Habit Forming: Behaviour and Reward

Well folks I’ve finally done it! This week I’ve made a breakthrough and ridden to work 3 times, it’ll be 4 tomorrow. I said a few weeks back that I intended to start riding to work but it just didn’t come off for one reason or another. Maybe it was the poor weather, maybe it was the fact that I had a run of dropping off our little girl and picking her up making it virtually impossible to get into the office at a reasonable time, or maybe, I just wasn’t that organised and didn’t feel like it.

The Obstacles

In hindsight I think the main obstacles were of my own making. Granted, the weather has been much better this week, warm and sunny every day and Mrs MHW’s schedule has been such that she has done the nursery run four out of five days so that’s helped too. But actually the biggest breakthrough has come from getting organised and putting my feelings to one side, particularly that voice at 5:45am that says ‘Don’t ride in today, why don’t you drive to work and listen to a podcast on the way, you’re too tired, you’ve got a scratchy throat better to rest up and take it easy, etc’.

On Sunday I cleaned and ironed the clothes I wear at work, drove to work, and then put them all in my locker with my toiletries. My workplace has great shower facilities and a drying room to dry your towels and any kit that might get wet. That meant I didn’t have to ride to work with a great big heavy bag on my back, something which I know would have become an excuse not to ride. Each night I also prepared my lunch and healthy snacks for the next day to take in a small rucksack which meant I didn’t have to spend money at work on food.

I also made my mind up to ignore any negative feelings when I woke up and instead just get up, put my cycling gear on and head out the door. As Steve Peters says in The Chimp Paradox, don’t listen to your inner chimp who tells you that’s it’s going to be too hard to ride because you’ve not ridden for a long time, it’s too cold etc. They’re just feelings and emotions and have no control over what it is you actually want to do. Whenever I felt the urge to give in, I thought about how disappointed I would be in myself if I didn’t ride in, particularly as I’d prepped everything to remove any excuses.

The Benefits

I’ve got to say, that first ride on Monday morning wasn’t the most pleasant experience of my life! Despite the great weather, within a few minutes of starting out, my legs reminded me of how long it’s been since I’ve ridden so early in the day. The route to work is mainly uphill which doesn’t make for an easy time though it’s a nice feeling at the end of the day knowing that less effort is required to get home. I took it easy on the first couple of mornings but by Thursday evening I felt pretty good; my legs had got some rhythm back and my breathing was starting to be more in sync with my effort. The wind was behind me on Thursday too so I had a blast on the way home, extending the route slightly as I was having such a good time. I already feel better for getting this regular exercise in. It’s taken little effort but already I can sense some aerobic fitness starting to return. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a long way from actually being what I would call ‘fit’ but small consistent steps will get me there.

I’ve been eating better as I’m in control of what food is available to me each day, and my sleep has improved massively, though that may have something to do with Mrs MHW learning some new sleep training techniques which are working wonders with little MHW to the point where she is sleeping through the night without waking. The ups and downs of mood and energy levels throughout the working day have levelled out and though I’m eating more I know that’s due to expending more energy. I don’t eat before the ride into work which takes 50 minutes so that’s all fat burning and when I arrive at work I eat some porridge to fill up the energy store.

My mindset has become more positive as a result of the exercise. That fast blast on the way home made me feel like a big kid again, and reminded me of why I fell in love with cycling in the first place. It’s become easier to be organised and my mind is clearer at work, possibly because I use some of the time during the ride to think about what I’d like to accomplish when I get to the office and maybe because the exercise is acting as a stress buster so my anxiety levels are lower.

On the financial side of things, I’ve spent less money on car fuel, saving roughly £20 in one week; if I can ride in most days in a month I think I could save £60-£70. That would be extra cash to plough into debt reduction. I’ve spent less money on food at work too. I’ll have to spend some money on bike cleaning stuff to keep the bike healthy but that’ll cost under £10.

