Relearning how to breathe

Have you ever felt anxious or stressed out? Chances are the answer is Yes especially in the last year or so. I’ve been there. I think we all have.

That’s why I was excited to attend a talk by Sarah Laurie the founder of Take a Breath who made it her mission to improve people’s mental health. She’s been working with scientists for the past 4 years to better understand how our body responds to anxiety and how to manage it.

The tricky thing with anxiety and stress is that they creep up on us and we often don’t even notice the warning signs. When we’re not sleeping well, feeling a bit under the weather or irritable it’s usually just shrugged off. We tend to think it’s just a phase and everyone probably experiences it at some point. Well, turns out it’s not.

A simple test to find out if you’re anxious is to put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Now, breathe like you normally would. You should feel your belly rise with each breath.

If you feel it in your chest instead that’s fine. That’s the case for a lot of people. The good news is that it’s easy to fix and you should see results within only 7 days of retraining your body how to breathe.

According to Laurie our body has 2 states – performant and alert. As the name implies in the performant state we’re able to function to the best of our physical and cognitive abilities. The breath is relaxed and inflates our lungs which should make the belly rise.

In the alert mode, our body tenses up and our breath seems to be trapped in the chest area instead of the belly. This is its natural response to stressful situations. The problem is that these days many people are in the alert state most of the time.

As I mentioned earlier the best (and easiest) thing you could do to quickly improve your wellbeing is to retrain your body how to breathe properly.

By using reminders such as post-it notes or phone alerts to prompt you to breathe from your belly for about 10 seconds throughout the day you can break the habit of chest-breathing and start living a healthier life.

Why the Kindle Paperwhite is one of my favourite objects

Until a few years ago I hardly ever picked up a book. I had no interest in them because reading didn’t seem like a fun thing to do in your free time. Maybe it was because I had to read many books during my studies I thought I could finally escape from them now.

But then I noticed I enjoyed reading various articles online about topics I was actually interested in. Surely that would translate to another medium, I thought.

One day I decided to get a Kindle Paperwhite on a whim and ended up reading almost 30 books that year. It’s amazing how a small device can have such a positive impact.

Here’s why my Kindle has become of my favourite pieces of tech:

  • I can take my entire library with me and it’s always available. This also makes moving house that much easier.
  • Buying a book is just one tap away. This is especially useful if it’s difficult to get specific books where you live.
  • I can customise the look of my reading experience with things like layout, typeface or font size. I’ve been using Bookerly on size 6 since the beginning.
  • My eyes are so used to reading Bookerly that I focus entirely on the content. As a designer one of the first things I comment on in books is type size and line height. Ugh.
  • I can read in bed at night without damaging my eyesight (too much at least) or disturbing my partner thanks to the backlit screen.
  • The built-in Amazon store is a great way to discover new books as the suggestions often relate to books I read previously.
  • Goodreads integration that prompts you after each finished book. I linked my account only to keep track of my reading history. Sure my data may belong to them but I can’t be bothered using another service or doing it manually myself.
  • Great battery life. It seems to last several months with daily use before I have to charge it.

Now I thought I would miss turning pages of a physical book or staring at the cover but that’s not the case. Why would I want to carry a heavy book around when I don’t have to?

As for the cover image, a recent update allows you to display the cover on your lock screen which is nice if you’re not using a protective case.

These days I’m embracing digital and don’t plan on going back anytime soon.

Anxious People — Frederik Backman

I’m changing the format of the book reviews to individual posts per book instead of bundling them by month. This way I don’t feel like I need to wait until I have a few lined up before publishing.

When I was looking for an entertaining book to read on a flight Amazon suggested this one to me. After reading a few reviews I bought it but ended up not reading it on the flight at all.

Anxious People is a wholesome book that starts with a divorce which leads to a chain of consequences and unlikely social interactions.

Despite the slow start and what appeared to be a predictable story initially I enjoyed discovering a bit more about each character as I progressed through the chapters. For me things started to get interesting with the introduction of Zara, a cynical old woman who seems to despise everyone else but carries a secret throughout the entire story.

As you read on you discover the many intricacies that link the various characters together in unexpected ways. It’s an entertaining read although I wish it ended sooner than it did from a story perspective.

★★★★☆

Subform is probably the last Kickstarter I backed

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In 2016 I found out about a new digital design tool called Subform on Kickstarter. At that point I’d already been fully commited to Sketch but I was intrigued by this approach around dynamic layouts and what seemed like incredible flexibility.

I waited until pretty much the last day to actually back this project because I’d been disappointed by previous Kickstarter projects in the past. (Haven’t we all?)
For some reason though I was cautiously optimistic with this one. In the final hours the creators Ryan Lucas and Kevin Lynagh managed to surpass their initial goal of $100,000. When it was all said and done they were sitting on $112,651.

