Not smoking - a one hundred days, and counting, check-in

Here is a quick and brief check-in to mark 100 days, a common reporting date.

On my personal photography blog I wrote a little something, slightly more ranty and sweary than here, a consequence of how I am really feeling about the process right now. 

Early on I had a kind of euphoria, almost a mania possibly. I knew right from the start, I simply knew, that I wasn't going to fail, that kind of utter faith that I would be ok gave me a very positive upbeat energy, a bit self-fulfilling, possibly not really connected to reality, and of course as my faith in myself was proved right that energy grew or was refreshed, where it fell away I would soon remember I was no longer smoking, and could take that as an excuse for joy, a little pocketful of energy and pick me up.

One hundred days in that early euphoria has worn off, which is ok, some days now I don't really think of smoking or not smoking at all, it's like the 'this is a big thing' of it has passed.  What hasn't passed and returns in waves is a physical sensation in the back of my throat which is coming from the process of my lungs and throat healing, without the regular waves of hot acrid smoke I am getting used to what the back of a now healthy throat feels like, and when I do get a little cough or a cold now I really notice it.   Before stopping my throat and lungs were in a perpetual battle with the smoke which was so usual it went unnoticed, this new norm feels odd at times.  The absence of the constant euphoria that was there for a while is something I am really noticing at times now, its not something driving me back to smoking. I've always found this time of year hard as we look into winter, the 'feeling great at not smoking' energy that I did have for a while would be welcomed! 

As I mentioned above, I'm hardly thinking about smoking at all, so little that I couldn't count it, once or twice or day maybe, some days none at all - I guess it could be more often but if it is that has become unconscious or my learned response is kicking very effectively.  The mindfulness I need to bring now is around my eating - I have become more of a snacker, only marginally, but this has coincided with Jack going to school, which is a five minute walk there and back, rather than virtually one hour round trip of walking to nursery which I was getting until September.

In really basic steps then, here is what I did, and still have to do, in order to stay off cigarettes...

  • Be honest - have a recognition and acceptance of being an addict, knowing that will never change.
  • Be prepared to get through the difficult bit at the very start - I had my last cigarette in the morning on a day I knew I could afford to lose entirely, I observed the sensations going on in my body and experienced them fully throughout the most intense period of nicotine withdrawal - experiencing and bearing witness to every physical and mental feeling - 'the pain'
  • Thereafter reminding myself, when experiencing, 'the pain', that it is the sensation of becoming healthy and getting better - a cigarette will not provide that release to health and life.

This is a process of mindfulness and reframing, coming to a new relationship with the sensations both mental and physical of withdrawal such that I recognise having a cigarette is not a sustainable solution when, on occasion, my brain tells me that I wish to have one.

Always happy to chat...

Much love


On not smoking - how I've done it

Going smoke free

Carr, in his book about how to stop smoking warns early on that the reader may get all the way through the book, then not read the last chapter – because they know that to do so will be their last act as a smoker, and they will be too scared to go there, so they won’t…, they won’t want that final confrontation, I have never read that chapter.

I have however stopped smoking…

They say there’s no one worse than an ex-smoker… they can appear patronising, snobby, and superior to the struggling smoker and addict,  those lines they spin out
  • ‘you simply have to make up your mind'  
  • ‘you just have to really want it’
  • ‘it’s the hardest thing in the world to do’
  • ‘you just have to decide to’
there’s lots of lines and they are simply not true - they lack full disclosure

Accept you are an addict

The last time I had a cigarette, as I write this was 7 weeks and 3 days ago, after rereading and editing final publishing on my blog, was 8 weeks ago.

I’ve kicked it, and today I am clean, I remain an addict forever in recovery.  

Note well, this understanding that you are

  • only clean today
  • and remain an addict forever in recovery

is essential, a non-negotiable – you must understand and accept this.

The problem with Carr, I found, was that I quickly saw through his method, my fault not his: it was entirely not dissimilar to the classical coaching that I have been working with, no different to the high performance ideas of really understanding what is going on and where you are in the world. A deconstruction, and examination of the issue at hand,  and a gradual reconstruction and repetition of a new narrative, a rebuilding of confidence, and self-belief, a process that encourages and supports a shift in behaviour.  The problem for me with this book was that having seen through it I deconstructed it instead of believing in it, and then I put the book down…, try it if you have not, believe it.

