The Science of Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience

Brain Network Connectivity - Placebo and Psilocybin

“I don’t take reality for granted.”

Weird stuff happens. People really do experience telepathy, alien abduction and pre-cognition.

In the UK, we usually push such stories to one side and either forget about them, or (worse) medicate them. David Luke, Senior Lecturer for Psychology at the University of Greenwich tries to understand them. Continue reading “The Science of Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience”

A Really Good Day: Psychedelic Microdosing with Ayelet Waldman

This article is ambidextrous. On the one hand, it is nothing more than a non-fiction book review. On the other, it is a fully-featured 3,000 word guide to psychedelic microdosing.

The book in question is A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life by Ayelet Waldman. The title is a little coy – presumably so she can slip under society’s anti-drugs radar. Waldman is talking specifically about psychedelic microdosing, the habit of taking a very small dose of a psychedelic drug in the same way you’d take a microdose of caffeine with your morning coffee.

Waldman’s experiment lasted a month and follows the advice of Dr Jim Fadiman, who has been collecting informal reports from psychedelic microdosers for the last ten years or so. Once in every three days, Waldman would start her morning with a drop or two of diluted LSD, then continue her day as normal, recording observations on her mood, relationships and productivity at work. This book is her lab report.

Are you ready for this? So we begin, in conventional book review fashion. Continue reading “A Really Good Day: Psychedelic Microdosing with Ayelet Waldman”

What Makes a Person Do a Thing?

This question has fascinated me for a long time. Why does anyone do a Thing, when doing no-thing is so much easier, more secure, and more comfortable?

  • What makes a middle-aged man with a young family quit his steady job as a computer programmer and spend five penniless years retraining as a chiropractor?
  • What makes a retired marketing manager, who had until his sixties showed little to no aptitude or interest for music, suddenly join a community choir?
  • What makes a woman in her thirties quit a lucrative career as a management consultant in the city to row single-handed across the Pacific Ocean, and become a United Nations Climate Hero for her environmental work?

(These are all people I know, by the way, all great role-models.)

Inertia, doing nothing, is the favoured course of (in)action for a human being. Inertia is defined as:

The tendency of a body to maintain its state of rest or uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force.

Do you recognise this tendency to inertia in yourself? I certainly do.

  • Staying in a dreadful job or a miserable relationship.
  • Not breaking the silence and telling someone exactly how you feel about them.
  • Pushing to the back of your mind that day-dream of cycling around the world / writing a novel / falling in love.

(All things I have done…)

If the natural disposition of a person is to keep going as they are, then what makes someone divert course, and do a Thing? The answer to this question is crucial for anybody interested in pushing their own boundaries of existence – and encouraging others to do the same.

I should say right up front that I don’t have the answer. But I do have a few answers, which I’ve noticed over the past few years of trying to do Things. Using myself as Subject Zero, in this blog post I’ll examine three different Things I did, and try to dig down to that critical Why?

Why did I break university rules and go abroad to study Arabic in Egypt and Tunisia?

In the summer of 2007, I was miserable. I was studying for a part-time Masters in Middle Eastern Studies at SOAS in London. I scraped through my first year, passing gruelling courses in history and music despite my complete prior ignorance of those subjects. For my second year I just had to learn Arabic and write a dissertation. But I dreaded going back to London, where the rain fell in spadefuls and the teaching was dry as desert sand.

I have never felt so uninspired, so lifeless. Emerging into adulthood had been a shock and I could scarcely believe what I found there. Surely there was more to it than this? Continuing along this path might not have killed me, but I’d have certainly failed my Arabic exams, and even today I’m scared of imagining the hollow person I might have become.

Inertia was not an option. In this case, doing a Thing came from hitting a road block. I felt that I could not go forward any longer, so I changed direction.

Realising that I could learn much better Arabic in an Arabic-speaking country, I spoke to my course convenor and proposed the idea that I go abroad to study. I was shocked when, from behind his paper-strewn desk, he told me that university rules stipulated I must attend a certain percentage of classes (I think it was something like 70%). This rule, he explained, was protection against legal action. Apparently SOAS receives a lot of wealthy young Arab men, who are sent to study in London, but spend all their time and money on sex and drugs. Then the families sue when the university fails their sons.

So I wrote SOAS a letter promising that I wouldn’t sue them, and left for Cairo.

Why did I leave everything behind and spend 2 months cycling 4,110 miles around Britain?

