The Myth of the Alpha Wolf

Alpha Title

Wolves. They’re so badass, right? Solo warriors. They answer to nobody but the pack. Like furry soldiers.

I’ve recently started working out regularly. Like anything that’s interesting to me, I’ve started reading about it almost constantly. Articles, updates, posts, blogs, magazines, tweets, books, you name it. Through all this research, there’s one image that comes up time and time again; the alpha wolf.

You know the drill. The idea that the world is there for the taking, so take what’s yours. Grab life by the balls. Dominate every space. Yadda yadda.

Now I’m not really a fan, I’ve got to be honest. I hate the phrase ‘spirit animal’, but if you stuck a gun in my mouth and asked me, I’d say (after the gun was removed, obviously) that it’s a fox, or maybe an owl. Foxes are cunning, and they always outsmart the bigger, better resourced farmer. Owls read. Well, they do in my world. And they’ve got night vision. And they can turn their heads an exorcistic 270 degrees. And they swallow prey whole, then barf up the carcass. Seriously, google that shit. I’ll wait…

Anyway. Wolves. They’ve become a huge totem for macho, alpha male culture. They’re right up there in this exclusive club along with the lion, gorilla, tiger, and bear. Yet putting wolves in this category is erroneous.

Wolves are actually familial creatures, who live in semi-nuclear family packs. Sadly for Johnny Big Guns and his Lifting Crew, they’ll need to move to another mascot. Wolves may actually better suited to the ideals of Taylor Swift.

 

Haters gonna hate

Haters gonna hate

Where does this notion come from?

In the 1940s a gentleman named Rudolph Schenkel published a groundbreaking paper titled Expressions Studies on Wolves. It detailed his ideas about “the sociology of the wolf” (find it for free here) based on his observations of a group of wolves in Switzerland’s Basel zoo during the 1930s and 1940s. He saw that a pack of wolves tended to have a dominant male and female at the top of the group. As he said:

“Its core comprises the bitch wolf, presumably the only mature one of the pack, and the male “lead wolf.” ”

Researchers that came after him tended to follow suit with regards to observing wolves in zoos, and concluding the presence of an alpha based on domination and taking control. One such man, a wildlife biologist named L. David Mech, released his own book in 1970 titled The Wolf: The Ecology and Behaviour of an Endangered Species. His findings were based on what he observed from wolves in Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park in the 1960s.

So both these studies helped to create and then perpetuate the idea of the alpha wolf. And yet both studies (and studies like them) only focused on wolves in captivity.

That’s the equivalent of studying a group of children in an Amish household, then using this evidence to talk about all of humanity’s children. Everywhere. Africa? Amish. Australia? Amish. Bhutan? Amish. This doesn’t take into account the variables, which are legion.

Variables, I tell you. Bloody everywhere!

 

"Vaariiiaaabllleeeessss"

“Vaariiiaaabllleeeessss”

How did this end?

Since this time, many different types of observations and studies have taken place, including some by Mech himself (who has since gone back on what he stated in his original findings). These have all concluded wildly contradicting information about wild wolves, mainly drawing the conclusion that the ‘alphas’ in a group tend to actually be the parents.

It turns out that wolves tend to pair off and mate for life. Consequently, the hierarchical order is pretty well established. Male wolves don’t need to batter any rivals and go for the jugular on any upcoming males. That would be crazy. They’d be killing their kids. Won’t these kids want to one day inherit the family group? Well, no. No they won’t. Instead, the youngsters will one day pair off with their own mates and start their own lives.

And the cycle continues…

 

"Woooooolf"

“Woooooolf”

So what is an alpha wolf then?

Alpha wolves are family men, pure and simple. They aren’t violent to their own kids. They don’t beat around their pups, far from it. They have been observed letting their pups win during play-fighting as a way of helping their pups grow and learn. They care for the pack, leading by example, and hunting for their family.

That’s not to say that wolves are cuddly fathers only. The vicious and deadly side of the wolf we know is very much based on fact. They can take down prey bigger than them, such as caribou or bison. They will passionately defend their territory if threatened, even going so far as putting their life in harms way to save their little ones or loved one.

They’re the 1950s fathers that time forgot. Putting a roof on the table and bread over their head. Wait, that doesn’t sound right…

 

"Working stiffs"

“Working stiffs – blue collar even”

So they’re still badass?

Yes, they’re still badass. But badass like a dad is badass. Not lone wolf, out for themselves badass. Not Terminator badass. Not Wolverine badass. But Atticus Finch, Mufasa, Bryan Mills (Taken) badass.

A wolf should stand for the ultimate alpha male; the father. Standing at the head of a family with a mother (or another father) and doing the best he can to provide for, protect, and nurture his pups, and love his mate.

What could be more alpha than that?

 

Special thanks to happykanppy, imagerymajestic, nixxphotography and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

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New Year, No Fear!

logo taxi

Happy New Year! 新年快樂! Feliz año nuevo!

