Book review: Not a Life Coach, James Smith

Not a Life Coach, by entrepreneur and Personal Trainer, James Smith

Life coaches are something of a cliche, and so is sleeping with a good looking personal trainer when you’re single, but there is more to James Smith than a handsome face and good looks. He has some sage words of advice for anyone looking for behaviour change.

So, if you’re bored silly of your job, or you’re fed up your partner never initiates sexy time, or you feel like your life is a bit stale, you and only you are standing in your way.

Good advice from James

  • be values driven and ensure your work and everything you do meets your personal values 
  • the best fitness changes come from self motivation, not a coach
  • undeniable facts are physical activity, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and drinking in moderation, leads to an 11-14 year delay in all-cause mortality
  • being a student of anything, keeps you humble
  • listen to podcasts while exercising, e.g. walking, maximises your time 
  • as a PT, in an hour you cannot make someone leaner or more muscly but you can make them *feel* better
  • Treat life like a marathon, or a game where any extra effort means you’re winning
  • regression to the mean is a mathematical term that means people tend over time to have their average performance. It applies to life too, so if you’re in a Rocky patch, chances are things will improve soon enough. It’s the law of nature. Equally if you’re on a high, that’ll level out at some point. This concept was really helpful on a down day I had recently. 

Never judge a book by its cover

As a Personal Trainer, James can trade on his good looks, but it’s the expression on his face on the cover that gets me. It’s a combination of a smirk and a *wait, you’re going to the shop to buy sweets again? That’s not going to help you with your long term fitness goals is it?* His cover photo seems to say this with a mere glint in his eye, and I had to hide the book while I scoffed some sweets the other night lest his judgmental eyes caught mine.

Which is good because I eat too many sweets, so maybe you can judge a book by it’s cover. The content of this book is pretty good too, and while he isn’t a life coach, James does give me enough motivation to get on with working towards values-led goals, and not sweat the boring stuff society tells you to worry about. If you read the book, you’ll know exactly where I’m coming from.

Hungry people

Finally, his summary of the health and fitness industry as ‘’hungry people desperate not to put on weight’’ gave me a laugh on a fat day when I needed a laugh. I’m no leaner, and I’m still eating sweets, but I’m not crying about it anymore.

Mental health awareness week: what’s in your mental health toolkit?

What’s in your mental health toolkit?

I’m not sure what good a hashtag can do, but still #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek is something those of us who have been through the proverbial mill of counselling, are well aware of and open to discuss.

Mental health toolkit

Over the years I have developed what mental health professionals call a toolkit. This is a set of actions, people or things that can help you when your mental health takes a nosedive.

Here are some of mine:

– vegetarian diet

– avoid alcohol

– no cigarettes or drugs

– exercise : yoga, swimming and walking outdoors are my favourites

– laughter, comedy shows, standup, podcasts, and funny films

– reading, audiobooks and podcasts, losing myself in a narrative

– art exhibitions

– videos of cute animals , a colleague used to have a kitten cam with a live stream from a pen full of kittens, for example

– changing my career from office based 9-5 to freelance writer

– accept emotions, if you need to cry, find somewhere you feel safe to do so and let it out

– my elder sister for girly chats

– my longest- serving friend who lives in Australia for more girly chats

– clean the house and do laundry to feel fresh

– my Achilles heel is sweets

– writing is my favourite pastime

– social media is a good source of entertainment

Yoga video

Here is me doing some yoga today, practicing Warrior 3 transitioning into Dancer.

Or as Dad calls it, Superman.

Warrior 3 into Dancer pose, looks a bit like Superman apparently

Copywriter: Fancy a brew for Christian Aid Week?

A tea gatherer

Something terrible has happened. The climate of our planet is unpredictable, extreme weather is affecting farmers’ yields in Kenya, India, China and Sri Lanka. The climate impact we’ve had on our planet is so severe, that it’s estimated that a quarter of Kenya’s prime tea-growing areas are likely to be lost by 2050, and I intend to still be alive by then! What are we going to do!

Right, I’ll pop the kettle on

Christian Aid is warning that the tea yields and even the taste of Britain’s favourite tipple is going to be severely hampered by climate change unless we collectively pull our fingers out and do something about it, reports Sky News.

Now, I love pandas, I love rainforests and clean air in my lungs, I even love cats AND dogs, but tea? You want to mess with tea? Given I am sober and British and have limited means to cope with a crisis, if you threaten to mess with my tea, then you and me need to have words.

Think of the Kenyans

Kenya produces half of the tea consumed in the UK. The effect of flooding and more rain will affect the taste and health benefits of tea, not to mention the yields and profits of those farmers. 