Hitting a brick wall in your path is one motivator, certainly, but it seems to be more of a stimulus to the essential process of imagination. You need to have the idea of doing a Thing before you can do the Thing. This seems obvious, but I think is often overlooked. Without engaging the imagination, when you hit a roadblock you risk descending into frustration.

For me, this act of imagination manifests itself as an idea that I can’t shake off. I dream up a million and one ideas every year, but only a few lodge themselves in my head like spines I can’t pluck out without action. Cycling around Britain was one such spine.

The idea bubbled up from a soup of disatisfaction with what I’d seen of the world. I knew Cairo better than I knew anywhere in Britain beyond my bubbles of London and South Oxfordshire. I wanted to fix that.

An inciting disatisfaction is not quite enough to stir me into action, however. I need to know that my idea is possible, that I can turn imagination into reality.

Somewhere on the BBC, I ran across an article about a kid who’d walked around the coast of Britain with his dog. So I stole his idea, thinking that if he could do it, then I could too. The only problem was that he’d taken 9 months over the journey and I didn’t want to commit to something so vast. So I decided to cycle (despite not having a touring bike or having cycled further than 10 miles in the past 2 years).

This was the idea that I couldn’t get out of my head. But still the question remains: Why did I end up acting on that idea, rather than suppressing it like so many others?

There are a few influences that I could draw on here, including some pretty life-shattering experiences, like the death of my nan and the messy break-up of a relationship. But these are distractions from the true first cause, only coming after I had committed to the journey. No: the moment when this imagination started to become reality was forgettably insignificant.

I told someone.

That was it. I just mentioned my idea of cycling around the country in passing, in casual conversation with my sister and my (then) girlfriend. While an idea stays locked inside your head, it is neutralised, safe. It’s only when you let it out into the world, first as a vocalised intention, that it takes on a power of its own and action becomes inevitable.

That first step is always the smallest, but takes the greatest courage. It’s only after you’ve vocalised your idea that other factors conspire to push you out of the door. For me, those other factors were not just losing my nan and my relationship, but also a question: Do I really want to be the person who walked away from such adventure?

Telling my sister and girlfriend was the tiny first step on a journey of more than four thousand miles. The bike ride changed my life in many ways, but there was still something missing. To this day, I don’t feel like I got the most out of my Thing.

Why did 80 cyclists ride 70 miles to give their bikes away to migrants and refugees?

Last Spring, a friend I didn’t quite have yet had an idea: to cycle from London to Calais and donate her bicycle to the destitute migrants living there. I thought this was a great idea. We put a call out on Facebook and very soon people from all over the UK were messaging us, joining the ride.

At Barnehurst train station, the set off point for the ride, shivers ran up my spine as more and more people arrived, saddle bags full, chattering excitedly, bikes oiled and ready to ride.

Why did all these people come together on the ride? There are two answers to this questions, the Big Reason and the little reason.

  • The Big Reason we were all doing this was to ride in solidarity with those migrants who had travelled thousands of miles to escape certain death in Syria and Sudan, in the hope of a better life in the UK.
  • The little reason, though, was friendship. Everywhere you looked on the ride were little clusters of pals, three or four here, five or six there. Anybody who came alone was soon embraced. By the time we arrived in France, we were brothers and sisters.

The Big Reason could be called our higher purpose, the lofty ambition that bonded us all, but it was the little reason that actually held the ride together. It was the little reason that gave us belief in our higher purpose, and it was the little reason that gave us the belief in ourselves to persevere through the hard ride.

Over the next 24 hours, we went through the full 70 miles of hills and woods, rain and thunder. Strangers worked together to navigate the back roads of Kent, leg muscle massages were passed around, food shared, bikes repaired. We became a community and that community sustained our belief that we could succeed in our endeavour.

A higher purpose is needed to make your Thing about more than just you, but it’s surely impossible to sustain belief in any higher purpose without support from your friends and your community.

  • I would not return to Calais again and again if I wasn’t certain that I would find friends there (even if it’s just ones I haven’t yet met).
  • I would not still be living in London if it weren’t for my friends.
  • I have forgotten almost as much as I learnt at school, but I will always remember the friends I made there, and the lessons they gave me.

If you doubt the centrality of friendships to doing Things, then perhaps the following true story will help.

In 1964, at the height of the civil rights movement, volunteers from across the Untied States travelled down to the deep south to help register black voters. This was dangerous work, even for privileged whites. On the 21 of June, three young volunteers were killed, one black and two white.

Understandably, this discouraged some from making the journey from their safe homes to take up this deadly cause.

