Week 48: Public Speaking

Week 48 of my comfort zone challenge – Public Speaking

This was a fairly unique challenge for me. I have done presentations, quizzes and now even stand up comedy… but this type of public speaking was something very different to me. I was asked by The Seaview Project, to speak at their Christmas concert, about my time sleeping rough. It was something I was more than happy to do but struggled to know where to pitch in my mind.

On the night, it was made ten times harder. The night opened with two service users of Seaview talking about what Seaview meant to them. Both the girls, ended up in tears, along with the 200 people in the audience. It meant everything to them, at the time they didn’t have anything. Seaview gives help when nobody else will.

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I found myself crossing out half my speech through my watery eyes. How can I talk about being homeless, when I have no idea what it’s like to be homeless? I really didn’t want to come across insensitive, so working out what I should and shouldn’t say seconds before speaking really threw me.

I stumbled and mumbled my way through the speech. The words were true and hopefully I came across in the right way. I found it slightly embarrassing being up there compared to the other speakers, who’s issues were so real, meaningful and emotional. My experience is that presenting at work or even stand up comedy was much easier than this. You may find that hard to believe but this his was difficult in a far different way.

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What the evening really did do, was confirm in my mind, that I am raising money for such an amazing charity. Listening to the stories of all the service users, watching the Seaview choir sing, hearing just how much of a family the charity is, made the evening one of the most emotional hours I’ve had. I have no qualms in sharing that a tear fell from my eye for the first time I can remember in a long time. The tear was in sadness of these people’s stories but their thanks to Seaview was heart-warming and inspiring.

I urge you all to read this article on the work Seaview do and if nothing else read Bob’s, head of the Seaview Choir that performed, story. One of many stories to confirm the amazing work of Seaview.

 

Week 47: Comedy

Week 47 of My Comfort Zone Challenge – Stand up Comedy.

A couple of months prior to actually doing this task, I was approached by work colleagues, Tony, saying I should do stand up comedy at one of our corporate events. My instant reaction was “No way, not a chance”. I consider myself to have a good sense of humour, but I don’t see myself as a funny person. Over the years, I’ve made a name for myself for having terrible gags and being proud of them. So going up on stage, and actually trying to make people laugh… I’d given myself no chance.

Stand up

It took a few weeks of peer pressure and convincing until I agreed to do it. Out of all the challenges, this probably took the most convincing. I’m no great public speaker, and adding the ingredient of laughter felt like a recipe for disaster.

Two months on… And here I was, just days away from writing my stand up comedy. Tony, who does lots of after dinner speaking and event hosting, gave me some advice. Find a theme and go with that route. Don’t just reel off one liners, you’ll forget them. Make it unique. I thought to myself, what is more unique than the challenges that I’ve been doing? So writing the jokes wasn’t actually too hard.

The ‘acting’ element of stand up is where I really needed my practice. I’ll be honest, using a presentation may have been cheating a bit, but I needed all the help I could get. In the build up, I have no shame in saying I would practice in my room alone with a hair brush as a microphone. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Thankfully there is no photographic evidence of this.

I’ve always been one to hate roleplaying and practicing things that aren’t in the real situation. So I only practiced this in front of my flat mate once. He gave me some laughs, so I was happy.

I got to the day of the event, and it was borderline torture. All I wanted to do, was get it over with. My hands were sweating. I was pacing up and down the office all morning. People were winding me up about the microphone not working. I was a mess. I even struggled to hold conversation in the hour leading up to it. This was even with two glasses of wine to try and settle the nerves!

Looking on with nerves
Looking on with nerves

I have to say though, once I was up there. It was fine. It all came out… I missed one joke, but the rest was okay. PEOPLE LAUGHED. It may have been from sympathy or humour, I don’t care, they laughed, I’m having it.

I was congratulated many times after doing it, and many people said to me “Well done, I could never do that”. That was me, 12 months ago. It’s an old cliche, but if I can do it, anyone can do it. Fear of failure is what often stops us from succeeding. This, to me, was a success. It felt overcoming a hurdle, doing something I doubted even I could do. I joke that life doesn’t begin at the end of your comfort zone, but challenges like this have amazed me to what one can really do in life.

It is with great pleasure to share that this even, raised just over £600 in donations from the kind people at The Boundary Club for The Seaview Project and Surviving Christmas. I’m still amazed by this, and so grateful for everyone who donated. It takes my total raised up to £1,038 with gift aid! You can still donate here

Have a watch of the set for yourself!