It’s too much for me to take, so join me and others at Christian Aid and say a prayer when you have your next cup of tea, for those tea producers in Kenya, God love ‘em.

Book review: Blank, by Giles Paley-Phillips and Jim Daly

Blank by Giles Paley-Phillips and Jim Daly

The premise of the book is why it’s fine to fail and how to pick yourself up again afterwards. 

I needed a book like this after 2020, when I became so unwell that I moved back in with my parents. 

Want to know what a nervous breakdown is like? You know when you’re really drunk at a party and the next day your friends remind you of all the daft things you did but you don’t remember? 

Well, my nervous breakdown was like that, only it was worse because it lasted months and I’m still remembering daft things now. This book is a nice antidote.

Star studded cast

Giles and Jim run a podcast and work in media, and dozens of well-known and well-liked people have contributed their own stories of failures and embarrassments. Yes, it’s an embarrassment of failures, that’s the collective term.

Green MP Caroline Lucas, footy leg-end Gary Linekar, comedians Dawn French and Sarah Millican, dictionary corner’s Susie Dent, in fact everyone I admire, has contributed their sad but ultimately redeeming tales of failure and imposter syndrome. But why would they feel like imposters? It turns out even successful people feel this way. 

Giles and Jim share their own losses too, including bereavement, redundancy and dying on stage as a comic. They’re here to tell you, it’s not that bad, so don’t worry. I can tell you, after the 2020 I’ve had, this book is like medicine, it should be on the NHS.

Spreading kindness

Giles has a big following on Twitter and uses the platform to raise awareness of good causes and encourages his followers to follow each other and be nice to each other, like a supervising parent. I’ve gained a few followers off the back of his efforts, and so far, no bad apples.

Although if you can’t spot the nutter in the room, doesn’t that mean it’s you?

I digress. 

Stigma

Giles and Jim are sympathetic to those who fail and experience loss, and grief, which can happen following redundancy and relationships ending as well as bereavement. Giles is a sympathetic writer, and the words on the pages in this book come from a place of compassion and empathy. It’s a perfect rainy day read, speaking metaphorically.

Further reading

There is a selection of further resources at the back of the book for whatever ails you; everything from social anxiety to public failure. This book is an empathetic meditation on difficult times, but ultimately, in my opinion, difficult times are what maketh the man.

I bet Rudyard Kipling would say so too.

Yoga

I had been struggling for a while with whether it’s right to practice yoga if you’re Christian.

I’m exploring Christianity and have recently begun attending Sunday church services. I get a lot out of it especially after a health scare last year.

Today I had a chat with a chaplain who reassured me Yoga is fine as a Christian as long as I’m not worshipping multiple deities, which is what the origin of Yoga did. I’ve been reading about the origins of Yoga in Yoga Student Handbook by Sian O’Neill and it’s fascinating. The whole philosophy is about connecting with the divine, what could be better?

I’ve republished some of my yoga posts today because I truly love practicing yoga and it’s a huge relief that I can practice it with a clear conscience. Please forgive my heightened and unnecessary anxiety over this issue, but it was important to me.

Here is me practicing yoga on Easter weekend.

Yoga is good for body, mind and spirit

Copywriter: Blog writing with SEO keywords and Google search terms in mind

Writing for a search engine is still writing for people who read

If you’re told to write for a search engine, please always remember that you write for people.

The received wisdom among SEO types, Search Engine Optimisation bods, is that a good content strategy takes keywords into account. Your blog has a niche, and there will be keywords around that niche. An SEO professional might encourage me to write with niche keywords.

My blog is about reading and writing, because I believe the two complement each other. To write well, it helps to read more. Reading is improved by writing also. I used to tutor and I know this to be true from my own experiences. Keywords around these topics will naturally appear in my copy.

Keyword density

Badly written content features keywords stuffed into copy in an unnatural way in an effort to dupe the search engine algorithm. While a higher density of your keywords will be detected by search engines, too many mean your copy won’t be user friendly i.e. it’s a turn off for readers and they’ll bounce off your page giving you a high bounce rate, something Google considers while ranking your content.

Always write for people, not search engines

Search engines have their own way of cataloging the content on your site or blog- algorithms. Readers have their own criteria too. People do read blogs and if your copy reads like it’s written for a machine, you’re treating your reader like AI.

Respect your readers, give them relevant copy based on:

  • the search terms they typed into Google
  • answering the query 
  • featuring keywords in the copy
  • content being a fair reflection of H1, H2 

Keyword synonyms for blog ideas

Building a niche blog, you’re going to have multiple pages with similar keywords. Researching keyword synonyms can spark all kinds of fresh ideas for writers. There are tools to help you do this – Google AdWords, for example. If you use a PC, highlight a word then Shift F7 opens a thesaurus with synonyms and antonyms (the opposite) categorised into different meanings, and this can spark ideas.

