What’s the bootcamp?

I’m really excited: you probably have seen the stuff about the “bootcamp” around the blog. The bootcamp is something I have been working on – and I hope you’ll join when it starts in March. In this post, I’ll explain a bit about the bootcamp – and in the next post I’ll say a bit more how it came about.

In a nutshell, the bootcamp is a month long “program” that brings together bits of mindfulness, meditation and tantra specifically for gay men (although you don’t have to be gay, of course!). I’m a bit hesitant to use the word program, as it isn’t really a big thing “change all aspects of your life” sort of thing and it doesn’t require you to commit to a lot of time every day.

In fact, it is a small, daily doses kick-starter program: similar to a fitness bootcamp, just less work and more results. It brings together some activities that I have found to be really good to get more out of life: a collection of things that I have picked up upon or used over the years. Now I assembled all of it into a “meaningful package”.

The idea is that, for a month, you try out something different or think about a particular point every day. All of the points together, at the end of the month, give you a pretty good overview over your life, things you are happy with, identify things you want to change, and things you want to explore more.

I think the result is a fun month of daily, small activities, which make you think, change the way you look at life, make you appreciate life more, that are sexy and  enjoyable.

The bootcamp has two parts: the first part is learning techniques, basically giving you some activities to help you better control your mind to be present, and to do what you want it to do (you’ll see, that is not as easy as it sounds!). The second part, is applying this to life, sex and relationships.

In the first part, the bootcamp starts with mindfulness. Simply training the mind to be present in the present moment. If you are a bit skeptical about it… I totally see your point: I remember when I first heard about the technique, I thought it was really stupid. And simple. But after giving it a try a few times (and I needed a few times to get it right, because it wasn’t really that simple at all!), I realised what a difference it can make make to many situations.

The bootcamp continues from there: the next step is meditation. Not in a dogmatic way, but in a fun way! While the first part gives you activities to focus your mind on the now and present, this part trains the mind to focus on specific issues with a purpose. Meditation and mindfulness are then the techniques used for the second part of the boot camp, where it is all about applying them to enjoy life more.

The second part focuses on the application: first on life overall – and then quite specifically to sex and relationships. This is the real fun part, a you get to ask all the big questions, and use the techniques from before on them.

Careful though, this part is not your typical meditate on life and hope for the best outcome sort of program: it is a really focused way of crafting your individual life and sexual “strategy”. Totally NSFW … From food to masturbation, exercise to kink, from using sex toys to going nude – it will all come in the second part.  And you’ll see how the techniques from the first part of the bootcamp help you enjoy all of it much more then before.

And just like a fitness bootcamp, the plan is trying to get you out of your normal life a bit – explore around the edges of your comfort zone… and have a lot of fun along the way.

Find out more about how the urbangay approach and the idea for the bootcamp developed in the next post. And: don’t forget: if you sign up to the VIP list newsletter you won’t miss out on any bootcamp posts!

Gamify yourself

Making changes probably involves a  few (or maybe even a lot) of new habits, from a daily morning meditation, reading everyday, calling friends or running three times a week – or whatever else you may have chosen to adopt. The question is, how can you keep those little important habits fun, without them becoming an onerous chore?
One of the things I have learned from my life as an academic is that it often just takes little twists to turn behaviour from onerous to fun and easy – and one of the most powerful ones for this is a tool called Gamification. And no, you don’t have to be a serious gamer to apply this… Continue reading “Gamify yourself”

How I established a morning meditation routine

Meditation is said to have many positive effects: from more energy, less stress and more focus to increased immunity. As the SWIPES analysis of my life had brought to light, I was pretty much totally missing out on the spiritual aspect of my life. Hence, I decided to establish a morning meditation routine – and here are a few points I have considered and learned. Continue reading “How I established a morning meditation routine”

