Episode 61: The Self Help Book Group on Happiness with Dr Nik Kendrew
The pandemic has brought many things to a standstill. Many find themselves reflecting on things they could have done and achieved if not for their circumstances. You may be one of those who find themselves thinking, ‘What can I do to achieve happiness’? or ‘If only I could do my life over and get it right this time, maybe I’d be happier’.
In this episode, You Are Not A Frog regular Dr Nik Kendrew joins me to discuss the concept of happiness. We tackle the everlasting question of ‘What is happiness’? We also talk about perfectionism and fear and how these can hinder us from doing the things we want to do. At the end of the show, Nik and I give our top tips to being happier.
If you want to know more about living a happy life, then this episode is for you.
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
- Find out the difference between heights and depths of happiness.
- Discover how the smallest of experiences can shape us.
- Know more about how small things can make a huge difference to our happiness levels.
[6:04] Nik’s Learnings from The Midnight Library
- The most recent book Nik has read is The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. It is a book written from the perspective of somebody who has experienced a severe mental illness including thoughts of suicide
- Nora, the main character, ends up in a library between life and death. She is offered different choices to live out different lives until she becomes disappointed. She can then go back to the library and pick out another life.
- With everything that happened in 2020, we get reflective and think about how things could be different.
- Accept and appreciate what you have. If you are not happy, try to find a way to move forward from where you are.
- Tal Ben Shahar says that happiness is the ultimate currency. However, it comes with the caveat that it is the things that give you meaning, purpose, and satisfaction, not just stuff that makes you feel good.
[12:52] Height and Depth of Happiness
- Height of happiness refers to your peak or happy experiences.
- Depth of happiness has nothing to do with positive emotions. It’s about the things we put around us, like our deep connections and life purpose, that give us a baseline level of happiness.
- Depth of happiness is not dependent on feelings, nor is it necessarily dependent on circumstances.
- Happiness is much more than possessions and money.
- Look at the bigger picture. It’s about contentment and appreciating how you got to where you are.
[21:27] What is Happiness Dependent On?
- Happiness depends on your resilience, coping mechanisms, belief, meaning, and purpose you have in life.
- Negative experiences often have a profoundly positive effect on our lives.
- Nik’s life experiences gave him the hunger to follow his dream. Listen to the full episode to learn more about a life-changing experience that changed his perspective.
- You can find satisfaction and happiness without being famous or being good at what you do. Do something for the sake of doing it because you love it.
- Be kind to yourself.
[26:06] Nik and His Passion for Media
- There is no guarantee that Nik would have been happy if he got the presenter job he applied for.
- He loves where he is now because he is involved in every stage of the production process. He is free to express himself compared to if he was working for a big organisation.
- Nik would instead make high quality stuff and enjoy it with a few listeners.
- He is a bit fearful of criticism.
[30:01] Perfectionism and Getting Things Done
- Fear can hold us back, and perfectionism is often what many people use to cover up their fears.
- Waiting for something to happen will not get you anywhere. You can’t get things done and do what you really want if you keep waiting for a perfect time.
- When you add new things to your life, you need to take out those that don’t contribute to your life and happiness.
[31:43] How to Create a Good Mindset and Be Happy Without Going Through a Life Crisis
- Be kind; any one of us could not be here tomorrow. Being kind also allows us to call on people when we need them.
- Your dreams may change as you go through life, but never give up on them.
- Living in the present is the best advice.
- Do not let fear stop you from doing what you love.
- Appreciate the little things.
[37:18] Top Tips to Live Life in the Present from Nik and Rachel
- Live in the moment as much as you can.
- Have some space for yourself but also share that with who you’re with.
- Do what you want to do — it doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to wait until you’ve got time.
- Don’t waste your time on things you don’t want to do.
7 Powerful Quotes from This Episode
[09:52] ‘A person was like a city. You couldn’t let a few less desirable parts put you off the whole. There may be bits that you don’t like, a few dodgy side streets and suburbs, but the good stuff makes it worthwhile’.
[10:46] ‘Life is what it is, and it’s made of all of the ups and downs’.
[12:26] ‘We think of happiness as a destination. But it is actually everything that happens along the way to that. That’s the most important stuff’.
[15:05] On negative experiences: ‘Even though they might have been negative and difficult, the moments have shaped how we are and might actually have contributed to that deeper level of happiness that we’ve got, because they made us reexamine life and look at things and do things differently’.
[20:02] ‘When you came that close to something dreadful happening to yourself and to your friends, it makes you realise how fragile life is’.
[28:33] ‘It’s all a learning experience. And if you’re too frightened to try stuff out and try to learn from your errors because it has to be perfect when it goes out, then often you just stop yourself doing anything’.
