Getting back in the saddle

Old, worn bike saddle

We fall, all the time.

We fail at things we attempt and we miss the things we stretch for.

The sad thing is, not that we fail, but that we let that failure stop us from achieving what we’re pursuing.

Failure interrupts our momentum and momentum is what helps to make things easier.

If you’ve exercised on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then it’s easier to exercise on Thursday because of your momentum. If you spent Monday to Wednesday doing something else and then beating yourself up for not exercising, then exercising suddenly becomes a more difficult choice. It feels like the universe is pushing against you.

And it’s hard enough if you chose not to exercise Mon – Wed, but it’s worst if you feel like you had no choice; if circumstances made it impossible and you’re now the victim.

Now your momentum is shot and starting up feels hard. Now the momentum is with “not doing”, with inaction.

Well, in the kindest possible way – fuck momentum.

Start again and start now. Don’t wait for the conditions to be right. They’re never right.

Start small. There is new momentum in a single step.

Get back in the saddle.

Always have a back-up plan

Just in Case by Sheila Sund -

Things fail, it’s just one of the realities of life.

Software, brakes, people, plans, fire alarms, auto-pilot systems, batteries and parachutes can all be working one minute, but useless the next.

It’s an important lesson to learn, we just need to make sure the lesson doesn’t turn us into cynical, paranoid, lunatics. Life is full of risk, and risk of failure is one that we just have to accept.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t prepare for failure; there aren’t too many scenarios when it doesn’t help to have a back-up plan.

This is especially true if we reflect inwards and consider our own motivation, drive and commitment. There are lots of forces which can motivate us to act, both intrinsically (from within us) and extrinsically (from outside ourselves). And while many of them will seem, in any given moment, like constant forces which will always be there, it’s important for us to remember that they’re not.

It’s important for us to remember that our motivating forces are as capricious and fickle as a summer breeze, and so it’s useful to have a couple operating simultaneously. It pays to have a back-up plan.

One way we can do this by mixing up the sources of motivation so that a failure in one area doesn’t mean a failure of the entire system. An example might be that we make sure that all of our long term goals are fuelled by a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. You might be driven to create something artistic by intrinsic creative forces, but you might also tell someone about this project or commit publicly to a deadline which imposes an extrinsic motivation as well.

Both of these motivators have the capacity to fail, but they’re not inextricably linked. What causes one to fail doesn’t necessarily bring down the other. So on a day in which you’re not feeling inspired or creative, you might be motivated by the deadline. Other days, when the internal fire is burning bright, you might happily chip away without giving the deadline a second thought.

This diversity of motivation can be a great, multilayered defence against failure. By ensuring that there are few, decoupled systems in place, we can decrease the odds that we’re ever jumping without a chute.

Failing Gracefully

There’s a lot to be said for a killer opening. Whether it’s an Imperial Star Destroyer hammering the shit out of a Rebel cruiser, or the Nazis biting off a piece of Poland, both got people to sit up, take notice and want to know what comes next, as well as really setting the tone for what was to come.

Despite knowing this, I’m always really lazy with the openings for my solo stand-up shows. I spend nine months writing a show, travel around the world to perform it and then open it by simply turning down the lights, playing my current favourite mash-up and walking onto the stage. There are hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of ways that I could better open my show, but for the sake of simplicity – or as I said earlier: laziness – I do next to nothing and then wonder why it’s so tough to kick-start the momentum.

Last night however, I didn’t even get my bare bones opening right. While the audience were coming into the room, I was backstage having a bit of a dance. I like dancing when the conditions are right. Normally that means a) I’m alone and b) I’m drunk; but before a show I’m stone sober and I really like to kick out the jams in the narrow space between the curtain and the back wall of the venue. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that the floor was riddled with loose mic cables which, as I danced, were wrapping themselves around my ankles like hungry anacondas. When the lights went down and the music came up at the start of the show, I tried my very best to leap onto the stage, but my legs had danced themselves into a cable orgy and I fell over. When the spotlight finally came up, I was face-down on the stage in full view of everyone, desperately hoping that the audience liked a good prat fall. The audience though had seen nothing of the fall (that happened in the darkness) and so just stared at me, wondering why I was starting the show on my hands, knees and face.

The true test of the integrity of a system is in how it works when it doesn’t. All things fail, but the trick is to make them fail gracefully. When a joke dies in front of an audience, many comedians will deploy a pre-prepared line, acknowledging the failure in a self-effacing way that reminds the audience they’re still funny. It’s not the only way, or even the correct way of dealing with a joke that dies, but it’s one way of allowing the joke to fail gracefully in front of a paying crowd. It picks the mood back up and allows the comedian to continue with at least a bit of momentum.

Last night my system failed and it failed with all the grace of a newborn giraffe. As I floundered around on the stage, trying desperately to untangle my feet in front of a confused and disappointed audience, all I could think was “this SHOULD be funny.” It should have been but it just wasn’t. It’s like I’d started Star Wars with a shot of Han Solo on the toilet, or World War Two by marching into Warsaw and doing the Hokey P/Kokey.

I’m doing my show again tonight, and despite the fact that I’ve spent a lot of this morning thinking about how I can fail gracefully, by the time the show rolls around I’ll probably just stand backstage, dancing in the dark, hoping that my tech has finally gaffered all the cables to the floor.

Ramen-lama-ding-dong

I’m mad for Ramen at the moment. In fact, any noodle soup that doesn’t obviously contain testicles, hearts or boiled egg (covert balls are ok) is floating my boat, but Ramen is the current soup de jour.

I love its simplicity: water, noodles and various, tiny pieces of unidentifiable, tasty shit; like someone has crushed a circuit board over a bowl of steaming beige wires. Yummy-tronic.

So with this simplicity in mind, I thought that it would be a cinch to make some ramen at home, in the few minutes I have at lunchtime between writing jokes and trying to keep my daughter Florence from swallowing her own fist.

ingredients of ramen
The Ingredients of Ramen (by weight)

Of course, as five minutes on the inter-tubes would reveal, there’s nothing simple about ramen at all. True to form, the Japanese have taken something which has more parts that a full-size death star built entirely out of lego and just made it look like a bowl of soup.

In hindsight, I was an idiot to think that it would be easy. The Japanese don’t believe in easy; they just believe in making things that look easy. Things that lure in arrogant interlopers with the promise of simplicity, but then reveal themselves to be as unfathomable as the bastard child of UK tax law and the off-side rule.

Unfortunately, the “She’ll be right” attitude hard-coded into my Australia genes told me to make the ramen anyway, and so with ingredients blindly purchased from a Japanese supermarket where I was too embarrassed to talk to the staff, I made what I thought was, but turned out not to be, ramen. It’s hard to describe what I actually produced, but let’s just say that “she wasn’t right”. She, was pretty far from alright. I might have gone in with the best of intentions, but I came out with something that looked cholera-infested, sump water and tasted like old socks and wet cardboard.

You know that you’ve really buggered up in the kitchen when someone who doesn’t even understand the concept of sensory perception, screws their nose up at the smell of what you’ve just created. So when Florence vomited in response to smelling my pseudo-ramen, I stopped trying to convince myself that it tasted of anything other than balls and tipped it down the sink.

So as of 4pm this afternoon the scoreline stands: JAPAN 1 – KENT 0 and I’ve learned yet another lesson about the hidden intricacies of something that looks like a piece of piss, but invariably tastes better when made by someone who knows what they’re doing.

– Kent