Fascinatingly, however, social scientists have been able to discover what kinds of people followed through on their initial enthusiasm: friends. Those volunteers who had equally committed friends or who were part of a committed community (a political organisation or church group for example) were much less likely to drop out of the mission.

Friends hold us to account and inspire us to be the people we would like to be. Friends help us believe in ourselves and in the value of our Thing. If you’re unsure that you can commit and follow through on doing your Thing, invite a friend and do it together.

Side note on relationships versus friendship

Relationships can be inspirational in the same way that friendships are, particularly in the early stages, when the fires burn strongly. But friendships are more powerful. Perhaps surprisingly, friends are more likely to influence our behaviour than our partners or families.

Over time, we tend to take even the most passionate partners for granted. We start to believe that they will never leave us, and we can comfortably let our tendency to inertia show. But because our friends can drop us any time, we tend to make a bigger effort to live up to our best selves.

What makes a person do a Thing? Four stages.

  1. You feel some dissatisfaction in your life, some hole that stimulates the imagination.
  2. You let your imagination play over the possibilities, gradually solidifying the idea that you can succeed. Here is where other people’s stories help: “If he can do it, so can I.”
  3. Tell a friend. Don’t boast, but feel the courage to take the first tiny step towards pulling the idea out of your head and into reality.
  4. Connect your idea and action with a higher purpose, supported by the belief you find in friendship and community. This will help you persevere through difficulties, and get the most out of your Thing.

EXTRA: One bizarre reason why people do NOT do their Thing

It sounds counter-intuitive, but one of the biggest reasons why people don’t do a Thing is, not because they lack the dissatisfaction or the imagination, and not because they fear failure, but because they fear success.

It seems extraordinary, but we do get scared of our power, we do fear our greatness; we sometimes feel like we don’t deserve such responsibility, or we feel like imposters when we do presume to act. There are a couple of explanations for this strange modesty that I can think of:

  • Success means putting your heard above the parapet, putting yourself up to be shot at, perhaps more than failure might draw mockery.
  • If we believe that we are powerful, then what excuse do we have for not acting? Remember that inertia is the default setting for human beings. But if we are powerful, then we must act; we have a moral duty to use our power for good, and that takes us well out of our comfort zone.

So, in addition to the four stages outlined above, there must also be a courage to act up to your potential greatness.

This can actually manifest itself, less as courage, but more as an entitlement to greatness and power. Some people are raised with this sense of entitlement, the schools of Eton, the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge seem to raise students who have no trouble believing themselves powerful enough to act on a global stage. Other young people draw such belief from their religion, or from powerful role models and mentors who lead them through their early successes, expanding their scope of the possible.

For the rest of us, we must “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Slowly, that feeling of being an imposter will dissolve, as our comfort zones expand into new territory, and we realise the extent of our power and feel the humility of our greatness.

Good luck!

Why are polyglots so damn nice?

The cognitive benefits of learning a foreign language are well studied and publicised. Learning a foreign language makes you smarter, better at multitasking, helps to delay Alzheimer’s and dementia, improves your memory and your decision-making and makes you more perceptive of your surroundings.

But what about the social benefits of learning a foreign language? Or, as a friend asked me the other day: “Why are polyglots so damn nice?”

We batted about a number of reasons that sprang to mind and I resolved to do further research on the subject. Unfortunately, there seems to be very little academic research into the niceness or otherwise of polyglots, speakers of multiple foreign languages.

The best I found was a study examining the relationship between empathy and achievement in foreign language learning. Excitedly, I clicked open the report, fully expecting to find hard scientific evidence for my friend’s complaint. Alas, the researchers found no such correlation.

This was rather disappointing, but I still strongly believe there is much more to this question than mere circumstantial evidence of all the nice polyglots we know.

So here are my introductory explorations of the matter. Why are polyglots so damn nice?

Empathy

Despite the one study I mentioned earlier, I’m sure there must be something in this. The researchers only tested students already studying a foreign language a university level: I’m talking about the difference between polyglots and ordinary mortals like me.

In order to become fluent in a foreign language, you must have spent a long time living and studying that language. Human beings learn by copying others and language learning in particular involves a high degree of mimicry. In order to copy others effectively (to the extent that you master a foreign language), you must be or become empathetic.

Far from being a trait fixed at birth, empathy can be practised and strengthened. Learning a foreign language to fluency is surely an excellent way of doing this. And, of course, empathy makes us nice.

