampen any negative criticism.

There is a reason people are posting bad things, if you ignore them, you don’t know what to improve. Everyone could be having issues with delivery time, reads comments to learn that and solve the issue, suddenly people like shopping with you again, they tell their friends that you deliver service is better and they shop with you. The multiplier effect of caring can be huge.


Businesses’ know about the value of social media, but few still understand how to utilise it to show that they care, to add humanisation to their brand and to increase customer loyalty.

Finding Flow

State of Flow – Being fully immersed in a specific task with a seemingly inexhaustible amount of focus.

In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explores the phenomenon that is ‘flow’ and how it can be found in day to day life.

The book provides an insight into the state of flow, how it works, the benefits of having it and how to try and achieve a state of flow during your day. As a concept, I was familiar with flow before reading this book, but I was curious to find out more about it and how I could ‘integrate’ it into my work.

Flow is an area of study that has been a large focus of Csikszentmihalyi and therefore he has conducted lots of research and interviews around the topic. In this book he presents the 8 conditions of flow that kept reappearing as he spoke to people.

  • Confront tasks we have a chance of completing
  • Concentration
  • Clearly defined goals
  • Immediate feedback as to your progress within the task
  • Feels effortless and it allows you to forget about everyday worries and frustrations
  • Control (of actions, behaviour and success)
  • Confidence
  • Lose track of time

An aspect often repeated (and the take home message for me) is that flow can be achieved when the challenge you are about to face, matches your skill level.


At this optimum you need to be fully immersed in the task to be successful. Too easy and you will be bored, too hard and you won’t succeed.

So how can you use this information?

It means you can’t be in flow unless you challenge yourself, unless you are working at your optimum. So if you want to achieve it, you have to push hard to find that limit, and once there you will be amazed with how focused and capable you are on the given task.


Overall it was a good book to read. Not the most exciting I’ve ever read, I will admit. However, it is worth reading! If you’re interested you can find the book here.