Proofread your copy

Then check through your content.Does it inform or entertain? If it does, your readers might stick it out to the final paragraph, just like the search engine. Here’s where you can sneak in the punchline.

The punchline is: Write for people! First and foremost, nevermind search engines. It’s people who make purchase decisions, and people you need to impress. As long as you stick to the topic, relevant to your niche, the keywords will naturally appear.

The search engine will respond to how your readers respond, and whether they stick around depends on how entertaining or informative you are.

Just like in real life!

Day 7/7: Yoga Challenge

I made it to the end of my personal challenge to try a new yoga routine each day for 7 days, with a short break yesterday to consolidate my learning by practising the new postures.

Today’s class was a Dynamic flow, so a little more challenging than a usual class, though not as challenging as HIIT yoga, which I haven’t tried yet- building up to it!

Here is today’s flow;

Sun salutation

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that today is Easter Sunday, so I dedicated my practice today to Easter Sunday and what that means to CofE like me.

I wanted to see the sunrise this Easter and took this photo at 6.30am

Sunrise on Easter Sunday

Strictly speaking, Yoga is a Hindu or Buddhist practice and I am CofE by birth. Well, people of all faiths and none are welcome around my house at Easter, and you don’t even need to buy me an Easter egg.

I’d like a world where people of different faiths find common ground, and the atheists and agnostics too. We have more in common that you realise, because we all believe in treating others as you’d want to be treated. When you don’t, karma. Believe me I know what I’m talking about here.

Sunrise on Easter Sunday

So a 7 day challenge to try a new class each day, what have I learnt? On tired days do a gentle flow more mat based postures, and on an energetic day, try a Dynamic flow or HIIT. Everyone needs quiet days to recover from exercise.

One other thing is to listen to your body, it’ll tell you when it’s had enough. I didn’t quite finish the class today, and perhaps my 7 day challenge was ambitious for my ability, but I’m ok with being a learner again. Aren’t we all in this thing called life?

Happy Easter.

Day 6/7: Yoga Challenge

It’s like a trace of an experience left on your psyche, and can be positive or negative. You know how bad memories tend to scar you? That’s how I remember this word, Samskara.

In The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, he describes Samskaras, which in Yoga parlance, mean impressions or memories on your heart.

Awareness of Samskanas

Today I’m on day 6 of my personal challenge to try a new yoga routine each day for one week.

I chose a Dynamic flow class and it begins with a two new postures. It starts with the familiar Chair posture, transitioning onto one leg, the “Flamingo posture” then into “Warrior 3”.

From this posture you can transition into a flow that includes “Warrior 1” posture, and “side plank” which is a bit like a “side dish” only better for your abs.

Here is a new flow.

Chair to Flamingo, to Warrior 3, into lunge, Cat and Cow, Side Plank, Downward Dog and Cobra, but not necessarily in that order.

I set my intention for today’s yoga as a “letting go of Samskanas”, which is how Michael Singer describes overcoming the circular nature of holding onto old hurts. What goes around and around? Ruminating on old pain, so let it go.

Funnily enough, in the spirit of “letting go” some “yoga wind” was “liberated” and maybe some giggles too. Sometimes you’ve just got to flamin’ let it go, you know what I mean?

Flamingo

Day 4/7 and 5/7: Yoga Challenge

So I’ve kept up the challenge with a new yoga routine each day…. well nearly.

Last night I wanted to feel strong so I did my usual Warrior posture flows because it’s one of my more confident flows in yoga. Here it is, a hot day yesterday so please excuse the lack of T-shirt.

Day 4 of yoga challenge

Ladies who lunge

Today is day 4 of my yoga challenge, and what I’ve found in the classes are some new lunges and ways of transitioning from one posture to another, hopefully making the transition look smooth and under control (wobble wobble, does a plank sideways etc).

Here is today’s afternoon sunshine that glowed while I flowed.

Day 5 of yoga challenge

I set myself the challenge because I signed up to classes and wasn’t using them, but still paying a direct debit. Do you have any subscriptions you aren’t using? My advice is use them! Otherwise you’re burning money. I will try and practice what I preach, of course *wobbles off the mat sideways*

Day 3/7: Yoga Challenge

I’ve committed to try a new yoga routine each day this week and today is a dynamic flow. Dynamic flow is more challenging than gentle flow, as the name suggests. I’ve skipped the headstand- I’m not there yet. I’ve skipped the headband too.

Here is a new flow based on what I learnt today. New postures include Dolphin and the transition from Downward Dog to Plank. (Insert pun here).