Tolerance

Stepping into a foreign language is stepping into a foreign culture. The words we use affect the world the see and change the person we are. That’s why, when I studied Spanish in Sevilla, I became more expressive with my hands, more garrulous with my neighbours on the bus and more assertive in queues. That’s why, when I studied Arabic in Cairo, I became more adept at negotiation, more polite, more religious and even more assertive in queues.

When you have taken a foreign language to fluency, you cannot fail to realise that the way you do things at home is not the One True Way of doing things. Everything, from the words you use to the ethics of pig-eating is culturally relative. Even the etiquette of queueing.

This appreciation of cultural relativity makes you more flexible in your approach to others and more tolerant of strange and new things. This tolerance makes you nice.

Sociability

In order to learn any language to fluency, you must be sociable. When you’re a baby, that sociability is forced on you by family, school and roller skating club.

When you learn a foreign language as an adult, however, you often have to make a huge effort to use your new language, by seeking out conversational partners. In short, you must become highly sociable, otherwise your new language won’t get enough practise to reach fluency.

I found learning Spanish in Spain far easier than learning French in school precisely because the Spanish did not tolerate my quiet English reserve. They wouldn’t let me be unsociable, and I learnt more in two weeks of gallivanting than I had done in years of school-taught French.

Furthermore, if you’re a total dickwad, then your hard-won conversation partners won’t stick around and your language skills won’t improve. Learning a foreign language to fluency takes a special kind of sociability: the nice kind.

Humility

By the time you’re fluent in a foreign language, you’ve made more than six hundred thousand mistakes, from mere slips of the tongue to full on inadvertant insults. You’ve embarrassed yourself in front of greengrocers, taxi drivers, attractive would-be mates, teachers, work colleagues, politicians and even the neighbourhood dog.

You cannot learn a foreign language to fluency, therefore, without being humble. The only way to learn is by embracing every mistake, learning from it and jumping straight into the next one. There is surely no such thing as the arrogant learner, at least not one that has actually learnt anything.

The corallory of this is that you cannot learn a foreign language without relying on and accepting the niceness of other people, who patiently listen to your manglings of their beloved mother tongue, exert themselves to comprehend your garblings and then correct you, before listening to you regurgitate the now slightly less awful mess all over again.

Your learner’s humility makes you nice and your appreciation for the efforts of others to help you makes you even nicer.

Patience

You don’t become fluent in a foreign language without being a determined little bugger. According to the European Common Languages Framework, it takes about 890 classroom hours to go from zero to fluent (level C2) in French. That’s a year of concentrated study. Note, too, that this is only teaching hours; students must typically practise their language skills for two or three times this long outside class.

Looking at it this way, achieving fluency in a foreign language is an overwhelming feat of determination and patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day and Italian wasn’t learnt in an hour.

Not only is attaining fluency a monumental task, but, as soon as it is attained, your fluency degrades. You must practise your new language every day or, before long, you will find yourself back clutching a dictionary. Language learning is not for the impatient, who want fluency now, forever, without the effort.

But your practice of patient perseverence has another side benefit, I believe. Patience means you’re less likely to get frustrated with other people. Patience makes you nice.

Listening

Finally, for now, you can’t learn a foreign language without being a good listener. How else could you pick up the difference between “sheep” and “ship”, or “sheet and “shi…”?

But being a good listener isn’t just useful for avoiding strange bedroom mishaps; it’s also useful for making other people think you’re interested in what they’re saying. And other people LOVE that.

Yes, that’s right: being a good listener is directly correlated with being a complete bastard. Oh no, my mistake: it’s directly correlated with being damn nice.

You can be nice too!

That’s the end of my little examination of the (totally unscientifically proven) reasons why polyglots might be so damn nice. I shall leave you with one important note.

I am not saying that only nice people can become polyglots.

My argument is that the correlation works in the opposite direction: learning a foreign language makes you a nice person by making you more empathic, more tolerant, more sociable, more humble, more patient and a better listener.

There is hope for me still. Now sod off and let me get on with my conjugations.

End Notes

Anne Merritt (The Daily Telegraph, 2013) Why learn a foreign language? Benefits of bilingualism

Filiz Yalcin-Tilfarlioglu, Arda Arikan (Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2012) Empathy Levels and Academic Achievement of Foreign Language Learners

10 great excuses to avoid making your dreams come true

Worried that you might be about to embark on the trip of a lifetime? Looking for some excuse not to step out of your front door? Scared that perhaps you might finally become the person you always dreamt of becoming?

