Walking On Custard

Thursday, April 14, 2016
By Neil Hughes

The cover of Neil's book

When we were smaller we’d take pains to point out that our guest bloggers weren’t just friends of ours. I mean, they usually are friends of ours, but they’ve generally been Beeminder fans who then became friends. (Turns out hardcore beeminding is a strong predictor for us liking you a lot!) The point was, we wanted to emphasize that we had actual strangers signing up for our craziness and it wasn’t all just friends and relatives whose arms we twisted. But now it kind of feels the opposite. As in: yes, sure, there are these lifehacking Quantified Self nerds or productivity fetishists who use Beeminder but if you pull a random person off the street there’s no way they’d touch this with a ten-foot pole, right? And, fine, that’s mostly right. But when an actual real-life friend ends up a hardcore Beeminder fan, that’s a bit of counter-evidence and really exciting and gratifying for us.
So that was a very roundabout way to introduce today’s guest blogger, Neil Hughes, our friend who we somehow turned into a Beeminder fan. Also he’s really funny and sweet and insightful. You should read his stuff! Starting right here.

Hello, I’m Neil, and I have a secret motive for writing this guest post at Beeminder.

You see, I’m beeminding the number of words I write, and I’m generously allowing this post to count towards my goal. That means that this completely content-free sentence is actually providing me with some benefit… although, admittedly, only in the most superficial and empty way possible.

When it comes to rules I set for myself, sometimes I am harsh, and sometimes I am kind. (And sometimes I am sneakily weaselling while pretending to be virtuous, which in this case is fooling nobody.)

Ninety-eight words already. Great.

“I chose to compare anxiety to the physics of non-Newtonian fluids”

Like I said, I can be harsh to myself. So harsh, in fact, that for years I lived with terrible anxiety. For most of that time, I wasn’t even aware that there was an alternative. I thought everyone lived with a constant sense of impending doom, and they were just better at handling it.

(Beeminder improvement idea: find a way to automatically measure ‘sense of impending doom’ and add it to a “Do Less” goal?)

But there came a breaking point, and I went deep down the rabbit hole of self-knowledge and self-improvement. I found that there were ways to hack my mind and think differently, and that relatively simple mental changes could help me to manage or reduce the anxiety.

These days, I’m hardly anxious at all. (This can be a problem: the impending threat of Beeminder derailment still needs to motivate me into action!)

Recently I was invited to give a TED talk about anxiety, and I chose to compare anxiety to the physics of non-Newtonian fluids — in particular, popular pudding sauce, custard.

If you like humour, physics and mild mind-hacking then this might be something you’d enjoy:

Building a better relationship with our own brains is tricky. In fact, I’m sure that’s why many of us are drawn to this website in the first place.

Perhaps this imagery of escaping from custard might be useful to you in your own battles against anxiety… or akrasia… or whatever else you struggle with.

Meanwhile, I have 420+ words to add to my Beeminder goal, so my work here is done. I hope it has been helpful, entertaining — or ideally, both.

Yours weasellingly,



Neil Hughes is the author of ‘Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life: A Guide for Anxious Humans’. You can find him at walkingoncustard.com or talking nonsense on Twitter as @enhughesiasm. He appreciates feedback, and is unsure whether this bit in italics can morally count towards his wordcount.

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  • TracyW

    This is good writing, it made me giggle.