Four Alternative Ways of Meeting New (not only gay) Friends

Moving to a new city is exciting. And it also means having to find new friends… which can be a daunting task – especially as an adult and working from home… I know from my SWIPES analysis that friends and an active social life are very important to me… I literally get grumpy when I’m left on my own for too long. So I need to address this as a high priority point as soon as moving. Thus,  I came up with a few strategies I’ll use when getting to Lisbon (of course, you don’t have to move cities to use these strategies – they work just as well “at home”). As some of these strategies have already worked well in London for me, I’m quite hopeful I can do something similar in Lisbon. Though first, two strategies which seem popular and easy… Continue reading “Four Alternative Ways of Meeting New (not only gay) Friends”

It’s complicated: Seven easy ways to embrace uncertainty

When making radical changes to your life, such as redesigning your life, it is pretty normal to think that things will be complicated, maybe even so complicated, that it is best not to proceed. Those challenges come both from moving out of your comfort zone as well may come from others who see you making changes they might want to make (but think they are too complicated to do). It is easy at this point to fall into the trap and abandon the plan, coming up with obstacles and focusing on all the negative aspects.

After I had “designed” my vision of my future, I was often tempted to abandon the ideas simply because things felt complicated (really falling at the first hurdle). That is not to say it will always be easy (it won’t), but remember, the result will ultimately be a what you really wanted, because you are moving ahead strategically and focusing on achieving the ultimate goal: your dream vision.

When “complicated” struck me, feeling like the road ahead was like a wild mountain road, with many curves and complications …. I used the following seven ways to overcome my thinking: immediately challenging the “too complicated” idea – and avoiding mentally making lists why it won’t work, will fail etc – and therefore focusing my ideas on achieving the outcome (rather than running the risk of sabotaging it).

Throughout the process I learned that the “ it is too complicated thinking” is part and parcel of making changes  – it is a sign of progress. The problem is, that if you give in to the “complicated”, you will stand still at best – or setting yourself up for self-sabotage at worst. So taking “complicated” at face value is probably the most severe mistake you can make – the only way forward is to “challenge the complicated”. And often, it turns our a lot less complicated than you think.

To challenge the “complicated” thinking, here is what worked for me:

– Is it rational or irrational?
Often I found asking this simple question stopped the complicated thinking in the tracks: Many thoughts about things being complicated were pretty irrational – or alternatively, I could do something to make sure the complication was contained. For example, one night I imaged how complicated it would be to go flat hunting when not really speaking the language. I’m not sure why this particular scenario played out on my mind, but that was what it was. Of course, I could quickly challenge this by remembering how I flat hunted when moving to Spain: at the time I didn’t speak any Spanish. But after a bit of work I secured one of the nicest flats I have ever lived in. The point is, of course, that the fear is irrational: many people move without speaking the language – but that doesn’t mean they can’t do it or end up living under a bridge – or, worst, should give up on their dream. But just to be on the safe side, the next day, I also decided to look for a Portuguese course. Of course, speaking the language at least a bit will also be hand in other areas. Most importantly though, I moved forward, and didn’t let the “it will be complicated” ruin my plan.

– Best and worse case scenario
Rationally sitting down and working out the worst case and best case scenario also proved very helpful for me: Simply weighing up the potential benefits of achieving even just the main parts of my vision vs the potential worst case scenario quickly alleviated any thinking of “this is too complicated”.
In my case, it was simply a case of thinking through what would happen: It was easy to dramatically think about it in terms of “total failure” at this point. Don’t! Remember to be rational: In the worst case scenario, I would have spent a year or two taking time “out”, learning a new language, making friends and living in a place I like – before doing something else. Doesn’t sound quite so bad now, does it?
In the best case scenario… I will achieve all my goals, make my vision reality and live the life I want to live. Taking it like that meant that even in the worst case scenario I was still gaining from making the changes – so there was really no need to hold back.