Let’s all just take some time to reflect on 2015. It had its share of drama. Good things came and went. Terror and division became all too common in the headlines. Hopefully, yours was one to cherish, but if it was a bad year, at least it is over now. These barriers in our mind invisible yet so important, of the moving from one calendar to the next, can be an important psychological step. Move from the old into the new. Close the door on 2015, and try to take the lessons it offered with you on your journey into fresh moments.

Now we turn the page and begin a new chapter. What wonders does this coming term hold in store? Perhaps you are lucky to already have things to look forward to; a wedding, a holiday, a graduation, or a baby. Perhaps what’s coming up for you doesn’t fill such generic milestones, but slots into an alternative bucket list; first marathon, first solo skydive, getting your PADI, or climbing Everest.

Hell, it might just be you’ve decided to start eating crinkle cut instead of regular crisps with your Netflix sessions! It all counts!

A new year is a great opportunity to turn your gaze to new horizons. I know it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. With so many others basking in the positivity of a new beginning, the energy is all around you. Tap into it and exploit it for yourself. This is your time!

So for those of you still without an idea of what you might want to do over the coming year, here are some goals you may want to use. Or adapt. Or ignore. This is your year. Go out there and own it!

imagerymajestic

“Come here!”

Learn about a new topic

The internet is bloody marvellous. Not only does it offer 24/7 access to news, games, and other people, but it also connects you with the wealth of human knowledge, and the shared library of wisdom that humanity has assembled in the last 8,000 years.

Thanks to websites like coursera and Khan Academy, you can now sign up online for free learning!

Ok, I’ll let my inner nerd quieten down for a bit. But truly, this is something wonderful that should be celebrated and enjoyed.

You can find sites for everything, from guitar lessons to 6th grade maths, traditional Chinese to coding. Go ahead, Google it.

See this article from Observer Innovation for links to a variety of different courses to get you started.

For those of you interested in learning a new language, check out the Itchy Quill guide to the best sites and apps for language learning here.

 

nenetus

“Boom. Knowledge”

Learn a new skill

But life is not all about sitting in front of a computer now, is it? Some of us are handsy people, veritable artisans who respond much better to the kinaesthetic pleasure of holding and handling, not merely studying.

For those, there are plenty of things to try your hand at. Jewellery making, woodcraft, pottery, baking, fencing, knitting, painting, driving… the list goes on.

Most colleges run night schools that offer affordable courses in a whole range of vocational activities. There are also websites like meetup.com which offer you a chance to find similar minded people and talk about/establish events about your chosen area.

What’s stopping you?

 

David Castillo Dominici

You know, apart from the obvious stuff like commitments and generally being an adult

Start a new hobby

Or maybe you just want a new way to relax? You could look into a new sport, or another way of channelling your competitive streak.

How about another income stream? I’ve got good friends who make a healthy income from eBay. They trawl the charity shops and boot sales looking for gems. With the power of a smart phone in your hands, you’re seconds away from a valuation, and an idea of whether you can make money from something.

Of course, there are the classic hobbies such as stamp collecting and fishing out there to be tried too.

For more ideas, check out this list on the Art of Manliness.com – though these don’t have to be hobbies for men. They’re not gender specific, after all…

 

Bill Longshaw

… unlike some things

Pay it forward

Do something for someone else, like help out a friend or neighbour. Maybe someone is moving house, or they need a hand with their kid? It doesn’t have to be a massive task, but it’s always nice to help out someone without expecting something in return. You could make their day!

If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, what about volunteering? Here in Taipei, it’s common for foreigners who cannot get pets in their own apartments to help out at local dog shelters by walking dogs after work. There are a lot of refugees kicking around in Europe at the moment, and I’m sure you can imagine that local authorities are swamped. Why not see if you can help out? Or start collecting old clothes together to be sent to displaced peoples.

Or, you know, just help old ladies across the road or up the stairs with their shopping…

 

graur razvan ionut

“Do I look like I need your help young man?”

Catch up with old friends or distant family

Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of time. I’ve been out in SE Asia now for over two years, and I’m not the best person at keeping in contact. Out of sight, out of mind.

But I know that for some, it really means a lot if you reach out to them. It lets them know you haven’t forgotten about them, and that you are thinking of them.

So call up grandma, or send an email to Judith and the kids, or just write a letter to your mate Shaggy Dave.

Who knows, you might be just the person they need right now…

 

Stuart Miles

“Come on dad, it shouldn’t take 15 years to get a pack of cigarettes”

Visit a new country

Bit of a no brainer this, but with the summer still a healthy half a year away, it can feel a little dull sat there in a cold apartment watching the mould climb up your walls. What better potion for your ills than warmer thoughts of a sunnier summer, and the chance to hop abroad?

Kamchatka? the ‘Stans? Timbuktu? Tuvalu?

