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Ep. 63 – Tom Bentley – Deliberate Practice, Structured Creativity

Mich Bondesio chats with professional writer Tom Bentley about how nature boosts wellbeing, the importance of deliberate practice for developing mastery, and building a life that nurtures creativity.

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Creating Cadence Podcast Transcript – Episode 63

Published 03 July 2024

Mich Bondesio:

Hi, and welcome to Creating Cadence, a podcast for life and work in motion. I’m your host Mich Bondesio, a writer, speaker, coach, and solo entrepreneur. I’m also the author of The Cadence Effect.

I help high achievers stuck on the toxic treadmill of overwork to transform your approach to life, work and business.

So we can all activate more of our potential, improve our wellbeing and performance, and find joy in every part of our life. At a cadence, that’s more suitable to us. Despite this fast-paced world we live in.

This is episode 63, the third of season 10, recorded in May 2024, but published in early June.

In today’s interview, I’m chatting with Tom Bentley, a writer, editor, essayist, and novelist.

We have a lovely conversation about how nature boosts our wellbeing. And how Tom leverages deliberate practice and structured creativity, to build a steadily-paced life that suits his sensibilities, feeds his curiosity, and fuels his creative and professional endeavours. All whilst also bringing joy and a sense of calm and peace to his day.

There’s lots of goodness in this episode. And Tom also has a wicked sense of humour. So you will hear me chuckling plenty, and I’m sure you, too, will find it enjoyable.

But before we get there first, a quick news roundup.

So, first of all, a big thank you to those of you who took advantage of the May birthday specials to purchase your discounted copies of my book, The Cadence Effect, I really appreciate the support. Now that offer has now come to an end and there won’t be any more specials until much later in the year. But I will update you here and in my newsletter when the time comes.

And my Cadence Coaching Programme is also coming to an end very soon, or at least the first cohort of it is. It was meant to be 10 weeks, but we ended up condensing it into nine due to the summer holidays approaching. And that has actually worked out quite well, doing it this way. So we’re currently wrapping up by doing a skill-specific workshop this week, focusing on the bullet journal method. And then there’ll be a final Q&A for my cohort participants.

For those of you who’ve been asking, I’ll be releasing the recordings of the masterclasses for purchase at the end of the summer as a standalone product. I was going to release them sooner, but I’ve decided to give myself a bit of a break beforehand.

I’m also still on the hunt for a good location to run my first in-person retreat later this year. I’ve seen a couple of lovely places, but I haven’t decided yet.

As I mentioned in the last episode, the retreats are going to include focused, facilitated sessions around common, intentional productivity challenges, alongside fun activities in nature, that also challenge us positively. And there’s going to be plenty of time for rest and recharging too.

While this retreat idea may seem like a new idea. I had actually been researching suitable locations in France to run retreats before the pandemic hit. And then the idea was shelved for a time, which unexpectedly turned out to be four years. But the time feels right now to explore this again. So I’m really excited to see where this is going to go.

And as I mentioned in the last episode with Magdalena Rungaldier in my past life. At one point, my job included helping to put together corporate events that created memorable and life-changing experiences for those participants. So, this is an opportunity for me to do something similar in my own business.

Now, I plan to run the first of these later this year in October or November, probably in, or near, the Lake District in Cumbria. And if this is something that you or your organisation might be interested in, then please get in touch. You can email me at hello@creatingcadence.co.

So that’s it for the news this week, let’s get onto the interview segment of the podcast.

According to Tom Bentley, he is still trying to figure out what flavor of writer he is. But so far he’s been a short story writer, a novelist, an essayist, a travel writer, a journalist, and a business copywriter. He also edits all that stuff too. And by his own admission, he’s also a consummate cocktail connoisseur, but his singing frightens the horses.

In all seriousness though, across his professional writing career, Tom has had hundreds of freelance pieces published, ranging from first person essays to travel articles, to more journalistic subjects in newspapers, magazines, and online.

