This is my 2015 annual review – a way of identifying and recording lessons from the last 12 months by checking out what went well, and what didn’t. I highly recommend giving it a go.

At the beginning of the year I set out my annual goals in a post called Talk to the Buddha Some More, setting the tone for a lot of what I’ve written on here since then. I tried to form my goals under five habits:

  • Be Mindful
  • Be Curious
  • Be Creative
  • Be Intentional
  • Be Animal

I’m not going to examine each goal in turn in the way I did last year. Instead I’ll just concentrate on the successes, failures and lessons from the year, since the goals and habits are not really that important in their own right – they’re intended to be stepping stones or way markers to larger, more fundamental goals or growth.

I really recommend doing this yourself over the next few days. Set aside a whole evening, pour yourself some wine or grab a few beers, and get stuck in. Life is so short, and every year seems to pass more quickly than the last. It’s worth figuring out if you’re where you wanna be, and if not, how you might get there.

WHAT WENT WELL

I found a base! After testing Bristol and finding it wanting (of green space and easy escape routes) I moved to the best city in the UK – Edinburgh. I’m very happy to be living in Scotland: I get to be close to my parents, the highlands and the lakes are both just a couple of hours away, it’s next to the sea, and it’s built around the remains of a bloody volcano, part of which is the fantastic Holyrood Park. It’s also very beautiful in places, has huge creative and outdoors sectors, and the people are so friendly that it still shocks me.

I’ve never been patriotic, and while I feel lucky for the opportunities that being born in England has given me, I find the dominant culture oppressive and, well in short it’s not a country that I enjoy living in or want to live in. Scotland feels very different, as many other people would say, and I feel good about being here.

The Shore, Edinburgh

The view from outside my flat

I think this base has helped me work on some of the most important relationships in my life, and I feel really positive about how that’s gone. I’m closer to my parents, my partner, and some of my friends than I’ve ever been. I think that even if everything else had gone badly last year, this alone would have made it a good year overall.

I attempted a 10 day silent meditation retreat (called Vipassana – highly recommended), and even though I had to leave early due to the most painful kidney stone in history (how I maintained my silence is beyond me!), it was still a very powerful experience that quite probably changed my life forever. What I was learning was a meditation technique that blew the socks off a lot of the mindfulness meditations I had been trying previously.

I coupled this with a lot of reading around contemporary theories of free will, consciousness, quantum physics, and philosophy. Expect more on those subjects this year! And a word of warning if you do a Vipassana retreat :expect to work hard, t’s not a holiday.

Injury has stopped me from attempting a sub-40 minute 10k but I I ran a half marathon in 1 hour 28 minutes after just 2 months of training – a time that shocked me to be honest! I have my eyes set on a sub 3 hour time at the Edinburgh marathon in May 2016.

Racing to the finish line at the Edinburgh Marathon Festival

Racing to the finish line at the Edinburgh Marathon Festival

I started climbing again regularly and have improved rapidly. It’s a sport that I love and that I feel naturally good at. It’s not only physically, mentally, and technically demanding, but it’s a whole body meditation unlike anything else that I experience in my day. When I run my mind wanders. When I meditate my mind wanders. But when I climb I am totally, 100% present and focused, and I’m often hyper-aware of my entire body.

Occasionally, on a hard route, when I’m placing my fingers on a hold and can see when I’m doing, it’s as if my eyes have zoomed in and my ears are plugged into a directional microphone pointing at the hold. It’s awesome. As with running, the progress I’ve made in half a year of regular  climbing has made me really excited about what I might be able to do if I start training properly.

I also got into the mountains a few times and remembered why I love to return to the wild. Perhaps more importantly, I remembered how I love to do this – alone or with quiet people, and either with some challenging aim (running far or climbing hard) or else free to wander, explore, sit, swim, photograph, read, and think wherever and whenever I want.

Cairn Gorm to Linn of Dee - Martin Holland

Sunset over Loch Avon © Martin Holland

I began the year in Borneo leading my biggest ‘expedition’ to date, with around 80 people spread over three camps in primary rainforest owned by a Dayak community in North Kalimantan. I put expedition in inverted commas because it was officially described as an ‘expedition-style field trip’ – so we weren’t doing research or making new discoveries, but we were giving the students a very real experience of expedition life. And it was awesome. The feedback from  the students was above 9/10, and the contribution to the village was also very real. It was so good that I’m starting this year doing exactly the same thing!

