Stretching Exercises for the Comfortable

sanchomHow is your exercise routine? Are you a regular, up and out every morning pounding the streets or hitting the gym? Or maybe your workout routine could benefit from a little more oomph?! Whichever workout routine you subscribe to, I’ve no doubt that you are gradually seeing the results of your efforts. If it’s the former, then you’re seeing your body become leaner, more toned and stronger with the added benefit that your stamina is improving along with your flexibility and probably also your eating habits. I’m guessing you’re also feeling more energised and experiencing a more optimistic view of the world.

And how about the latter? Is your body becoming a little podgier in those difficult to control areas? Your stamina may be less than desirable and running for the proverbial bus leaves you huffing and puffing like a steam train! Your energy levels have decreased and so you find yourself reaching for high calorie energy boosting foods and so the cycle of podginess continues. It doesn’t paint a great picture, does it?!

For most of us, we probably exist somewhere between these two ‘extremes’. In order to maintain a semblance of a balanced life, we don’t plan to spend hours at the gym or running regular marathons. However, without a structured health and fitness plan, we have a tendency to start and stop our fitness goals, so our progress becomes bumpy and uninspiring.

Physical exercise is a great analogy for how we live our lives, because exercise, or the lack of it, becomes visible over time, in the first instance to ourselves (if we’re prepared to acknowledge it) and then externally to everyone else.

The description of an exercise routine provides a great analogy for our lives, and particularly our philosophy on life and the actions we take on our personal development, taken in the widest sense of the words.

Our philosophy on life will cause many things to happen to us, whether that turns out to be good or bad. Thus if we choose not to exercise our body or our brain, then the relative parts will become flabby and less effective than they could otherwise be.

The problem is that as a species we would like an easy life! We would love to stay in our comfort zones, but at the same time we would like our bodies and brains to be toned. Although, to be honest, what would be the point of this? If we have no intention of stretching ourselves beyond our current existence, then what would be the point of taking ourselves outside our comfort zones to a different kind of existence?

In answer to this, I’m going to suggest that although you may be, for the most part, happy with your current level of development, existence, success (you may use your own pertinent word here), there is at least one thing (but probably more) that causes you to feel dissatisfied. And this is the reason you need to move out of your comfort zone. This could relate to any (or many) areas of your life eg, financial, relationships, health, fitness, organisation, intellect, fun time, relaxation etc. The list isn’t exhaustive as I’m sure you could add many more areas which might warrant closer examination.

Let’s consider a specific area which affects all of us: our personal finances.

In a culture of instant gratification, finances can really take a battering! At first, nothing is visible internally or externally. It’s acceptable to live from pay day to pay day, spending all or nearly all of what we earn to fund a lifestyle that we believe we deserve (we work hard!). In time this may be further extended to paying for items on credit cards or loans, which, gives us the lifestyle we desire, but at a cost to our future selves.

Contrast this with those who prefer to live well within their means, saving modest sums regularly so that when it’s time for a big purchase they will be able to pay upfront. Their lifestyle may not be as extravagant as their neighbours, but, it’s not noticeably less desirable either.

Now, advance 10 years.

Whilst each of these imaginary couples appear to live similar lives, with the addition of time, the differences become very apparent. Couple one are limited in their choices – for holidays, cars and furnishings, but more importantly, in their choices for career and lifestyle. Without the continuous receiving of a regular and sufficient salary, their world would crumble. Their debt levels have risen to the extent that each month is a struggle to make the repayments and additional purchases are now a thing of the past. Life has become stressful with limited choices.

Couple two however, have a lifestyle which they can comfortably sustain. Their savings are now sufficient that, if they wanted, they could reduce their hours or change jobs to a less demanding role, freeing up time for more leisurely activities. Their needs, which are moderate, are easily met by the amount of income they generate through salaries and passive means.

In some ways, this is the story of the tortoise and the hare, where slow and steady wins the race every time. Superficially this may be true, but we need to be a bit more aggressive in our approach than the steady tortoise whilst curbing our keenness to win the game at any cost like the hare.

Instead it’s important to strike a balance and make steady and improving progress over time. After all, as we all know, if we just keep doing the same things over and over, even if they are good things, we will inevitably be standing still. Our bodies, finances, relationships etc need constant tending in order to get the best from them.

So, what can you stretch a little today that will make a small improvement? Make this action a priority and then follow up with more and improving actions on a daily basis. In the end it’s the small but consistent improvements which will count, which is far easier than trying to catch up when it’s too big and too late!

What do you think?  Is this a good way to make progress or do you prefer short, sharp blasts of activity?  Leave a comment and let us know!

Photo: sanchom

Believe in your Imagination

Vision Board ILOprah Winfrey once said:

“Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.”

I guess that’s easy for Oprah to say, after all she has achieved the most stunning success in her life, through TV, online and writing books. Somehow it seems easier to envision success if we’ve already had some experience of it. Can you see yourself…

…with the partner of your dreams

…a lithe and healthy body

…a holiday home or new car

…being the head of your organisation

…and so on…?

However, seeing ourselves living a wildly successful life through our own imagination becomes something of a tall order, requiring us to imagine all the things we would love to see, do and have whilst at the same time fighting the urge to downplay all these wonderful things because we have no idea how we will bring them into being and consequently no true belief in our ability to do so.