Tom also has multiple published books under his belt. He is the author of All Roads Are Circles, a coming of age novel. And Flowering, a collection of short stories. His Think Like A Writer: How To Write The Stories You See discusses finding and cultivating your writer’s voice. His novel Aftershock is about three lives tossed asunder by the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. And his newest novel Swirled All the Way to the Shrub, is set in Prohibition-era Boston, right at the Great Crash. His newest non-fiction book is called Sticky Fingers, and it’s a memoir about his teenage shoplifting business.

You can find more of his lurid website confessions and his blog at tombentley.com.

Now if you have a creative job, or are a creative thinker, which is actually all of us, or you’re a person who benefits from structured time in your day to focus on deep work projects without distraction, then Tom’s focus on deliberate practice will be interesting and helpful for you.

We talk about a structured framework of routines and activities that support Tom to be the best he can be at what he does. We also speak about the important roles of nature, travel and curiosity, play in our creative practice. And the impact that our environment has on our creativity, productivity, and wellbeing. As well as lots of other little nuggets of wisdom in between.

Don’t forget to stick around at the end, as I consider three particular focus points that came up during our discussion.

So if you’re ready, let’s dive in.

So welcome, Tom. I’m delighted to have you on the show and I can’t wait to see where this conversation goes.

Tom Bentley:

[00:05:46] Well, Mich, I’m probably even more delighted than you. We won’t have a delight competition, but I’m delighted as well. And thank you.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:05:54] My pleasure. So for a bit of context, we got to know each other through a novelist and writer’s group that forms part of a larger online business community that we’ve both been members of for several years now. And then I plucked up the courage to ask you to be one of the beta readers or beta readers for my book, The Cadence Effect. And I was incredibly grateful for the helpful structural feedback that you provided as part of that exercise, because you helped me to make the book better, so big thanks for that.

And I’ve just realised that we’re recording this episode a few days after the first year anniversary of The Cadence Effect’s launch.

So it does feel apt to be having this conversation with you about writing and how that ties in with cadence. But first let’s talk about you. You’ve been writing for a number of years now, but where exactly are you on your career path? What is your current life and work situation?

Tom Bentley:

[00:06:40] Well, I’ll stop you and say happy anniversary for the book’s publication. Congratulations on that.

I’m deep into my writing life. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, short stories as a kid, like 11 and 12. I started professionally writing in my early 20s, which was the Jurassic age at this point.

I’ve been writing professionally first for software companies. I was an editor and a proofreader and I moved into marketing, writing, tech, technical marketing, writing. And then I kind of as a sideline, I’ve also written a number of novels some nonfiction books. I write a lot of travel articles.

I have a real range and And sometimes I just write goofy stuff for fun. You know, I, I wrote some very bad poetry recently, which would harm, harm people’s consciousness. But that, that’s fun for me. So I, I really am head to toe writing.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:07:44] Awesome. Lifelong passion for you. So how does your context in terms of being so embedded in your writing, how does it impact on your wellbeing and your productivity? What are the kind of bonuses that you experience because of the career that you’ve chosen and what are the challenges that you experience in this situation?

Tom Bentley:

[00:08:02] The big bonuses are, I pretty much am in control of my time. Although I must read, meet deadlines all the time. So, when that occurs, I’m not in, in total control of my time. But because I’m able to write a range of things it gives me a lot of freedom. It keeps things fresh for me. Like I say, I write travel articles, not merely travel articles, but freelance articles where I profile sometimes business people, sometimes companies and writing fiction is so greatly different than writing that, that, that is just another doorway.

That’s that takes you out of an environment. of a certain type into an environment of a different type. Sometimes there’s more candy in the fiction writing, but sometimes it’s less satisfying in terms of my own goals for fiction. So I have trouble appreciating sometimes some of the stuff I write.

When I, when I get stuff published, I very much appreciate that too. And I’ll hearken to your book for a moment and just say celebrating the victories, which is, you had some notion of, of having appreciation for the things you’ve done in there. I can’t remember your phrasing, but I’ll call it celebrate the victories.