I already feel like this commitment to riding into work has become a habit. On the first couple of mornings that I woke up I had that same old familiar reluctance to get on the bike and with taking the little one to nursery on Wednesday I didn’t know how I’d feel on Thursday morning. The answer? Brilliant! There was no doubt in my mind when I woke up that I was riding in. The usual misgivings had disappeared and it felt relatively normal to put on my bib shorts, base layer and jersey and get ready. It made me realise how quickly a habit can be formed. Now whether that’s because I’m already experiencing the benefits I’m not sure but I would say so.

Behaviour and Reward

All human behaviour has a feedback loop. We have life experiences which we either like or dislike. The results of those behaviours and the sensations we have are either stored as positive memories or negative. The positive ones create the kinds of feel good emotions that I’ve discussed above which are inevitably fed back into ourselves, and they subsequently become habits. The stronger the feel-good emotion which the behaviour or experience creates and the closer in time it is associated with that positivity the quicker the habit is formed. I believe that all of us are motivated by reward, be that financial, emotional, success-based, etc, even the most altruistic action engenders a feeling of having done something good for someone else which itself is a reward (the subject of altruism is something that I’m fascinated by – the romantic in me loves the idea of true human altruism), and so we form habits all the time. In some ways, we need them as they bring routine and structure to our lives.

Clearly not all habits are good, and some tip over into addiction, a state of mind where the individual is no longer in control of the habit and craves the feel-good reward. Unfortunately the feel-good factor generally declines with time and so some people work harder and harder to achieve the same feelings as before to the point where they can do serious damage to themselves. I’m not talking here about substance misuse as an addiction, though clearly they harm the person involved; there are other simpler addictions which can be just as harmful such as working too much in order to receive praise, obsessive exercising to return to previous high levels of fitness, giving up too much of your time to help others at the detriment of your own personal life, investing your money rather than paying off debt because investing feels good and you can see your money increase almost instantly.

Behaviour and reward are ongoing facets of life; the older we become, or the more experiences we are exposed to, the more we’re able to reflect on those experiences and determine which of them were beneficial. For me, sorting out our finances, looking after my health better in terms of eating and exercising, and spending as much time as possible with my family make me feel so good that it’s unsurprising they’ve become habits; habits that I don’t want kick anytime soon!

Mr MHW

The Value of Overpaying

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon courtesy of Unsplash

“The harder I work the luckier I get”

This is an old adage, attributed to many people over the years, most notably Thomas Jefferson though there doesn’t seem to be any direct evidence that he coined this phrase. Similar wording was around later in 1922 courtesy of Coleman Cox.

Whatever the origins of this phrase, it rings true, certainly in my experience anyway. This month, we got lucky. Or did we? Over the last couple of months it’s been hard staying on top of our budget. Things have slipped a little here and there, mainly around the end of the month when Mrs MHW’s payday and mine are staggered across 3 days so that what I thought was coming out of the account in last month’s budget has come out this month and so left us short. When I say short I mean that by 5th May I knew that there was a £200 hole somewhere and I couldn’t get my head around where that deficit was. Needless to say I was concerned that we’d have to dip into the emergency fund for a month to stay on track.

And then something miraculous happened, or something lucky. Most of the bills had come out of the account and I said to Mrs MHW that we still needed to pay the nursery fees for little MHW. We are on the tax free government scheme whereby for every £80 we put into the nursery account the government tops up to £100. I looked into childcare vouchers but because Mrs MHW is a higher rate tax payer that scheme works out worse (see Martin Lewis’ money saving expert website for a great explanation of which scheme is better for your own circumstances). Anyway, we always pay £800 each month as the fees are just over £800 so we know we’ll always be in credit with a little surplus once the government have added their bit. So what happened this month when we logged in to pay our regular £800? Mrs MHW suddenly exclaimed that there was enough of a surplus in there that we only had to pay £600 in fees this month.

So call that luck, call it divine intervention, call it what you will, the £200 deficit that I was worried about was covered because we’d made the choice to overpay into the nursery fees account, even though we knew we were overpaying.

And not only that, I mentioned a little while back in https://moneyhealthandwellness.com/2019/04/11/are-we-on-the-right-track/ which was the first of my quarterly financial reviews, that I was going to see if I could get a better deal on our utility bills as I thought we were paying too much; £192.00 per month for Gas and Electricity. Now remember, by 5th May, which was a Sunday, I’d reviewed what bills had come out of our account since payday and what was left to come out, and I’d identified this £200 shortfall.