But what if we look at this from a less positive standpoint? What, if instead of imagining all the wonderful things that we would like to have in our lives, we instead envision all those things we don’t want in our lives…

…unhappy relationships

…a boring job

…debt

…an old, unreliable car

…an overweight body

…aches and pains

…and so on…?

Was it easier to call these images to mind rather than the successful images mentioned above? I think for most people the latter test will have been the easiest to perform.

But why is this – of course it’s because for most people, these latter scenarios represent examples of the lives we live or have lived in the past and therefore we can summon memories to aid us in the visualisation exercise.

So we are left with the challenge of memory versus imagination, and as we try to create a grand vision, we are continually pulled back to the things we already know via our memories.

Is it any wonder then that when Oprah tells us to create our grandest vision, we are already turned off by the idea as being unrealistic and fanciful? It’s our mind, our memories, already showing us that those grand fantasies don’t exist for us and instead the beautiful images are replaced with more modest and realistic pictures, which, for the most part, aren’t that dissimilar to our current lives.

But is this what we really want? If we’re looking to improve our circumstances or aspects of our current lives, that is, our reality, shouldn’t we be looking for ways to tap into this method of bringing the things we desire into our lives? And, if so, how can we do this? How can we get past our memories and really utilise our imagination to the full. After all, even Einstein was a proponent of using our imagination over our memories for advancement:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

The quote kind of sums up the idea that we are restricted by our memories (knowledge) unless we actively choose to work with our imagination to embrace the entire world and all it has to offer.

One method of opening up the possibilities of what the world has to offer us is to use our senses to stimulate our imagination through pictures, sounds, objects etc. I’m sure most people will have heard of the idea of creating vision boards – a pictorial representation of all the things we would like to have or experience in our lives. I conducted a workshop in creating vision boards just over a year ago and a number of participants have seen their desires come to life. For those of you who are still waiting, have you checked your vision board lately?!

The point of the vision board of course is twofold. It not only forces you to think creatively about what it is you actually want, but in an environment where nothing is restricted and your senses are stimulated by the availability of creative materials, you are able to explore desires that are already known to you (memories) and also bring to mind those things which you have yet to experience, thus bringing them to the forefront of your imagination.

Of course, creating a vision board is just the start. After all, the things you put onto your vision board won’t just appear out of thin air simply because you want them. All things that we desire will require some kind of action on our part in order to bring them into reality.

I think this is the part where most people fall down on creating the circumstances that would bring their desires into their world (reality), and unfortunately the real reason for this is despite having gone through the process of imagining what their world could look like through creating a vision board, they don’t truly believe that they can create or have the things they desire.

The upshot – no belief = no action = no creation.

And so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: I don’t really believe I can achieve those things, so what’s the point in making an effort. The result then is obvious!

But what would happen instead if you were to take at least some action? Even a tiny step forward towards seeing the creation of one of the things on your vision board?

Sometimes just the effort of taking some action helps us along the road to belief, because even small actions can have an effect. This becomes especially true if we continue to take small actions on a regular basis. Gradually, our world begins to change and our desired result begins to take shape, and so, our belief that it is possible becomes stronger, so we keep going…etc… This is another self-fulfilling prophecy, but this time it’s a positive one!

Of course this requires a changed mind set, but not so different as to be impossible. After all, you’ve done this is the past – you’ve taken hold of a new idea or project and decided to believe that it could be achieved, and that belief has fuelled your actions until eventually you’ve achieved the outcome you wanted.

The only difference now is that the stretch is probably greater, or maybe you need to deal with some other mental obstacles such as allowing yourself to actually deserve the thing you desire. In any event, whatever the reasons why you might not start, why not just by pass these, just this once, and just make a start anyway? You can always change your mind later (but you probably won’t once you start making progress!).

So go on. Pick out something you really want. Stick a picture or a symbol of the thing you want somewhere where you will see it often and then just take a small action which will bring you one step closer. Tomorrow take another step, and then just keep going…before you know it, it will be in the bag!

Has anyone ever had success with bringing some or all of their vision board desires to life?  (I know this has happened as I have seen it!).  Please leave a comment and share your experiences!

Perseverance Pep Talk!

arainYou’ve been working and working towards you dreams and goals but just recently things seem to have slowed and the visible results you’d previously been seeing are now blending into the everyday. You’ve lost track of your achievements to date and instead you’ve become consumed with the fact that you’ve plateaued, or worse, started to regress. Your motivation is waning and frustration is setting in.

Sound familiar? It happens to us all unfortunately.

But these are the times when we need to muster all the strength we possibly can, plus more, and just keep going. There are many stories of people who have given up on their dream literally a few paces away from the place that would have given them success and then, when they’ve let their dream go they hear of someone succeeding at their goal, in their place.

I have personal experience of this: I’ve always wanted to be a writer and have always wanted to publish a book (note – goal achieved, by the way!). However, sometimes when I’ve had an idea, I’ve subsequently failed to take action to bring the idea to life. There’s one such idea that sticks in my mind to this day, although it was many, many years ago that it occurred to me.

It started with a chance conversation with a friend when I posed the idea that: wouldn’t it be strange if we were the only people who existed in our world. By this, I meant only “me” and that once I had passed out of view or contact with the person or people who inhabited my world in that moment, they would cease to be.

In some ways this is true. If you think of the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ this kind of encapsulates what I was thinking. In other words, nobody really exists except me and the interactions I create to inhabit my world!

If that doesn’t make much sense, stay with me…on with the story.

