Having chosen to swallow the red pill...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

More on exercise, timed perfectly to fit into your coffee break

The Rule of Three

The Rule of Three, it takes 3 weeks to form a pattern and 3 months to see the proper results. Your body takes a while to adjust , both physically and psychologically to a new exercise pattern. A lot of times it is easy to start of too enthusiastically and then you end up doubled over with soreness and stiffness the following day and it takes double the motivation to get things going again after that.

30 minutes, 3 times a week is a great place to start. Keep it regular, week in, week out and start easy. 30 minutes, 3 times a week is only 1 1/2 hours a week and that goal is manageable for everyone. The secret is to keep it ticking over, 3 times 30 minutes per week.

You choose your days to fit in with your own schedule and the beauty of the 7 day week is that you alsways have a rest day between each training day and you also have a flexi-day which enables you to fit your exercise around you. If you were meant to exercise on Wednesday night but want to meet friends instead, simply shift Wednesday's exercise to Thursday and Friday's exercise to Saturday and you still make your 3 x 30.

Sticking to the 3 x 30 and taking it easy in the beginning and breaking that 3 week barrier, after that, some important changes happen. Suddenly you find that you don't need that inner drill sergeant driving you out to run. You want to go out yourself, in fact you have been looking forward to it all day. During the afternoon you have been shaking out your legs in preparation and once you are home from work, you pull on your jogging clothes and you are buzzing and full of energy. Of course, not all days are like that, there are the bad days too, when you are not motivated, everything aches and you are out of breath within 100m. It doesn't matter, do the exercise anyway, just slacken the pace. You'll always feel better afterwards.

Once you have made it through the first 3 weeks, you work through your bad days and you enjoy your good ones and you will hopefully cross an important line. Here you don't loose sight of your goals as such but you move on to a more profound understanding of your exercise where you realise that the journey is the goal.

It is easy to become disheartened when all that effort you are putting in doesn't seem to result in tangible goals. Here is when the final part of the rule of 3 comes in. It usually takes 3 months before the results of your hard work really shows through, even though the internal benefits begin almost immediately. Just doing the work, 3 x 30, week in, week out, will bring results. Guaranteed!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Reducing my footprint

This weeks addition to reducing my footprint is the installation of a compost bin in our garden. Now we can recycle all of our household 'green' waste without just throwing it away, which reduces transportation emisions as it is a lighter load for the bin lorry to carry. It also means that our green waste and general garden waste completes the circle and next spring goes back on the garden, providing essential nutrients and making healthier soil for both our plant life and our vegetable growing.. In addition to that, the garden bin what we have rented from the council up until now can go back, saving us money and meaning that the council has one less bin to pick-up, one less trip to make, one less set of waste to process.

Ok, a bit overboard maybe, but the thing is that you have got to believe that every little bit counts; I was talking to my Grandad when I was in UK the other day and he asked me how many plastic bags I thought were consumed in England each year. I had no idea, but the answer was 1,8 billion, all of which end-up on landfill sites. Now, back to 'every bit counts' if everyone re-used those plastic bags just once, took them with them to the supermarket and used them again, then that small and simple act would reduce consumption to 0,9 billion.

Monday, August 21, 2006

There are no shortcuts

Here is the first part of my coffee-break size snippets on exercise and I am sorry to start you off with a hard hitting one. There are no shortcuts (full stop)

Oprah Winfrey once said, "The biggest secret in life is that there is no secret - whatever your goal, you can get there if you are willing to do the work."

If you want to get the benefits, you have to be prepared to do the work, there is no way around that. There are no quick fixes and the '5 minutes and you will look like this' promises from commercial TV channels are designed to take your money and be neatly stored within your closet before the month is out.

Just take a moment to think about it, and it is logical. If you want to be a good lawyer for example, it takes time, dedication and hard work; a good gardener, chess player, painter, whatever you choose, you need to do the work in order to make progress and see the benefits. To build muscle, you need to make it work, to break it down, to let it re-build itself, to rest and then to begin over again, and again... The same with stamina, you can't go from sitting on the couch to running a marathon overnight.

