5 Ways to Deal With Your Worries

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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

Doing The Things We Don’t Want to Do!

treeflowersI’ve struggled a little this week to crack on with writing my blog.  My preferred routine is to start writing almost as soon as the previous blog has been posted.  Sometimes this gets delayed because the muse deserts me for a little while, but, by sheer force of will, I push through the lack of ideas and just start writing anyway.  And this usually solves the problem.  From somewhere deep inside or from a chance conversation an idea emerges and the blog begins to form.

Not so this week.  Instead it took until Thursday evening before the words started to form on the page.  Granted I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather this week, but I have felt a lot worse in the past but still managed to do some writing, so I can only conclude that I was procrastinating.  I was letting myself get away with not doing the thing I knew I should be doing.

It seems fitting then that the blog that’s emerging today is looking at exactly that issue – doing the things we don’t want to do!  I wish I could tell you that I’m immune to procrastination, but that would be lying.  I suffer this affliction as much as the next person as can be evidenced by two successive posts alluding to the subject!

Every now and then, I imagine what it would be like to actually do all the things I intended to do.  This is an idea that must have occupied Thomas A Edison for a time too as he is quoted as saying:

“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”

A great idea, don’t you think?  I could go off on a tangent here and talk about how, if we did everything we are capable of we wouldn’t be likely to achieve very much, since we would be overwhelmed and distracted, but really that’s not the implication intended by the quote, so I’ll stick with the real sentiment and continue in the vein Edison intended.

Do you ever start your day with a huge To Do list and, by the time the end of the day rolls around find that you’ve only ticked one of two things off?  Yes?  Me too!  Sometimes this is because other more important or demanding things have held my attention, although often even after acknowledging their claim on my time, it can still lead to a level of resentment and/or frustration that I didn’t progress the things I actually planned to do.

Other times I have no ‘excuse’, it’s just me and I’ve allowed a lack of focus to consume my day by avoiding the things I should have been doing and instead doing other ‘nicer’ things.  In the scheme of things, these other nicer things would probably have needed doing at some stage anyway, but, again having allowed myself to prioritise these secondary things ahead of the things I know I should have been doing, I feel a level of frustration and also annoyance at the time wasted on busy tasks rather than those things which could be contributing to the future I would like to create.

This isn’t an easy situation to overcome.

We as humans yearn to take the path of least resistance.  I’m sure we all recognise this person within us, and perhaps sometimes we need to take this path in order to maintain our wellbeing.  Sometimes taking the easy choices allows us a little downtime whilst also being productive, but I guess the problems arise when this becomes our automatic way of working.

Think about this for a moment and the impact it can have.  How often have you avoided doing a task because you’re not sure what to do, or maybe it seems overwhelming or perhaps you just can’t muster up the motivation and just put it off until tomorrow?  But then, suddenly the outstanding task begins to grow horns and breath fire because it develops some urgency or the lack of progress has triggered a subsidiary task which makes it even less appealing?  It’s the age-old situation where that stitch in time wasn’t done and now we need to do nine

So, instead, what could we expect our lives to look like if we actually did the things we didn’t want to do, when they needed doing?  Would we literally be astounded as Edison assures us?

I believe we would be.  For anyone who’s tasted even a little piece of success, you’ll know it’s because you put in the effort to work through those difficult or less-than-appealing tasks to completion, and afterward you felt great!  You may even have felt a little astounded by the things those results brought you – the sum of the results being far more than anything you were expecting.

There’s something intoxicating about this feeling and once we’ve experienced it, we will want to experience it again…and again, hence our feelings of frustration when we don’t do the right things at the right time!

So the next time you find yourself doing the wrong thing in the moment at the expense of doing the right thing at the right time, try to call to mind a time when you overcame this natural tendency and kept with your plan.  How did that feel?  Furthermore, how did the outcome feel?  These are the emotions which can help to motivate you to keep moving in the right direction and towards your rightful place as someone who is indeed astounding!

So two questions for you:

(a) what are you avoiding doing?

(b) when you didn’t avoid doing something, what was your success?

I’d love to read you comments, so go on…!

 

Productivity Tips for Procrastinators!