You know what happened on 6th May? I received an email from our utility provider who was doing the annual review of our Direct Debit, who informed me that they had been overcharging us all year and from this point forward would reduce our monthly payment by £80 and refund us £225.00 in the next 10 days! To say I was amazed is a mild understatement. Not only had the shortfall been covered, we were now going to be better off.

Now some of you reading this, if you believe in a higher power, would say that we were being looked after, that God provided for us at a time when money was an issue. I myself have been brought up to believe in God and so maybe by becoming better stewards of our money recently, and by being less wasteful, and by committing to helping others, particularly in the future when we’ve got free of debt (and actually even by just writing this blog to show that getting free of debt is possible (don’t get me wrong we’re a way off yet but I believe so strongly that we’ll succeed, that it will happen)), maybe God is truly helping us in our hour of need. I know for a fact that my mum has been worried about us lately; about us working too hard and rushing around here and there as most modern families with young children do; and so I know she will have said a little prayer for us. Some may scoff at that, but there are scientific studies out there which point to the power of prayer, particularly on a large scale where numerous people pray for a common goal such as the recovery of someone who is very poorly. The scientists reading this would say that the recovery of that person is probably down to that person receiving such positive news that so many people care about them that they are psychologically boosted to such an extent that their health improves. I don’t know either way, as does no-one else, our beliefs are our own.

What I would say is this; there’s more to these lucky breaks than meets the eye. Maybe they are down to some spiritual favour, providence, fate or luck, or maybe, they’re actually the result of sound financial decisions. You see, I knew that we were overpaying on the nursery fees each month so there was bound to be a surplus at some point, albeit I didn’t fully appreciate how much or when it would be there; and in the same way, I knew (or strongly suspected) that we were paying too much for our gas and electricity, I said as much in a post not more than a month ago! In that case I was going to go ahead and change suppliers thinking that any overpayments would come back to us when we swapped over but as it turned out I didn’t need to. So you see, there is value in overpaying. Overpay on your bills and you might get a refund; overpay on your credit cards and loans and you’ll snowball your way to being debt-free sooner than you think; overpay into your pension and investments and you’ll be financially independent before your planned retirement date.

**A little aside – part of my role as an investigator involves obtaining CCTV as and when it’s required to try and place a particular person at a specific location at a certain time. I’m quite skilled at it and I’m naturally very patient; allied to this is the fact that I’ve spent hours sitting with CCTV technicians and operatives learning how various systems work so that when I go to a shop or business premises I’m familiar with the system and can download what’s required. I’ve worked hard to position myself in a place where I’m more competent than the average investigator and subsequently reap the rewards from that. I’m often the guy who walks back into the office with discs of footage that other people haven’t been able to obtain, footage which is often crucial to the investigation.

A few years ago I was out in the car at work with a colleague and also someone who was shadowing us to see what we do. I was driving and I didn’t really know the work shadower and neither did he know me; so he asked my colleague what my name was. Her response? She looked over and said, “Him? Oh, he’s lucky, we just call him lucky”

Don’t stop working hard to get financially lucky.

Mr MHW

Nutrition – Back to Basics

Putting learning into practice

Over the last few years I’ve read various sports nutrition and health books such as ‘The Cyclist’s Training Bible’ and the Joe Wicks range of books as well as articles around cycling nutrition and in particular the dietary regimes of top cycling teams like Team Sky, now Team INEOS. Most of what I’ve read espouses the benefits of eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit as well as protein mainly in the form of oily fish, a small amount of slow release carbohydrate at the right time of day, and good healthy fats.

Growing up I was brought up on a fairly regular diet of cereal or similar in the morning, a sandwich for lunch and then meat and vegetables for our evening meal. It was relatively carbohydrate heavy which was in keeping with the recommended advice at that time. It covered the main food types including meat, fish, veg, dairy, fruit and nuts as well as grains and pulses and my mother always made sure we ate plenty of varieties of fruit and vegetables, usually bought fresh at a market. In those days, the supermarkets didn’t stock all the foods all year round so people tended to eat seasonally depending on what was growing throughout the year.