[33:25] ‘Don’t give up on the dreams that you’ve been following because they’re important. You need to have something to focus on in the future or to aim towards’.
About Dr Nik Kendrew
Dr Nik Kendrew is a GP Partner, Red Whale GP, Update presenter, and GP media guru. He attended the Math School in Rochester and studied Medicine in London at University College London Medical School. Nik was then trained on the Maidstone GP Training Scheme.
He was a Partner at Stockett Lane Surgery in Coxheath from 2006–2014 and became accredited as a GP Trainer in 2011. Dr Kendrew has worked with the West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group on the Urgent Care project for admissions avoidance. He has also worked as a GP in Accident & Emergency.
He is interested in medicine in media, especially how powerful it is in educating people about promoting health. Nik hosts the Boggled Docs podcast, and you can get in touch with him through Twitter.
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In today’s high-stress work environment, you may feel like a frog in boiling water. The pan has heated up so slowly that you didn’t notice the feeling of stress and overwhelm becoming the norm. You may feel that it is impossible to survive AND thrive in your work.
Frogs generally have only two options — stay and be boiled alive or jump out of the pan. Fortunately, you are not a frog. You have many more options, choices, and control than you think.
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Dr Rachel Morris: Do you ever wish you could see your life over and over again until you got it just right? And have there been any moments in your life that you perhaps wish didn’t happen that were pivotal for you? And is it really possible to learn the important lessons in life without having to go through the really difficult stuff?
Welcome to another episode of You Are Not A Frog, our special Christmas episode. And yes, it’s the self-help book group again with Dr Nik Kendrew, fellow podcaster, GP, and all-round wise guy, where we talk about a couple of books that have helped us enormously and share them with you. We can all do with a little encouragement right now. So listen to find out the difference between heights of happiness and depth of happiness, how even the smallest of our experiences may shape us and the really small things that can make a huge difference to your happiness levels.
Introduction: Welcome to You Are Not A Frog—the podcast for GPs, doctors, and other busy professionals in high-stress jobs. Even before the coronavirus crisis, many of us were feeling stressed and one crisis away from not coping. We felt like frogs in boiling water—overwhelmed and exhausted. But this has crept up on us slowly, so we hardly noticed the extra-long days becoming the norm. And let’s face it, frogs generally only have two choices, stay and be boiled alive, or jump out of the pan and leave. But you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. You have many more options than you think you do. It is possible to be master of your own destiny and to craft your life so that you can thrive even in the most difficult of circumstances.
I’m your host, Dr Rachel Morris, GP, and executive coach and specialist in resilience at work. I work with doctors and other organisations all over the country to help professionals and their teams beat stress and take control of their work. I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues, and experts, all who have an interesting take on this. So that together, we can take back control to survive and thrive in our work and lives.
Rachel: The Christmas season is traditionally a time of overeating, too much TV, and perhaps a bit of reflection before we set loads of resolutions for January that we probably won’t keep. Now it’s fair to say for many of us, 2020 has been a total car crash. You may be feeling a bit disillusioned, soft, and lacking in joy this year. But now more than ever, we need to take back control of our lives, feel better, beat stress, and start to design a life in which we’ll thrive.
Now I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed and exhausted and one crisis away from not coping. That’s why I created the Shape Toolkit programme for professionals in high-stress jobs. And I’m delighted that it’s now available to all healthcare professionals as an e-learning course consisting of four modules with five videos each. It contains activities and exercises for reflection with up to six hours of CPT, and it will help you take control of your workload, maximise your wellbeing, change your response to stressful events, and design a working week that you’re going to love.
Now I love to help you get ahead of the game. And I’m offering the course a special discounted price. And as a Christmas bonus, I’m including my brand-new eBook all about wellbeing. The stress less dashboard. So why don’t you treat yourself this Christmas? Give yourself a present of the course, and I’m offering 100% no-quibbles, money-back guarantee. So if you don’t find it of any value, we’ll give you your money back. So, do take advantage of this special Christmas reduced price offer, which is only available until the 31st of December.
Here’s this week’s episode.
So, hello, and welcome to another episode of You Are Not A Frog and this week is our very special Christmas edition. And I’m really pleased to have with me, back again and again and again, Dr Nik Kendrew for our Christmas Self-Help Book club edition. Nik, welcome.
Dr Nik Kendrew: Hi, Rachel, thanks for having me back. That’s very exciting.
Rachel: It’s always a pleasure to have you on Nik. Just for those people that don’t know who Nik is, Nik, why don’t you just introduce yourself?