When you have something that even seems after you’ve been publishing stuff for years, like I have, when you get it, something published, you, you know, give a nod to yourself. Look, you did something. Pat yourself on the back or on the top of your head or on the bottom of your feet or somewhere and, you know, enjoy it.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:09:32] I agree. Thank you so much for those kind words. And I do agree because writing is hard and I’m sure that you find this even after all the years, I think you’ve commented on this in the writer’s group before that imposter syndrome feeling, or, you know, that nervousness about putting out a new piece of work, that never goes away, despite how many years of experience you have.

Tom Bentley:

[00:09:51] No, uh uh. And for me and again you talk about procrastination issues in the book I, I get a lot of assignments for writing. I’m getting one right now for a trip to Malta that we, my girlfriend and I took a while back. I always don’t start on the writing. I’ll find many, many things to do besides that.

Until I start, my throat starts to tighten. There’s that sense of, you better do something. But, oddly enough, and I’ve recognized this pattern in myself for so many years, so many years, once I get the first paragraph written, And I’ll, often handwrite notes for articles because that works for me, or else I’ll just type into a text file single sentences or even phrases about the subject of which I’m going to write.

And so I’ll have something percolating, and I’ll address those, but I won’t start the writing until I start to strangle, as I say. And then once Once a couple paragraphs are in, that is a release valve. And it just happened for the, I just wrote an article about these full time, full time Airstream people who have been traveling for seven years straight in their Airstream.

They’re a married couple, so they haven’t slain each other, which is remarkable. And I did what I always do. I procrastinated. I had a great note. I had a long, long interview with them. I highlighted the stuff I wanted to use for the article. Looked at it, closed the file, looked at it again a couple days later, closed the file.

Then I wrote a couple paragraphs and then that day I wrote the article. So, and it’s, you know, 2000 words. So it’s one of those things where you trick yourself, even though I know this is my pattern. Yet I will do it over and over.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:11:37] Yeah, I agree. I mean, I have that pattern as well. And as I write in the book, procrastination is an emotional response to stress. It’s something we all have, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it’s part of the process, part of the workflow and accepting that it’s part of the workflow and working around that.

And actually factoring it into your planning.

So I have to factor that in with some of the work that I’m creating for myself, for example, the cadence coaching programme content that I was creating.

It was very much like that because it was the first time I was putting out this particular type of product or service. And it was nerve wracking for me.

And then as you say, you’ve got lovely, a lovely way of starting where you’re writing down phrases that are kind of little inspiration nuggets and that gets the juices flowing for you.

So I love that. Well, let’s talk a little bit more about that. How do you support yourself in your writing practice? What are the kind of ingrained wellbeing and productivity rituals that you’ve honed over many years that help you get into a creative zone and flow states for writing?

Tom Bentley:

[00:12:37] Well, as I’ve mentioned before in our group, I am a robot and I am habituated to many patterns of behaviour and that takes care of me being that anxious about them. I’m an early riser. I get up around 6. I will meditate for 20 minutes using various apps usually they’re voice guided, guided apps or just bells that ring in, in intermittently.

Then I will do a language lesson in Duolingo. I’ll do a couple, I’m trying to learn Spanish. I’ll say I’m trying. I’ve been trying for a couple of years. But I do do those every day. And, so I have a long streak of that. Then I’ll, I’ll go through email and some of the mechanics of getting ready for the day business wise.

If I have some, if I have an actual writing project. I’ll try to go through mostly emails and then write fairly early between 9 and 11 in the morning. And and I also find a, a resuscitation of that between, say, 2. 30 and 4. Again, that happens to me. So, you speak in the book also of recognising your, and I’m not using your language, but patterns of where you’re productive and where you’re not, some chronological awareness of your day.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:13:59] That’s right, your ultradian rhythms.

Tom Bentley:

[00:14:01] Yeah. So and then at midday often with my girlfriend who also works at home, she’s a marketing writer, we exercise somewhere. And I should really be grateful. I am grateful in many ways, but I should really be grateful for where I am. I’m close to the California coast coastline in central California, outside of Santa Cruz.