So here is the bit of the truth, which I could illustrate by telling you a long a long and complicated story about my mother passing away, changing my job, running out of money, wanting to chuck myself off a roof while on holiday... I won't.

Look, any addict, when they finally make the decision to stop or die before that, will reach a point where they sincerely want to stop, they do want it.

I wanted to stop a long time ago, plenty of addicts want to stop, plenty of addicts go and get their fix then cry on the way home or maybe even while they take it, or even during the hit itself, ashamed that they don’t have the ‘strength’ to stop what they wish to stop.

Any one addicted to anything will tell you it’s not enough to simply ‘want it bad enough', if you don’t have the equipment, tools, or techniques to get through the getting off of it... if the pain of using is less than the pain of not.

Through the experience of coaching I realised that I had some tools at my disposal that could help take of control of my addiction, to at least not be victim to it anymore and to help me on the way

Experience ‘The Pain’

Here’s a suggestion – even if you’re not planning on giving up right now, even if you’re not an addict but are reading this out of curiosity, or to see what a loved one might go through.. the next time you want, I mean really want, want, want something, just deny yourself that little bit longer – that feeling you get, that yearning, that feeling of going without, of being a teenager in love and it not being returned maybe, that is The Pain I’m talking about… it can be very real, so very real, it depends what you are going without of course, an addict knows that feeling intimately, particularly in withdrawal, and from some things that withdrawal can be very real, very painful, dangerous even, with smoking and dope that sense of loss and being without, that deep yearning is very real and intense,  that is The Pain… experience it a few times before you try to stop for real...  prepare yourself for regularly experiencing it again, maybe forever...

You must accept you are an addict.

Here and now as I write about The Pain I am experiencing it myself…  as I think about cigarettes and tobacco an emptiness hits my stomach, a fuzz to my brain, if I think of marijuana I begin to salivate, if I think of cocaine I can almost taste and feel it at the back of my throat – my head aches from a faux-withdrawal experience… at least once in the last eight weeks I have had to sit down as I have felt totally stoned, almost to the point of thinking I might whitey...

Do you feel it too?, perhaps by simply reading this, perhaps because you have chosen to deny yourself for just a short while…

Like I said, addiction is not gone, you are clean only in this moment, you are forever in recovery – don’t worry, I can detach again from this space – but writing about it as I am takes me back there, so it is difficult – if I take a break, indeed when I’ve finished writing this piece I will go for a walk, clear my head – use the techniques I am writing about and I will be fine again.

Mindfulness and A New Story

Now, when I feel The Pain, I am telling myself A New Story, the message in the sensation of The Pain has changed for me.

No longer is The Pain a signal to me that I need my fix, no longer do I say to myself ‘this will be gone if I have a smoke’, I don’t say to myself ‘I need a smoke’, now I send myself a simply reminder

  • ‘this is the sensation of recovery’
  • ‘this is how getting better feels’

I chose to go cold-turkey, to shed myself completely of my addictions rather than simply shift delivery systems while remaining enslaved.

Applying this New Story requires Mindfulness, by which I mean I must bear witness to the sensations I am experiencing – it is this that takes what people will unhelpfully call ‘willpower’…  As soon as I begin to get that sensation of wanting, experiencing The Pain, I go this space of ‘watching’ what is going on within myself.

The Day I Stopped

In the past, when I had chosen to give up, I would often do so at the end of the day, last thing at night, probably after a glass of wine or my ‘last joint’, you know, something just to help me get right off to sleep to ensure that my body experienced the pangs of physical withdrawal while I slept.  Not so on this occasion.