To quote Lance Armstrong, the 7 times winner of the gruelling 3656 km long Tour de France, "Everybody wants to know what I am on. What am I on? I'm on my bike... 6 hours a day. That's what I am on." - and that is what it takes to be a champion and to succeed in your own exercise, whatever your goal... the willingness to simply do the work.


To reduce my ecological footprint this week, I have purchased 4 heavy-weave cotton carrier bags, which have now replaced the 5-7 plastic carrier bags that we normally consume in our weekly shopping trips.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Exercise in 5 easy instalments

Exercise in 5 easy instalments

Exercise is on of the many things in today’s hectic living that has been turned into a culture within itself. We are constantly bombarded by the media with how we should look, and this indoctrination begins from a very young age, with the likes of Barbie and Bratz and on the guy’s side Superman, He-Man and Batman. Millions and millions of pounds are spent each year in pursuit of this ideal, gym membership, personal trainers and nutritional supplements. Factor in training clothes, dieting and exercise equipment and you have a pretty hefty average household expenditure. We are all too easily lead to believe that the key to our personal happiness lies in six-pack abs or a tight butt, but that may not necessarily be the case.

On the one side you have the exercise industry, pushing body image with a 4 x per week heavy gym session and on the other side there is the medical establishment pushing a minimum 3 x 30 minutes per week for good health and longevity. This joint onslaught of enforced ideal body image and the health risk for non participation is responsible for an awful amount of guilt that matches people’s exercise spurts and dips and puts a negative spin on their sofa and chips, cake and donut moments.

As with a lot of things today, it is a case of reading between the lines and asking yourself a few questions in order to find out what is the right kind of exercise for you and hopefully to save you time and money. Questions such as:

• What is the purpose of you exercise?
• What do you need / want / what are you looking for?
• Why are you exercising in the first place?

When thinking through exercise myself, I have started and stopped; been longing for my next run and been completely lacking in motivation. I have joined the gym and left the gym, brought weights and let them get dusty, started some sports and dropped others. I all this time, I have learnt some home truths which I would like to share with you in 5 coffee-break size instalments, which I will publish over the coming weeks, so stay tuned…

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The power of branding versus the power of personal choice

There is a lot of talk these days about brands. Which are the super brands, what are the right brands to be seen in or that him or her are brand-obsessed. But at the end of the day, what is a brand? In its simplest state, a brand is a way of giving an inanimate object personality. The reason for this is to create consumer loyalty, which then has a direct impact on the company's bottom line. In its unrefined form, branding is the manipulation of consumer perception with the aim of increasing profits. In its refined form, it is a complex mixture of psychology, statistical interpretation, research, fact and fiction, and some say, science.

The psychological element examines how people choose products, what factors influence that choice, what triggers give rise to those factors and how the eventual choice is related to perceived self-image. The research and statistics gathers information on buying patterns, consumer preferences and demand shifts. The fact side of things is based around two areas, firstly the concrete facts that come from the psychological and empirical research and secondly the fact that a 'problem' exists which requires a solution. For example, dirty dishes that need washing, a hole in the wall that needs drilling, dandruff needs to be got rid of. Effectively most consumer and business-to-business products and services are sold as solutions to a problem. Effectively I don't buy a drill, I buy a solution to my need to put a hole in my wall, or I don't buy a shampoo, I buy a solution to my dandruff problem. The essence of branding is the create consumer loyalty to your company's particular solution.

... and how do you create loyalty, well, that's where the fiction comes in. Firstly it should be noted that for me there is a difference between 'fiction' as in 'the creative use of the truth' and outright lying. So take our problem of dirty dishes, we now need a solution, so along comes company A and launches their product, which are dishwashing tablets with oxygen bubbles for extra tough cleaning action. You never knew that you needed oxygen bubbles before, but suddenly now you do. This sets the benchmark with which you assess the other products. You start to see oxygen bubbles as important and you won't buy a product that doesn't have them, unless there is a massive price difference. Soon, you get into a habit of purchasing the same products and you have become 'brand loyal.'