My diet has altered as my lifestyle has changed throughout my life. I’ve always been relatively active, playing a lot of sports when I was younger into my 30s and then cycling competitively and I’ve also been blessed with a fast metabolism so keeping weight off was never really an issue. However, over the last 18 months I haven’t been anywhere near as active as I was and also I’ve got lazy with my eating habits. My metabolism has slowed slightly as I’ve aged and the result is the appearance of some extra ‘padding’ around my midriff. Unwelcome padding I might add! It was this fat (let’s not beat about the bush here, it is what it is) that has prompted me to make some changes to how I’m eating.

Leaning on the experience and knowledge I’ve gained from trying different nutrition strategies, two things really stick out in my mind:

1). When I ate in line with the Joe Wicks programme, and exercised in the way he recommends (short HIIT sessions) my abdomen was slim, toned and free of belly fat. I remember feeling fantastic; I was energised and healthy. It was slightly more expensive to eat according to his recipes but I think in hindsight I didn’t make enough of batch cooking and probably wasted food which I could have frozen. I like his idea of only eating carbohydrates in any real quantity after exercising so that it replaces those lost during intense fitness sessions. This is like a double hit to the system, a prolonged period of fat burning after high intensity exercise (upto 18 hours afterwards) and then low carb intake when the body is at rest and doesn’t require stores of energy to burn. Logically this really appeals to me and I know it works from my own experience.

2). Eating more fruit and vegetables regularly and cutting out refined white carbohydrates in particular did wonders for my digestion. What I’ve found, particularly as I’ve got older is that white bread really bloats me. It’s pretty much the same with white pasta too. Slow release carbohydrates such as sweet potato, kale, spinach etc are much better for keeping blood sugar on an even keel and seem to be easier to digest.

So with these fairly simple ideas in mind I’ve decided to return to the principles of Joe Wicks’s diet and only eat carbohydrates after exercise and reduce my intake of white bread and pasta. This is difficult as I’m so accustomed to throwing a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster when we get up for breakfast and also eating potatoes in some form 4-5 times each week. It’s something that I feel I need to do though to compliment the changes I’ve made to my routines around caffeine, water, alcohol and sleep which I covered in https://moneyhealthandwellness.com/2019/05/02/caffeine-water-alcohol-sleep/

Earlier in the year, in https://moneyhealthandwellness.com/2019/04/04/managing-time-health/ I wrote about a plan that Mrs MHW and I had devised to increase the amount of exercise we would do. For me this included riding to work and then us all doing some of the free park runs around our local parks. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened. For one reason or another we just haven’t been able to get into any sort of pattern with either riding or running so in some ways this is another good reason for us to try some short HIIT sessions as they only take 15 minutes and therefore are relatively easy to fit into the day.

I feel pretty laid back about the lack of exercising because I know that getting stressed about it will simply add more pressure to my already hectic schedule. It’s much easier to acknowledge that improvements can be made and try again. Life is a journey; along the way some things work and we retain, while others fail or we discard because they don’t fit with our outlook. Either way, the ride is too short to lose any sleep over what’s in the past.

I mentioned above that I’m struggling with reducing intake of white bread so if you’re reading this and you have any good, simple breakfast meals to try please feel free to email me your suggestions. There’s only so much salmon, eggs and spinach I can take!

Mr MHW

Caffeine, Water, Alcohol and Sleep

Everything in moderation

They say you can never have too much of a good thing. Well, based on some small changes I’ve made to my lifestyle recently I’d have to disagree with ‘them’! The title of this post pretty much sums up the fluids I’ve been putting into my body over the last few months; coffee, tea and water during the day at work, a beer or glass of wine in the evening at home maybe 4-5 times each week and then whatever sleep I get through the night. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been all ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ or ‘Coffee and TV’ (thank you Oasis and Blur), but there’s no doubt that my intake of caffeine and alcohol has been higher relative to my hydration and sleep.

However, towards the end of my holiday last week I decided that I would try to tip the scales back in favour of slightly more healthy living.