My friend wasn’t impressed with my supposition and told me that my view was arrogant in her opinion. The idea continued to tantalise me, but, after the conversation with my friend, I failed to take any further action effectively giving up on seeing what the idea could become…

Then, a few years later, The Truman Show was a huge hit on the big screen!

Once I saw the film, the similarities to what I’d been thinking really hit me. I’m not suggesting that I could have produced a film, but there may have been potential to run with the idea and write a book. But, instead I let it go completely.

This was an early lesson in learning to ignore other people’s opinions which serve only to create obstacles to progress, although it would be years before I actually fully learned the lesson! But it also highlights the importance of keeping with the plans and ideas you have and developing them to a satisfactory conclusion (satisfactory for you, not others, by the way).

Sometimes though, even when we feel that there’s just no way we can break through the obstacle that’s holding us back – whether that be our own frustration or lack of motivation, or obstacles placed there through unexpected circumstances, by keeping faith in ourselves and our ability to succeed, the help or solution we need will turn up.

It’s uncanny sometimes, but to quote one of my friends who assures me that “there are no coincidences”, the thing we need will appear at just the right time, as long as we remain on purpose. I’m sure you’ve experience this for yourself and can recall a time when something unexpected happens and helps you on your way.

The great thing is that once you pull past the obstacle, the road ahead will be clear and you will have a renewed sense of enthusiasm and energy and any time you’ve lost due to being stuck will suddenly be made up as you surge forward with this renewed energy.

Think about this for a moment, because it’s really important when we’re on the journey. Recall a time when this has happened to you, a time when you felt stuck and demotivated because of it. But somehow you forced yourself to take action and the answer you needed was made known to you. You took an unexpected step forward and left the obstacle in your wake.

How did you feel? Energised and re-motivated? This is the feeling you need to muster now as you trudge through your mental quagmire. Remember the difficulties you experienced as you fought your way through your obstruction and the elation you felt as you broke free. Harness this emotion and use it now to catapult you toward success.

We all need little tricks like this on the success journey. Whether we’re training for a marathon, writing a book, painting a masterpiece, trying to get a new venture off the ground or redecorating the house!

But in the end, we already know this. In fact keeping with the journey is probably the most difficult thing we must do in order to reach our planned outcome. Most people give up and return to their ordinary lives, but, if you’ve always desired more, then in the words of Newt Gingrich, get ready, get up and keep going because…

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

…and this is the stuff which will make you stand out from the crowd.

Good luck and keep on keeping on!

Is perseverance your strength or weakness?  Share any tricks or problems and let’s help each other!

Photo: George Hodan

5 Ways to Deal With Your Worries

cares 

If we worry, we don’t trust;  if we trust, we don’t worry.  Worry does not empty tomorrow of its grief, but it does empty today of its joy.  James Kurtz.

These are worrying times, if the media are to be believed.  There are wars waging around the world, we’ve witnessed some catastrophic airplane losses in the last few months and world finances still appear to be precarious.

Of course, these are macro-worries, but what about our personal micro-worries?  Unstable or unsatisfactory relationships, job concerns or dissatisfaction, health issues, etc the list can be endless.  So is it any wonder that worrying becomes almost a pastime for so many people?  And then, of course, along with worrying comes the tendency to complain.  This is a tricky one: should we tolerate or disapprove because in some instances complaining is a form of emotional release, particularly when seeking the support of friends or family?

I think it becomes difficult to deal with complaining when someone has a need to continually cycle through the same complaints without making any serious attempt to either improve the situation by adopting coping strategies, changing behaviour or circumstances, or being willing to take the support offered and gaining from that experience.  In this situation it’s almost as if the intention of the complainer is to infect others with negativity.

But let’s get back to worry itself.  Are you a worrier?  How does that make you feel?  Tired, stressed, overwhelmed?  The negative effects of worry are well known to science and in particular the effects it has on our wellbeing, but of course knowing this doesn’t really help us deal with worry.  In fact, it probably gives us something else to worry about!  So instead of dwelling on the negative effects of worry, let’s take a look at some possible ways to reduce or deal with the worry we experience.

Can’t Sleep?  Do Something Else

Dale Carnegie offers a suggestion to cope with worry if it keeps us awake:

If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying.  It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.

If you’ve ever lied in bed worrying about something then I’m sure you understand the way the night time somehow manages to make our worries much bigger than they really are!  It’s as if our worries combine with our dreams to become nightmares from which we don’t seem to be able to find any sensible solutions.   The dilemma grows and becomes unmanageable until we reach a point where we can feel physical pain.

So is Carnegie’s solution worth trying?  Well I’m inclined to think that it probably is, although it’s not something I’ve tried, probably to my detriment.   I also think that it’s true that it is the worry that gets to us rather than the lack of sleep, although the lack of sleep certainly sits heavy with us the next day.

Unless and Until…

One of my personal techniques for dealing with worry, particularly worry which is beginning to bubble up from within but has no firm footing in fact is to remind myself of the mantra:

Unless and until.

I use this mantra to remind myself that I should just keep going with my original plans unless and until something happens that requires that I take some kind of action.  This can sometimes be difficult to do, especially when there’s been some kind of trigger to my worries, but, on balance it’s usually the best option as continuing with my plans has two benefits:

  1.  I make progress on whatever I had planned that day, so don’t feel even more overwhelmed with all the things I haven’t done, and,
  2. It takes my mind off whatever is bothering me and so helps to calm my mind.