Throw a dart at a map, and book your ticket now before the summer rush. Then you’ll know you’ve got a solid six months of saving time to scrape together some cash, some research, and all the bravery you’ll need to take the plunge into a new adventure.

Hell, I’m doing it myself right now…

 

Ambro

“See?”

Set yourself goals, and challenge yourself

I managed to read 33 books last year. For me, that was decent. I’m no Good Will Hunting, I need a bit of time to get through a book (though I love reading). This year, I wanted to read more. So, I set a target for 35 books. Nice enough, I thought. “Where’s the challenge in that?” said a friend. “If you really want to challenge yourself, put 40.”

So I did.

Lord knows how I’ll find the time. 33 was a struggle. But having that target, that goal, gives me something to drive for. If I fall short, I’ll still have probably done better. But if I achieve it, well, I’ll have done something awesome.

And this mentality applies to anything. Pick a local marathon, sign up, then train your nuts off to be ready for it. Even if you end up crawling over the finish line, the positive effects of trying to prepare and then actually doing it will be myriad.

What challenge will you set?

 

stockimages

“Fightin’. This year, I’ll do gooder at fightin’… and stares”

Cut out the negativity

Some people suck the life out of us, and similarly so do some situations and environments. Make this year the year you finally put some distance between yourself and those things that drag you down.

Have you got a negative habit perhaps, such as smoking, eating unhealthily or drinking more booze than a ship of sailors? Make this the year you take steps to make your life that little bit better.

I quit smoking at the end of 2014, and I’ve now gone a full year; no patches, no slips, no consequences. I’m just a year healthier than I was as a smoker.

Believe in yourself, and start thinking about what you can do.

satit_srihin

Make this the year you follow your dreams

You may have had something you’ve been putting off for ages. I did. Mine was a novel (and now it’s nearly done!)

No more excuses, let this be the year. You’ll make time for it if you really want it! And you want it, don’t you? Of course you do!

Go out and get it!

see god

Special thanks to Ambro, Bill Longshaw, David Castillo Dominici, graur razvan ionut, imagerymajestic, nenetus, satit_srihin, stockimages & Stuart Miles @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

Habitually Bitchin’; How Habits Can Change Your Life

habit logo

Ever wanted to try to find the time for something, but every day you’re forced to concede that ‘it’ll have to wait’? It could be anything; self-improvement, language learning, reading, exercising, or even gardening. Finding the time to shoe-horn in a new activity to an already busy day can sometimes be frustrating. But it’s not impossible. It’s about turning actions into habits.

The FreeDictionary.com states that a habit is “a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition”. Turning actions into habits removes the biggest restriction on productivity – procrastination – from having a say. You literally just move from action to action in a state of habitual bliss, never stopping to consider whether you want or need something. It merely happens.

I’m not here to talk about the tedious bad habits we all hide away in the darkness of our homes; the nose pickers, the toe-nail biters, the toilet-seat-leaver-uppers. I am instead talking about the benefit of habitual action.

Not the ones that'll kill you...

Not the ones that’ll kill you…

It’s Easy!

Think about how we do the stuff we do now. Do you actively make a choice to do everything that you do? Hopefully not. Most daily actions are done on autopilot. You think to yourself ‘brush your teeth’ and then BAM! there’s a toothbrush in your hand and your scrubbing away at your gnashers. It’s a habit you’ve been doing twice a day for practically your whole life. You don’t need to think about it any more. You just do it.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could hack your mind to think like this about other things that benefit you? You wake up, put a pot of coffee on, and sit down to do the days writing. Without any distractions of decisions needing to be made, you just know that the first three things you do every day are wake up, put on coffee, and sit down to write.

Not a writer? You can substitute any other action in there; practice the sitar, juggle, play chess, lion tame, do karate, morris dance… you decide. The difference is, by not thinking but merely doing, you remove the chance to change your mind or get distracted, and this helps you build a consistent platform of action on which to build upon. If it’s done every morning, it puts your habitual action into your ‘done tray’ before anything else has a chance to sap your energy or will power.

“Boom!”

The Logistics

There are various ways to go about this, but my favourite so far comes from JamesClear.com. He’s a behavioural psychologist who writes about ways to adapt your daily life to fit your long term goals.

He puts the process into five easy steps:

  1. Start with a small habit – Write 100 words a day.
  2. Increase the habit in very small way – Add ten words a day every week
  3. As you build up, break habits into chunks – Write half the words before coffee, half after
  4. When you slip, get back on track quickly – Never miss two days in a row
  5. Be patient. Stick to a pace you sustain – Don’t expect too much of yourself

This format can be tweaked for nearly any activity. It’s all about keep the pace at a sustainable level, suited to your timetable and your level of progress.

For more information, the original blog post can be read here on JamesClear.com

The trick seems to be keeping the habit going as long as possible. The best advice I can give is make sure you commit to thirty days, and adjust your expectations on how this works out. If you can get through thirty days, it will be much closer to being a part of your routine, and you’ll have shown yourself a small landmark of what you can achieve.