Caffeine

I love a good cup of coffee, the real stuff I mean. I’m not a coffee snob, I do drink instant coffee, but I’d much rather have freshly ground beans through a cafetière in the morning or a hit of double shot espresso if I’m in need of waking up. The aroma of well roasted fresh coffee is just fantastic. And tea? Well c’mon, tea is a British institution. There’s nothing that can’t be solved with a brew; no problem that can’t be overcome with a good old cuppa, is there? The trouble is, with working in an office, there’s always someone making a brew and therefore more opportunities to drink it in copious amounts, particularly when half the time you don’t even have to get up off your ass and go make it for yourself. I can already hear the sound of palms slapping on foreheads in despair! And that was the reality for me. I counted up the number of cups of tea and coffee that I was drinking each day and it was up around 8-10, every day. I’d have one as soon as I woke up while I got ready for work, then I’d make a cup for in the car on the way to work, and have another pretty much as soon as I arrived in the office. That’s 3 cups before 9am. I’d then drink 2 more before lunch and probably 2-3 during the afternoon. When I returned home I’d have one before dinner and possibly one in the evening. I was finding that I was having a real big concentration slump in the afternoon and not sleeping well at night. Is it any wonder?! I was permanently wired.

Water

My water intake over the last few months has been pretty good. It’s almost the mirror opposite pattern to caffeine, during the week at least. While I’m at work I drink water regularly throughout the day; there’s a water cooler across the hall in the kitchen so cold, filtered water is readily available. I estimate that I drink 3-4 litres each day, starting with a glass of water by my bed in the morning. I leave it overnight so it’s at room temperature when I wake and I find it easier to drink it that way than really cold. There are all sorts of studies, theories and myths about whether cold water is better for you than room temperature. I think it’s generally accepted that warm water aids digestion while cold water can be beneficial when doing exercise to help cool the body. Personally I prefer my first glass to be easily drinkable and closer to my body temperature. My problem with water tends to come when I’m at home. I find that I’m so busy with little Miss MHW that I forget to drink water until I feel thirsty, by which time, that’s a sure sign that I’m already dehydrated. So I had to figure out some small, easily implementable changes to make sure I carried on hydrating in the evening and at weekends.

Alcohol

Both Mrs MHW and I have been drinking too much recently; not to excess, just more in a habitual way. A glass of red wine or a beer for me most nights. That doesn’t sound like much but considering we’ve been drinking what is essentially a stimulant in the evening, that will undoubtedly be another factor in my poor sleep patterns. Not only that but it’s extra calories right before bedtime with no time to burn it off so it just turns to fat, and I just basically don’t like the thought of it becoming a habit. I’m a big believer in trying to limit what I put into my body to natural foods or fluids and I generally don’t like taking medication unless I have to. Alcohol isn’t a naturally occurring substance (technically it is through the fermentation process but in terms of what falls from the sky or runs down from mountains it isn’t) and so I’d prefer to my limit my intake and maybe just have a beer or two on a weekend evening.

Sleep

My sleep patterns over the last 18 months have fluctuated wildly; that’s inevitable with the arrival of our little girl. More recently however she’s been more or less sleeping through the night, maybe waking up once, and Mrs MHW has been going into her room and soothing her on those occasions. When little MHW sees me she tends to think it’s playtime, that’s not good at 3am on a weeknight!! So my sleep, certainly the amount of sleep I’m achieving has risen and the quality also has improved slightly but it’s remained inconsistent to the point where some mornings I’ve woken up with a headache while others I feel like I could take on the world. I’m not someone who can get by on 5-6 hours each night, I really feel fully rested and wake up more alert after I’ve managed 8 hours. Some late night blogging has also impacted on what time I break from the screen and switch off my brain, reducing the hours I can get in before the chipmunk awakes bang on 6am!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

So here’s what I’ve done differently and my initial feelings as a result:

1). No coffee until I get to work and then it’s 1 cup during the morning and 1 in the afternoon. This has made a massive difference; tough at first and I’m almost certain I got some withdrawal-type symptoms from cutting out that waking up brew but I don’t have the same peaks and troughs in concentration or mood and that first coffee of the day now tastes amazing. It’s like my taste buds now actually appreciate the flavour of the coffee! The afternoon cup of tea also makes me feel good, that’s a bit more of a warm comfort-type feeling. So this is something that I’m going to try and stick to as there are definitely benefits.