This Too Shall Pass

Sometimes we have to remember that our circumstances, and by definition our worries are not permanent.  So whilst this saying has no real practical application, it can help in keeping things in context.  I first heard this saying in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when Mr Bennett tells his daughter Elizabeth that ‘this too shall pass’ in reference to his worries about his younger daughter when she elopes with Mr Wickham.  So, if it’s good enough for Mr Bennett, it’s good enough for me!

Maintaining the Context

There’s a famous quote by Mark Twain…

I’ve had lots of worries in my life, most of which never happened.

In this context, worries become almost foolish and from my own experience, I can fully accept that this is true!  Quite often, the worries I have fizzle out to absolutely nothing and instead I’m left feeling tired and drained for having expelled so much energy on maintaining the imagined vision of what might have been.

How often has this happened to you?  Was it worth the energy expelled?

Move, Dance, Sing!

If all else fails, and we just can’t reason the worries away, sometimes we just need to move ourselves and what’s better than dancing and singing?  Here’s the perfect song… enjoy!

What’s your best strategy for coping with worries?  Please leave a comment and let us know!

Photo: Peter Blanchard

Be Yourself…If They Let You!

awesomeI came across a wonderful quote a few days ago, posted on the Positive Outlooks Facebook page, it read:

There comes a time when you have to stand up and say: This is me damn it! I look the way I look, think the way I think, feel the way I feel, love the way I love! I am a whole complex package. Take me… or leave me. Accept me – or walk away! Do not try to make me feel like less of a person, just because I don’t fit your idea of who I should be and don’t try to change me to fit your mold. If I need to change, I alone will make that decision. When you are strong enough to love yourself 100%, good and bad – you will be amazed at the opportunities that life presents you. — Stacey Charter

How many of us have felt this way?  We’ve felt the pull of others trying to shape us into the mold of whatever or however they deem we should be.  We’ve felt confused by these subtle (or maybe even blatant) cues, as they’ve bumped up against our growing knowledge of who we really are and the kind of life we want to live.

Somehow though, when we are on the receiving end of well-intentioned criticism, it’s difficult to stand up and hold true to the words of the quote…’this is me damn it!’.  Instead, our self-confidence takes another little knock and we try to change into the person we think we should be, based on the ideals of others.  It can take many years, even a lifetime to realise and accept that we are worthy of being just who we are and that we don’t need to be the person someone else thinks we should be.

This scenario can also play out when we’ve changed (for whatever reason), but others still want us to stay the way we used to be.  This can be an extremely frustrating experience.

A friend of mine, Amy, has worked for her company for a number of years and until fairly recently was making good progress up the corporate ladder.  Her various bosses throughout her tenure had encouraged her to grow and expand her talents and consequently she’d been able to successfully apply for promotions at appropriate times.

She’s now been in her latest position for nearly four years and is ready to move on, but she complains (to me) that this doesn’t appear to be part of her manager’s plans for her and consequently she feels that her progress is being blocked.  She explains this as “being a victim of my own success…I’ve done a good job here and my manager is fearful that I’ll leave and the good work may be undone…”.

The irony of course is that Amy will leave and the company will lose an asset.  She’s already looking outside the company for opportunities that fit her skill set and aspirations, although she’s saddened by the attitude of her manager.

This is a clear example of someone wanting an individual to stay the same, to ‘pigeon-hole’ them as a particular type of person.  But we can no more make someone be someone who they are not and then hope to keep them happy than we can stop waterfalls from falling off cliffs.  Like water falling ever towards the sea, our true personality will find a way out.

So, if we balk at the idea of someone trying to tell us to live as they would have us live, are we then capable of sufficient compassion towards our fellow human beings that we do not in turn try to make them be the person we would like them to be rather than who they themselves want to be?  In other words, does someone else’s value to us rest on the premise that our love or approval is conditional upon them being who we expect them to be?

It’s the flip side of the coin, and a very uncomfortable proposition for most of us to accept, and yet we are probably frequently guilty of this behaviour.  Many times we will justify our actions as ‘beliefs’ that we are instilling better values into the person we love.  For example, teaching children ‘right’ from ‘wrong’, and whilst those children need our guidance, we have a duty to examine our own motives to ensure that such teachings are appropriate.

But how can we justify this when we are dealing with adults?  To what extent do we have any right to attempt to change the person in front of us?  Our partners, other family members or friends?  If we agree with the opening quote… “Do not try to make me feel like less of a person, just because I don’t fit your idea of who I should be and don’t try to change me to fit your mold…” which we surely do when it applies to ourselves, then in reality are we being judgmental and insincere in our (vain) attempts to change others to fit our preferred mold?  I think the clue to our behaviour is in the quote itself: “Do not make me feel like less of a person…” because in our attempts to change someone else, whether consciously or unconsciously, we believe that we are in fact trying to help them become a better person.

So that’s a good thing…yes?

Well maybe or maybe not.  If we put it another way, are we actually attempting to change them so that they become a better person for us so they fit our needs better?  I think looking at it in this way makes us feel a little uncomfortable.  Of course, I’m not innocent of this having made various attempts over the years to have others fit my mold and only recently understanding why this has been disingenuous and ultimately futile.

No, the true path to achieving the changes we wish to see can only be achieved honestly and successfully through working on ourselves.  We must recognise our need to change others and then understand why that need exists within ourselves.  Then through hard work, we must seek to improve our own sense of self in order to alleviate the perceived change we wish to see in others.