Fear not! For I have compiled here an easy-to-remember list of great excuses that will successfully prevent you from ever making your dreams come true.

Note: These fail-proof excuses have been tried and tested on literally millions of people just like you. The human race has been proudly dodging, delaying and demurring their dreams since time began. (Warning: 97.2% of these humans did not procreate and are lost to the gene pool forever.)

1. I don’t have enough time. (Variations: I am too busy / I have too much work.)

Not too busy to take a photo of a clock, though.

A thought experiment might suffice here. If you carried on doing whatever it is that you are doing now, what will the world look like in ten years? What about if you take steps to follow your dream?

Without prejudicing your answer to the above thought experiments, there is the old saying: No one, on their death-bed, wishes they’d spent more time in the office. What kind of world are you building with your time, as currently allocated? What could you be building instead?

There is another aspect to this objection: Is your time actually yours to allocate? The most obvious answer, if you’re an employee, is No. Likewise, you may feel, if you are a mother or father or even a member of the local trombone choir. But these are all different orders of obligation. There is hierarchical obligation, that is weighted on your shoulders without your choice. And there is volitional obligation, like that towards your fellow trombonists.

Obligations can always be re-negotiated. Even children can be accommodated (see below).

 2. I don’t have enough money. (Variation: I don’t have the right equipment / stuff / shoes.)

16 Twixes for £2 or 2x 9 Twixes for £2?

What is it that you think money will accomplish for you? Think not in terms of needing money as a prerequisite for X. Think rather about how you can acquire X. Sometimes the answer will be through money alone, but I fear that would indicate a failure of imagination more than anything else. (But I accept that often we are tired and our imaginations exhausted.)

Ask the question: What would happen if I tried to do this without a million dollars / new shoes / a buffalo? Really think. 99% of the time you’ll find your imagination can fly over any apparent obstacle with ease.

Solidarity, mutual aid and recycling are all ways that you can make things happen without recourse to huge amounts of money. Do, swap, borrow.

3. I don’t have the right contacts / network / friends to make this happen.

Maybe you hate other people. Maybe you are anti-social. Maybe you don’t like asking other people for favours or access. I don’t either.

Is there something you can do to push yourself towards your goal that doesn’t require other people? As you march towards your future, you’ll find you naturally bump into people who will help you make it happen. There is no need to force relationships and there is no reason why you can’t start without them.

Taking that a bit deeper: Why do you think you need other people? Are you sure you’re not just using them as a crutch? If you are: well done! You’ve found a great excuse. You’ll never know if you could have managed without them and you’ll never know if you could have made contact with them.

4. I have a family / business / goldfish to look after.

Good for you! Caring is one of the most genuine human actions. But why are you being hierarchical about this? Speak to them (technical note: goldfish speak Portuguese) and involve them in the power structure. Why can’t you take your family / business / goldfish with you through your dream? Were they not part of your dream in the first place? If not, then perhaps you should think more carefully about their place in your life.

Alternatively, maybe you can swap dreams. Maybe they have a dream ready for the taking too. Take some time out and explore each other’s dream-lives. You might find that the world is a better place afterwards.

5. My boss / dad / government won’t let me.

My dad, yesterday.

Ooh, that’s a low blow. Delegating your responsibility for your life to someone else. Shifting the blame to an outside agent. Removing yourself from the equation. You might think this is an infallible excuse, but really… Why are you making an exception of your dream? You’ve already disobeyed your boss, your dad, your government – and any other figure of authority or representative of hierarchy – countless times! Why let them stand in the way of your dreams?

If you’re still having trouble squaring feelings of obligation, loyalty or guilt with your desire to act, then you should think more deeply about where the feelings are coming from. Some feelings of obligation aren’t hierarchical. The example of your dad above is mischievous. Of course your dad deserves consideration. Ask: is he being hierarchical about this? Is there room for negotiation? Are my desires being taken into account? Is there a threat of force if I disobey?

Any answer of ‘yes’ to the threat of force test is a sure sign of hierarchy and a relationship that you should immediately discontinue if possible, or disobey. Only by standing against hierarchy will you be able to win freedom for your actions. And you will probably be surprised by the emptiness of the overlord’s threats. The world will not collapse down upon you. And you will have won an element of freedom.

If you decide that this hierarchy is just too convenient an excuse to give up, I have one word of advice: Don’t tell the person that they are stopping you from becoming a god because they might get a bit pissed off with you. Also, you might find that they release you from their unwitting bondage.