2). I’ve upped my water intake when I’m at home, mainly by making sure I’ve always got a glass of water handy. That way, it serves as a bit of a reminder for me as I walk about the house that I need to drink. I’ve also swapped that coffee in the car on the way to work for a bottle of water for the commute. Again, I feel better already. I don’t wake in the night with a dry mouth and my concentration level at work is more steady than it was.

3). We’ve cut out alcohol altogether during the week, only drinking wine or a beer at the weekend and only then 1-2 drinks. My sleep has improved, I certainly seem to be drifting off to sleep quicker than before though the difference this has made hasn’t been all that noticeable. I do think though that it can only be a good thing health wise while we’re struggling to fit exercise in that we reduce our intake of alcohol.

4). I’ve been trying to get to bed a little earlier each night and I’ve gone back to wearing an eye mask to sleep. We have a small baby monitor on the bedside table which gives off a lot of light and so the mask really helps to shield my eyes from it in the same way that blackout blinds keep out the light. I tend to find that I sleep heavier wearing the mask and wake up feeling more rested. I’ve also tried some basic breathing exercises prior to nodding off to try to relax more and clear my head, again this seems to be having a positive effect.

It’s probably too early yet to say that these changes are all making big improvements to my overall health but I think they’re definitely a step in the right direction and over time should hopefully reap some benefits. I’ve also made some changes to my diet which I’ll write about in my next post.

Until then, I make no apologies for the musical references above, I’m a big indie kid at heart; if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read please share with others and feel free to post me some feedback.

Mr MHW

A Perspective on Productivity

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had this week off work and though I’ve enjoyed the time away I’m not sure that I’ve truly spent much of it relaxing or ‘switching off’. Looking back on the week I think I can put that down to a few reasons and have come up with a handful of things to consider when I’m next on leave. You may be familiar with some of these thoughts and feelings.

One of the first things I did just prior to my leave starting was to make a ‘To Do’ list for the days I was off. This list went as follows: wash and valet the car, power wash the concrete flags around the exterior of the house, paint the hallway, fix the vacuum cleaner, post out some eBay items, transform an area of the garden so little MHW has a play area, rearrange the furniture in the house, mow the lawns. Eight tasks to complete in the ten days I was off work; actually four days if you discount the days on which Mrs MHW was off too and which we tend to spend doing more family-oriented stuff. By anyone’s standards that’s a pretty big list, particularly so when I’d also planned to go out cycling a few times too and visit some of my family. Only when I was halfway through the week did it occur to me that I may have bitten off more than I could chew. This was the first of the reasons behind me not de-stressing. When I realised halfway through the week that I wasn’t going to complete all my jobs, I felt my stress levels rise, and as each hour and day passed I could feel that anxiety increase. What was I doing?! This was meant to be a relaxing, restful time away from work. By trying to spend my holiday constructively all I’d done was to create an unrealistic schedule of work away from work. This was largely down to the fact that I’d woefully underestimated the amount of manual labour involved in deconstructing a small part of my Japanese garden to make way for a swing and wendyhouse! First world problems I guess. So the first learning point for me on the eve of returning to work tomorrow is, be realistic with your expectations of what you can achieve with the time you have and use time appropriately; by that I mean, if the time you are using is holiday time, make sure you actually feel like you’re getting a holiday.

*If you want to know, I finished four of my eight tasks and only got out on the bike once 😦

Of course the flip side to all of this is to consider the glass half full; by using some of my annual leave to get these jobs done I’ve undoubtably freed up some time over the weekends ahead which I can spend getting out on the bike as the weather gets better. Another positive is to think of the benefit to our little girl who now has a softplay area where we’re happy that she can play safely without falling onto decorative stone or getting scratched on plants and bushes. Again, as the weather improves and we get into summer it’s going to be great for us all to be out together in the back garden taking in the fresh air and sunshine. The second thing to remember then, is to appreciate your achievements and the value they bring to your life.