It's nice to measure your achievements

Yours after 30 days (figuratively)

Stuck For Ideas?

So, what do you think might be a good habit to have? For some, merely taking thirty minutes every day to be mindful and centre themselves with some positive thought would be enough. Others feel they would benefit from regular exercise, or the posture enhancing wonderment of a morning’s yoga.

Some ideas:

  • Hobbies; sewing, carpentry, painting, practising an instrument
  • Keeping a journal
  • Reading
  • Writing Letters to Friends
  • Working Out
  • Meditation
  • Language Study
  • Research on Interests

If there is something you feel would improve your life, or a skill you want to make time to get better at, then habitual practice should be a must.

“Hey mum, dad. I’m a better person now. I have habits! No… good ones”

I started trying to form a habit of reading every day, and from that I pushed into regular practice with Chinese, regular exercise, regular writing and taking the time to keep a journal. A year ago, I didn’t do any of these things, and yet now my life is richer for all of them. There is far less wasted time in my day, and as I expect to have most of these done before lunch, it leaves me the chance to enjoy the rest of my day without the pressure or worry in the back of my mind that I still had things I need to do.

It’s freeing and empowering, and it costs nothing to do.

What will be your new habit?

Anyone?

Anyone?

For other ideas, this great post here from Scott H Young at LifeHack.Org has tons of ideas on tricks to make habits stick.

Special thanks to Feelart, gameanna, olovedog, scottchan and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Like Clockwork; How Routine Habits Can Change Your Life

routines title

What does the morning mean to you? Is it a long slog of repetitive alarm snoozes and chimes, ushering you violently from slumber into a world of cold air and heavy eye-lids? Perhaps you’re a peppy-pepster, buzzing from sunrise and bouncing about the house in giddy merriment? Or is the morning simply just the first in a series of common events, an inevitability of your daily slog, and a reminder that you are no longer dreaming?

“Morning, tiger”

Wherever you fit, I hear you.

A lot of fuss is made about mornings; the early bird catches the worm; early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise; the morning has gold in its mouth.

These are three sayings that stress the importance of an early morning, the last two coming from a certain Benjamin Franklin (and I’m sure he must have said the first one too at some point).

Are you a morning person? Statistically, only about 10% are. In fact, only another 20% are night owls. That puts about 70% of us right there in the middle, neither late sleepers nor early risers, conveniently non-spectacular.

“Speak for yourself”

Here comes the sun

But what if we could harness the power of the sun? Like a blooming flower opening up in all its glory to spread itself out and bask in the sun’s aura, we too can be so grand and wonderful, no?

I know, I know. ‘I have a job’, ‘I have kids’, ‘I have Netflix’. These are not excuses, they are just facts of life. Obstacles will always be in your path, no matter what you do or where you do it. Life cares not for smooth sailing and calm seas. It will throw grenades, barbed wire and tornadoes, and expect you to take it all!

Pictured: life

Pictured: life

So, how do you get around this?

A routine of course!

It’s simple. Regularity breeds an environment where your body and mind know what is expected of them in certain situations and at certain times. By scheduling yourself to be doing specific actions at designated times, you get yourself into a very productive habit that can lead to serious long term gains. It also removes the chance for dilly-dallying and general horseplay (unless, of course, you have made time for that in your routine. In which case, fantastic!), and replaces this with well planned, well utilised time and activity.

“Hmmm, I’m not so sure”

Why bother?

“”Habits help us get through the day with minimal stress and deliberation,” says social psychologist Wendy Wood, provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California whose research focuses on the effect of habits on behavior” (taken from the article The Blessings of Routine on ChicagoTribune.com).

Whether the routine is rising early and maximising your productivity in the morning (more on this to come), or structuring your movements and actions throughout the day so as to keep yourself maximising your time for your interests, your day can only get better.

Time is money, but time is arguably more important. They are two things that define and dictate our daily lives, and yet we have so much trouble emphasising to ourselves to need to manage our time as carefully if not more so than how we manage our finances. Are you spending your time on things you really want to? Whether it’s having more time to play laser tag with your kids, bake cakes with your grandma, sell stocks and close accounts, or write and read, we could all do with having a little extra time in our lives for these passions. Squandering time is as big a waste if not more so than throwing money down the drain!

“Aaargh!”

When can I routine?

This part is easy! For those of you interesting in making time at the beginning and end of your day, there is a great video here on The Art of Manliness that explains how you can book end your day with a structured routine aimed at prioritising your time and making the most of setting yourself up to succeed every day!

In the coming weeks we will also be looking into the daily routine of some great people from history, and seeing how their daily structures helped them to be the best they could be. We’ll also give you a breakdown of why making special care of using your mornings in an effective way can set you up for an even better day.