Week 46: Hypnosis

Week 46 of my comfort zone challenge saw me hypnotized!

I’ve always been skeptical of hypnosis. I’ve watched other people do it and thought they are just acting along. So when the opportunity came along to do this, I have to say, I was very interested to see what happened. I’m certainly went in not convinced it would work, but willing to give it a fair shot, and go with what I’m told.

I’ve read that hypnosis works by altering our state of consciousness in such a way that the analytical left-hand side of the brain is turned off, while the non-analytical right-hand side is made more alert. The conscious control of the mind is inhibited, and the subconscious mind awoken. How quite that happens, I’m not sure. What quite that means, I’m not sure either. All I can say, is this took me into a dream like state.

Put to sleep
Put to sleep

It started off with me watching all the other people around me drop to the floor on the hypnotists command. I could only laugh nervously wondering when he would do that to me. The rest is a bit of a dream, occasionally I would wake up and notice what was going on, the rest just feels like I was asleep. I knew what was going on, but like a dream, couldn’t really control it. A quite bizarre feeling. Some highlights when waking up… Waking up to three other blokes cuddling me, and not really knowing why. Winning the lottery. Watching a Japanese comedian ‘wow’ the crowd.

There’s something telling me perhaps having a crowd makes this easier, with pressure to play up to it. However, I genuinely didn’t feel like I was playing up to anything and was forced to do anything. It all just happened. This is probably the hardest challenge to write up, because I’m not 100% what went on if I’m honest. It worked whatever happened. I’m told by the hypnotist it was because I have a good imagination. I’m told by friends it’s because I have a submissive mind. Make your own minds up on that.

Below is a video that shows what went on.

Week 45: Cuban Salsa Dancing

Back to my two left feet we go. Not happy that I’d given dancing a good enough crack, the finance team at work urged me to go Cuban Salsa dancing on the hope they could save my dancing hopes.

I have to say, what great fun this was. I was surprised at just how many people turned up. At a guess, around 50 people turned up, all around my age?! It was quite unbelievable.

What wasn’t unbelievable was just how bad I am at dancing. We started off with a big warm up where we would move side to side to a beat, with the occasional spin, jazz hands, etc. At this point I thought, I can dance! I was giving it a bit of Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Belair at this point. This the kind of dancing, I normally do in the mirror.

Then we split into groups based on Salsa dancing experience. I went in the beginners group, where I got the timely reminder. I CANNOT DANCE. I don’t know what it is, but I just have no dancing ability what so ever. However, the environment being so relaxed and the music made this quite fun. Messing up became hilarious.

Cuban Salsa Dancing

Sofia our teacher was very patient. The key was keeping the steps in threes… One, two, three. (Miss out four for some reason).. five, six, seven. One, two, three. Five, six, seven. One, two, three. Five, six, seven. Then we’d learn all sorts of moves, whilst changing partners every now and again.

As there was one more male in the group, there would be a point where I would be dancing with the air pretending my partner was there. Good comedy value at least. I probably messed up with every partner.. but by the end of it, dare I say it, I was getting the hang of it.

I’d look around the room at the more advanced groups and some of the stuff they were doing was unbelievable. Who knows, maybe I could actually one day get rid of my two left feet!

Week 44: Musical performance (guitar and singing)

Week 44 of my comfort zone challenge saw me live my dream of being a rock and roll star for 3 and a half minutes. Singing and playing guitar in front of a crowd.

This week took me about as far out of my comfort zone as I’ve been this year. I took up playing guitar in my final year of university, encouraged by my house mate Andy, as a way of doing anything other than my dissertation (and probably trying to pick up females). I just watched YouTube videos and tried to learn from there. It quickly became a big part of my life, whilst I can’t play guitar very well, I just love playing it. Music has the power to take you to a different space, forgetting about the troubles of the world, whilst enjoying what you do. Noel Gallagher once said “Music has the power to change lives. It has the capacity to make young people’s life better.” I have to say it really has for me. Before I discovered Oasis, music never really meant anything to me. Since playing the guitar, my appreciation for it, has gone through the roof.