The benefit of brand loyalty for the consumer of fast moving consumer goods is that it saves time. Because the advertising industry has created so many messages, you are constantly bombarded with information everywhere you go, on the TV, in magazines and newspapers, on the radio, on the internet, on billboards, on the bus, on the tube, on your phone. The sheer volume of these messages means that it is nearly impossible for you as a consumer to make and re-make every consumption choice each time you are in the supermarket. Imagine walking up to the washing powder and trying to remember everything you have heard about each brand, then decide between them, pick out one and place it in your trolley and then do the same with the cat foods, cereals etc... It is much easier to just pick Ariel or Surf off the shelves and move on. The manufacturers know this too and naturally this is where they make their money, having already spent a lot to fix that decision process fixed in your mind.

The thing is though, the whole process is designed to get you caught up in a cycle of consumption, 'gotta do more, gotta be more'. I saw an advert for a leading watch manufacturer the other day that was saying that one of the most important parts of your first impression and of how people judge you is 'what watch you are wearing.' Really? When is last time you judged a person by their watch or even noticed what kind of watch they had on? What watch does your partner or mother or father wear? This is what I meant earlier about the 'fiction'. Creating a want, a desire out of nothing and one which, in the final analysis, is empty.

Why have I written all of this? Well, if you have been kind enough to read this far, I will tell you. I write it for two reasons, the first being that it was my business until a year and a half ago to create the strategy behind brands. After much soul-searching I eventually came up with the conclusion that I was helping to create castles out of sand. To imbue inanimate objects with a sense of personality, so someone could buy them and feel superior to someone who could not, or so someone could by them and display them as a measurement of their achievements and success. I became haunted by the truth behind the phrase, 'he who dies with the most toys, still dies.' - In other words, I had lost my faith in branding and writing this is cathartic.

The second reason I write is inspired by a statement from the Trainspotters movie, 'choose life.' I have thought about this statement for a while and for me it has come to symbolise many things, one of which is to stop and realise how much of my life is on automatic pilot. How my choices and habits just drop neatly into place each morning and before I know it, another, irretrievable day has come and has gone. In a paradoxical brands versus un-branding, I like Microsoft's old tagline, 'where do you want to go today?' because it put the ball firmly in your court. Where do YOU want to go today? you choose and you take conscious responsibility. Branding robs us of that ability in some way, it wants us going on automatic pilot and life slips by. I am not saying don't be brand loyal, but what I am saying is 'take your power back.' Make a conscious choice each time you shop and don't just be lead like sheep. Instead of buying the same washing power you always have, ask questions instead to ensure that your purchase matches your values. Is this washing powder the most environmentally friendly? Does a percentage of my money go to charity? Are these clothes manufactured in sweat-shop conditions? Am I ok with that?

This way you take the power back and ensure that if you give your loyalty to a product or service, then it is to one that truly matches your own personal values.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Stand your ground

I was just talking to my Mum today, who is currently over visiting us and she told me about an elderly lady in UK who has just been given a 3 month prison sentence for refusing to pay her council tax. The reason she has refused to pay it is that the street that she lives in has basically been turned into crack ally and not even the police dare to enter it. Because of the conditions in the street, they basically get none of the amenieties which are the right of tax payers. If the council is not willing to provide the same level of services to that street that it does to others, or indeed any services at all, then what benefit is the tax payer deriving from her contribution towards council costs? If she is deriving zero benefit because the council is not willing to provide basic services to her run-down street, then it follows logically that she shouldn't have to pay taxes. However this logical step seems to be an impossible leap for the local council to make, who seem to reason thus: If we give-up and provide no services to the people in this street, we can still collect tax of them with a good conscience. hmmmm. Obviously it is not quite as black and white as I have portrayed it and of course council taxc covers other areas than just her street services, but the principle is what is important here. Government, local and national just can't turn a blind eye to problems and expect their citizens to live with it and to pick-up the bill. Stiff upper lip may be useful for a hooker, but today civil protest is emerging as a sign that the average citizen has lost their faith in the government's ability to listen to them and to deal with matters of the people and they are taking matters into their own hands and taking a stand.