6. The time isn’t right. (Variation: I’m too old / young.)

We’re all just birthday candles in the wind.

When is the right time? When should I take the bins out? Now? In ten minutes? At 4.27pm? On Tuesday? Does any of this make sense? No. Is this an extraordinarily boring discussion? Yes.

Am I too old to take the bins out? Am I too young? At what age should we start taking the bins out? At what age should we stop? Does any of this make sense? Is this an extraordinarily boring discussion?

Ultimately, as any parent who intends to devolve bin-removal duties to their offspring will know, you just have to pick a day – any day – and start. The time is never right, so don’t wait for it.

7. I have no grand dream to follow. (Variation: I have too many dreams!)

I can sympathise with this one, having swung from one extreme to the other several times. A “dream” is a stupid concept that means nothing. Last night I dreamt that I had a heart attack and my mum had to give me CPR. Full of symbolism, perhaps, but utterly useless as motivation.

What is a dream, then? A dream (he said, blithely attempting the impossible) is simply something that you think about or do for long enough that it begins to define you. You don’t define the dream, the dream defines you.

For example: I got it into my head about twelve years ago that I was going to be a writer of earth-shattering proportions. I flounced around university for a few years boasting of my soon-to-be-realised achievements and did precisely zero writing. BUT this wasn’t all hot air. Eventually, I started to feel that being a writer of earth-shattering proportions WAS part of my destiny. And I started to feel bad that I wasn’t doing anything to help fate along. So I started writing. Twelve years on, that stupid adolescent “dream” has defined me.

Don’t panic about not have a grand dream. Just do something you enjoy. Then do it again. And again. And again. And gradually, you’ll find that your actions define you and, retrospectively, you’ll define your actions as contributing to your dream.

Likewise, don’t worry about pursuing countless “dreams”, goals or white elephants. Find a way to combine them all into one thing. For example, my first book, The Soles of My Shoes, was a travel book – and that’s my top two right there – travel and books.

8. There’s no point. (Variations: It’s all been done before! / I can’t make a difference.)

This is particularly common as an excuse in the fields where there is the most point, where the difference to be made is greatest: politics, medicine, education to name but three. The size of the problem is so great that a single person feels overwhelmed and doesn’t see the point in swimming against the tide.

But it is those three fields which perhaps illustrate best the answer to ‘It’s all been done before!’ syndrome. Just imagine a doctor, faced with open heart surgery, heaving a big existential sigh and muttering, ‘It’s all been done before!’, before dropping his scalpel and going for a cigarette. The sentence loses all meaning.

The value of something is not in its uniqueness, but in its doingness.

I hope this illustrates the answer to ‘There’s no point!’ as well, but there is a more obvious response to the fear of ennui: you have more allies than you think. Logically, you know this must be so. On a planet of seven billion people, you cannot be the only person who thinks what you are doing is a good idea. You can even be alone with one other. There are literally thousands, millions probably, of people who think what you are about to embark on is the bee’s knees.

‘But how do I find these legions of allies?’ I hear you cry. There is only one answer: by starting. By starting, you are pushing a beach ball down a dune. You and all your friends begin to live your new reality, your new reality starts to define you and everyone you encounter starts to associate you with your new reality. Before long, you aren’t looking for allies; they are looking for you.

9. I don’t have the right skills / fitness levels / brain.

Get fit! Frowning uses more muscles than smiling.

Nobody does. I can tell you right now that 0% of basketball champions, 0% of Nobel Prize winning scientists and 0% of dauntless explorers came out of their mother’s wombs being able to do what they ended up being famous for.

Cycling 4,110 miles is a long way. Guess what: I didn’t have the fitness to cycle over 100 miles in a day when I started. How did I get to that level of fitness? By doing it. By getting on a bike and riding, day after day. Start now and you’ll get there.

10. I’m scared.

There is nothing to fear, but fear itself. And a traffic warden with a shotgun.

Ah – congratulations! You have discovered the catch-all excuse des champions, mon ami! This would appear to be the perfect excuse. It doesn’t harp on about circumstances, it can’t be bought, it won’t disappear over time – and, to top it all, it has the glossy veneer of self-deprecating honesty about. “I would do it, mate, but to be honest, I’m scared!”

Well, I’m sorry. You may be a champion excuse-finder, but this one won’t cut it. In fact, being scared is the ultimate motivation. When you feel scared of something, you can be 99% certain that this is exactly what you really want to do.