Third point? Be selfish and don’t feel guilty. Let me explain; pretty much all of the to-do’s I’d put on my list were for the benefit of us as a family or the household without much room for me. And the reason for this is that I’ve started to devote myself to one role in life, and that role is being the best father I can be for my daughter. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a natural and worthy endeavour to fulfill but being a good father shouldn’t be at the expense of my former self. When we were expecting our little one, a friend of mine who’s had four children told me not to forget to make time for ourselves after the arrival of the baby. By that he meant for Mrs MHW and I together, and also time on our own doing what makes us happy. For me, as you will be aware of by now if you’ve read this blog before, that means going out on my bike. I also like to sit quietly and read with no distractions, a pastime which has become something of a rarity these days! At the time I just took it as advice but I can now recognise how easy it is to pour all of yourself into living entirely for others without creating space to just be you. I love the way my life is now and I’m truly grateful for my amazing little girl who’s enriched our lives in every way but I still need time to listen to my music loudly, fly down hills at breakneck speed on two wheels and do all the things that make me, me. So in hindsight I could have built some of those things into the week.

Finally, as is the case for many of us during our holiday time, I had one of those moments when you wake up in the middle of the night with thoughts of work swirling around in your head. I’ve been undertaking a complex piece of work which I know I’ll be resuming on my return to the office and inevitably it was this that my brain was preoccupied with in the small hours one night as I lay in bed. In those moments I realised that there are a couple of issues I need to address when I’m back at work which haven’t been considered by the wider team who are tackling the same job. There is no doubt that I’ve been feeling the pressure at work and so I was massively relieved when my leave finally started. The last thing I needed was to lose sleep over what I needed some respite from. This was something else which caused me anxiety from the halfway point of my week. At times I pushed it to the back of my mind but every now and again the worry that I’d missed an important step in the project would resurface and I’d start to feel that slightly nervous, unwelcome, butterflies-in-my-stomach sensation. Eventually I gave myself two options; either go into work for a day and deal with the issue, or content myself to make it my first task upon my return to work. As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, I’m a big believer in making a decision one way or another. That stems from years of procrastinating over choices at work and in my personal life, sometimes to the point where the anxiety became crippling. I know from personal experience how liberating it is to make a choice and so in this case I decided to resolve the problem when I go to back to work. Ultimately, although I’d spent time thinking about work when I’d rather not have been, I chose to focus on the positive that I now have a plan to deal with the problem. When we’re caught up in the daily grind we don’t always have the time, or perspective, to recognise these things until it’s too late.

Looking back, it’s been a week which I’ve spent learning to gain a different perspective on what I’ve done; eschewing the negative, should have done more feelings and instead focussing on productivity and the benefits it has provided. As I type this post I can already feel the stress dissipate and my outlook towards going back into the office has shifted from apprehension to one of wanting to get stuck into the job at hand.

Right on time too; it’s now only 9 hours until I’m back at work!

Mr MHW

Being Grateful and Financial Charity

Can we ever truly be grateful for what we have?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had some great times catching up with friends and spending some time with my family over Easter. Two weeks ago I went to a gig with an old friend to watch a band who I last saw when I was 18. Needless to say we spent most of the night reliving our youth in the mosh pit jumping up and down like crazy fools! What a great night.

Last weekend over Easter we had some other friends come and stay with us and on the Saturday night we stayed up, out in the back garden with the fire pit burning, talking and drinking some whiskey until past midnight. It was a nice chilled out night and good just to spend time laughing and catching up, though my head was anything but chilled out the following morning!

The Easter weekend was also a time to see our families and thankfully as the weather was so good it meant we were able to have barbecues and picnics outside in the sunshine. And most of all, Mrs MHW and I spent a longer than normal weekend with our little girl. She’s walking and starting to talk and so her character is really emerging. She’s so happy and smiley, and she makes us laugh every day with her little facial expressions, and the way she tries to copy the movements and actions of adults is adorable.