So we can just go, I can drive to the beach in a few minutes and we can walk on the beach. Or, I’m also near a lot of beautiful sloughs here, right here in my town, where it really is only five minutes drive to then walk on these trails that go through sloughs, and one of my newer pleasures is bird watching.

And there’s so many birds at these sloughs of all kinds, you know, tiny little singers, warblers, and and then big herons and great egrets and things like that.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:14:56] Fantastic.

Tom Bentley:

[00:14:57] We were walking there a little while ago and an osprey in flight flew past us, dipped in the water, grabbed a large fish. And these sloughs aren’t that deep, but this fish was a foot and a half long and then just flew away with it in its talons, which was wow!

Mich Bondesio:

[00:15:14] Wow, incredible. Could you just clarify for me what a slough is, please?

Tom Bentley:

[00:15:19] It’s a wetlands where, some people might call them bogs, but they call them slough around It’s a wetlands that is tidal. So we’re near the ocean, so the waters recede and grow in tidal patterns, and there’s lots of reed-like, cattail-like plants, and things like that. And these slough trails, they’re paved, so it’s, you know, it’s part of the city, what the city has done.

They’re paved, and they aren’t that long, they’re like a mile and a half, but there are several of them, and they’re different, each one of the ones are different, so we can go to a different one several times a week, and you can just see things. You see, you know other creatures too, raccoons and things like that.

And I’m only a minute from the freeway, yet you can go into an area that feels nature like, well, it is nature in a short while.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:16:06] Thank you for sharing that. I think, you know, a number of people who I’ve interviewed have said about walking and spending time in nature and the power that has to help you rest and recharge and recalibrate. I noticed also you spoke about writing an article about airstreams and you actually work in an airstream and it looks beautiful from what I can see because we’re busy recording in there now.

So what role does that have in kind of preparing you for your work day?

Tom Bentley:

[00:16:33] Oh, it’s, it has a distinct role. So I will stay in the house until about nine. And that’s when I’ll go through some of the little administrative things that I need to do for my day and a little planning. But, you know, go through emails, answer some and sometimes do a little reading after the meditation and the language.

So going out to the airstream is, This is the work environment. It’s, it’s been my office for many years, well over a decade. But I also nap out here too. So it’s the work and nap environment. And I, so I will work in here all right, or whatever the tasks are for the day. But I also get up a lot.

We live in an area that’s semi rural. There’s, I’m surrounded by fields. So. I can look out the window I’m looking at right now. There aren’t any out there right now, but there are wild turkeys that come out of this little forested area. We’ve seen bobcats, there’s deer. Even though it is a, you know, it’s not a rural, rural area, but it has a little forested area, with wildlife and actually walking through our neighbourhood through that area is a great little walk, too.

So anyway, in the airstream, I’ll often just get out and walk to the end of the street of the driveway and just look, look around there’s just acres and acres of strawberry fields on the other side of the road here where we live. So it’s, it’s quite rural and quiet, except when they’re tractoring, which is not quiet, but so I’ll get up out of the airstream a lot and return, then return to my job.

I’ll only get up for a minute and that is restorative in itself.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:18:13] Sounds, like a special place to be.

Tom Bentley:

[00:18:16] Yeah, it’s an old timer too. It’s a 66 and and it’s been refurbished somewhat. It’s a fair amount different than what it used to be. I have a long desk now that we had put in for all my items here on the desk. But it has some of the original stuff that you can see that silver disc up on the wall.

You can see that that is a speaker for an 8 track player that tells you how old this is. The 8 track player is no longer in here. And that little lamp is, looks like it’s atomic age counterpart there. So, and that were all that stuff works.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:18:52] Oh, that’s fantastic. What a great workspace. I love it.

Tom Bentley:

[00:18:55] Yeah. It’s nice.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:18:57] So tell us a bit about how do you end your days? What’s your ritual for ending your work day or your work week?