I ran a second expedition to this area later in the year – a new style of expedition that was smaller but ambitious in a different way, and that also went very well. It was the Borneo RAVE 2015 and, again, the feedback from those involved was above 9/10 and the contribution to local conservation will hopefully be lasting.

Base Camp, Long Setulang Tane Olen - Martin Holland

Base Camp during the Borneo RAVE 2015

I also launched Expedition Base Camp (still in ‘beta’) and finally got my own website online (also still in development, but it’s a working platform), and moved forward with the next stages of my expedition business and my conservation charity. Exciting things ahead for both of those.

And I wrote some good stuff on here (I particularly liked this, this and this) and took some nice photos.

WHAT WENT WRONG

I accomplished a lot last year, and I grew a lot too, but it was a frustrating year and one that I was pleased to leave behind me. Nothing bad happened, loads of good happened, but for almost all of the year I felt like I was operating at around 20% capacity, and that every time I got the motor properly fired up that I couldn’t maintain it.

So what? What’s wrong with taking it easy? Absolutely nothing! The world would be far better off if everyone collectively decided to stop trying to do so much. But that’s a subject for another blog post! the fact is that right now I do want to do a lot, but that just didn’t happen last year, and I want to figure out why.

One possibility is that I was simply trying to do too much, and that I should try focusing on just one thing at a time. There’s probably some truth to that. Probably a lot. But taking that advice would mean moth balling a lot of projects that I’ve already put a lot of work in to, which sounds horrible.

Another theory I have is that I found too much stillness! I’m a pretty chilled out dude these days (probably a result of spending so much time in Indonesia), which is not really helpful when trying to achieve a whole bunch of work and life goals. Being mindful doesn’t mean becoming a stoner. In fact it should be the total opposite. I really need to figure out how to get fired up without losing my zen.

Basically I need to channel Bruce Lee.

I think a lot of this could simply be down to the year being one of quite serious change and adjustment, including learning how to live in a city (which I still don’t really know how to do – is that weird?). If that’s not one of the root causes of my lack of ferocious focus and motivation, it’s definitely an exacerbating factor.

WHAT ARE THE LESSONS?

I think a lot of my disappointment with 2015 is connected to work, which includes writing and other creative pursuits

Find an office and work with others – I’ve known that I’ve need to do this for quite a while now and made some efforts towards making this happen last year. I’m not enjoying working from home every day and I miss the energy and dynamism that comes from collaborating with other people.

Escape to the hills – city life is not natural, so I need to make a point of escaping back to nature often in order to stay sane. I got into the mountains a few times in 2015 but nowhere near enough. The key here is scheduling and booking well in advance. I have the luxury of taking long weekends every week and longer breaks pretty much whenever I want. Now I live in Scotland I have no excuse.

Meditate – in normal, everyday life nothing helps you focus and stay connected to the moment and what’s important in life more than meditation. In case I haven’t said this enough on here and to myself previously: meditate!

Morning Routine – by the end of the year I decided that I wasn’t a morning person, but now I’ve decided that I need to become one. I actually do love the early morning, and I think if there is one thing, one habit, that I could make stick this year, it would be a morning routine of meditation, exercise, some kind of creativity.

Switch Off – there’s a lot of talk about digital detoxing these days, and a lot of guff about being a Luddite if you want to step back from technology a little bit. Here’s what I know: what I fantasise about using my smartphone for (awesome levels of productivity and cool creative stuff) and what I actually use it for (reading the blues, Facebook, checking email) are two very, very different things. Until I can learn to use one properly, I don’t think I should have one. I especially think the stupid thing needs to go into a locked drawer after about 6pm.

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So there you have it. In keeping with the general theme of 2015, I almost didn’t do this, but I’m really pleased I made the effort. A lot of useful things come to the surface that that might otherwise have stayed hidden, and I now have something to refer back to over 2016 and beyond.

Give it a go if you haven’t already.


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