This is a big ask of ourselves and possibly why it’s easier to turn the need outwards and expect others to change, but the greater good will only be achieved through personal change and ultimately personal growth.

A sobering thought and a challenge to us all…

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post which has been an interesting topic to explore.  Please let me know your thoughts, I’d love to read your comments :)

Photo: Torley

Are You the Best Friend You Can Be?

Ladies Having TeaIn these days of Facebook friends, where people can have thousands of friends viewing and perhaps contributing to their lives, it can be difficult to not only remember, but also to appreciate the real, physical friends that inhabit our day-to-day world.

It’s becoming a bit of a cliché to admonish those of us (yes, I’m included too) who spend too much time on social media at the expense of maintaining our real flesh and blood relationships, but in many cases, social media has in fact provided a means for people to reconnect after years of little or no contact which in most cases is a good thing.

It’s interesting though, to notice the differences in the way we view our friendships, and in particular in our need to either have a few very close friendships, a la ‘bff’ (best friends forever if social media isn’t your thing!) which requires almost, if not daily contact compared to those types of friendships which blossom through sporadic contact and can just be picked up where they were left off without any ill effects.

I’ve no doubt that part of these arrangements are somewhat driven by where we are in our lives at any given time and consequently the need for intense or moderate friendship at any given moment.  It may also be a driven by our age: when we are younger we are most likely to have friendships but naturally as we grow older we look for a partner who may ultimately replace some of our friendships, although this might not always be the case.

So what makes a great friend?

Walter Winchell believes that…

“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

I agree with this to a large extent, and am lucky enough to have friends who have been there for me when others have turned and run only reappearing when the crises is over.  For those friends who have been with me through the darkest of times, I am eternally grateful, and I hope I have and can be as good a friend to them if and when it’s needed.  But I’ve often pondered why some of my friends have not been able to step up to the plate when ‘needed’ and this quote from Lucius Annaeus Seneca may go some way to explaining this:

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.” 

I think it’s important to understand that when accepting new friends into our lives, that they are not all there for the same reason and whilst we may feel that true friends are those who are there for us when we really need them, maybe we are deceiving ourselves with the notion that need equals adversity.  I don’t believe this to be true.  Instead I prefer to take the viewpoint that our ‘needs’ vary and at times we may have a need for fun or adventure or maybe even silliness.  Can one friend fill all these requirements as well as be the person we turn to when we are feeling sad, bereft or just plain sorry for ourselves?

maybe we are deceiving ourselves with the notion that need equals adversity

Unlikely.

So I think this is where the quote from Seneca comes into its own.  The path of friendship runs both ways, and in seeking to understand and be understood, we must also extend this to our friend and understand what speciality they bring to the friendship.  By understanding and accepting this, our friendships stand a much better chance of surviving the demands of everyday life.  So, whilst I might be a good shoulder to cry on, don’t expect me to come climbing mountains any time soon, I’m not that kind of friend!

So what of the benefits of friendship?

There are the obvious benefits already discussed above, but what also of the physiological benefits?

There is now good evidence to support the claim that friendship and social support has a very beneficial effect on our wellbeing.

In general terms, friends encourage us to take better care of ourselves, (we go to the gym or fitness classes together which creates discipline and accountability as well as a healthier body, for example).  Friendship also helps support our immune system and we see fewer cardiovascular problems amongst people with a strong social network.  This may be due to the effects of cortisol (the stress hormone) on the body, which is reduced amongst those with a strong social circle.

It’s important therefore to nourish our friendships, because in doing so, we will also be nourishing ourselves.  And as if any further reasons were needed for friendship, let’s just close with this great quote from Laurence J Peter with a scenario we’ll all be familiar with… :)

“You can always tell a real friend: when you’ve made a fool of yourself he doesn’t feel you’ve done a permanent job.”

Does anyone have any great (or not so great!) friendship stories to share?  Or does anyone want to give a ‘shout out’ to a great friend?  Please go ahead, I’d love to hear what you’ve got to say!

Photo: whatsthatpicture

Throw the instructions away!

fingerideaAre you one of those people who enjoys reading the instructions that come with a piece of put-together-at-home furniture or the instructions that tell you how to get the best out of your new phone?  It seems to me that we either fall into the category of feeling that to read the instructions is a necessity that will save time in the long term (and in my experience I think the numbers of these people rank at the lower end of the scale), or, are you like most people who throw the instructions away and just dive headlong into the task in the belief that you know best anyway?!

Three hours later when you’ve created a wobbly table and have half a dozen screws left over, you step back and look at your efforts and wonder why they sell such shoddy furniture!

But why do we do this?  Why is it that we have a perverse need to ignore the best efforts and advice given by other people and instead insist on re-designing the process to suit ourselves, even though this might not (and most likely isn’t) the most effective way of doing something?

Maybe we like to think of ourselves as cleverer than the person giving us the advice or maybe we just don’t like being told how to do things!  Whatever the reason, it seems to me that it is quite important that to some extent we have this stubborn streak within our nature since this is the personality trait which will ultimately push us on to try new things and push at the edges of our knowledge and experience.

But for those people who not only push way beyond their comfort zones, but also intrude on the comfort zones of other people, this is where we see innovation and development.  This is also where we see those who are uncomfortable with these innovations holding back and trying to maintain the status quo.