Tom Bentley:

[00:19:03] Um, I will normally, I have little alerts set up and I, they are so patterned in right now that I don’t really need to have them anymore, but I have an alert to read because I’ll always, I read anyway a lot, but I will read between like 4, 15 and 5. So I’ll read whatever book I’m reading at the moment, And then I almost always read at bedtime before I go to sleep. And also sometimes between, we’ll watch some television after dinner, and then have a reading break, just a short one, like 20 minutes. So at the end of the day, I will read. And then I go in, and again, I’m a robot, so I do like 20 to 30 minutes of light weight lifting, and stretches, and some other exercises.

They haven’t done much for my beefiness, but I’m not made to be beefy. So, but it, it feels good. it’s nice. It’s something I look forward to. I have always been athletic. I’ve always played baseball and basketball and those days are behind me because of arthritis, head to toe, but uh, it’s great to exercise.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:20:13] Yeah. And it it sounds like you have a really robust routine that supports you, you know, your productivity and your wellbeing, your fitness, your health. And as you say, well, I wouldn’t say you’re a robot, but you’re very well disciplined. I think you’re very disciplined, which is great to see.

So thank you. So let’s look at things in a slightly broader context what does the concept of cadence mean for you? And how does that idea resonate for you? You know, your style of work gives you the freedom to travel and house sit. Tell us a bit more about the travel element and how that affects how your work days might run and how it affects your perception of cadence.

Tom Bentley:

[00:20:51] Well, Sure. Both my girlfriend and I have been able to work while we have house sat, and we’ve house sat in a lot of places. Ecuador, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean. We’re just in VA case, the Puerto Rican Island. We’re, we’re going to do one in Seattle this coming fall. So it’s going to be home.

I used to live in Seattle, so it’s kind of a home homecoming for me. The house sitting is great because it’s just surprises. You don’t know what, what is going to take place, even though we’ve always interviewed, done zoom calls with the home owners to see what is needed, what they are looking for, often pet sitting, sometimes merely taking care of their house, making sure everything is secure. The Ecuador stay, which was for about seven weeks, they did not have a pet and we’re in a little town up in the Andes. Beautiful, wonderful place.

And then we could go to Quito as well. So we would work in the daytime hours, almost normally. Alice is on the phone much more than me. I often have more independent projects, so she has to adjust her work hours to be able to at least check in with whatever client, and she’s had some long term clients.

So her work time is a little bit more scheduled than mine in terms of when we’re house sitting because I’m more open. Let’s see, in Malta, we were nine hours ahead. Her morning meeting was at 6 p. m., but I made her a cocktail at 6 p. m., so while she’s having her morning meeting. She could speak, but it was a 6pm. cocktail, so….

The travel is wonderful. I love being in different places. it’s asks of you different things. It’s, you aren’t robotic there even though we still went for our exercise pretty much daily. And we’d incorporate that with going into wonderful places. Like in Malta, we could take a ferry to Valletta, the capital city, which is fabulous. Tremendous, gigantic walled fortifications and narrow cobblestone streets and beautiful restaurants and people who are happy and enthusiastic.

So the travel really opens things up and we’ll probably keep doing that as long as we are able.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:23:08] And I’m sure it inspires a lot of your writing work as well, seeing all of these places.

Tom Bentley:

[00:23:12] Oh, well it does specifically for travel articles, but it inspires you to speak about people, experiences you have with people, and I try to eavesdrop, but in Malta, there were probably 12 languages that were happening. There are so many people from both other places and Malta has been occupied by every civilisation known to man and woman.

So it’s an interesting pastiche of cultures. And so travel is broadening, as they say.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:23:45] Yes. And it sounds to me like an essential part of how you create cadence across your year. Because, although you’re still working, it sounds like the pace of how you work might change based on time zones, but also on the fact that you said you’ll still do all the things that you would normally do, but maybe you do them in a slightly different way.