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So here’s the thing. I’ve never played in front of anyone, not even my parents. I hate the thought of trying to sing in front of people, as I really can’t sing. A handful of people may have seen me play guitar, but I don’t think anyone until the day before this performance, would have heard me try and actually sing. When I came up with the idea of this blog, I was at an open mic night and thought that one day I should aspire to do it. It then got me thinking about things outside my comfort zone in general, so for me, singing and playing guitar was a real personal achievement! It may well have been the whole inspiration of this blog.

Alex, my god brother, and Vanessa were kind enough to invite me to play at their gig. I had the pleasure to hear them practice the day before, and they made me feel a million times at easier about performing. I managed to mess up the song I was going to play in practice, something which I replayed a lot in the build up to the performance. I was praying I did not mess this up. Helped with the confidence boost of a couple of beers, once I was on stage beginning to play, I no longer had nerves. I just went with the song, and enjoyed the moment. It was like nobody else was in the room. The adrenaline was circulating through my body and everything just felt natural. It was only after I finished the song, I couldn’t stop my hands shaking.

I felt top of the world, it felt like such a personal achievement. Something I’ve always wanted to try and until now, never had the balls to do. Whilst I don’t plan on it becoming a regular thing, I’ll never forget the day I did it and to top it off, it was all for a good cause.

I have such respect for people that do this regularly. People are so quick to judge performers, when in reality just getting up and singing is a real achievement. Getting over the fear of failure and rejection is something everyone should aspire too in life, and I think it will help people to get over some real hurdles in their life.

I really should thank a few people for making this one happen. Alexander Jasper and Vanessa King, for helping me organise this, letting me play, providing me equipment and Alex for donating his gig fee to my chosen charities. I can’t explain just how grateful I am. Andy Ryan, for making me bring a guitar to University and bringing out my enjoyment of music. My family for coming down to support in case it all went completely wrong, and particularly my dad for letting me ‘borrow’ his guitars over the last two years.

Have a listen to how it went!

TO DONATE PLEASE CLICK HERE

Week 43: Living 7 days on a £10 food/drink shop

This week really took me outside of my comfort zone. The £10 challenge. 7 days living off a £10 shop. That’s roughly £1.40 a day, and about 47p a meal. It’s worth taking into account my usual ‘meal deal’ lunch from tesco normally comes to £3 and I’m normally suspect to a Nando’s that I wouldn’t even be able to cover on my budget.

I always knew I would do this, but just how hard it would be, I wasn’t sure. I foolishly didn’t plan too well before heading to the supermarket to do my weekly shop. It became quickly apparent, fresh meat and veg was off the table. The tinned section was screaming out to me, 20p for a meal, was bang on. Accompanied with eggs, bread, porridge, milk and rice, I had everything I needed to get me through the week. In hindsight, spending 10p on a bag for life, wasn’t my finest moment – but it wouldn’t be one of my challenges if I wasn’t a cretin for part of it.

The list..
The list..

So what was on the menu? My days would consist of a banana and coffee in the morning, egg on toast and porridge for lunch, and whatever I could find in one of my tins and either rice or toast for dinner. Some of it wasn’t pleasant, meatballs in a tin being a real low for me. Some of it, however, was surprisingly edible. Chicken Curry from the tin was actually quite pleasant, believe it or not.

It was do-able and just goes to show, if times were tough, you can really cut back on food. Was it enjoyable? Not really. The lack of breakfast in the morning, really began to affect my mood and apparently my appearance. On the Friday morning, I was asked three times ‘are you okay?’ as I looked I apparently looked ill. Not ideal. One thing very noticeable, was my skin becoming horrendous over the week. Maybe it was the quality of food and lack of vitamins, maybe it was all just the placebo effect and my mind is just playing big tricks on my body, who knows!

What I do know, is that I love my food. I’m not a big eater but I’m fortunate enough to be able to eat mostly what I want and when I want. The say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, well I can concur, you will not make me love you by starving me.

This challenge marks the end of the food challenges. Having thrown up from a hot curry and given up my beloved added sugar, I’m not sure I can put my stomach through it anymore.

The last supper...
The last supper…

I was inspired to do this challenge by a blog post by Christina, where I read that as well 6000 children in the UK are being brought up on £1 a day and over 1, 000, 000 adults and children have received three days’ emergency food and support from Trussell Trust foodbanks in the last 12 months, a 163 percent rise on numbers helped just two years ago. A few of my challenges, have given me an idea what it would be like to live without a home and without food, with this in mind, I’ve decided to dedicate the whole comfort challenge towards causes to help this. I will be hoping to raise money for The Seaview Project and Surviving Christmas, who both do great work with homeless people in East Sussex. Hopefully you’ll be be kind enough to donate.

