I've been putting this challenge off for as long as I possibly can. It's now two days before I turn 30. Two days to complete my last few challenges!

And it's at this eleventh hour that I've realised why I've been putting this one off. I should've realised earlier, because it's the very reason for adding this item to my list in the first place…

I feel ashamed.

Two comments over the last few weeks have brought this to my awareness. One, a sweeping comment assuming that I have a vendetta against men. And the other, a warning not to “make this a feminist issue” whilst deep in discussion about an unrelated topic.

On both occasions I felt confused; both individuals had completely misunderstood the situation. But I felt too ashamed to say anything to clarify.

This was in fear of being branded a ‘feminist’.

Don't get me wrong, I am proud to call myself a feminist. But being branded a ‘feminist’ is a different story. Because being branded a feminist comes with the stigma of man-hating, of confrontation-seeking and of female righteousness.

But that is not feminism.

In fact, my views come not from being a man-hater, but from being a ‘human-lover’! Gender to me is redundant; whether you're born male or female, or even whether you identify with the gender you were born with or choose another, it doesn't matter. I'm passionate about all people living the healthiest and happiest life possible, regardless of gender or any other category of difference. That is why I care about equal opportunities, equal rights and breaking down limiting stereotypes.

In a speech to the UN in 2014, Emma Watson finds the perfect words to address the misunderstanding. I can't possibly put it better. So in my mission to speak out about gender equality, I urge you to listen to this speech. And I urge you to share it, not just with women but with everyone you know. As Emma Watson so powerfully articulates - this is an issue for all of us.

Next time I'm too ashamed to speak up, I'm going to remind myself that I'm a ‘human-lover’. And that is something to feel proud about and something to speak up about.

It is not something to feel ashamed of.

One autumnal Sunday I took a trip with my boyfriend and his parents to Oxfordshire. We went to see the starlings perform their magical murmuration. And magical it was.

But here’s the thing. I don’t have any photos to show for it. Not one.

And in this digitally-consumed time, a time of sharing instantly and sharing everything, it’s almost as if it didn’t happen…

It’s as if we didn’t wake up full of hope and excitement for what was ahead.
As if I didn’t talk excitedly about all the research I’d done.
Or pack the car with welly boots and waterproofs just in case.

It’s as if I didn’t sit in the back of the car anxiously worrying: “What if this is a wasted trip?”.
As if there were no nerves when the sunlight started to fade but the journey was still being made.
Or any instant elation when we parked up and saw the sign pointing ‘This way’.

It’s as if there were no hurried steps as we followed the trail to the marshes.
As if there were no starlings, equally hurried, flocking in overhead. Twenty-five, fifty, perhaps even hundreds at a time...
Or any disbelief: “I can't believe this is actually happening!”

It’s as if we didn’t squeal with excitement when we approached the lookout.
As if our disbelief wasn’t reaffirmed when we saw camera after camera, ready to capture the spectacle.
Or there weren’t fluttering bellies or pounding hearts as the aerial acrobatics began.

It’s as if there were no chorus of chirps heard, or “Oohs” and “Aahs” added.
As if the quick glimpses only, through the swaying reeds, didn’t add to the magic.
Or there was no complete contempt, mixed with absolute astonishment, felt afterwards.

I might not have the ‘proof’ we’re now so desperate to share, but I certainly have the memory. And that, for me, is enough.

I wrote recently about the benefits of procrastination (yes there are some. Don’t believe me? Read here). And I promised to share some of the helpful tips I’ve come across for overcoming procrastination (when it’s not so beneficial, that is). Well, you won’t be disappointed.

But before I divulge, purely to build the suspense (and not at all because I’ve started questioning this particular challenge on my list...), I’ve been reflecting recently. Reflecting on why we so desperately want to overcome such a natural disposition. And in fact why we are so desperate to find the magical solution to so many of the traits that plain and simple - make us human.

One of the things I’ve discovered through my exploration with mindfulness is that short-term suffering (from a cold, for example) is a reminder that we are but human. We all suffer and, actually, experiences like these can provide us with an opportunity to reflect on this common thread that we share. And it can also be a good test of simply accepting. I wonder whether procrastination can actually provide us with the same opportunities?

Or perhaps I’m just procrastinating.