To, y'know, climb mountains and stuff

To, y’know, climb mountains and stuff

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself though. Life is busy, and some of us are truly swamped by the things we have to do, leaving us little time for the things we want to do. Small changes, even anything such as making time for ten minutes of reflective thought every morning, are a start.

Your task for this week? Go forth and add something to your daily life. It doesn’t have to be something big, but it has to be something noticeable, and something you are capable of doing every day. For the more competent among us, perhaps look to try something a little taxing that may take a little juggling to actually be possible to fit in.

Some ideas:

  • half an hour of reading before bed
  • fifteen minutes of emailing friends in the morning
  • 3o minutes of foreign language review before breakfast
  • a morning jog (15-30 minutes is sufficient!)
  • Keeping a journal, making time to write for at least 20 minutes every night (click here for the IQ breakdown of why journals are awesome)
or crocodile dentistry...

or crocodile dentistry…

Ultimately, the person who can control this is you. Don’t waste any more time thinking and yearning. With a planned routine, the thought process is removed and instead you only have moments for action! Knowing that every day you will be playing/practising/learning/growing can be a massive motivator, and a keen reminder that your life is moving in a fulfilling and enriching way.

What’s stopping you? Let us know in the comments what things you make a habit of doing routinely, and any tips you might have for others who are just starting to form routines of their own.

Special thanks to David Castillo Dominici, Kookkai_nak, marin, stockimages, TeddyBear[Picnic] and Tuomas_Lehtinen @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Why You Should Do One Thing Everyday That Scares You

scary title

Fear gets a bad rep these days. Its mere mention conjures up images of Disney Villains, monsters and worst case scenarios. Some of us may have fears so strong that they have become phobias.

Fear can take control. This can be the biggest problem of all. In moments when you would personally rather act differently, fear grabs the wheel and puts the car in turbo mode, making you jumpy, anxious and edgy purely on instinct, robbing you of the ability to control yourself and maintain a front. Silly fear. Often this can be in moments where it is totally unnecessary, and actually self-deprecating to do so.

Fear can lose you face. As anyone who has run screaming from a wasp screaming can tell you, fear has the potentially to rob you of any suave or calm exterior you’ve managed to craft over the years, and in a moment have you socially branded as a sissy, wuss or coward. Not, what you might call, desirable nicknames.

Fear stunts us. That’s right, it truly does. How many times have you turned away from a new experience because it fell outside of your comfort zone? I spent the best part of my early twenties saying ‘yes’ to everything that I possibly could, and now have legion memories to glance back over and be proud of. Regret what you didn’t do, not what you did.

Fear will make your rue the fact you didn’t overcome it. Every opportunity missed or chance passed up in the name of fear is another potential memory or step of progress that you have missed.

Fear has a purpose. I’m not here to knock fear. It can be a great thing. There is a good reason that the instinct to fear kicks in when we see a giant spider on the wall or hear an explosion close by. This is the healthy mind’s way of giving us the impetus we need to save ourselves; the body’s way of reacting to potentially dangerous situations. This is the rational side.

Fear is not always rational. Of course, the main reason for the bad rep of fear is the other side of the coin. As the world we live in becomes gradually safer, we hang on to these fears and allow them to embed themselves within us. We jump at thunder, hunt sharks to make the seas ‘safer’ without realising they are much less dangerous than cars, and obsess over plane crashes when we are more likely to die falling out of bed.

Pictured; Danger

Murderer

What can you do?

Ok, so fear is scary, right? Only if you let it.

Remind yourself that fears are often irrational.

Take control in the moments when it feels like fear is grabbing the wheel. Ask yourself what you can do to fight it.

Think again about what fear actually is. It’s a survival response, so it is trying to help you. Politely thank it, but then remind the fear it is not necessary today.

Assess the risk consciously to decide for yourself whether the fear is grounded. After all, taking ownership in this way can be a really self-empowering way of regaining a control on your fear, and on your choices in life.

Be bold and do things that are brave. Actions can define mentality, and any actions can become habits with enough practice. Change your nature with carefully considered activities.

“carefully considered”

Why is this good for me?

Fortune favours the brave is one example, but truly only those willing to take the risks to get it deserve the highest forms of success. Whether that is measured in health, wealth, happiness or love, often the greatest prizes will be gained only by those brave enough to take a chance to get them.

It breeds confidence. Not that we are claiming you will be an oozing mass of arrogance, but your confidence will gently increase as you keep challenging yourself to do things that scare you, and seeing that you are actually fine.

It will open doors that previously would have been locked and bolted to you.

It snowballs activity in the best way possible. Once you have said yes enough times, you will see a snowball effect as direct, decisive action leads to further actions and eventually you are in a perpetual state of new experiences and a more rounded, enriching life.

It’s tried and tested by some of the greatest people throughout history. Teddy Roosevelt is one such man who never let fear shirk him from his ambition. “The most effective way to do it, is to do it,” was once famously uttered by Amelia Earhart. You will be amongst great company, so go ahead and do it!