– Give yourself some easy wins
Remember the planning tips from the “Lists and SWIPES: Getting towards a clear vision and designing goals” post?  … here those plans came in particularly handy: Because the tools allowed me to visualise and work on “easy wins” first, which meant I started moving towards my goal, I managed to gain more confidence. In fact, some of those wins can really boost your confidence.
Here is an example of an easy win: One of the seemingly complicated problems was simply getting a bank account sorted. Not really complicated at all with hindsight – but I felt it was complicated. Mostly, because in Portugal you need a tax number to open it. This felt like a massive task: going to a tax office, registering etc etc … I don’t know about you, but I have a chronic fear of anything to do with tax offices, officials and that sort of thing (mostly unfounded, I know!). You can imagine how quickly this would have turned into a massive list to stop everything. Eventually, during my stay in July, I decided to take the issue, and after morning class went directly to the tax office to register. Of course, I had imagined it to be massively complicated, and having to deal with a grumpy tax inspector and so forth… but actually it wasn’t half as bad. I also challenged myself to do this in Portuguese to give myself an easy win: So I prepared what I would say, looked up the words I’d likely need before hand – and walked into the tax office to get the number. As you can imagine, none of my “complicated issues” actually came true: There wasn’t a massive queue, instead, I was in and out within 30 minutes. The person wasn’t a grumpy person, but a really friendly woman who loved the fact that I made an effort to speak Portuguese (even if that meant pointing and gesticulating at some points)… and actually, when I cam out I felt massively more confident: not just had I “beaten” my fear of officials, I also proved that I could do it in Portuguese!

– Remind yourself of the goal
Another strategy was to simply visualise the goal again… and ask myself the question: will this simple “complication” really stop me? Keeping fixated on the goal helped enormously to put things into perspective, especially when combined with one of the other tools above. Consulting the lists again, the vision and imagining the outcome, in full “technicolour” … how it would feel, smell and sound like when I succeeded quickly alleviated any “it is too complicated” feeling.

– Immerse yourself
It is generally true that what is different is often seen with suspicion. Even if that “different” happens to be what you really want. Just think of a dish you don’t know what it is: many people would rather forgo the chance that to taste it, than to try it. Obviously, moving to a different country means a lot of “unknown dishes” – and not just in a culinary sense. The strategy I came up with was simply to introduce more and more things from the “unknown” into my life: I started reading the English newspapers published in Portugal. I started to look for Portuguese restaurants… listen to Portuguese radio stations. All of these were simple steps that made the unknown much more familiar – even before I was there.

– Talk
I also benefited a lot by talking to other people about the plans I had made: it actually had effects on three levels: Firstly it helped to clarify my own vision as I was explaining it to my friends and family. Secondly, it meant that often I discovered how many people had friends or stories which contributed to helping me refine the ideas and options. One friend, for example, made a similar move a few years back: talking to him was really helpful. Thirdly, by talking about it, I meant that I was increasingly publicly committing myself to doing it – making it more difficult to stop the process.
Also remember to talk to other people openly about your plan – and what it means for them: For example, some of my friends appeared fearful that moving would mean I would never see them again. I immediately challenged that by inviting them to come and visit me in Lisbon. For others, the move meant potential delays: For example, I have some co-authors and my publisher who are waiting for manuscripts. Talking openly to them allowed us to establish a time plan together and put their mind to rest, that, although I’m moving, I will still follow through on my commitments.

– Allow yourself time, but don’t stand still
An other important point was to allow myself a balanced time frame: making major life changes doesn’t happen overnight. But equally they don’t happen if you put them off. Sometimes time works in your favour: for example, I needed to give four months notice to quit my job. That time helped me to immerse myself, and prepare for the move etc… It would maybe have been easy to stand still at this point and simply work out the notice period, then start the move in quiet and… you can imagine. The trick for me was to keep the pressure strong enough to keep me moving forward: that meant working out the notice period while intensifying the language learning, moving preparations and so forth. In the end, that meant I never stood still waiting for something to happen – but I was continually moving towards my goal.

In the end, these strategies worked miracles for me to avoid thinking “it is too complicated” – and simply retreating into my comfort zone. I hope they are helpful for you when you are making important changes to your life. Remember: it always feels easier to to the same thing over and over again, to stay in your comfort zone – and all else will always feel complicated. But in the end, you can’t win by standing still. Accepting that feeling of complication is key to getting ahead. In fact, there isn’t anything new that isn’t at least a bit “complicated”. So embrace complications … and you’ll see just how many complications are just like hot air.