To some extent I believe we all have this tendency to hold back in some areas of our lives, but, luckily, not all, otherwise we would never try anything new!  After all, it’s one thing to sit within our comfort zones but quite another to be totally consumed by it.

In this vein, there’s a quote by Henry Ford which I love:

‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said
faster horses.’!

Of course, this is partly to do with having the imagination to think up something new but it also demonstrates that we like to stick with the things we know, with just the odd tweak here and there so that it fits really well with our own personal needs and wants.

But what if we were to push beyond our comfort zones into areas that we don’t routinely explore?  This could be exciting and exhilarating or it could cause us fear and anxiety.

I recall many years ago pushing myself to ride the thrill ride Air at Alton Towers.  Now I have to tell you that I am terrified of heights and so any sort of roller coaster is always off limits for me.  In all honesty, whenever we made a family trip to Alton Towers, I was the proverbial ‘bag lady’, left outside the ride holding all the bags and coats whilst the rest of the family disappeared onto the rides!

But this particular year I was determined to overcome my fear, and so I queued (fast-track to give me less time to change my mind).  I was strapped into my seat, my heart was pounding, my legs were like jelly and I really, r-e-a-l-l-y wanted to get off, but it was too late.  We were lifted off the ground and into the air and the ride started.

Two minutes later and feeling completed exhilarated, I jumped down from the ride onto solid ground.  My pulse was racing, I was smiling ear-to-ear and whooping with joy!  I really couldn’t believe that I’d gone through with it.  Apparently I screamed all the way around, but I had no recollection of that at all.  I loved every moment of the ride, but, I have absolutely no intention of ever doing it again!

This huge step was a means-to-an-end; a method of showing myself that if I really put my mind to something, I can carry through.  It was also an attempt to show myself that being outside my comfort zone is a place worth exploring, in spite of fear and anxiety!

Maybe this is a little extreme, but it was well worth the effort.  Indeed, although I wasn’t willing to climb back on to Air again that day, I did however try out a number of roller coasters that I’d hitherto avoided and I had a fantastic day!

So what did I learn that day?  Well, it really didn’t matter what anyone else told me about the rides or how great the safety processes were or even the fact that I’d paid full price to enter the park.  On all occasions up until this particular day, it was my way or no way and that meant, stay small, opt-out and just get through the day.  However, once I’d made the decision to face my fears, I found that they evaporated away, that I was at least as big, if not bigger than my fears.

So, if you’re someone who likes to try some things, but maybe you’re not too sure or willing to try other things even though they somehow appear attractive to you, then really it’s just a matter of making the decision and carrying through (really, that’s all it is!).  Reduce your options so that backing out will be difficult (I was strapped into my seat!) and then just step forward.  I can assure you that it’s never as bad as you believe it’s going to be and that actually the thing you’ve been avoiding usually turns out to be really enjoyable and exciting.

Remember, most of us throw the instructions away because we’d rather have a go ourselves, so treat your most challenging fear in the same way and just give it a try!  Good luck!

I’d love to hear your stories of overcoming fears and stepping into the unknown!  Please share!

Photo: Tsahi Levent-Levi

To Give or Not To Give – A True Story

homeless1I’ve read that there is good evidence to support the premise that if you give to others in some way, it will enhance your own wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of the receiver.  On a purely common sense level, I have to agree with this because I seem to experience gratification when I give to someone and particularly so if I give to someone who I am very unlikely to see again (in other words, (s)he will have no way of repaying me).  I can float through the rest of the day when I feel that I have been kind and so the positives for me far outweigh the gift given.

I’m not sure what the science or psychology is behind this personal reaction (and really, I’m not that concerned to understand it), but I am the first to admit that I feel so much better about myself if I’ve been able to help in some way as opposed to the other option where I feel guilt for neglecting to help when I know I probably could have done so.

But I wonder how far we should take kindness and giving.  This quote from Joseph Joubert:

A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.

Clearly expects that giving and enacting kindness should go much further than just throwing a few coins in a charity bucket or offering to help out an elderly neighbour.  Indeed, if Joubert is to be believed, then we should overlook any perceived transgressions of the receiver and just take kind action anyway.

This seems doable say, when dealing with friends and family members who, now and then, may upset us, although we know that in a few hours/days whatever the issue was will be resolved or just drift away, and so showing kindness by giving some kind of support is still possible.  For example, when a child has been particularly difficult, maybe with crying or tantrums, it’s still possible (and required) that a parent should rise above the immediate situation and provide the appropriate care and kindness to the child.

But surely this is more difficult with those we don’t know?  Our view of the person or organisation we feel we should help will be skewed by our own perceptions, those ideas and beliefs brought about by poor experiences, hearing bad things from others or just because we may not feel the cause is worthy.  In any event, according to Joubert, we should offer kindness anyway.  How many of us can truly say that we would offer kindness in such circumstances?

I was also pondering how I would feel if I offered some kindness or support and that offer was refused.  I guess it depends on the circumstances, but while preparing this blog I was about to experience this situation first hand.

In common with most, if not all cities and towns around the world, the city in which I work has a number of people living on the streets.  Whilst I recognise that for some this may be a life choice, for most it isn’t and it is only through some kind of misfortune that they have found themselves in such circumstances.  In any event, whether through a life choice or not, homelessness poses a problem for most societies.

One day this week I was walking into the city to pick up some lunch and noticed a homeless man.  At the time, I did nothing and felt the ensuing guilt for not offering some kindness and so, the next day when I saw him again, I offered him some money, but he refused it with a brisk “I don’t take money!”.  I was taken aback and immediately apologised for any offence I’d caused.  He then offered me a “Have a good weekend” and walked away.