Nik: Well, hi, I’m Nik Kendrew. I’m a GP down in Kent. And I also, passionate about the media. So I have my own podcast called Boggled Docs, where we basically look at what’s going on in the medical media. And we use that as a springboard for you to target your CPD because basically, I’ve seen a few shows in years gone by thinking, ‘My goodness, if one of my patients has been watching that they could come in tomorrow and want to talk about this topic, I need to know all about it’. And so basically, it’s trying to fill that gap. And so that’s what I do on the podcast, and I also am a presenter for Red Whale GP Update company.
Rachel: Yes, and you’re a GP partner as well.
Nik: That’s right. Yes.
Rachel: So, very varied career. And Boggled Docs is really great. I’d really recommend people have a listen. We’re going to be talking about books today. And I think books—someone described to me these books are—they’re the best value you can ever get, right? Because you can buy all these online courses and—my own online course, which people can buy about how to be happy at work and beat stress and thrive. But a book generally contains everything that someone knows, and it costs around, book 15 quids? 12 quids?
Rachel: So an awful lot of information for not very much money. And there’s something different isn’t there about reading a book as to watching something on a screen that I think can be really powerful and often sort of stays with you long, which is one of the reasons why I started this sort of self-help book club with you. Because well, we both love reading these different things. And my husband goes on at me all the time about all these self-help books that I read, but genuinely, they’ve been my education. And they’ve helped me so much.
So I thought, let’s do this regularly with you. And let’s talk about some things that could be helpful for people that are listening that may be going through a hard time or thinking how can I change things to, I mean, I’m going to thrive more in my workplace. And this course is a Christmas edition of You Are Not A Frog, Nik, what have you been reading recently?
Nik: So I have been reading the Midnight Library by Matt Haig. So this is a fiction book. Now, Matt Haig is—I can’t recommend him highly enough. He’s brilliant. He’s just the most amazing author. And he does nonfiction and fiction books. And I first came across him when I read his book Reasons to Stay Alive. So he’s somebody that suffered from depression. And he’s actually been suicidal in the past. And that’s why his book Reasons To Stay Alive is so powerful. And because he’s really very much speaking from the heart.
So if you imagine that he’s written that in the past, so now he’s written this book, and it’s come out in the last couple of months, the Midnight Library. So basically, on the back cover, it says, ‘Between life and death, there is a library’, she said, ‘and within that library, the shelves go on forever, every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived to see how things would have been if you’d made other choices, would you have done anything different if you had the chance to undo your regrets’? which is quite profound…
Nik: …and quite throws you in, doesn’t it?
Nik: And so imagine that he’s written his book from the perspective of somebody that has had and does suffer from mental illness and has been so low that he felt suicidal. The characters in his book have got so much depth to them because of that. And the main character is a female character called Nora. And it is told from her perspective, and she is—when we meet her, she’s in a life that isn’t what she’d wanted. And it becomes clear that there were several points in her life where she made choices that were different to what she maybe had hoped for. And so, therefore, she finds herself in a place that isn’t happy, and difficult to talk about it too much without giving away too many spoilers. But basically, let’s just say that she ends up in this library, which is between life and death. And so she then has to decide, and she gets offered all these different choices of different lives that she could have lived. And basically, you stay in these lives until you become disappointed. And then you drop back out and go back to the library. And then you have another chat and decide about which one you want to see next.
And it’s about the right question. Because to start with, she’s asking about, ‘I want to see the life where I do this or where I do that’. But early on, she’s not saying, ‘I want to see the life where I’m happy’, which is quite telling. And so she goes to some lives where on paper, she should be the most happy that you could possibly be. And there’s one—and where she dipped into herself when she’s this Olympic gold medal winning swimmer who’s going doing the circuit and giving all these kind of corporate talks, and life-affirming talks, and life coaching and all that kind of stuff. And so that’s the life that she thought she would be really happy in. But actually, when she gets there, and lives, it is not quite as amazing as she thought.
So, I just think it’s a really interesting angle to look at. And when you think about the year that we’ve all had, you do get a bit reflective and think about, ‘Oh, I wonder how things could be different’. But I think often it’s about accepting what you have, and appreciating what you have. And if you’re not happy with something, it’s about trying to find a way to move forward from where you are.
But there’s just so many beautiful bits that are written in the book. And there’s one bit that really struck me because as we all know human beings are human beings, we’re imperfect. And it’s about—there’s a sequence which I’ll just readout, and which is basically just saying how we can accept other people and ourselves as imperfect and I’ve never seen it, kind of, written quite like this, but I think this is basically done. So here we go. It says, ‘A person was like a city. You couldn’t let a few less desirable parts put you off the whole. There may be bits that you don’t like, a few dodgy side streets and suburbs, but the good stuff makes it worthwhile’.