DSC00007In today’s blog, I’m going to let you into one of my little secrets…I’m actually not that good at sticking with a task once it’s become, well…routine!  Consequently I’m always on the look out for old, new or novel ways to achieve more effective or greater productivity.  The reason for this is that I become bored quite easily and so once I perceive a task to be routine it becomes an effort for me to keep doing it day in day out.  That’s not to say that I don’t do these everyday tasks, I do, but on those days when I’m less motivated than usual, I like to ‘wrap’ these tasks up in little packets of novelty so that they are a little less ordinary.

So today I’m going to share with you some of the tactics I use when procrastination would like to have me glued to the sofa all day instead of ticking things off my to do list.  Maybe some of them will work for you too, but in any event, why not give some of them a try…at least trying gets you moving!

Of course we all tend to tackle our tasks in different ways, some people like to concentrate on one task to completion, whilst others prefer the variety of working on multiple tasks simultaneously.  My natural tendency is to fall into the latter group, possibly because I love to see a ‘To Do’ list with lots and lots of tasks crossed through by the end of the day, although if I’m honest, it’s probably because monotony creeps in if I’m working on just one thing which then makes me procrastinate and look for other inconsequential things to do to break up the dullness!

I’ve tried many different ways to overcome my tendency to multitask over the years, but have had to concede that this is just my preferred way of working, and so in accepting this, I’ve had to find ways to best utilise this ‘ability’.

One method that has worked for my quite consistently over the years is to work in packets of 3 tasks at a time.  I have no idea why it’s 3 tasks and not more or less, but I find that the number 3 somehow works well for me.  It seems to be a manageable number for my brain to work with to achieve progress in a reasonable amount of time whilst keeping the feeling of overwhelm at bay.

So, for example, after preparing a ‘brain dump’ of all tasks which are cluttering up my head by committing them to paper, I then look back over the list and pick out the first task I’m going to tackle.  I’m picking my words quite carefully as I write this, because the first task will be determined by (a) whether it’s urgently needed for that day (first determinant), or (b) if (a) doesn’t apply, which task do I just want to get off my list (because it’s causing me some kind of stress), or (c) where neither of the above apply, I just feel like doing it!

In picking the next two tasks to make up a task sandwich, I usually look for things that will take a varying amount of time.  With all choices, unless completion is urgently required that day, I’m only thinking in terms of making progress.

Finally, I list the 3 tasks separately to the main list and then just work on them in rotation.  The aim is to do something, regardless of how small, and just to keep moving.  Once I’m ‘finished’ (this doesn’t necessarily mean completion) with task 1, I move on to do something on task 2 and then task 3 then, back to the first task…  I’ll continue in this way until I have either completed one or all of the tasks or reached a point where no further progress can be made on that day.  Et voila!  Three tasks progressed or completed and it’s back to the masterlist to choose three more…

There are some days though when even this little tactic can’t create momentum, but, in the same way that an object in motion stays in motion, I just need to get moving because I know that once I’m doing something, I’ll keep going.  The issue here seems to be the daunting task of actually choosing which task to start with.  Recognising that it is in fact making a decision which is the problem, I came across a nifty little tactic on the Mark Forster blog which works perfectly in this situation.  The method is to make the choice completely random.

In a nutshell (you can check out Mark’s blog for more info), you just need to write a list of tasks, allocate a number to each task (1 to n) and then use some kind of random number generator to pick your task for you (I use a free app for this).  You might be thinking that this method sounds really silly, but I can assure you that if you’re really struggling with procrastination, this method will break through!  You’ll find that having the weight of choosing your task lifted, plus the novelty of not knowing which task you’ll be doing next is really very motivating and you’ll get through your to do list very quickly!

There are many, many ways to motivate yourself and a quick search of the web can turn up lots of ideas.  I also wrote another blog post on some other methods I use here, which you might also like to check out.

So what about you?  Are you the kind of person who can stick with one task until it’s complete..if so, please let me into your secret!  Or are you more of a multitasker?  What’s your secret productivity tip?  Please share if you have a tip, I’m all ears!