I got up in the morning as usual, along with my then three year old son, bright and early 6am or there abouts.  It was a Friday, my partner is at home on Fridays and whilst we both do a bit of work during the day we are fortunate to have a longer weekend, I was happy to be doing this first stage over a weekend, with time and space…

An 'Excellence' burning in an ashtray, Mykonos 2017
So I got up, had a rollie, a cup of tea, another rollie a little while later, then a little a later the very last of my rolling tobacco, then a while later the last of my ready made cigarettes from a packet of ‘Excellence’ a brand I had been smoking on holiday in Greece. I stood in my back garden, had that last cigarette, picked up the ashtray and put it at the end of the garden next to my small composting area. It was still only about 8.00 am

I chose to stay off coffee for a few days too, I’m not sure that was totally necessary, but I wanted to be as free from as many uppers and influencers as I could be for a few days, so I took only a little wine with my dinners in the evening.

From then on my task was simple, to do nothing more than to watch, to regard and bear witness to whatever was going on in my body:
  • Not to be slave to The Pain, but simply to experience it
  • Not to blame anything for The Pain, but simply to experience it
  • Not to bemoan and say The Pain will be cured by a drug I cannot have
but to simply witness what is occurring in my body, sit down, close my eyes and experience and really really feel it, watch it, and witness The Pain

Remind myself at the same time, out loud if necessary that most definitely:
  • ‘What I am observing and witnessing is good, it is great, it is the sensation of becoming healthy’
I gave myself a message consistently throughout that first morning, then the whole day, then rest of that weekend, that new message that every new sensation, every sense of The Pain that I had was the new feeling of being clean, of becoming healthy – of choosing life.

I had a little something to help and divert, some small chocolate pieces, like Smarties or M&M’s, I would just take one, maybe two, a quick hit of chocolate induced dopamine, not every time I had a pang even, but there just to take the edge off.

Witness and observe The Pain – watch and see it without getting lost in it
Tell the new story about The Pain - it is not something to be cured with a drug, it will pass, return and pass, it is the process of healing, of getting better and choosing life -  The Pain is all about getting better

I soon noticed that through that purposeful observation of what my body was going through I was using up a lot of mental energy, at first it was exhausting because for the first few days I was often in that observation of The Pain and in that telling of a new story, but I also noticed that the waves of The Pain and the need were less frequent and intense as time passed, in fact before I knew it, after just a couple of days in fact, there were virtually no sensations, very rarely did I get to feeling that I ‘needed’ something

Small amounts and moments only

Mindfulness and self awareness were the key for me. I find ‘grit’ and ‘determination’ are unhelpful words, I would rather they were replaced altogether – I’m just not sure what with, because take my word for it, while something along those lines is required, it is in small amount and for moments only

It is in small amounts and moments only, I never tell myself I will never smoke again, I accept I am an addict -  I just tell myself I don’t need to smoke for these next few moments…, I remind myself this is a small amount of The Pain, lasting a few moments only, I can go through it, it is what being healthy now feels like for me.

It only took a few days to get through the intense stuff, after that the desire to smoke dropped away quickly, there were triggers – like wanting one after dinner or with a cuppa, but again I simply observe the sensation, remind myself that is the great feeling of being alive and healthy that I am witnessing, and carry on about my business, the sensation passes in no time.  

Signs of improvement

I’d been drinking all day, not on the piss like in the old days, just in a garden with friends, chilling, laughing, playing with our kids and chit-chatting on a warm afternoon.  No one there was a smoker, one person vaping, not even the occasional whisp of vape ‘smoke’ or sweet aroma bothered me in the least, prosecco, bottled ale, a touch of red wine, and a gentle stroll home in the evening light.  As we walked home together as a thought entered my head, you know, that one you have as you sit down with a nice coffee, cup of tea, or a beer – one of those triggers that makes you think, ‘oooh a cig would be nice right now’

  • The thought triggered the feeling

It was in that moment that I noticed it most – I noticed most clearly that the thought came first, ‘oooh a cig would be nice right now’, followed swiftly by the physical yearning.

  • The yearning came after the thought

‘The yearn came after the thought!’ I shouted gleefully at Kat and Jack!