Tom Bentley:

[00:24:03] Sure. Yeah, sometimes in a greatly different way. If you’re, you know, touring ancient grounds or castles or that kind of thing you’re walking, getting exercise, but your eyes are triple open because you’re seeing things that are extraordinary.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:24:20] Fantastic. Inspiring as well. I’ve seen loads of your pictures from your different travels that you’ve shared in our community and it’s always inspiring. So thanks for that. So let’s talk a little bit more about cadence in the context of the work that you do for others. Now this can be a, this can be a bit of a tricky question, but I’m interested to see how you answer, you know, in that broader context of how it might apply in terms of the writing services that you provide for clients.

What is, how does that help your customers and clients to build momentum in their businesses or in the work that they’re doing? The context, the topics, the work that you do for them, how does that help them?

Tom Bentley:

[00:24:57] Well, meeting deadlines helps them a great deal if you and I I’m pretty good with that It’s a real rarity that I would miss a deadline for something Expectations are given to me by editors for articles. So we’ll have some fundamentals The thing I’m going to write for Malta for an online magazine, he gave me an example article to read that was set up in a structure that wouldn’t have been the approach I would have taken.

It was a much more kind of a roundup kind of thing where you say, restaurants sites to see extraordinary things. And that wasn’t what I thought he wanted. so having the person explain their expectations and giving me some grounds to work with.

And then of course a word count, give me a basic word count. Is it, if it’s a 500 word article, that’s very different than an 1800 word article. And I have stopped a couple of years ago. I stopped being a marketing writer. I no longer solicit that work. I just kind of lost interest. I wanted to to do more of my own thing.

Anyway, I wanted to do more of my more independent work. And also work on books. I’m working on a memoir right now that is a crazy circumstance of 40 years of letters between me and the Jack Daniels distillery and their marketing team was remarkable.

They don’t do this any longer, but in the time that they were sending me things, which included chewing tobacco, a rabbit’s foot, shot glasses, cookbooks, all kinds of things and crazy letters where it wasn’t the distillery saying something, it was someone. Hi, Tom. Well, they, they deeded me a couple inches of land and, and I have a very formal deed that tells about the land and they paid my taxes on the land too.

But I’ll get a letter from someone in the community in Lynchburg in Tennessee and it’ll say, Tom, I lost my donkey. I think it crossed your land. If you see my donkey, will you please get in touch? And so I’d write this person back and it was just some person, you know, it was signed with some person’s name.

But and then I write back to Clayton. Clayton, I wasn’t around when your donkey went by, but I have every hope that your donkey will be returned to you. So. I have, you know, close to 200 letters from them. Some of them are formally from the distillery announcing a new whiskey, but most of them are, you know, I saw a polecat who was up in a tree on your property, or can I dig for worms on your property?

So they’re very funny. And, uh, so I’m writing a memoir of that. I probably two thirds done. And, but I have a big decision to make because I’m putting in every letter. And now I’m beginning to wonder if I should just put in the truly cuckoo ones. Because I, I’m going to reproduce the letters as images.

And, because you have to see them to believe them. Anyway, I have to make that decision soon.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:28:08] Oh, fantastic. I can’t wait to see when that comes out. It is just a beautiful story. I know you shared it in our writing community before. Excellent. All right. So as we’re coming to the end, any words of advice or key takeaways that you want to share with listeners based on your experience of life and of writing?

Tom Bentley:

[00:28:26] I’m not certain who wants my advice, but you know, I, I’ll touch on some of the things that, and in my own phrasing from what you talk about one thing that I want to emphasise because I have anxieties and I ruminate that you really aren’t your thoughts. You are not your thoughts. Many meditation teachers have said this, and so I’ll steal from them.

The thing in your head saying, well, you’re not going to accomplish anything today, or Why even try to do that? I get that a lot in my head. So I used to use many foul language examples to that creature in my head, but I’m, I’m getting more accustomed to just saying, “Oh, you’re here. Great. Okay. You can stay in the room if you’d like. Try and be quiet, that kind of thing”.

So, you’re not your thoughts. And for people like me who, my sleep isn’t that great, and you talk about some sleep practices and some methods to deal with it. I tend to ruminate when I wake up at night. And I do wake up at night. And so, I will do breathing exercises, which do help.