Well, this lady has made a stand and is engaging in age-old civil protest and as a result has received and is currently serving a three month prison service. The interesting flip side to this story is that the same local council has just given her a 1000 pound reward for her tireless service to the homeless. Go figure ?!?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Notes from a Dad at home

Note to self: Apple doesn't go well in a fruit purée as once it has been blended, it quickly goes brown.

Yesterday I took my premiere swim in the ocean. I had hoped that the sun we have had over the past few weeks had warmed it, but it had not. It was 12 degrees and for a few seconds I forgot how to breathe! I swam around until I was suitably numb and then climbed out feeling exhilarated. I don't know if it was because of the effect of the cold water on my body and brain, or the fact that now the first ocean swim of the season is over, the water can, hopefully, only get warmer from here.

I have finally got round to re-writing the profile for this blog and you can now read the new version in the 'About Me' section in the right hand column of this page.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Can a high petrol price be a good thing?

There is much speculation at the moment that the recent 'hot dialogue' with Iran and the Bush administrations refusal to rule out the possibility of military action can be linked to, dare I say it, an artificially high oil price. Whatever the reason, oil prices have been gradually increasing over the past year or two, much to the chagrin of every motorist and a great many owners of oil-heated homes. Whether or not you drive a petrol or a diesel car, heat your home from oil or via a wind turbine, the rising oil prices hits everyone's wallets as many of the bi-products of oil that we use every day, such as plastics have also gone up in price.

Whether you are convinced that the rise in oil prices is a result of global geo-political power play or whether it serves as further proof of globalisation and the multinationals ability to steer politics, I would like to look instead at the positive side of the price rise.

For the first time in a long time, American consumers are feeling the pinch and sales of SUV's has taken a negative plunge. Just last week, Hummer announced that they were ceasing production of the civilian version of the Hummer H1 due to a weak demand, and in the worst example of cross branding I have seen in a while, I noticed an advert in a magazine for Hummer after-shave, which might be an indication of where the company feels it future lies.

Every other car brought in Europe today is a diesel. Gone are the dirty exhaust spitting diesels of the past, the latest development is leading to cleaner and more efficient engines. In response to the change in consumer attitudes brought on by the rising oil prices, car manufacturers are suddenly able to produce smaller engines that produce more power. Volkswagen, for instance, recently launched the Golf GT, which develops 150hp from a 1,4l engine, where previously they had a 1,8l engine. Take Toyota's PRIUS and other hybrid cars that run on electricity and petrol and which leave a very small environmental footprint. Take the new range of cars from a variety of manufacturers including Ford, Volvo, BMW that are so-called bi-fuel cars that can run on either petrol or ethanol. Match that to the recent announcement from the Norwegian oil retailer, Statoil that it will be investing in ethanol pumps across Scandinavia. What you have got is a trend lead by consumers that is leading to a development and a direction that consumes less petrol and leaves a smaller environmental footprint.

This trend has maybe been jump-started by the high oil prices, but it is definitely there and it is definitely growing. People are starting to think strategically, or should I say, environmentally. Do I really need to make this trip? Can I cycle or take public transport instead? There has been a marked increase in car sharing and considerable interest in schemes such as Zipcars (see www.zipcar.com) in major cities where instead of owning a vehicle, people can pay to 'borrow' a vehicle as and when they need it, resulting in better planned vehicle use, less traffic congestion, less pollution, less vehicles to be scrapped...

The trend has also moved beyond the realms of transport and into the home, where the cost of oil-fired burners is causing home owners to re-think and, such as here in Sweden, the government is responding by giving tax breaks to those who purchase environmentally-friendly heating systems such as the one we have installed in our house that takes the temperature differential from the air and uses it to heat a liquid with a very low boiling point. The energy released as this liquid turns to vapour is then converted and used to heat the water that heats our house and hot water.