Well before I become too distracted to complete this particularly challenging challenge, let me share these tips…

They come from a very inspiring talk by Caroline Webb, author of ‘How to have a good day’ - you can catch up on it here. And they’re all based around the concept that we procrastinate when a task requires us to put effort in now for a benefit in the future. The tips Caroline shares therefore, aim to make the current effort feel smaller and the future benefit feel bigger or more real:

1. Think about how good it will feel once you’ve got the job done. This pretty obvious visualisation exercise can be pretty motivating for smaller tasks. But I often forget how powerful it is. If I can just remind myself that the effort will be worth it, sometimes that’s enough to make myself power through. What about for bigger tasks though?

2. Pre-commit to getting in done. This can be really persuasive. Making a commitment to complete the task (especially if it’s a commitment you make publicly), means you’re much more likely to actually go through with it. Now this is one I’d like to talk a lot more about another time, as it’s exactly what what by when is. A pre-commitment which I’ve made social to ensure I actually do it… And it’s working, right?!

3. Add short-term rewards to bridge the gap between the current effort and that future benefit. When I’m at work my short-term rewards tend to be of the indulgent sort… something sweet if I manage to get some good quality work out in the next couple of hours. A little treat which makes your efforts feel acknowledged.

4. Reduce the size of the initial first step. I find this particularly helpful when it comes to writing blog pieces - I often have ideas for what I want to write but actually getting on with it is another story. If I get my ideas out as bullet points as a first step though, the rest is sometimes surprisingly easy. Again this is about feeling a sense of reward, but this time by breaking the task up into smaller steps which you can tick off.

5. Link the task up with something you do like. Again this is one I rely on to get blog posts written. I’ll set myself up in a local cafe, order a coffee (and often a sweet treat which, if I can resist, I’ll use as above) and happily tap away at my keyboard. Hanging out in coffee shops is one of my favourite past times, so tying my blog writing to this makes things a lot more enjoyable.

Yes, I’m currently sat in a coffee shop.

How do you make the effort you’re putting in feel smaller and the future reward feel bigger?
That "Aha!" moment

‘Stop procrastinating!’... Well, that was an ambitious item for the list!

And I don’t think it’ll be a surprise when I admit that it’s one of the challenges I’ve struggled to get on with the most. In fact, what you won’t realise is that there are far fewer incomplete items on the list than it may appear - for I just haven’t quite managed to knuckle down and write up my experience of a number of them.

So my challenge to overcome procrastination has almost been left until last, yet seems the most needed challenge of them all!

Now, without intending to procrastinate even more, before I share some of the really helpful techniques my research into the topic has yielded, I would first like to share a slightly controversial standpoint…

Procrastination has its benefits.

I know, I know - if anything, such a statement is going to further encourage the behaviour! But bear with me on this one, as I’m not going to excuse all forms of procrastination, and this wisdom might just help you tackle a task better.

You see, research shows that when you leave something incomplete, it actually stays active at the back of your mind. And whilst it’s doing so, you’re going about your daily life - carrying out other tasks and taking in all sorts of seemingly unrelated stimuli.

This additional time your mind has to mull over the task, applying thinking from other activities (‘divergent thinking’ as the experts call it), can actually mean that when you do finally tackle the task, your solution is much more creative than it might’ve otherwise been.

It makes sense right? Slow things down, subject yourself to all sorts of other ‘outside the box’ stimuli and allow your clever subconscious to kick in - and you’ll come up with a much more rounded, imaginative answer.

However, here’s the caveat. In order to benefit from this ‘slowing things down’, you have to first start the task. You have to get those cogs in motion so your working memory can kick in. So if you’re a chronic procrastinator who struggles to even get started, I’m afraid you won’t find any vindication here.

Stay tuned though, because those ‘really helpful’ techniques are on their way next time…

In the meantime, do you have any ways you manage to tackle procrastination?

(Part one of two, read the next installment here. Go on, I share those really helpful techniques for overcoming procrastination...)
It's easy to be in the moment when you're somewhere beautiful, hundreds of miles away from home. But what about in everyday life?

The thing is, meditation isn't the be all and end all of mindfulness. Yes, it’s incredibly important ‘practice’ for living more in the moment (read why here!). But there's so many other ways to embrace mindfulness in everyday life. Here's 5 of my favourite ways - all helping me in my challenge to be more ‘in the moment’:

1. Find one task and make it mindful. It can be anything - the washing up, brushing your teeth, making the bed… just one small, everyday task which you can dedicate to doing mindfully. Pay attention to what you're doing and only that, taking in each and every detail that makes up the task. And each time a distracting thought pops up, gently let it drift away and come back to the task in hand.

2. Have a mindful mantra, something like “this moment is all there is” or “let it be” and remind yourself of it throughout the day. My mantra at the moment is “pole-pole” - Swahili for ‘slowly’ or ‘take it slowly’. My boyfriend and I always return from a holiday with some sort of bizarre catch phrase, but for once, this one from Tanzania seems perfectly apt!