I’ll also say to myself that the person in there who’s saying that no one is going to want to listen to you, is someone who shouldn’t be listened to themselves. So that is that is something I think about that is helpful.

And having some, some ability to have a little sparkle during the day, something.

Like I say, I love to watch birds. We have a water garden with two big old redwood barrels that flow into one another. Birds come and just dip into that all the time. I mean, literally jump in and bathe and then jump out again. And it’s all kinds of birds. So, just watching that for a little bit has that power, that little bada bing, that’s, it’s a something lovely. It’s, you know, it’s it’s healthier than cocaine. So, uh, some little thing.

We have lizards all over the property. Yesterday, I bent down on the airstream steps. One was on the steps and was just watching this one. It was moving in such a funny way, moving its head around and then it ran away after I moved.

But that just gave me that moment. There’s something lovely in that.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:30:43] That’s beautiful. Thank you. And I agree looking for those moments of joy and those little glimmers in your day can really inspire. And just in terms of the bird life, you’ve mentioned this a few times, and I was reading something recently connected with science where the reason why we feel so calm and relaxed when we hear birdsong is that from an evolutionary perspective, birds go quiet when there is danger about.

So when we’re hearing birdsong. We instinctively know that we’re safe or we feel safe. So that’s really interesting point that you’ve raised as well about embracing that, because often we don’t, we don’t pay attention. You know, there’s so much noise in the world.

Tom Bentley:

[00:31:21] Yes. Yeah. I’m trying to identify birds. I’m terrible at identifying them. I have about five or six. I know. Well but there are purple finches and house finches here and they really sing in the spring. And it’s a long, long series of notes. I won’t attempt to imitate it. And they sound very happy.

So they’re much different than the scrub jays who squawk and sound like they’re complaining about their diets or indigestion or something, but anyway, yeah, I, I love to listen to birdsong.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:31:51] Fantastic. I’m also a keen birder and I had to learn a whole new range of birds when I moved back to the UK from South Africa, because they all have different names and it sounds like you have lots of different named birds as well that I’ve never heard of before in America. That’s all really interesting.

Well, Tom, thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed this. Tell us where people can find you online.

Tom Bentley:

[00:32:13] You know, I’ve dropped a bunch of my social media stuff because it just was too sour for me, so I’m no longer on Instagram, I’m no longer on Twitter. I never was on Facebook. Those are part of the evil empire, but my own website is tombentley.com. I’m still on LinkedIn. So I’m Tom Bentley on there, whatever that URL preceding is LinkedIn, blah, blah, blah.

And then there’s something else, Tom Bentley, but those are the main places I’m online.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:32:41] Fantastic. Well, we’ll share those links and I’ll also share links to all of your various books and writing endeavors.

Tom Bentley:

[00:32:47] Oh, okay.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:32:49] Tom, thank you so, so much. I’ve really loved having this chat with you.

Tom Bentley:

[00:32:53] Oh, Mich, my pleasure, truly.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:32:55] Thank you.

Well, I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. I’m so impressed by Tom’s discipline and diligence. Not only when it comes to his work and wellbeing practices, but also to making time for adventure, curiosity, and discovery.

I want to touch on three things from this conversation, which are actually all connected, and I want you to consider them more deeply.

They are process, environment, and nature as inspiration.

In terms of process, Tom has an incredibly disciplined and deliberate practice that creates a structure to support his creative outputs, as well as his health and wellness.

And he has a daily process involving habits and routines around wellness and writing, that help him to build this practice and to maintain the structure, all at a slow and steady pace.

This is the pace and process that works specifically for Tom. And he has spent many years honing these practices. So he knows what works for him to support his creativity, feed his curiosity, and enable him to be the best that he can be at his work. You may have noticed that aside from exercise and writing time, he also allocates time for resting in both active and passive ways. And also a lot of time for reading at different points in his day.

To be a good writer, you need to be a good reader. So this is an important part of his workflow. And reading, especially fiction has been found to be incredibly good for our brain health, as it improves our attention span, our memory-keeping capabilities. And our ability to hold complex information in our heads for longer periods of time.