Your mental health is so important. Many sufferers of depression, riddled with confidence and identity issues after facing personal breakdowns will use facing little fears, one day at a time, to get themselves back on the road to recovery. Heed the advice, and keep yourself mentally strong by proving to yourself on a daily basis that you are strong enough to do anything.

It promotes flexibility by forcing you to adapt to new experiences. Just like training a muscle repeatedly—the same way makes it very good at doing that one task but poor at reacting to new movements—new experiences force us to learn how to fit into a new moment/environment/scenario and test our ability to survive.

satit_srihin

Where do I start?

It’s as simple as this; if it scares you (in any way) then do it.

  • Scared of the gym because you are scared you’ll be ridiculed? Good, go do it.
  • Scared of spicy food so you’ve never tried it? Excellent, get cooking!
  • You’ve never tried skydiving because you’re scared of heights? Fantastic, get booking that now!

There are a ton of different ways to challenge yourself, from public speaking to Taekwondo, and saying hello to a stranger to bunjee jumping. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture! You can live the rest of your life performing simple daily tasks that you never tried before due to fear of societal rejection or embarrassment. Why not sing on the subway? What is stopping you taking a cold shower? Have you finally read that 1,100 page behemoth by Dostoevsky?

Don’t let fear define who you are. You are you, and you only. There is nobody else who can take that away from you. Grab life by the whiskers and take a ride.

You’ll thank yourself for it!

Where will it take you?

Where will it take you?

Special thanks to Nerd Fitness for their article ‘Why you need to do s**t that scares you‘ and to The Art of Manliness for their post ‘How to be a better man… Conquer a fear‘ for inspiring this blog post.

Special thanks to Kiatying-Angsulee, phaendin, satit-srihin and Teerapun @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Defining Gender for an Androgynous Future I; The Expectations

gender title

I recently read an article in Time magazine titled Meet the New Generation of Gender-Creative Kids. It explores what life is like for a child in a summer camp designed only for children who are growing up in a household that encourages them to find their gender for themselves. I can’t help but think, how can you ‘find’ gender?

I must admit, my view of gender is itself a little skewed. I was raised in a house of women, one woman (my mother) filled the role of a classic matriarchal figure, teaching me love, compassion, care and sensitivity. The other was my older sister, a much more aggressive, dominant, overbearing and yet emotional, delicate and insecure person. Through their eyes, I saw the world around me, and they helped me define a niche of my own.

The classic ‘father’ roles of provider and protector both fell to my mother, and it was with her that I learned hiking, football and writing and countless other hobbies and skills. She encouraged my studies and yet gave me the freedom to be myself and grow on my own too. My sister taught me to shave, badly. But the point is, I was learning how to be a man from two women who had had their fair share of shitty men. They had an opportunity to craft a new man from their own experiences, without the worry of society’s moulds there to constrict me or damage me. I still played army, I still wanted to be a spy and travel, and I still wanted to be a hero. Are they masculine traits? I learned how to be sensitive to other’s emotions, how to talk to anyone for any period of time about anything (especially on the phone), and I was able to show compassion. Are these feminine traits? If I’m honest, I didn’t really notice the difference as a kid, as I was too busy just running around in the mud and trying to be a mad scientist or an astronaut. As an adult, years after I’ve left the company of my mother and sister, I’m in the world and I’ve had to learn certain traits so as to ‘fit in’. I’ve adapted, often unconsciously, only aware of it afterwards when I look back on things and think ‘man, I’ve changed’.

For survival and protection, I assume

For survival and protection, I assume

So, what is a man? After watching the recent Avengers film, The Age of Ultron, it’s tempting to want to say that a real man should be big and strong, and capable of protecting the world from invasion should such a reality take place. Perhaps a man is more than this though. To be honest, maybe the labels themselves are the issue. Let’s zoom out and look down on masculinity from above. Is it a construct or an innate character? Is it an assumed identity taught from birth, or is it the by-product of natural thirsts and impulses that drive most men toward a similar set of priorities?

Ok, so before we get bogged down thinking about the etymology of the words, allow me to define what we are talking about here. Sex is biological, and we are defined ‘biologically’ as boys or girls by the type of body we own. I am not here to discuss this, most often it is straight forward. As an adult, can you cross your legs comfortably? Yes, OK, you’re probably not a bloke.

Gender is how societies expectations of behaviour and action from boys and girls defines what we are able to do. For example, is it a social norm for young men to play with Barbie and not Action Man? No, on the most part this is still seen as a feminine behaviour, and so to play with a Barbie as a girl is adhering to your gender role, but to play with one as a boy is to flout your gender role.

Gender identity is how we feel inside about our role, and how that manifests in our appearance and actions. This is our reaction to gender roles, and often in teenage years you find a chance to experiment with your gender and your place within society. David Bowie was famous for utilising his naturally androgynous look to break down classic gender conformity expectations, especially in his Ziggie Stardust phase. Sometimes, when people feel their gender identity doesn’t fit with their biological sex, they identify as transgender.