And so I think it’s worthwhile thinking about yourself as a city. And maybe people close to you too because we’re all we’ve all got dodgy side streets, and bits of things like that, haven’t we? But hopefully, the bigger picture is that it gives you a feeling of being a good thing. So which city are you, Rachel?
Rachel: Just thinking got to love the quote, we’ve all got dodgy side streets. I think it’s such an important thing because we do look back on life and think, ‘Oh, if only this, if only that, if only we hadn’t got the coronavirus pandemic, if only I had made that choice, or that thing hadn’t happened, or’ And life is what—it isn’t it made of all of the ups and downs.
And I remember reading, the people that have been through really traumatic experiences, often when they look back, they say that ‘even though it was tough, they wouldn’t change it’. I mean, some people say, ‘Yes, they absolutely would change it’. But there’s something that happens, and there’s character building, and there’s resilience building that happens to us as we go through life. And unfortunately, nice experiences and nice things don’t make you happy in the long run. And you can see that quite well when you look at all the celebrity reality TV shows where they can buy as many nice experiences and things as they want to.
But there’s a lot of research on positive psychology that says that the pleasant life, unpleasant experiences can only get you so far, and actually it’s stuff that gives you meaning and purpose and all that sort of thing. That means that you are going to be much, much happier in life. And I guess happiness is a funny metric to measure things by, anyways isn’t it? What does happiness mean? What’s going to make us happy? One of the books I’ve got I was going to talk about is this book called Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar. And he’s the chap who created the—pretty much the most popular course at Harvard University, all about how to be happy. And he talks about happiness as the ultimate currency. But it comes with a caveat; you have to be careful, because it’s stuff that gives you meaning and purpose and satisfaction, not stuff that makes you feel good, necessarily.
Nik: Exactly. I think I’ve often heard people say that we—where we going wrong is that we think of happiness as a destination. But it’s actually, it’s everything that happens along the way to that, that’s the most important stuff. And also, happiness is something that isn’t permanent, comes and goes, isn’t it? And it’s the things that make you feel good in yourself and feel content with where you are, which are more important. If you’re looking for one thing that’s going to make you happy, then that’s where we kind of come on stuck, I think.
Rachel: It’s interesting. In the Tal Ben-Shahar book, he talks about the height and the depth of happiness. So, if you sort of think about happiness as being a graph that goes on symptoms, you have these sorts of peaks, where you have these happy experiences where you’re feeling really happy. So these are the sort of peaks and the troughs. But then you have the depth of happiness, which is nothing to do with what is going on with the positive emotions that you might be experiencing. It’s all about—or some of it can be genetic. Some of it can be actually how we’re hardwired to experience the world. But some of it can be about the things that we’ve put around us, like the deep connections that we have, and the purpose that we have in life, and all that sort of stuff that gives you this sort of baseline level of happiness, which actually we can do things to change, but it’s not dependent on feelings, and it’s not dependent, necessarily on circumstances.
I remember seeing a—I don’t know if it’s on Netflix, though— it was a documentary called Happy. And it was sort of an hour long. And these researchers had gone to various different places in the world. And I remember saying they were interviewing this rickshaw driver, who lives in slums, just outside New Delhi, I think. And he had five kids. They were really, really poor, a very hand to mouth living. He made his living as a rickshaw driver. I think the kids were in school, but life was tough, and they just lived in this shack. And they said, the researcher said, that this chap has the same level of happiness as the average American.
Rachel: Who has five times the income or whatever. I just brought home to me that happiness is nothing, it’s nothing about material possessions, and it’s nothing about money. I know that you do need a set amount of income to live in and if you are struggling with money, that can be a cause of reduced happiness. But I know there’s so much more.
And if we come back to that book that you’re talking about the Midnight Library, we sometimes look back and think, ‘if only that I’d be happier, if only that had happened I’d be happier, If only that had happened’. Not realising that some of these things, even though they might have been negative and difficult that moment have shaped how we are and might actually have contributed to that deeper level of happiness that we’ve got because they made us re-examine life and look at things and do things differently.
Nik: I completely agree. And I think, often, is a case of looking at the bigger picture. And if you, kind of put it—as I was saying before, if you put too much on one thing, then that puts almost too much pressure on the situation. And it’s about being content where you are. But also looking at the learning of how you’ve got to where you are, because every knockback that you have. Every time somebody says ‘no’, if that then makes you think, actually, ‘But I still believe that I want to do this’. And it finds you a different way of doing it a different path. And that’s a positive thing, too, isn’t it?