This week has also seen large scale peaceful demonstrations in London urging for climate change and Brexit talks have just resumed, while in the East there were horrific scenes in Sri Lanka where innocent people lost their lives in terrorist attacks. Clearly there are some huge challenges facing the UK and the world in the years to come to try to ensure that our younger generation have a future that they can look forward to. It’s easy in the digital era, where the world has become a much smaller place, where fake news abounds and it seems that around every corner is another disaster waiting to happen, to become disheartened, downbeat and demoralised.

That’s why I believe we can and should be truly grateful for what we have. I’m not trying to gloss over or ignore the plight and suffering of millions of people on this planet but being realistic I acknowledge that I can’t change all of that. I can, and do try to make some changes to the way we live to reduce our carbon footprint, to recycle more, to buy less, to make better use of the things we already have and in some small way attempt to make a positive impact by how we live.

I’m not saying that I’m content to sit back and just bask in the relatively safe, secure and happy life that we have, reminiscing over how great we’ve got it. I’m not saying that at all; but I do think that it’s important to take time out to catch up with our loved ones and appreciate that we can do that, not everyone has that luxury. So it’s not glib to feel good about life even though there are those less fortunate than ourselves. The first step to helping those who are worse off than us is to recognise how lucky we are and how we therefore have more opportunity to provide assistance.

To many observers, the final stage of financial independence is to give more to charity and to make our money work for good causes. I believe this is a truly noble endeavour. I said at the start of this blog in https://moneyhealthandwellness.com/2019/03/15/dreams-desires-goals/ that my two main reasons for trying to pay off our debt and become financially independent were to give our little girl as many opportunities as possible and to afford Mrs MHW and I enough money to travel after retirement. I’d like to add a third aim and that is to use our money to help others, a concept worth aspiring to.

We have a way to go but I am grateful for what we have and whatever the road ahead brings.

Mr MHW

Imprinting nature to enhance your mood

Spring is finally here! Although we didn’t have too terrible a winter here in the north of the UK last year, it’s still a long old time between those last few days of Autumn when the air is warm, and the beginning of Spring when the earth starts to thaw. As much as I don’t enjoy losing an hour when the clocks go forward (that one hour less in bed really sucks), at least we get the benefit of some longer evenings with more daylight; that can only be good for the soul!

While some people are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder I think most of us generally feel more lethargic during the Winter months. A reduction in daylight increases our production of melatonin which makes us feel more sleepy. Conversely when we’re exposed to more daylight our bodies produce more serotonin, a chemical that enhances our mood and makes us feel happier.

However, I think there’s more to our lighter mood in Spring and Summer than just the different levels of chemicals released by our bodies. As the hours of daylight increase and the temperature becomes warmer we are more likely to spend a little more time outside. Think about it, during the long dark Winter days it’s easy to scamper hurriedly, head down from one place to another, hunched into our big jackets for warmth without really taking much notice of what goes on around us. Compare that to Spring and Summer when plants start to grow and flowers start to bloom and we naturally see more of the world around us. It’s only logical then, that our mood is also better because we see more of our natural environment.

As human beings we’re not built to spend hours on end cooped up in dingy little offices under artificial lights. Why do you think there’s a massive move away from keeping battery hens? They’re extremely unhappy and stressed and they don’t produce tasty eggs because they’re not outside in their natural environment; we’re the same, we weren’t designed for solitude away from nature.

So if you really want to lighten your mood try this simple idea: the next time you’re outside, take a look around you. As soon as something catches your eye, most likely a colourful blossom or flower, rather than see it and move on, let your eyes linger on it for a couple of moments longer; just long enough to actually look at the shape and formation of what it is you’ve seen. Now let your eyes wander again. Do the same thing again the next time your eye is drawn to nature. If you do this a few times each day you’ll feel your mood lift and feel more positive.

By allowing your vision, which is our most used sense, to linger fractions of seconds longer on natural shapes and formations our brains have more time to imprint those images and retain them for longer periods. And by giving our minds a bit more time to experience those shapes, although we still go about our daily lives, our subconscious is replacing the worries of daily life with amazing recollections of the beauty of our world.

I don’t know about you but I’d much rather have a subconscious preoccupied with the colourful abundance that surrounds us than the humdrum stresses of life.

Mr MHW