Just because you're tall, doesn't mean you're a basketball player

Just because you’re tall, doesn’t mean you’re a basketball player

Gender Tags

So what is feminine, and what is masculine? These are the labels given to certain sets of behaviour that are identified with either being a woman or being a man. It’s important to note here that ItchQuill is not trying to tell you what is masculine and what is feminine, but instead explore what we as societies around the world are told is masculine and feminine.

To help with identifying what is seen as male and female, a quick Google search brings up a list of adjectives on PlannedParenthood.com’s article Gender & Gender Identity. They say that words often ascribed to femininity would be ‘passive, weak, emotional, dependent and nurturing’ to name but a few. For masculinity, some of the words were ‘aggressive, rebellious, hard, competitive and self-confident’. The list goes on, and it is not meant to act as a list of things to look for to describe the next woman or man you see, but more as a reflection of attributes that are often associated, rightly or wrongly, with either gender. Few could argue that these words are used in such a way, however.

“Man stuff”

Let’s look again at that masculinity list. Is it seen as ideal that men behave in these ways, or is it just expected? Let’s not forget, as masculinity and femininity is not defined by our biology but by our mentality, it has the potential to adapt and transform within different nations and cultures. These often get lost in stereotypes and can be part of a confusing and contradictory fabric of identity much larger than gender itself (such as the emotional Irish male stereotype, the dominant Latina female stereotype or the well-groomed and orderly British gent stereotype).

The question is; do we have an innate sense of masculinity, or is it learned? It is inescapable, the gender roles pumped at us from the news, our education, the media, advertising and such. We are constantly bombarded with messages on what we need to be, and how we need to behave to be seen as conforming to our gender roles and therefore ‘fitting in’. This stays with us for our whole lives, often influencing us in ways we are unaware of at the time.

“Lady things”

As Faulkner states in his book Doing Gender in Engineering Workplace Cultures,Cultural notions of “feminine” and “masculine” behavior are shaped in part by observations about what women and men do. This kind of “gender marking” tends to discourage women or men from entering “gender-inauthentic” occupations” (Faulkner, 2009).

In the next instalment, we will be looking further at the roles of gender in society, and how this is changing with our younger generations.

Work Cited: Faulkner, W. (2009). Doing Gender in Engineering Workplace Cultures: Part II—Gender In/Authenticity and the In/Visibility Paradox. Engineering Studies, 1 (3), 169-189.

Special thanks to hin255, marin, Praisaeng and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Unleash the Beast; How To Get More Stuff Done

get stuff done logo

I would never think of myself as lazy, but I have already posted something about napping, and to take all that time to nap in a full time schedule has meant I have had to learn how to use my time well! Do you ever have those days were it just doesn’t feel like there are enough hours to get everything done? You could be a single parent trying to juggle work and family life, or perhaps a young graduate on your first rung at a big company and trying to make a big impact. Hell, you could just be a freelance writer looking to make more time in your day for daiquiris and dancing.

Humans can be tangential beasts, and these wandering minds can often lead us down mental rabbit holes, blocking us from finishing some of the multitude of tasks we need to. Do you know what I am saying?!

So, whether you want more time for work, for general life, or even just to say you can, this post should go some way toward giving some examples of successful methods, or at least giving you some inspiration to get you thinking of your own way.

Go on...

Go on…

Keep it Simple

Ok so this isn’t really a technique per se, in so far as it doesn’t have a fancy author or a book to go with it. What it does do is draw on common sense ideas that should seem obvious, and it hopes to use these to build your energy, productivity and ability to think clearly; a combination of which should lead to greater output and a ‘to do’ list full of ticks!

So, make sure you: have a good nights sleep (7-8 hours), focus on the task at hand, stay hydrated, get an early start, turn key tasks into habits, eat healthy, exercise, eliminate the non-essential, lock yourself away and be sure to take breaks during work.

Just by making sure you follow these simple pieces of advice could increase your productivity. Sometimes the little things make all the difference, and can be easily overlooked.

Pictured: How NOT to work (but how to have fun)

Pictured: How NOT to work (how to PARTAY)

Stephen Covey’s Priority Matrix

Few have had the impact on time management that this man has. Over his lifetime he was able to craft together several different approaches to making the most of your time, but he is probably best remembered for his two best-selling books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First.

Essentially, Covey’s methods focus on his understanding of universal truths, or ‘principles’. It can be shocking how much we are willing to do to avoid doing some tasks, and often we can actually do less and be more effective. Truly, one cannot have a conversation about time management techniques and not mention the late Covey, whose work to this day still inspires millions. Website here.