And I’m thinking about, so, all these different parts and bits and pieces. So when I was at medical school, I had a few interviews for some quite exciting media jobs. And because I’ve always been interested in the media as well as medicine. And one of them was a high profile job, which would have been on kids’ TV, and I got pretty close to it. But I didn’t get the job. And you always think, ‘I wonder what would have happened if’, and I remember watching the presenter that got the job. And you know what, watching their career basically, and they’ve done really well, and it’s really lovely to see. And you kind of think, ‘I wonder what would have happened’. And it’s funny how ripples happen too because I had to interview for that job, which was Blue Peter, I should say, but a pain that goes close to my chest. But, yes, so I had that interview before I went to—on my elective. And it changed my mindset when I didn’t get it, I was sad for a bit.
But I remember thinking, you know what, ‘I don’t need Blue Peter to do all these exciting things. I’m going to go whitewater rafting. I’m going to go bungee jumping. I’m off to Australia, I’m going to do this amazing sort of elective expedition kind of thing’. So I had all these plans. And I was kind of, like, thinking, ‘I don’t need that’. And it completely changed my life. Because we went whitewater rafting, and I was with a group of friends, and we talked about it.
And we went over up in Cairns and up in Queensland. And we—unbeknown to us, we went on the day of a cyclone, as it was about to hit. And it was Cyclone Rona, this was back in 1999. And it just went horribly wrong. And it just shows how life can change in a split second. And one minute we were in the boat and our guides, a very surfy chap Australian guy called, I think he was called Shane, I can’t remember now. But he literally said, ‘Okay, guys. I need to tell you this, now the river is three metres higher than it normally would be. So I’m literally no use to you as a guide anymore’. And the next thing I heard was him just screaming at the top of his voice, the F word as we then got flipped out of the boat and sucked under.
Rachel: Oh, my god.
Nik: And it was—it happened so quickly. I remember being under the water and looking up and my foot was stuck between two rocks and I remember thinking, ‘This is how it happens. This is how I die’. And all I could think of was that my parents were asleep because obviously the time zone and I thought I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. And then my foot became freaked, I got out of the water as in my head went above the water. And what you don’t realise in these kinds of situations—so you have to—it’s really obvious to say know, but you have to exhale before you inhale and I’d inhale. So my lungs were full. And I was like, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’, and I couldn’t—and I forgot to exhale. And I managed to get a little bit out and a little bit in, but I got some Thunder again. And there’s a cycle for a bit where I couldn’t get my breath, and then I got sort of washed up onto the side. And it was really quite scary. And my friends were missing for a while, and luckily nobody was badly hurt from our group. But there were people who died in the accident and which is just terrifying, which we found out later. And I got leptospirosis from it. And I remember a few days later, I was having a shave in the morning and I just had this torrential nosebleed and so I’ve got a massive bang my nose in the accident. And what I didn’t realise was that my clotting was going off.
And that day, which I wouldn’t have done if I didn’t realise, because of the whole Blue peter thing. I went for a bungee jump because that’s what I was doing. I was determined to keep this thing going. And I had a torrential nosebleed during the bungee jump, and thank goodness I didn’t have any kind of weakness, any kind of aneurysm in my head because that would have not been brilliant at that point in time.
And after that, in hospital, very unwell because we went to Thailand next and so I was in a Thai hospital with delirious, terrible, high fevers, I went jaundiced, and hematuria everything was failing. And all my hair fell out and within a week or two weeks. And so, that experience was hugely kind of life-changing for me because suddenly everything in perspective. When you came that close to something dreadful happening to yourself and to your friends, and it makes you realise how fragile life is. And it makes you realise how sometimes the exciting jobs and the really amazing things are great. But it’s the small things, and it’s the friendships, and it’s everything else that counts for more, and it’s those connections with your friends. And that’s what gets you through those kinds of things.
And I had all of that was just before my finals. So goodness knows how I passed finals. I remember, when I got back to the UK, I was back on the wards. And they put this back in the days of X-rays and X-ray boxes, and they put this X-ray up and said, ‘Oh, tell me about that’. And I was like, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t even see it’. And that I’d had them—because of the leptospirosis, I ended up with anterior uveitis. So I couldn’t see properly, and everything had a halo about it. And so then they kind of said to me, ‘I think you need a bit of time off’. So I did.
And yes, so, and that would have been—so, in a way, when I was reading the Midnight Libraries I was thinking, I wonder what would have happened my—that life with a high profile and presenting job, what would that have ended up like? And what’s very telling about the book is that actually, yes, things like that might change. But actually, fundamentally, so much stays the same, too. So you need to have the building blocks, correct and right. And so that you can sort of build from that.