Spag Bowl
Spag Bowl
Meatballs - HELL
Meatballs – HELL
Beans on toast..
Beans on toast..
Egg on toast
Egg on toast
Chicken Curry
Chicken Curry

Week 42: Complete a Rubik’s Cube

A Rubik’s Cube – The 3D puzzle made up of a 8 sides of 3×3 cubes, all with different colours. The aim – Make all sides one solid colour.

A Rubik’s Cube was suggested, when coming up with challenges, as a way to test both my concentration and patience. You, like myself, have probably heard the stories of people picking up a Rubik’s Cube and completing it in 10 minutes. The success stories of making this cube look easy. I’m fairly good with logic and completing puzzles, I once completed ‘The River Test’, which I’m told only 10% of people on the planet complete. So in truth, I thought a Rubik’s cube wouldn’t be THAT hard. To give you a bit of background, Erno Rubik, the inventor of the cube a month to complete it. There are 42 quintillion different states the cube can be in, but only state that is correct. It took my nearly five minutes to realize this was going to be hard.

Concentration

My original aim was to complete the Rubik’s Cube in one weekend. In reality, I was so optimistic with this ambition. It took me lots of reading of tips and persistence getting used to the cube to work out how to do it. You must first start of by building through the levels, starting at the bottom. Remembering the each, middle piece on each side, represents the colour of that side. Starting with the white side you must complete the bottom of the cube, being sure to pay attention to the colour that the each other piece must match too. Repairing your mistakes is key, and often going over your tracks is the key with it. The common error I was going with was constantly moving the side facing me when trying to solve. I found it to be important to keep this side constant to remember each move and mistake you had to repair. You would then build up the levels making sure everything begins to match, before finally finishing on the top. It certainly got harder as you got closer to finishing as mistakes could prove costly and you could have to start again.

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It eventually took me near on 2 months to complete the cube, just the 1440 hours more than I had anticipated. Within these hours was endless frustration at both myself messing it up and people thinking they would have a go (you know who you are). I was determined to complete it, and an evening dedicated to complete it, saw me celebrate finishing like I had just won the World Cup for England. My patience was certainly tested, but the reward was sweet.

COMPLETE

Week 41: No Added Sugar

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

This week I would be giving up added sugar for 7 days.

What is counts as added sugar, I here you ask. Anything with unnatural sugars added to the food. So my usual diet of cereal in the morning with a cup of tea and two sugars followed by a Tesco Meal deal Chicken Salad sandwich, packet of walkers sensations, a pack of minstrels with a lucozade sport for lunch, and dinner caked with ketchup was off the table. This doesn’t include the regular chocolate, or sporadic doughnuts or cakes throughout the week.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone
Shopping for the week.

Inspired by my flat mate, Marc, who had done this challenge but for longer, I promised myself there would be no added sugar for 7 days.

I heard after three or four days, I would have a sugar crash and the first few days wouldn’t be that bad. Well, it must have been the placebo effect, as after one day I felt awful. My mind was telling me I was desperate for sugar and I was shattered. It may have been the lack of sugared tea or the 10 minute energy bursts from a chocolate bar, but I was exhausted. Though day one was just a small taste of what I was in for.

A typical meal
A typical meal

By the end of the week, I was exhausted of the challenge, not physically but mentally. I was craving things, physically I wasn’t too exhausted. I’d get by with bananas, pasta and coffee to make things not too tough physically. Mentally it became hard work, things become more annoying than ever before, planning what you eat is hard work, and the everything with added sugar became ten times more delectable. What I quickly learnt is giving up added sugar for any length of time more than a week, is just not practical or sociable, reducing your added sugar levels is easy. I have never had to worry about what I eat, putting on weight has never been a problem. It’s probably the first time in my life I consciously looked at the ingredients when doing my weekly shop. By doing this though, I quickly saw how much added sugars are in my everyday foods and just how easy it would be to reduce the amounts you have. A 15-year Harvard study, showed participants who took in 25% or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets included less than 10% added sugar. As a man of heart, I don’t want my heart to be diseased, and by taking a bit more time the chances can be easily reduced.