The very next day we went into town, we were strolling around and I had wandered off to a corner of the square with my camera, I noted a group of people, they spilled out of the pub together laughing, passing around cigarettes and all starting to spark up pretty much all at once.  I watched a big pall of smoke drift across the square straight from them to me, hitting me full in the face, this big waft of gorgeous looking thick smoke… it hit me like a spade in the face, this disgusting wall of smell, so hard that I almost puked on the spot, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so happy, I knew I’d cracked it.

  • You do have to want it, but only enough to start the journey…
  • You do have to be brave, but only brave enough to pick up some tools to get you through it…
  • You do have to know it will be hard…, but not for long, and for shorter and lesser periods of time…
  • You must accept it will never go away…., you are an addict, the choice is whether you select to be one in recovery that feels fucking great about it, or one who is not…

Get some friends that you can talk to  – I have at least two who are addicts also, we catch up with each other, you don’t have to be on the same points of the journey

Practice mindfulness and changing the story

In the early days at least, why not find a little something to give you an endorphin boost or the kick of a dopamine, here’s a few activities and foods that can help to stimulate your pleasure centres!

  • Ginseng
  • Any physical activity and exercise
  • Laughter
  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Sex
  • Bananas
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Music
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Eggs
  • Chilli


G x

Giving up, or choosing life?

I'm currently pretty gripped by the desire to smoke...

I spent the majority of my life time smoking and ingesting 'drugs' of one kind or another.  I've tried 'giving up' at various times in my life and have often used to avoid some of the deeper depressions, dark places, and  'demons' I find within myself.  Like a lot of users I find the constant narrative going on inside my mind very hard to escape from at times, so I take something to divert, numb, aid sleep, create a high, move from depression to delight or over stimulation to peace.

Of course my commitment to 'self-improvement' (whatever that really means) and Mastery and helping others to find theirs, has driven me towards becoming clean.  A recent trip to a Greek island strengthened that resolve, particularly as while there I was gripped by a very tight snap depression which I had to fight - there was a very strong desire to no longer be here which was frightening and I eventually expressed in the depth of the night through a piece of prose, which I have shared on my Simply G blog, which is a more creative space for me to place.  I claim no great skill as a poet or creative writer, but you can find that piece of writing, if you wish, right here. 

As I post this today I am precisely ten days clean, just a little wine in the evenings and some tea in the day, I am drinking a little coffee again although I abstained from that early in the process just to ensure I was on some sort of even chemical keel.

I have tried to give up before, did I mention that?, on this occasion what is different is that I have not been feeling the things that go on in my body or mind and then telling myself 'I want a cigarette/whatever', I have chosen to simply observe those feelings, to be mindful of the sensations and enjoy for them for the message they are giving me...

'...the reason I currently feel shit is that I have chosen to be healthy...'

I had my last smoke at around 7 am on the morning of 28th July 2017.  Typically in the past I would have 'my last one' at night, then go to bed to start a new day...  I chose to have that last one in the morning, my intention to ensure that I experienced the withdrawal from nicotine rather than sleeping through it.  I think I am also finding it helpful to tick off another day drug free first thing in the morning, a reminder boost that then helps me get through the rest of the day - its a little calibration that seems to be helping.

As for Mastery - well I think the decision to stop smoking helps me there, how can I help others if I am not helping myself, if I am not fit myself - if my mental condition as a consequence of my habits is such that I write a piece like 'On the stairs to the roof'...?

My own journey in Mastery is going well, I can say that with some confidence, since I am being encouraged to exhibit some of the images from my This Towns project,  I am now being commissioned here and there for photographs, and I am part of a small team supporting another photographer in his documentary project - when I can share more about that I will.

The biggest boost recently came from a just a couple of words in a quick discussion I had with another photographer just yesterday...,  I respect this photographer immensely, their work both in documentary and also fine art disciplines is absolutely spot-on, simply masterful without question..., anyway I had been admiring one of their cameras a small simple device that looks like nothing special it is well known among photographers for having an amazing lens and is used by many professionals for street photography in particular.  We were discussing that camera and I pointed to the camera in my hand at the time, fitted with a fixed prime lens again perfect for street photography, I said something about 'that's me trying to be like the real photographers',  she said to me in response, 'oh, you are one'

much love


T shaped people...