These are all critical for problem solving and in a world where our attention is shot to shit by social media and other distractions, these are important skills to be developing and maintaining.

If you’re embracing a creative career where you have any degree of control over how you work. I urge you to get clear on a structured process that works for you.

Now, it may seem like that process and structure we were talking about in this sense, may be rigid and create constraints, but that’s not true at all. What it actually does is to create the safe and steady foundation for your creativity to flow on demand. And for your outputs to flourish.

Which brings me to our environments, which can have extremely positive or negative impacts on our creativity, productivity, and wellbeing.

And sometimes we’re not aware of the damage done by being in a noisy, distracting environment that creates an underlying level of friction or stress.

Tom works in a refurbished Airstream trailer from the 1960s, which sits behind his house.

If you’re in the UK and you don’t know what these are, they’re basically very cool retro silver caravans. Now Tom described in detail aloud of his work environment within his trailer. For example, he spoke of the long desk that holds all his paperwork. The view of the nature from his work window that inspires and soothes him. There’s the fact that the office has a suitable place to nap, which is part of his writing process too, because aside from resting, short naps can also help us to generate ideas and solve problems.

Tom also does different types of work in different places. For example, the administrative stuff happens in the house and the trailer is his space for writing and thinking.

Now I appreciate that not all of us are in circumstances where we can have a home office or have a choice in where we work. And some of you listening may be working in a dreary office building or have other people who dictate your work environment. But please give some thought to how you can improve the space you work in, even in those situations. Because even tiny changes to your environment, whether it’s the lighting, the level of noise, the temperature, whether you have a plant on your desk or something creative to look at to inspire you, can all make a big difference.

Lastly, let’s consider nature as inspiration.

Tom described what sounds like an idyllic place to work and live. He and his girlfriend made a conscious choice to live in a place that is quiet and semi-rural, but which is also well located for easy access to lots of different nature spots. These enable him to walk in nature regularly. Now walking, as we know, has lots of health benefits, including reducing our blood pressure and calming our nervous systems when we feel anxious.

But it’s also great for helping us problem solve, make connections, and find ways through mental blocks. Walking as part of my writing process. And Tom clearly explained his deliberate routines around walking at different times of the day, which help him in his process.

Inspired by Tom, I’ve actually been deliberately spending longer periods of time in nature daily, since our conversation. And it has been an incredibly restorative and energising experience. But what I’m also finding is that this extra time in natural spaces is also inspiring my creative practice. The quantity and quality of my idea generation has improved dramatically. And my outputs have become much more efficient.

So, even if you live in the middle of a city, more cities nowadays have urban renewal programmes, which include opportunities for active travel, such as walking and cycling routes. And green pedestrianised spaces for people to hang out in, whether that’s a park, a corner garden, a river walk, a garden allotment, or some culturally-focused public space. So think about how you can add more time and space in urban nature spaces, to support your creative practice better. And just to note on that, we are all creative thinkers, so this applies to everyone listening.

I’ll end by reiterating Tom’s great advice about practicing mindfulness by looking out for glimmers of magic in your day. This is another way of finding joy and inspiration in small moments. This could be when you’re out and about immersed in work and life, spotting an interesting shadow on a building. Or even just looking out your font window, watching a lady bird pootling along the ledge while the world goes by.

Our natural environments are filled with magical gifts. It’s all precious and it’s all under threat. So don’t forget to stop. Notice. And appreciate the little things.

I’ll be back soon, but a few things before you go.

You can find out more about my book at thecadenceeffect.com. And helpful reviews are always welcome to help the book get found by those who need it.

If you liked the show, please share the love by rating it, where you listen to it. (Apple, Spotify, Google Play, or Amazon Music.)

And you can also support the making of Creating Cadence on Patreon or Buy Me A Coffee.

And if you have a product that aligns with the ethos of creating cadence and you want to sponsor the show, then please drop us a line at hello@creatingcadence.co.

Until next time, keep moving forwards with courage, curiosity, and cadence. Bye for now.

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