Rachel: Yes, because things could have been completely different. But actually, bottom line, if you’re the sort of person that’s a real perfectionist, who’s really worried about things all the time, whether things are going right or not, that’s still going to affect your level of happiness and satisfaction. It’s so not really dependent on circumstances. It’s dependent on your own resilience, coping mechanisms, your own beliefs, your what sort of meaning, purpose you derive in life—all those sorts of things. But these experiences, these things that we badges negative experiences, often have a profoundly positive effects on us and effects on our lives.
Nik: Exactly. And I think for me, it gave me—that experience gave me this kind of, this hunger for following my dream still. And I mean, my dream has always been to be—on the one hand, it has been two dreams: to be a good doctor, and to be a good GP, and to follow this media stuff. Because for all the reasons we’ve talked about, I find the media, so interesting, and so powerful, because it’s such an opportunity to—if you get it right, you can tell stories, and you can do medical education, and get messages out there that are so important. And that’s what excites me, and what interests me about it.
And so, I’ve always—whenever I’ve been doing stuff, I’ve always in the background been doing sort of media stuff and I’ve done some stuff on so in the background, and then sort of some pilot shapes and radio stations sometimes, and I’ve done sort of science programs for schools and colleges and lots of different bits and pieces that have just been enough to keep it ticking over. And it’s just the fact that because when you really want to do something, you will just keep going and that’s kind of what I’ve done. And so that’s in a way, the podcast that I’m doing now is me scratching an itch. And also all the different presenting stuff with Red Whale as well, particularly the video stuff that we’ve been doing recently, has been scratching a huge creative edge, because I love the visual medium of television.
And in one way, but also love the intimate medium of podcasting and radio because it’s a different way of communicating with an audience. And what we’re doing now is a much more intimate way of speaking because we’re literally just in people’s ears at the moment. And whereas when you get the visual stuff, it’s kind of you got to think much bigger and try, and it’s much more expensive, and it takes a lot more time to get something on-screen. So, audio stuff is much more immediate too. And that’s what I love about the audio side of it, but with the TV side of it, it’s just when you work with a big team, and you do exciting stuff and green screen and all sorts of special effects and things, that’s really exciting and fun too.
And I think for me, it’s about trying to have fun, but use that in a way of communicating stuff that’s important. And fun learning is the—for me, it’s the holy grail. If you can do a bit of teaching or something like that. And people don’t realise that you’ve taught them anything. I think that’s amazing. And that really excites me. So that’s something I’m kind of keen on, too.
Rachel: think what’s interesting for me, in your story, Nik, is that actually, you can find satisfaction and happiness without having to be mega-famous or doing it all the time. So yes, it would have been really great if you’ve got to Blue Peter presenter. But I’m just wondering, actually which you’ve survived massive amounts of more satisfaction from doing that than actually doing what you’re doing now, which is again, really high quality really good. I think some of us feel that we have to be doing something on a big scale to derive the pleasure and satisfaction. I’ll give you an example: I love music. I used to be in a band when I was 18. I wasn’t much good. And now I don’t really do any, because I haven’t really got any way to perform.
Rachel: And that’s ridiculous when I’m thinking about it, I could just sit down and play piano and sing whatever, for myself. It doesn’t need to be something that I’m really successful at. It’s doing something for the sake of doing it because you love it, not because of what accolades you’re going to get from it, I think that’s quite important.
Nik: Exactly. I think it is about being kind to yourself as well because that’s a creative outlet, then it’s a really important one to do. So maybe it could be your Christmas present to yourself that you could play the piano every now and again, or something that’s really gonna help with that. What do you think?
Rachel: I think yes, no, I do think that’s on my list of things to do, actually, in that, anything creative gets you into flow, doesn’t it, which is another big way of being happier. This state known as flow, where time stands still, you’re probably learning a new skill or something like that, and you’re completely lost in the moment, and you’re really enjoying yourself.
Nik: Exactly. And I—it’s funny what you were saying about, would I’ve been happy if I’d done a big TV job or something. And I think you’re absolutely right, there’s no guarantee I would have been. And in a way, what I’m doing at the moment is, for me, the best thing because I am involved in every stage of the production process. And if you are in a big job, you literally just do the presenting bit, and you’re not involved in getting stuff on screen and thinking about things like scriptwriting and camera angles, and directing, and all the different bits and pieces, which is what the whole process excites me.
And the fact that I have control over that. And with the podcast, that’s me, that’s what I—I make those decisions. I chat to people that are lovely to talk to. And I will listen to it before it goes out. And then that’s my decision about what goes out. Whereas if you’re working for a big organisation, then that is taken away from you. And there’s a level above you or—that will, in some way, influence what goes out. So, there’s a lot to be said for doing stuff yourself, and then that you’ve got more control over it.