I used to clean toilets

I used to clean toilets

The Pomodoro Technique

This was a personal favourite of mine at university, and I have had great feedback from students who I have recommended this to since. Invented in the late 1980’s by Francesco Cirillo, the simplicity of this technique is one of the main reasons for its effectiveness. It gets its name from the Italian word for tomato, as the timer used by it’s creator was a tomato shaped kitchen timer.

The technique breaks work into 25 minute slots, separated by 3/5 minute breaks. Each slot is called a pomodori (the plural Italian word for tomato) and put into categories of four. After four pomodori (called a set) a longer break is taken, typically 15-30 minutes.

The general principle is that you choose the task you want to do and then set the timer. You then work continuously for the full slot, only stopping when the timer rings. If you finish before, then the rest of the slot is for ‘over-learning’, or getting more finished that is relevant to the task. Website here.

Tomatoes; not the worst timers

Tomatoes; not the worst timers

Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘Don’t Break the Chain’

This is not the first time in my life I am taking advice from Jerry Seinfeld, but this is one example when he really does show wisdom. The idea is simple; every day you perform a task, then mark a cross on your calender to show you have done something. Over time, a chain will develop, and this will increase your desire to keep working as you don’t want a blank day on the calender (and therefore a break in the chain). This technique has a greater motivating effect the longer is is followed, and so eventually you should be in a state of perpetual work as you don’t want to let yourself down. Find it here.

Don't be that guy

Don’t be that guy

Zen Habits

This method revolves around the idea of not having any goals. I know this seems like it is the opposite of what you want, but hear me out. By removing the focus on goals and deadlines, this method frees the spirit to embrace opportunity and chance. You still know what you want, you just aren’t tied to a certain path and can be flexible in your approach, relying instead on intuition, instinct and passion.

This is clearly one for the free spirits, but a worthy mention none the less. Ponder it here.

This is definitely more productive than just waiting for things to happen

Getting Things Done

Back to the self-help books, and another best-seller. David Allen, its creator, focuses on thoughts, goals, ambitions and tasks and lumps them together into one system that can get the best from you. The nature of its structure means it is very flexible, and almost anything can be pinned onto it and worked towards.

In its simplest form, it is essentially five steps; capture, clarify, organise, reflect, and engage. That said, there is much, much more to it as you advance. Find more info here.

“Can I use my own steps?”

App That Task

We live in a digital world guys, and predictably there are already apps available to help you organise your time too. Everything from to do lists (Evernote) to time-wasting tracking apps (Rescue time), and avoiding distraction (focus booster) to syncing work and home devices (dropbox). You can literally find an app for everything, including some of the techniques we have already mentioned (such as Pomodoro!)

It’s the digital age, man. Embrace technology and find yourself much more productive. After all, it’s why humanity invented the stuff! Find a great list of time saving apps here, courtesy of LifeHack.

Which app tells me where I left my keys...

Which app tells me where I left my keys…

Kanban

One thing I love about this method is the fact it gives you a visual chart of your progress to gain instant gratification, and see how productive you are over a period of time giving you a sense of pride and achievement.

Created by Taiichi Ohno from Toyota, based largely on the Toyata JIT (Just In Time) production method for its cars, this system works by tracking your to do list in a series of columns which are divided into done, doing and backlog. It looks complicated at first, but it is a method worth sticking with. Track yourself here and see how satisfying it is to see each achievement as it happens. Nothing beats that feeling of finishing the annoying little jobs.

“All emails answered!”

Eat the Frog

Mark Twain once wrote, “eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day”. Essentially, get the worst stuff done first, and the rest of the day will feel much better.

This is the basic idea behind the book Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy. It offers 21 tips on ways to avoid procrastinating. But even if you don’t fancy splashing out on the text, the simple idea can be easily placed into any daily routine; get the greens down you first, then enjoy your steak. Go ahead, eat that frog!

Not literally...

Not literally…

Amalgamate, You!

Nothing above catching your imagination? No worries, just put your favourite elements together to make a super system. A recent online poll showed that many people’s preferred method was actually to put together various techniques and craft them into a much more personalised approach. Pomodoro mixed with getting things done and not breaking the chain is a very popular combination, but you could easily mix eat the frog and some apps. Go full digital and you could even combine various apps together too! After all, more heads are better than one.

We couldn't have done it without you Carl

Give me a T, give me and E…

The possibilities are endless, and ultimately you are the master of your own destiny. But I feel your pain, internet. I know  from personal experience how hard it can be to get everything done that you need to. Sometimes you can be working at your peak, and still find yourself falling short. It’s true that in life we can sometimes face challenges that are beyond the possibilities of human endeavour. That said, you can prepare yourself better for them with a little life shuffling, and perhaps even increase your personal time if you have got all the important stuff out of the way.

Do you know another method you want the world to know? Or do you think that these methods are just for the lazy and procrastinators? I’d love to hear your comments!

Special thanks to adamr, koko-tewan, marin, stockimages, supakitmod, imagerymajestic and watcharakun @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015