I've been spending time with an artist, Tina Culverhouse, as I develop my photography practice.  I'd noticed and become more aware of how people from other creative pursuits often also take very good photographs - my guess is that they have a well honed eye already for things like form, perspective, colour, and overall composition from there day jobs - architects, hairdressers, designers, artists, I could go on, but they often take great photographs with apparent ease.  I thought it would be good for me as photographer therefore, to see a few other disciplines at work just witness them in practice and see if I feel anything in there that might work for me.

I was reminded of a piece of work I did a few years ago, I was researching 'innovation' for a leadership team of a big plc - they were behind the curve with technology and busy trying to restructure everything to suit the multichannel world...  so that wherever you did business with them whether online, or in real world spaces, they always knew it was you and your experience between the real and online world as good as seem-less - it all requires a bit of imagination and creativity to stay at the front of things right.

While researching the idea of innovation then I came across the idea of 'T-shaped people', the premise, which feels like a no brainer to be honest, is that if you want great innovation and creativity from someone look for the deep technical expertise that you require (the upright of the T) whilst also looking for a broad range of other experiences and interests (the horizontal of the T) - have a team of these types of people that are all able to collaborate and communicate freely with one another and you are creating great conditions that will help innovation to happen.  It feels like a no brainer after just a little thought really doesn't it?

There will be some research to support the notion that there is value in having a broad range of experiences for the brain to draw on and bring to the deeper area of expertise is a good thing to do, bringing stuff together or the brain to crunch around and turn into new ideas - I'm not going to find that research by the way, you have a search bar, I'm sure we can agree that it at least sounds reasonable.

We do it in teams by getting diverse skills together, and I think we can do that within ourselves also. I can quickly think of examples of multi-skilled people with diverse interests who did pretty well, were masters of their thing - Jackie Stewart racing driver and crack shotgun marksman, Leonardo Da Vinci Artist and scientist/engineer/inventor, Bruce Davison singer and commercial pilot.  One of the Marx brothers made more from his inventions and the businesses he founded than from his on screen persona.

I'm sure we could think of lots of examples of people who are really successful, maybe even well known at one thing and you suddenly find out they have a real passion somewhere else that they are really good at too, dig a bit further and you will find they are 'good/passable' at quite a few things.  How many really good solid, actually quite skilled dinner party chefs do you know out there who also bloody good at their job, run marathons, and have great kids - you know the one, you hate him, he fabricated his immaculate home office furniture by hand from materials he sourced from railway sleepers and twine or something...   its diversity of interest that makes them so good at what they want to be doing at any one moment, and importantly their real chosen area of devotion and expertise.

When you are creating something new, that coalescence of interest in the brain is what we need to get the ideas forming.

In my mastery journey in photography that means I go out and photograph not just what I want and need to, but all sorts of subjects and styles, and beyond that I spend time with an artist or another photographer, I will read or write something, get into debates and focused discussions, walk with and without camera, drive, coach someone, cook, enter purposeful reflection, create something else maybe draw.

A diversity of experience and interests can help us to take our talents further, add to the soup of stuff where our ideas and creativity can come from.

I've written a little about the experience of spending time with Tina in one of my photography project blogs here

Mastery revisited

I first wrote the Mastery pieces a few years ago, I had heard of a piece of work by Robert Greene, in which a number of the qualities of Mastery were identified.

I put this together starting from the premise that:
  • It is thought to be very healthy for us to take some time out daily to at least think, reflect or remind ourselves about things that are important to us, and what behaviours and mental attitudes can help us
  • We can build habits by practicing them over a period of time - so lets take 21 days to practice taking time out
  • Any one on a journey of Mastery will be served by some form of self review and consistently seeking to set conditions that will allow them to really advance their learning, development, and growth
As I say in the current Introduction and will restate here, this was originally all written over 21 days, a section a morning, published that morning. It was intended to be quick pieces to aid reflection or engagement with some ideas, it is therefore a little high level, maybe undercooked, in places, my intention is to steadily improve it over time.