And I’ve always said that, for me I would much rather be making really high quality stuff either on TV or radio, and doing it, and enjoying it, and having fun doing it, and with very few listeners, because then you get all the fun bits and the creative stuff. But you don’t get any of the negative stuff perhaps because the more that people see you, the more you’re open to criticism, which terrifies me. So maybe I’m just scared of the whole thing. Really, what am I doing?
Rachel: I think fear does hold us back a bit as well. I think maybe that’s where some people’s perfectionism comes from, isn’t it? Because all the advice I’ve read recently about how to do business, how to do this, how to do that, it’s just, just ‘JFDI’ just flipping do it. Just put something out there. It might be a podcast, it might be going live on a video on social media, or just try some teaching, try this, everything I’ve ever done was the first. And the first time I did it, it was pretty rubbish. It was pretty terrible. The podcast that everything was a first and I’m hoping that I’m getting better at podcasting since I started, but it’s all a learning experience. And if you’re too frightened to try stuff out and try to learn from your errors because it has to be perfect when it goes out that then often you just stop yourself doing anything.
Nik: Exactly. I think that’s one of my big things as well. I’m quite a perfectionist. And with my podcast, I was desperately trying to think how can it be perfect. And I did two pilot episodes, which I really enjoyed doing and you kindly helped me do one, which is lovely, thank you. And but then I was like, ‘Okay, how can I make this perfect having done that’? And then I just said to myself, ‘You know what, if you wait for this to be perfect, this is never going to happen’. So I just thought I can go set a date, I’m going to do it, and it’s just going to happen, and we’ll see what happens and you’ll learn from doing it and actually putting it out there. And that’s what I did, and luckily I’ve had some very lovely feedback.
But it is literally the case of just do it because you can wait forever for things to be exactly the right place. And I even—because now I was thinking I’m a bit too busy and I got such cold feet the week before I was going to do my first one. I was like this is, ‘What am I doing? This is ridiculous. Why am I even doing a podcast? You’re mad to do this’. And then I just thought, ‘But actually, I need to do this when I’m at my busiest because I need to make it fit around my schedule’. Because if I think, ‘Okay, I’m going to wait till I’m on annual leave and I’m going to put a whole week aside to do this podcast’, then that’s unsustainable because I can’t be off work forever. So it needs to fit around what I’m doing already. And that’s what I’ve done. And that seems to be working—fingers crossed—at the moment.
Rachel: Yes, absolutely. I think you hit the nail on the head. We wait so things are going to be perfect and we wait so we’ve got time to do them. And in my experience as a busy professional, that time never comes. Literally, it will never come, if you wait until you’ve got time. So you need to get on and do this stuff. Even if you’ve not got time. There’s a caveat here, because one of the things I talk about a lot in terms of resilience and stuff is, is not waiting, not adding more stuff into your life when you don’t have time for it. So if you really want to do something, add it in, but then get rid of something else, get rid of the fluff, get rid of the stuff that’s not contributing to your life or making you happy, or you’re just doing because you feel that you ought to do it. And experiment and get stuff out there.
We’re almost out of time, I just wanted to ask a question because—and it’s something that I’ve been wondering about for a while. I have a few friends who’ve had sort of serious life-threatening illnesses, sort of breast cancer, and other things. You’ve just told me about your story about nearly dying in that river, all of which had a massive impact on people and made them change their lives and the change that changed the way they did things and really got them focused on what was important in life and what made them happy.
Now, I don’t want to have a life-threatening illness, I’m sure, I’m sure. How do we get that mindset without having to go through that? those awful things? How do we do that for ourselves without having to create some great disaster or crisis in our lives?
Nik: That’s a really good question. I think that—and it’s, for me, because this happened kind of 20 years ago, well 21 years ago now and it’s important to, for me to revisit it as well, to remember what I learned because sometimes you forget, and it’s important to go back. And I think it’s really important to be kind because any one of us could not be here tomorrow. And so that’s what I always try and be because I would hate—and I remember because that happens so quickly like that, and it wasn’t expected at all.
And as you know when I was under that water thinking about—and you know what, it’s true, what they say, when your life does flash in front of you, because I had all these different images of, of me running around a toddler and stuff with my brother in the garden and stuff, what on earth was going on there? And it’s just, it was all in slow motion. It’s really, really bizarre.
But I remember thinking, well, ‘Thank goodness that I’m on good terms with my family, with my parents, my brother, my sister’, and because that’s important. But also, if you’re kind to people—because you never know, when you’re gonna need to call on them, your friends will help you in situations. And even if it’s new things like a podcast. You’ve met people on the way, you will have chatted to them, they will come on, if you’d be nice to them. But if you’re not nice to people, then they’re just going to go, ‘You know what I’m busy, really sorry’.