How did I feel afterwards?  Well, a few emotions; I hadn’t wanted to offend and I felt embarrassed that I had caused a negative reaction in the man.  I also felt contrite.  When discussing this with a friend later, he was sympathetic and also reminded me that it takes a little ‘moral courage’ to make such a gesture.  I agree with this observation since anything that appears out of the ordinary to most people is often viewed negatively, and needless to say, there were a number of onlookers who watched the exchange with “curious interest”.

But there was something else.  As I returned to my work, I found I was unable to comfortably put the money back in my purse.  It just didn’t feel right.  But then I was reminded of a charitable presentation that was to take place in my workplace that day, and so I went along, placing my donation into the collection box before sitting to watch the presentation.

The presentation was excellent, the charity represented very worthy and doing excellent work.  I enjoyed the presentation enormously and was full of admiration for the people who give their time and expertise to help those less fortunate.

So, was my equanimity restored?  Sort of.

My donation to the charity was passive plus I received something in return (a presentation and a cake!).  I was many people removed from those who will ultimately receive the benefit of my donation and consequently the experience was comfortable for me (although not so for the charity volunteers I imagine).

In contrast, giving money or some other type of gift to a homeless person is usually preceded by a moment of trepidation while I coax myself to step outside my comfort zone.  The experience is more immediate, more emotional.

Both situations have their place of course and neither one is better or worse than the other.  In the end, the importance is in the gift, the giving and the kindness we are able to offer through the gift.

But I guess what I’ve learned from this experience is that if you want to experience the natural high that occurs when you offer a kindness, then the closer to the action you are, the better the experience.  You need to be in the thick of the action, actively contributing to the outcome you wish to see.

And is this not true of life?  To fully enjoy and engage with life’s experiences you must be a partaker not an onlooker.  By all means learn through reading, watching and listening, but then get fully involved with the things that spark your interest and heighten your emotions and in doing so you will enhance your wellbeing greatly.

Have you had any experiences with offering help which was refused?  Or, the opposite of being able to offer kindness which ultimately left you feeling happier?  Please share your experiences, I’d love to hear about them!

Photo: pedrosimoes7

 

Reflect to Thrive!

reflection1 It is a most mortifying reflection for a man to consider what he has done, compared to what he might have done.  Samuel Johnson.

Self-reflection is such an underrated and under-used method of personal growth, I believe.  Although, in fairness to anyone who hasn’t undertaken this ‘pastime’ to any great extent, I think there can be some very good reasons for this.

For example, we usually don’t want to revisit experiences that have been painful or embarrassing, dissecting them to find the gem of learning which would give us the key to moving on with some calmness or equanimity.  Instead, our self-reflection tends to get stuck on justifying our actions or finding fault in others – the ubiquitous blame culture which seems to pervade our society nowadays.

But does this really help us?  After all, if we are to learn from our mistakes, we must take the time to find the lesson that awaits us in that embarrassing moment, that over-reaction which resulted in bad feeling or that moment of feeling unable to speak up when we so badly wanted to.

On the flip-side, do we take enough time to mull over those moments of happiness, joy or contentment?  Whilst these moments are a pleasure to remember, do we actually take the time to really understand why they made us feel so happy?  If we don’t do so, then it becomes a little accidental as to whether we will be able to recreate those feelings at will in the future.  Wouldn’t it be better somehow to be able to actually re-live the feelings, if not the actual experiences?  Surely this would not only enhance our lives but also the lives of those around us.

As Peter Drucker advises us…

Follow effective action with quiet reflection.  From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.

Because in taking time to reflect we will indeed become more effective.  As I’ve said in previous blogs, repeating the same actions over and over but expecting a different outcome is nonsensical, although for many of us we do somehow expect a different result!  We may continue to eat the same diet and continue to gain weight, continue to flatter that same man/woman who is clearly not interested or continue to spend all our money and more each month and get deeper into debt because we haven’t taken the time to reflect upon our actions and the outcomes they are creating for us.  It’s no accident then that we find ourselves exactly where we are now. Text

But this is where self-reflection can have a very positive effect on our current wellbeing and our future circumstances and if we aspire for a more abundant future, then surely this is worth the effort?

So how exactly can we reflect and draw useful conclusions from our daily occurrences?

A diary is the most obvious place to start as most people will already have kept a diary at some stage of their lives.  Even going back to earlier versions of yourself through the pages of your diary can be useful (as well as cringe worthy at times!).  Diaries of our earlier experiences can show us how much we’ve grown and there can be some startling realisations that things we are experiencing now are the fruit of seeds sown many, many years ago.  But self-reflection goes further than just recording our experiences and feelings on paper (or other medium appropriate for you).

For self-reflection to be truly useful though, we need to also analyse each of our days or significant moments and challenge ourselves to think of the ways situations and results could be improved by changed actions or reactions.  As mentioned above, it can be all too easy to look for someone else to blame for the circumstances we find ourselves in but in doing this we lose the opportunity to improve our lives by learning the lessons which are contained within each moment.  What could we have done better?  What could we have avoided doing?  How could we improve our reactions?  These are some of the questions we should challenge ourselves to answer so that we don’t fall into the end result described by Margaret J Wheatley below:

Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.