Shortly after the end of the campaign I received an email with access to the beta software as well as the forum exclusive to backers of the project. I honestly had very low expectations but still had a quick play with this first version of Subform to see what it’s about.
However I didn’t bother investing a lot of time in it until more progress was made. It seemed overly complicated compared to something like Sketch or Adobe XD which didn’t appeal to me initially so I left it at that.

subform_screenshot

Over the next few months I would get weekly updates of trending forum posts and while I didn’t particpate in the discussions at all it still gave me a sense of progress. The developers were interacting with the community and I would check the app for updates every now and then.
Things seemed to be on track and I was expecting a major release in the near future. Then something weird happened.

The weekly updates had less content. Backers seemed to have deserted the forums or lost interest. I decided to look into Subform’s status when a backer voiced his concerns about the development of the tool. A week later the creators made an announcement:

Hi friends,
We have some bad news: We will no longer be developing Subform.

[…]In testing and talking with a huge range of designers, we found that the promise of Subform was different for everyone. Many wanted a more efficient drawing tool, but only if it has full feature parity with Sketch. Some wanted complex conditional logic for prototyping, a la Axure. Others wanted a tool for visually composing React components, a WYSIWYG web editor, and so on.

Unfortunately, what we’ve found is that there isn’t a single product scope that’s achievable in the near-team—and is still useful and usable for the majority of testers. Going forward, we suspect that we’ll see more specialized tools for specialized tasks, rather than monoliths. (We released Sketch.systems37 as a standalone tool, rather than a complex integration into Subform, for this reason.)

We appreciate all of the support and feedback ya’ll have given us over the past three years, from funding our first prototype on Kickstarter to the many long conversations here on this forum that convinced us that we needed a better layout engine and friendlier UI interactions.[…]

So that was it. Boy am I glad I didn’t waste any time on this. I already learned my lesson with Macaw. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still disappointed. Not because of the money but because they tried their best and couldn’t make it work which is always a shame.
What is a bit weird in all this though, is this thing called Sketch.systems. I think we can all agree that the name is a terrible choice. I’m not sure how to feel about it, especially since they released it before they stopped working on Subform and mentioned it in their final announcement like it was no big deal.

As a designer I think it’s an interesting concept. As a Kickstarter backer I get the impression that somewhere along the way they saw this shiny new thing which seemed more promising than Subform and decided to call it quits.

I’ve had my fair share of Kickstarter disappointments, which is probably another post by itself. But for now I’m staying away from these types of projects until they’ve made it to the commercial release phase. Design tools especially tend to vanish very quickly in this space lately. Whether it’s through acquisition or abandonment.

That might mean that in the future I’ll have to wait longer and probably pay more which is fine by me if the product is worth it.

In the meantime we’ve got Framer X to look forward to so things could be worse.

Books read — June 2018

In the past month I finished what was probably the longest book I’ve ever read — A Little Life at just over 800 pages. I’m pretty proud of that achievement as it didn’t even take me that long all things considered. My self-imposed break from social media also made things easier.

Lately I also realised how much I enjoy commuting to work by bus instead of taking the car since it gives me plenty of time to read and chill. Random I know.

A Little Life

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A Little Life is one of the deepest reading experiences I’ve had to date. I’ll be honest in saying that it’s not a book I would’ve necessarily picked up, especially due to its size. I used to think that 500-page books are quite chunky already so this seemed daunting but I’m glad I stuck with it. A Little Life is best described as an emotional rollercoaster that will tug at your heart strings on several occasions before finally unleashing the flood gates.

It’s the story of 4 childhood friends with very diverse backgrounds and upbringings. You follow their journey from high school to late adulthood, discovering intricate stories and secrets along the way. By the end of it I felt as if I actually knew the characters and watched their lives unfold from distance similar to The Truman Show.
I was a little disappointed by the end of the story as it was overly (and perhaps gratuitiously) dramatic and felt a bit rushed to wrap up the book.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

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This is definitely of the funniest books I’ve come across. Christopher Moore tells the story of Christ through the lens of his best friend: Biff. Among other things he invented sarcasm and makes brilliant use of it throughout their journey in search of Joshua’s purpose in life.

The inseparable duo meets a variety of people and cultures along the way which sometimes challenges the readers religious preconceptions. Pick this one up if you’re looking for a few laughs and an entertaining story.

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

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What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

That’s the main question you’ll have to ask yourself before you set your goals according to this book. It’s full of helpful little tips but looking back, I think it could have been much shorter and do the point instead of putting a different spin on the same concept for a few chapters.

The authors recommend to narrow your focus drastically and unapologetically ignore any distractions that could prevent you from reaching your goals. To do so you should start small and build a long term vision incrementally. For example, think about what you could do today to help you achieve what you want? What about this week? This month? You get the idea.

One piece of advice in particular stood out to me: at work, block out time slots in your calendar to focus on your ONE thing every day and stick to it.