Each time I fill up the car and the guy or lady next to me calls over to complain about the pump price, I have started inwardly smiling to myself as that little extra cost may just have started a ball rolling that will prevent us from having far larger and more serious costs in the future.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Naked at the airport

I nearly committed a civil protest the other day when I was coming back through the airport. There were armed police throughout the airport and they have increased exponentially in number the last few years. This time there were also armed police monitoring the passport queues. As you moved through from the passport desk to the customs team, there was a policeman sitting behind a laptop, monitoring the passengers as they moved on through. I don't know for certain, but I believe that he was sitting behind the scanner device that enables security teams to see through clothing. As I walked through, I thought to myself, 'well, there goes another civil liberty.'

Clearly it feels wrong for me to ask someone to remove all of their clothing in the middle of the street. It also feels wrong for me to throw my clothing aside and walk down the high-street... but now, in the name of homeland security or whatever they have dubbed it this time, it is suddenly, without even having the courtesy of informing the public, it is suddenly ok to look through our clothes. I am sure that the public weren't informed because there would have been an outcry. It seems true to form that it is best to follow a policy of least resistance. It is best to keep people in the dark and slowly erode their civil liberties than it is to shine a light on it and risk public protest and possibly having to both explain and justify your actions.

How much more are we prepared to sacrifice in the name of terrorism? Do we even know what we have given up already in the Glorious Fight Against Terrorism? Are we going to wake-up one day and find that is it too late, that we are monitored in everything we do and it is all written in the law books and there is nothing to do about it? It is a funny paradox that the price of 'freedom' is that the government can use the 'fight against terrorism' to monitor us more closely than ever before.

I am not stupid enough to write a criticism without considering the 'what if's'. What if there is another terrorist attack on English soil? What if the plane that I am flying on is hijacked and forced to fly into some strategically and nationally important building? Are we willing to take that risk? Or should we not maybe take the steps necessary to minimise the risk of such a tragedy occurring? All very valid points, but the thing that bothers me most, in a democratic country is 'do I as an individual, have a choice?'

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A leave of absence

I owe you all some kind of explanation. I glanced at the date I last published and noticed that there has been a three month gap! Three months of blog blackout. The reason was law. Singularly the hardest course that I have taken at university level to date. It scared me, it challenged me, it occupied my days and in a sick way I actually enjoyed it. It blew away the cobwebs and got my brain working to a level of activity where I am actually disappointed that I don't have a paper to write over summer so that I have something to chew on and an excuse to read some more books! The exam result is due out in just over 2 weeks time, so I'll let you know how I did.

During the law course, life for me changed. There are only so many hours in the day and in order to be able to spend some of them sleeping, I had to take a hard look at my life and take some tough choices. I stopped my work as a swimming instructor as I couldn't sacrifice two afternoons a week and wanted to spend my evenings with Ben. I took a break from training ju-jutsu. I was getting stressed that I couldn't keep up with my colleagues, who were able to just about live in the dojo daily, and so I just took a break. When I go back, and I am hoping to go back, I will be so far behind them that it won't matter anymore, I won't feel the pressure like I did before.

Ben changed too, he got bigger. Looking back through the photos of when he was first born, especially the first picture I have when I am holding him in my arms just after he was born, it is amazing how he has changed. Yesterday he was 8 months old to the day and now he will be crawling shortly, the house is always full of him chatting, laughing and singing, he claps and waves you good-bye when you go. He sits up straight and concentrates on little games that he is playing with his wooden blocks and rings. Even though he is still a baby, he seems very much a little boy.

It feels kind of boring really, that I can sum-up three months of absence in a few paragraphs. The astute readers amongst you will see that I have in fact just been filling white space as my time away can be summed-up in a haiku:

A three month absence
Study, snow, boy, wife, study,
White blog matches white skin.

Monday, June 05, 2006

If not me, then whom?

Today, according to my diary, is World Environmental Day. That I found it there by chance and otherwise on the 'outside' have heard nothing about it, seems to me to be symptomatic of how in many spheres the environment has become a back issue and for many people, a second thought.

But today's writing is not about addressing the environment as a global debate, not about even about EU environmental policy or Swedish environmental awareness. Today is about the micro side of the environment, it is about you and me and about the choices that we make, each and every day.