Another method of self-reflection is to seek input from other people, but be warned, whilst this method could provide some significant opportunities for growth, it’s not for the faint hearted!

There are not many among us who are comfortable with receiving honest, but constructive criticism and indeed, conversations of this nature can test the best of friendships.  However, for those who feel ready to receive feedback, it can be a unique and eye-opening way of making improvements to our behaviour in a very short space of time.  Consequently we are likely to see improvements in our results sooner than if we’d been left to work it out for ourselves.

In any event, if you feel this could be a useful and meaningful way for you to improve your chances of achieving the results in life you are looking for, then I’d encourage you to go ahead with whatever method works for you.  I would emphasise however that it’s important to have some way of recording your findings since you will probably want to return to your thoughts and insights as time progresses.

Also, don’t get too hung up on ideas that you should journal/write a full account of your day in your diary every day.  Sometimes you will be drawn to thought only and may later record your findings.  Journaling is a personal tool and you should therefore use the routine that works best for you, always remembering that you may change your method at any time to suit yourself!

So is self-reflection a part of your every day routine?  Do you keep a diary and do you find it useful?  Please share your thoughts…you never know when your words may inspire or help someone else!

Photo: Mackaysavage

Knowing Then What I Know Now!

audiLife would be so much easier if we had all the information we needed before we embarked on a new project, entered into a new relationship, made an important financial decision or even accepted that new job, don’t you think?  But unfortunately, life just isn’t like that.

Instead, we start and stop new projects, often not seeing them through to fruition, fall in love with the person of our dreams only to discover a few months later that they were never looking for a commitment anyway (or so they say…), buy a new car and then breakdown just days after the warranty has expired or accept a great new job and learn too late that our new boss is somewhat of a narcissist!  Does any of this sound familiar?

Ah, hindsight it’s such a wonderful thing!  With the information we have now, we tell ourselves that we would never have made such poor decisions in the first place.  Had we only known then what we know now, we would never have started.  And so, with a wave of the hand, we release ourselves from the responsibility of completion, putting things right or pressing on.

I’ve found myself in all of these situations and many other potentially disastrous ones over the years and I’m sure I’m hardly unique in this way!  My beautiful black Audi, a joy to drive and so good-looking, drew envious glances wherever we went.  In fact, a few times passers-by asked if we would sell it to them!  But that was in the days before it became the ‘naughty car’!  I’m afraid that even after it started costing me money to repair (and lots of it), I couldn’t call it anything worse than ‘naughty’, since I was in love!  But in the end, it was just no longer economical to keep and it had to go.  It was a sad day indeed, but also a relief, especially for my bank balance!

But it can’t all be bad, can it?

Well no.  Frankly I’m older and wiser now, and that really is the point of all the failures we encounter throughout our lives.  For each failure we run into, there’s an opportunity to learn from the outcome, improve our understanding and future actions and thereby make the outcome we want far more likely to make an appearance.  But do we always do this?  In my experience, the answer is a resounding NO!  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve repeated the same pointless, doomed-to-failure behaviour and somehow expected a different outcome.  What was I thinking?

And then there’s the “great” advice we have to offer to our children, family and friends: based on our own fruitless experiences, we freely share the things that didn’t work assuming that they can learn from our mistakes, but of course, they can’t or won’t.  The problem is that what’s a tough experience to one person is just an invitation for fun to another!  And truthfully, if we are to advance as individuals, then we need to be prepared to take on those things that others may have failed at if they are part of our larger purpose.

So what is failure, really?  In some ways it’s best seen as a rite of passage.  It’s the price that must be paid for the opportunity to create the kind of life we want.  There are very few of us born to a privileged life (whatever that is – it’s all perception, after all) and so we aspire to achieve or have the things that will make the difference to us.  This is important because success only looks like success if it’s meaningful to us, and until we have achieved our definition of success, it will continue to look like failure – no matter what anyone else tells us.

Unsurprisingly, there is an important learning point to be absorbed from these reflections.  The obvious point is that we learn more as we go along, each failure feeding our knowledge until we can at last tweak ourselves into a successful position.  But this is the end-point, the result, because when we start out, we don’t have this experience and knowledge and instead we have uncertainty, inexperience, doubt, vagueness, reservations and hesitations.  And so we get to the crux of the matter.  It’s not so much ‘If I knew then what I know now…’, but rather, ‘am I willing to take a chance on my plans given my lack of knowledge and the likelihood that the first attempt will fail?’

I’m here to encourage and cajole you to shout YES!  Because now you already know more than you did then, because now you can make a start on your plans with relative certainty that you will probably make a few false starts, that you will probably make some poor choices and that you will probably need to back step a few paces now and then.  But when you do these so-called negative things, you will in fact be improving your knowledge of the right things to do next time.

The road to success is messy and squally and at times, it’s downright discouraging, but it’s also uplifting, exciting and motivating.  Making progress will make you feel like you’ve come alive as you awaken within yourself the possibilities which you have kept hidden or undeveloped.

So what is stopping you?  It really is time to dip a toe into the water and to push yourself outside your usual boundaries.  You are now pre-armed with the knowledge that not only is it ok to get things wrong the first (second, third, fourth…) time, but that you are actively encouraged to do so!

Now go get it!

Have you experienced a failure that turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to you?  Life is full of these little idiosyncrasies, the little pointers that help sign-post the way if we’re only willing to see them.  Please share your experiences as you never know when your experience might be someone else’s catalyst to action!

Photo: M 93