A typical snack
A typical snack

I think I could give up anything for a week, in reality it’s not ideal, but can be done. I wouldn’t recommend giving up added sugar for a prolongued period of time, in social elements no added sugar becomes very awkward, particularly when drinking alcohol. Vodka, soda water and fresh lime isn’t so refreshing after having two of them. The endless adverts for fizzy drinks, chocolates and fast food restaurants make it almost unbearable. What I would recommend is just taking a bit of time to reading how much added sugar you having, if you’re anything like me, you’d be quite surprised.

EDITORS NOTE: I did binge on a KFC the day after freedom, so I don’t have any moral high ground to preach.

Teased with cake...
Teased with cake…

Week 40: The WORST Horror Film – A Serbian Film

Being Halloween week, it my flat mates felt it would be appropriate for me to watch the WORST horror film going.

I hate horror films as it goes, I just don’t understand them. Why would you choose to watch something that scares the life out of you. Also, what sick maniacs think up this stuff?!

The film in question, well this is something else. I’ve seen a few horrors, but they all look like comedies compared to this. A Serbian Film. A simple title that doesn’t give much away, and believe me you don’t want to know.

The Independent describe A Serbian Film as the “nastiest film ever made” and I really struggle to disagree with it. It’s certainly the nastiest film I’ve ever seen, and imagine I will ever see.

This isn’t the place to discuss the plot… If you want to know what happens google it. Whatever you do, don’t make the same mistake that I did, and watch it. The film is banned in 9 countries across the world, and for good reason. It is sick. What I have seen, I cannot un-see. Take my word for it, and don’t watch it.

Below is a gogglebox style video of us watching A Serbian Film… worth watching to the end. Happy Halloween!

Week 39: Speed Dating

Week 39 took me into the cruel world of dating, once again. Having already taken part in a blind date, I haven’t really wanted to delve into the dating world for challenges. But alas, I’m running out of things to do from the list, and speed dating was the challenge.

I went into this challenge, with a sense of arrogance. You know the “I’m a bit better than this” type of feeling. My perception was always about a sense of desperation around speed dating. I guess both of these kind of changed over the night. Let me explain…

The night started with a couple of drinks in the pub next door to settle the nerves (have you worked out a theme for when I’m nervous yet?). Once we finally stumped up the balls, myself, my housemate, Marc, and my work colleague, Steve, all entered the speed dating room, where we were handed a sheet of paper, a pen, a name badge and a number.

The Form
The Form

The rules are simple. 4 minutes. Have a chat. Rate either Date, Mate or No. On to the next one.

The ‘women’ came from all parts of the world, Mexico, Germany, Australia, England. No one really took my fancy, but it’s hard not to try and impress in the scenario. The main issue I had, was that due to the ordering, both Marc and Steve had already told the females everything about me. “Are you Tom, that writes the blog?” I’d normally be greeted with.

There were some characters, when I put ‘women’ in inverted brackets, that’s because I’m almost certain one wasn’t a woman. Despite the fact she/he was insistent on telling me she was during my four minutes. Never thought I’d date a transexual in my life, I must admit.

The event was all done and dusted and it was time to rate everyone. This is where the evening took a real downfall personally after this. Having a drink at the bar, the three of us asked four of the girls from the speed dating to honestly tell us what they put for matching. Their answers were as followed:

Girl 1: Pointing at Steve – Date.. Pointing at Marc – Date… Pointing at Me… Mate
Girl 2: Pointing at Steve – Date.. Pointing at Marc – Date… Pointing at Me… Mate
Girl 3: Pointing at Steve – Date.. Pointing at Marc – Date… Pointing at Me… Mate
Girl 4: Pointing at Steve – Date.. Pointing at Marc – Date… Pointing at Me… Mate

Date, Date......
Date, Date……

This followed by a procession of “I’m Fine!” in Ross Gellar style by myself. I was gutted, and my arrogance from the beginning of the evening was quickly shot to pieces. The girls told me it was because “my heart wasn’t in it”… It probably wasn’t but still. OUCH.

All this aside… My review on speed dating. Not for me. I struggle to believe anyone in this world would find romance from speed dating. It’s such a forced, un-natural process, filled with no time to actually chat to people. There is a clear feeling that people are rating you from as soon as you walk into the room, something that is not enjoyable. It was a laugh with my mates, but I can’t imagine I’d see myself doing this again. Were people in the room desperate? Maybe not as I imagined… I don’t really think anyone saw themselves getting much out of it.. But maybe that’s because my heart was never in it (Yeah – still fuming).

........MATE
……..MATE