When you are walking downtown and come across a discarded paper in the street, what do you do? Do you even notice it? Do you just ignore it and not give it a thought? Do you give it enough time to think that it is maybe someone else's job to pick it up, but not yours? Do you stop to pick it up and place it in the nearest dustbin?

In each of these thoughts and actions, we are making an active choice about the type of world that we want to live in and we are actively creating it. When I stop to pick-up the discarded paper and place it in a bin, I am making a choice about the type of world that I want to live in and that I want my children to live in. I ask myself the honest question, 'If not me, then whom?' If I don't pick it up, can I expect you to pick it up? If I am out with Benjamin and I walk on past it, can I expect him to pick it up? If not me, then whom?

The same is true of household recycling. Do you recycle all of the envelopes, papers and junk mail you get, all of the cans and bottles that you eat and drink out of daily, or do you just throw them away? Sure, it takes a little bit more time but what examples are we setting for the children and what kind of a world are we leaving them? What kind of world are we creating for ourselves?

The power of a grassroots movement is that the small, daily efforts of a large number of people on a mission cause a big effect. It is those little choices, the picking up of that paper, the one extra minute it takes during a day to recycle a bottle or a can. That small action, if you do it and if I do it, can really change the world. Decide what kind of world you want to live in and then go out and make it happen.

As Noreena Hertz said at a recent interview, 'Nobody can do everything but everybody can do something and together we can change the world.'

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Good Government?

As part of its concerted effort to bring relief to the estimated 4 million people suffering from food shortages caused by, amongst other things, poor rainfall, the Kenyan government has wisely decided to invest in yet more luxury Mercedes cars for its ministers and judiciaries. Reports show that since 2002, the Kenyan government has spent over 12 million on luxury cars, a sum which could have sent over 25,000 children to school for over 8 years.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk (2006-01-30)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

It's easy to forget

Before you read this morning's post, please follow this link by copying and pasting it into your browser:


With both UK and Sweden aiming to ease their unemployment statistics by getting up to 50% of young people into university-level education and with jobs such as window-cleaning and vacuum selling soon to be a three year degree course, it is all too easy to forget that for very, very many people, university is a far of dream or an extreme privilege.

(As for those of us on our second degree, well, I once read a quote by a lady whose name I have forgotten, but who defined luxury as 'being able to do what you want with your time'. I guess that means that I am living the life of luxury and therefore should embrace my law course not as a chore, but as more of a privilege. Hmmm, that I will have to think about!)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Filling-up the gaps

I recently wrote about the Law course being the leviathan course for this degree and as such I was approaching the course with some apprehension. And indeed, within the first few days, I was already swamped with reading and seminar preparation and individual work and the prophecy started to become self-fulfilled... and then Ellie got ill, completely knocked out with a 39 degree fever and tonsillitis, and then her stomach rejected the antibiotics that she had been prescribed and more fever followed and agonising stomach cramps and then little Ben gets his first cold!

It is suddenly in a week like this that you realise how much time you can create when you are really forced to fill up the gaps, the pack action and doing tight into every corner. What with looking after Ellie, looking after Ben, taking the midnight feeds and the early morning feeds, preparing the bottles, keeping the house in order, getting the car assessed before its guarantee runs out, exercising etc... it has been a tough old week. The thing is that when Ellie and Ben get better and we can go back to sharing things, I am going to suddenly have loads of time on my hands to do law... and maybe, just maybe some time to do something besides law too!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Here is a picture of the Japanese lantern in my front garden. Yup it has snowed again! To think that we drove all of 250 km up North to find some snow and when we returned there was just as much in our back garden. Yesterday was -9 and today has mercifully warmed up and is only -5.

Whereas snow once meant sledging and snow-ball fights, it currently means that I slip and slide on my bicycle on the way to school (and frequently fall off!), I have to shovel it out of the path in front of my house and up to my door, as we are liable if anyone slips and it also means that the wood on our hallway floor is currently stained white with the salt I sprinkle on the steps to ensure that I can get Ben safetly to the car without slipping!

Still on the positive side, -5 helps you clear the cobwebs from your lungs and in a year's time, when Ben is slightly bigger, snow will once again mean sledging and a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows floating in it! mmmmm