3.Take a tech break. We don't need to be occupied all the time, yet even just walking to the shop down the road - a 5 minute walk - my default is to reach into my pocket and check what's going on in the digital world. Having a tech break gives you a chance to be present in what's actually going on around you.

4.Label thoughts and feelings for what they are - just thoughts and feelings. It's our natural instinct to respond to emotions - fear, anger, disgust... they all kept us fit and safe 12,000 years ago. But everyday safety is rarely reliant on our emotions anymore. So labelling them (like saying to yourself “I'm having the thought that…” or “I'm having the emotion of…”) creates a bit of distance between what you're thinking, and the reality. Want to know more? Watch this inspiring talk by psychologist Susan David all about emotional agility.

5.Activate your senses. Whatever you're up to, try activating your senses, pull yourself out of automatic and bring into focus the sight, sound, smell, feel and taste you're experiencing. Use your senses to anchor yourself to the moment.

2016... It's easy to feel ready to wave it good riddance, with Brexit, Trump and the death of far too many greats at top of mind… that’s because what's top of mind shapes what we perceive. It shapes our assumptions and our general attitude. Our quick acting, automatic system in our brain uses shortcuts like what's top of mind to keep things as simple as possible, helping us navigate this complex world. So with such profound events this year it’s no wonder we want to parcel up 2016 and erase it from our memory.

But before we do so, how about bringing some of the good things about 2016 to the top of mind? Because it can't all be bad, and that's a whole year of our precious lives after all.

I’ll kick start, and perhaps you’ll share a few of your highlights of 2016?...

1. I had the holiday of a lifetime! Three weeks of exploring in Tanzania not only satisfied my travelling bug for a while and gave me the opportunity to tick off a couple of challenges from my list, but most importantly, gave me a bit of space to get back in touch with what really matters, realign my values and reflect on what’s truly important to me. Much needed after months of work and life demands creating a rather thick fog.

2. I was asked to be a bridesmaid, twice! Now this one is an interesting highlight of the year, as both brides-to-be know I have a love-hate relationship with weddings… But both are incredibly important in my life and I don’t think there’s anything more consolidating of that than being asked to be a part of their special days. I feel absolutely privileged!

3. I've made memories to cherish with old friends and new friends alike. Leaving Bristol, and the dear friends I made there, was scary. But my move to London has not only given the opportunity to spend more time with other dear friends, but has also meant that time I spend with the Bristol lot has become all-the-more valuable. Plus, it’s opened doors to some incredible new friendships!

4. I fell in love… with two wheels. I bought a bike (I then quickly got my bike stolen, but as it was just as quickly replaced that’s easily forgotten) and found a new sense of freedom. It’s made London feel so much more accessible, enabled me to explore from a different angle and given me a bit of control and calm in this fast paced, and often harsh, city. It’s also opened opportunities - countryside rides with colleagues, group rides with friends and completing a triathlon of course.

5. Not only have I got to know my city, but I've shared it with some of those most important to me: my family. It’s a strange phenomenon, but sharing your home with family and friends seems to make you feel more at home. I’ve loved welcoming my family to my life in London and sharing some of its delights with them.

Now your turn...

In 2005 my Dad completed a triathlon. In fact, he didn’t just complete a triathlon, in 2005 my Dad learnt how to swim so that he could complete a triathlon!

At 44 years old, he and a close friend met once a week at a local swimming pool - his friend teaching him just enough so that on race day he could complete the entire swim with a strong breaststroke (head firmly out of the water, but determined all the way).

Two years later, my Dad suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and died.

This isn’t a story I share often. And it’s not a story I share lightly. But it helps to explain my motivation behind this particular challenge - why ‘complete a triathlon’ had to be on my list.

Actually, if I’m honest, it's a story which helps to explain my motivation behind all of my challenges. It explains why I’m so passionate about living life to the full, why I’m always keen to embrace new and unfamiliar experiences, and most importantly why I’m determined to keep challenging myself.

My Dad couldn’t swim but he wasn’t going to let any lack of skills get in the way of him completing that race. That’s my definition of inspiration.

So on September 4th 2016, my sister and I, alongside a close friend and supported by my brilliant Mum, brother and boyfriend (who all got up at the crack of dawn to be there!), completed our first ever triathlon.

And all the way, panicked open-water swim and gruelling transitions aside, I thought about my Dad. And I thought about the fact that this is what it’s all about - this is living life.

What’s your definition of inspiration?
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