Lists and SWIPES: Getting towards a clear vision and designing goals

After completing the “list task” from yesterday, I achieved both a clear vision of where I wanted to be – as well as a concise list of things I liked, I was good at – and what I was proud of/had achieved.
The next step now was to map this onto the SWIPES framework. To do this, I used a simple table, allowing me to write the main goal (or goals) from the vision I created in the previous step next to each of the SWIPES dimensions.

But, of course, the purpose of this exercise was not just to create another list, but to create the outline of a plan moving forward and identify potential ways how to move forward:
To do this, I started to “rank” each goal from the vision: I decided to do this by using the following questions for each goal:

  • How close am I at the moment?
  • How important is this to me?
  • What is my ability to generate change (quickly)?
  • How confident am I in achieving change?

The first two questions allowed me to look at areas that were far, far off: For example, I had this vision (ever since studying in Southern Europe) of returning to live there. This was obviously very far off the mark (I was living in London), but it was something that I decided was important to me. I also realised, that at my age I was probably just about young enough to still do it (other than maybe retire there) and would still have the chance of building a “new life” there. Once I figured that out, other areas became a bit more relative to this very important goal: I could start to figure out what impact such a move would have, and how I could make these other goals reality while also moving.

The purpose of the last two questions was to start identifying areas I can focus on of achieve quick hits: For example, I know I’m quite an outgoing person, I have generally the ability to create social networks quite quickly and I’m quite confident about this. This worked well with my “top” goal of moving to Southern Europe again – though at the same time wasn’t something I could do something about immediately. Rather, I would have to wait until I had moved, but in the meantime I could explore options and think of ways of making new friends (and keeping old ones) after moving. As you can see, the questions, and the table started to clarify necessary actions, almost a timeline, in other words: they brought the somewhat abstract vision I had developed in the previous “list steps” to live, and allowed me to plan ahead.

SWIPES also helped me to see that my current vision had no mention for spirituality: I occasionally used meditation before, especially at times when I was really stressed. But to be honest, I hadn’t been consistent with it, only used it on/off – and couldn’t really say much apart from that I quite liked it and found it relaxing. But it just never played a role in my life, let alone was anything I would do habitually.

The result of all of this was a very, very clear vision of how my ideal life would be: And this allowed me to almost see a clear path to this. Why is this so important? Well… you could argue from “The Secret” version of the world: I have a clear vision and the universe will deliver.
Maybe less spiritually, I now had a perfectly clear vision not only where I wanted to be, but also started to be able to identify how I could get there.
In other words: I had the foundations and a vision of the house… and now the hard work could begin building it. Amazingly though, thanks to the clarity I had gained out of the planning process, I knew that every step I would take could be measured easily against it being effective as a way to achieve my vision. Thus, I could minimise distraction and wasted energy – and fully focus on moving ahead.

Pre-SWIPES work: Listing all the good things

While the SWIPES areas (or rather dimensions) are useful to define broad areas of a balanced and happy life, the first challenge was to apply these and start designing a possible plan for change. This was, of course a deeply personal exercise. In this post I describe how I used the framework to design my person “reset” and “reboot” – of course, please bear in mind that this may be a quite different process for you – it may be more gradual, it may be more rapid – and of course, the actual goals and visions are likely to be very different.

The aim of this first exercise was to start “planning”: while it would have been easy to jump to individual actions (do more sports? Eat more veg? Read more?…), many of these Continue reading “Pre-SWIPES work: Listing all the good things”

Redesigning my life: the SWIPES framework

When I first took a closer look at my life I realised that the easiest way to achieve positive change was to divide life into several categories – those that were essential to designing a happy and healthy life. Using an approach of looking at life in categories has the advantage that I could quickly see where I was doing well, and where I needed to focus on.  It also helped me to create a life vision – and where I wanted to be vs where I was.

Coming from an academic background, my first step was, of course, to start reading what others had written about this. Unfortunately that wasn’t an easy task, as many people seem to have written about it – claiming some sort of research base – but often never seemed to have gone through rigorous testing, let alone peer-review. There is a whole Continue reading “Redesigning my life: the SWIPES framework”