Photo: Jon-Eric Melsaeter

Who are you hiding?

maskI wonder why it takes us so long to finally acknowledge and allow the ‘real’ person within us to come forward?  Even more perplexing is why some of us never allow that person to come forward?  It’s a very, very personal condition, not least because from the outside most people wouldn’t know that the person they interact with is maintaining a façade.  This façade could be quite thin, maybe it’s the ‘professional face’ we keep on in a work environment or at the other extreme, there could be a thick veil of concealment through which the external observer cannot pry.

It’s natural to assume that if someone is concealing their real character that their personality or their intentions must be somewhat shady.  But, are there ever any good reasons why someone should conceal their true character?

I pondered this for quite some time and decided that maybe there could be some good reasons.  For example, if someone is naturally introvert and shy but aspires to work in the world of media for example, then they might train themselves to appear more gregarious than they actually are.  This of course would present a major energy drain for the person concerned as keeping up an emotional façade is hard work.

Of course there are then the situational personalities that we cultivate.  Have you ever phoned a friend on their work landline and when someone answered you didn’t recognise the voice on the other end?  I’m sure in such situations we all have, to some extent, a ‘telephone voice’.  A professional manner that we want to portray to our customers etc.  And so it is with our various personalities.  We are, I believe, not only different things to different people but more importantly, we also conduct ourselves differently when we are with different people.  I suppose this makes perfect sense as the different people in our lives fulfil various needs we have and (hopefully) complement the various roles we play.

But what of the various needs that maybe we feel aren’t fulfilled?  I have to acknowledge at this point that no one is ever ‘owed’ anything from anyone else.  We are all makers of our own lives and consequently, the behaviours we ‘put out there’ into the real world will attract the attention of those who feel drawn to those types of behaviours (and therefore you).  By extension then, if we are attracting others into our lives by our behaviour, then it’s plausible that if we’re not presenting the real ‘me’ to the world then we may attract the ‘wrong’ people.

Now before I continue, just let me qualify the use of the phrase ‘the wrong people’.  I don’t mean that anyone is wrong or bad or mean or any other negative connotation which could be applied.  No, the meaning I have in this context is that someone we are attracting into our lives is ‘wrong’ for us.  They don’t fulfil a perceived need we have or complement a role we play, in fact they may effect changes within us causing us to act out of character.

This has implications when we consider the phrase ‘birds of a feather flock together’, meaning that, we tend to group or congregate with those we consider to share similar interests and aspirations as our own.  On the surface this phrase is easily acceptable, since we are most comfortable spending time in the company of those we consider within our social or professional groups.  Indeed, there is a belief that we actually are very similar in interests, aspirations and financial means to the five people we spend most of our time with.  I’ve read this in a number of places, but have nothing to corroborate that this is in fact true, however, there does seem to be some sense in the idea.

Consider your own group of closest friends and family members that you spend a fair amount of time with.  In order to remain ‘accepted’ within the group, certain behaviours or personality characteristics must be conveyed.  When we step outside this range of acceptable behaviour, we are chastised by the group in some way and, in general, we will bring our behaviour back within the realms of group acceptability.

The difficulty with this type of conduct is that if we no longer feel we are a good fit with the group, maybe our aspirations for health, wealth, fun, etc are different, then we have to subdue these differences in order to continue to fit and be accepted.

Of course, this may not always be the case.  Maybe our group would accept us, along with our changed lifestyle, but even if this were the case, many of us would prefer not to take this step into the unknown.  And so, we exist in our semi-real world where the person who turns up is not the person who really wants to arrive.  We all know and accept that looks can be deceiving, but many of us fail to realise that this can also apply to ourselves.

So is it time to consider whether we are presenting our true selves when we turn up in the various situations and circumstances of our lives? And more importantly, should we be deliberating on whether we’re happy with this person?  I guess as long as we’re living our true values and moving our lives in the direction of the accomplishments we wish to achieve, then that’s ok, but if not, what changes do we need to ‘out’.  What parts of our personality are we hiding and ultimately not fulfilling?

So who are you hiding?  Only you can answer that.

Over to you!  Are there aspects of you personality which remain secret?  Would you feel happier if you could share?  Please leave a comment and let us know…if you dare!

Photo: Frank Kovalchek