Engaging with words and concepts in these quick snippet pieces can be useful as aids for practising mindfulness or to simply to prepare for a thing you have to do, or think about how you intend to be for the rest of the day - as I mentioned in the last blog piece, I was reflecting on the word bravery, and the idea of having to 'work it' - being more actively forthcoming with my writing being part of that.

As I have become increasingly involved with creatives in my work and my own mastery journey I am sure that with some tweaking here and there, this 21 day series could be very well adapted to have ideas that will resonate and be of value to the creative committed to a journey of Mastery.

It is my intention to very shortly feed the Facebook page once again with a page a day and to re run perhaps two/three times a year, I know a number of people found it quite engaging and interesting when I first wrote it, some of the pages get still get regular hits.

If you would like to have a look around here is the Mastery Index Page

Overcoming shyness - with some bravery and a little support

I know how my three year old feels.

We have a regular routine on the nursery drop off, which is most pronounced on a Monday morning.  Being three he wears his shyness for all to see he shrinks and becomes silent, clingy, as I leave he will be stood just outside the room tentatively stepping over the threshold

I know how he feels to be stood there, on the edge of a space looking in, the internal energy being absorbed by the uncertainty of what reception awaits.

He takes a little while to enter the fray but once warm the little motor simply won't stop running.

My blog, for example, was never something I really committed to as a 'tool', I took it lightly, shared it occasionally, and used it to record my Mastery work.  I took a list of words that came from an entire book on the subject of Mastery.  I took only the words themselves, none of the other stuff from the book, but used each single word alone as a prism for some of the great stuff that came up in my coaching support practice.  It was brief interesting pieces written quickly in the moment, a bit off hand, being shared mostly with friends on Facebook.

I say 'was' written in a certain way…   because as of the moment of writing this, the blog is in a little bit of a mess as I improve the quality of what is there.

Writing and sharing what you have written is an exposing process, whether its creative writing, an essay or relaying data, you are putting your intellect and capability on show.  This is I think why I may have been stood just outside the room - with a bundle of almost finished work, and some editing, updating, tidying of the Mastery pages left undone, in some ways for the same reasons why my three year old is stood just outside the nursery group door.

I'm reminded of the film Pretty Woman (bizarre I know), anyway; Vivian and Laura spot a fancy car approaching, Vivian prepares to strut her wares on the sidewalk, all long legs and swaying hips her friend Laura encourages her to 'work it, work it' and ensure she is noticed by the approaching Lotus being driven rather badly by Edward… 

There are things I wrote in the Mastery pages that could help me overcome my own current obstacle that holds me back from developing my writing, and working with blog as a tool that I could wield more effectively.  For me that might mean simply stepping over the threshold, being brave, being a bit more confident - I absolutely know that the principles and ideas from coaching are great, many of them are no brainers to be honest.

Through discussions with creatives and independent minded business owners I've been seeing more of what gets it in their way and saps their creativity, enjoyment, effectiveness  and so on, as well as some of the things they do to keep themselves productive, satisfied, doing great work, developing and expressing their mastery - the coaching experience has been immensely helpful here.  More and more I can see the relevance and value of the Mastery pieces I have produced and importantly the highly versatile and very basic no brainer ideas and principles that are expressed in there and can help provide great underpinnings for a journey of learning, development, improvements in performance, and Mastery in any field.  In confronting my own block I have reminded myself about the need for 'Discipline', in the sense of making sure the conditions to perform at ones best have been set, which I think is the next real value add piece to come to the blog.

I was wondering how to conclude this brief reflection, and decided I would rest on it overnight.  This morning I took Jack to nursery and as we walked across the car park we saw Jack's little nursery friend Kingsley.  As we neared the door and Kingsley began his hello Jack shrunk into the little shy version of himself.  What I saw next was a lovely little-human moment as Kingsley strode gently to Jack, embraced him fully in his arms and said 'What's the matter Jack?  It's okay'.  I looked at Kingsley's Mum as we both did that ah thing at witnessing  an encounter so cute.  Within moments, having been given a supportive boost from one of his best friends Jack was fine, off up the stairs like a rocket with barely time to say his goodbyes.   There really is nothing like having a friend around to help you on your way.

Much love