And I think as well, it’s about having—don’t give up on the dreams that you’ve been following because they’re important to you. You need to have something to focus on in the future or to aim towards. And it might be that changes, or it becomes a little bit different to what it was originally. But it’s got to be something that you are trying to achieve, and it might just be something straightforward, such as you want to sort of build on the relationship that you’ve got and have more time for your partner and stuff like that. That’s all going to pay dividends in the long run and yes, I—does that answer your question?
Rachel: Yes, I think that’s some really good advice. I was just thinking I was reading this Happier book and towards the end, It’s got a sort of little meditation about imagine, and it’s got a quote from Mark Twain and saying, ‘Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18’. I’m wondering about wouldn’t that be great.
And he talks about this sort of psychiatrists have been spending a lot of time with terminally ill cancer patients and says that, it’s just a quote from the book, ‘An open confrontation with death allows many patients to move into a mode of existence that’s richer than the woman experienced prior to their illness because they report dramatic shifts in life’s perspective. They can trivialise the trivial. They seen a sense of control. They basically stopped doing things they do not wish to do, they communicate more easily with families and close friends, and they live entirely in the present rather than in the future or the past’.
Rachel: And then this quote at the end of this section says that, ‘Over and over, we hear our patients say, why did we have to wait until now to be riddled with cancer to learn how to value and appreciate life’?
Nik: Well, I think that living in the present is probably the best advice, isn’t it? Because it helps with so many things. It helps if you’re going through something awful, if you’re experiencing a dreadful illness, then if you live in the present, you can cope with the few seconds that you’re living in, and it’s a way of kind of reframing things in many ways.
So, and the other thing that always rings true is about life experiences that you will regret the things that you didn’t do. And if you try them and it doesn’t work out, you’re not happy doing them, that’s fine, at least you tried them. But don’t not do something because you’re scared of not doing it or because you won’t find or you don’t got time to do it. Just give it a go. And that’s the best sort of experience, isn’t it?
Rachel: Yes, absolutely. Don’t wait, try things now. Live in the present. Don’t worry about the future, or the past. And appreciate those little things actually are so important. And I think for me, the coronavirus pandemic has brought my attention back to the little things that are important to me, like my family, and like my friends and being outdoors and being fit, and all those, all those sorts of things. And connecting upwards and with those things that give my life meaning and purpose and actually, that is the basis of happiness, not really what we achieve, or how much money we earn, or what we look like, or anything like that.
Nik: Exactly. It’s about building memories as well, isn’t it?
Rachel: Yes, yes, absolutely. So Nik, we’re at the end of the episode. And gosh, that was so much for sort of, Ho, ho, ho, like had a Christmas episode. But I’m, I’m really glad that we talked about that because that question of how do we hold those insights as if, as if we didn’t have much time left? And live life like that? I’m gonna keep thinking about actually over the next few weeks, and I might have an answer for you, maybe by the middle of next year. So when I’ve got the answer, I will share it.
Nik: Cool, I look forward to that.
Rachel: Do you have any top tips for people just over the Christmas period, what they can do to live a bit more like that?
Nik: Yes, I think, live in the moment, as much as you can. Have some space to yourself too. If you need to have a bit of space, it’s fine. Just, but also share that with who you’re with, and just say, ‘I just need a little bit of a bit of me-time just for 10-20 minutes’, or so. And maybe, you can need to get this into headspace or something just to give yourself a little bit of a refresh, then that’s fine, too. And don’t feel guilty about that because Christmas sometimes—and in any kind of festival when you’re with family and friends that maybe you don’t spend a lot of time with now that, when we did, we were kids, we spent lots of time, but now it’s kind of more short, sharp bursts when you’re kind of working stuff, then it’s a case of just being honest and just saying, ‘Love being with you. I just need a little bit of time to myself, and I’ll be back in 20 minutes, and I’ll be absolutely fine’. And so it’s just showing that isn’t it, really?
Rachel: Right. Good. Well, Nik, thank you so much for being on the podcast with us today. My top tips, as we’re going probably just to say to people, just if you’ve got something you want to do, just do it, put it out there. Don’t worry about it being perfect. And don’t wait until you’ve got time to do it. My second thing would be, start to say ‘no’ to more stuff that you really don’t want to do. Life is too short to waste on stuff like that. And appreciate the small things in life that give us pleasure, and happiness and connection.
Nik: Exactly. And don’t, yes, no, I definitely—there’s more things I want to focus on.
Rachel: Oh, Nik, it’s always been a pleasure. Thank you so much for being on, and we’ll speak to you soon.
Nik: Thanks for having me. Take care. See you soon. Cheers.
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