Tag Archives | change

THE THINGS WE TAKE FOR GRANTED

It’s strange times we live in. Being asked to stay at home except for essential trips, and to maintain social distancing are great reminders of the normal things we take for granted.

A minor example: my watch stopped working, and I would usually pop into town and get a new battery inserted – but the places that do that are closed. No one is having their hair trimmed or their nails done. There are no yoga classes or gyms –and yes, you can find replacements to do it remotely on-line, but it’s not the same.

And the biggest gap in our normality is all those casual relationships that we don’t even think of – the everyday human contact, with shop assistants, people in the street, the postman or delivery person, the other people at the gym or class. They are only brief exchanges, and we may not even know their name, but they enliven our days and often give us reason to smile.

We are biologically designed to interconnect with others – it is a basic human drive. The upturn in the use of zoom, facetime, skype etc. is an indicator of that. People are making a big effort to keep in touch with those they are close to. But these other relationships are also really important – I’m certainly missing them.

So maybe in future, when we are able to go about our normal daily business, we will take a little more time to appreciate the simple human interactions we take for granted: speak to the bank clerk, the shop assistant, the people who smile on the street, the refuse collectors, the delivery person. They all contribute to our well-being and our need to be connected, to have human contact.

(By the way, since I wrote this, I have had a house fire – and it means I have had to move in with my son and daughter-in-law until the repairs can be done. I now have a greater sympathy with those who are not in their own home with those things we take for granted – so please appreciate your own bed, your own chairs etc. They also contribute to our wellbeing and make our home our own place of peace and refuge – so love being with them during this period!)

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TAKING TIME TO REFLECT

It is easy in our busy world to just keep going, with that feeling that we never quite catch up. Yet taking time to reflect can help to make that constant activity more purposeful and productive.

The first thing that some time for reflection can give us is a reminder that we are doing some things well/right. We often don’t notice when we’ve set a ‘new normal’ for ourselves, because we haven’t perfected it.

I may be better at giving myself a break, even though I don’t always do it. I may be good at noticing the little everyday pleasures, and forget that I didn’t used to do that very much. I may occasionally go for a walk in the fresh air, and just criticise myself for not doing it more often.

Noticing our own progress in improving our lives matters. We are always developing and growing, even if sometimes the pace of it seems slow. By acknowledging our progress to ourselves, we encourage ourselves to do more of it.

The second part of reflecting is to set some intentions for the next period of time. Rather than beating ourselves up for not getting to where we wanted to in some areas of our lives, we can choose what we want to pay attention to, to take it to the next stage.

For example, I may want to pay more attention to eating good food, or I may want to focus on doing more things that make me feel good, or I may want to get better at stopping when I’ve run out of energy. By setting ourselves four or five intentions, we give ourselves a good chance of applying them, and thereby enhancing our own development. It also reminds us of what’s really important to us, so that we adjust our busyness to include things that really matter, and feel OK about not doing some of the stuff we just do habitually.

Most of us have a bit of time over the Christmas period, where we could allow ourselves to reflect. Why not have a go at it, and see what comes up for you?

(I’ve put some beginnings of sentences below that you may find helpful in this.)

my progress                                    My intentions

I’m better at…                                           I want to pay attention to…

I’m good at…                                              I want to focus on…

I’ve started…                                             I want to get better at…

I now sometimes…                                       I’ll have a go at…

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY

So much in our world at the moment seems to be doom and gloom: our politics, our ‘news’, the lack of compassion for others. It is hard to break out of the predominant zeitgeist sometimes, and remember that this isn’t the only human condition.

Yet in amongst this, there are always reminders that there is so much more to being human. I was reminded this week in a way I wasn’t really expecting. I went to see “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again”. I don’t really like musicals or Abba’s music, but I sat and soaked up the atmosphere it created: warm, funny and joyful. It made me laugh and cry, engaged me totally, and left me with a feeling of hope and optimism. Why? It told the other side of the story of being human.

Most of the people I know and meet are kind and friendly. They are not selfish or greedy. They may worry about things, but they find their way through it. It’s time we boosted these aspects of being human and began to offset that unpleasant version that seems to infect everything.

If we’re going to change the zeitgeist, we have to start with ourselves. We can be the role modes and demonstrate the best of the human condition.

So let’s start by refusing to take on the story:

  • Let’s find the reasons to be optimistic rather than despairing
  • Let’s notice the good in people rather than what’s wrong
  • Let’s be kind and compassionate rather than critical
  • Let’s find reasons to laugh rather than be miserable
  • Lets appreciate what we have rather than wish we had more
  • And let’s enjoy all the good moments in our lives

It’s time we all told the other side of the story by how we live our lives, and that way we can remind even more people that life can be good.

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WHAT ARE YOU TELLING YOU ABOUT YOURSELF?

We all know that we talk to ourselves, often in a not very nice way! And that is a form of telling ourselves about ourselves that I have talked about before: remember that your inner voice would be far more useful if it were like your best friend, rather than the worst critic you can imagine!

And there are two less obvious ways in which we tell our story to ourselves:

  • Through our everyday choices
  • Through our personal external metaphors

Let’s start with our everyday choices. There was a famous advert that had the line: ‘Because you’re worth it!’ What do you tell yourself you’re worth, by the choices you make? This can be anything, from which of two possible dinners to have, to whether you go along with someone else’s plan even though it’s not really what you want to do. Do you deserve a bit of a rest, or do you push yourself on because you haven’t ‘earned’ it yet?

All day every day, you make choices that reflect how you value yourself, how you see yourself. Just notice how you confirm a story about who you are to yourself.

And the second way we constantly tell ourselves who we are, what we’re like, is through the things we have around us. These are our everyday metaphors for who we are.

Am I someone who conforms to fashion, or stands out from the crowd? Look at my clothes, my home décor. Am I someone who is bright and cheerful most of the time? Look at my colours, my photos. Am I someone who will take a risk? Look at my possessions that others may judge me by – what do I allow others to see about me?

What we have around us, what we wear, what we possess, all tell us unconsciously who we are, what we’re like. And this area of telling ourselves about ourselves is the easiest one to effect change in. We can decide to reflect a different facet of ourselves back to ourselves, just by changing some of our everyday metaphors.

For example, you could buy a brightly coloured throw or cushion to brighten yourself up; you could wear your favourite clothes more often, rather than the sensible or in fashion ones you have; you could put those ‘silly’ treasures you have from holidays or made by your children in the living room instead of hiding them away in your bedroom.

What would you like to tell yourself about yourself? And how can you symbolise it in the things you have around you? And if you don’t know, just look at some of the things in your living room and ask yourself: ‘ What does this tell me about me?’ If you like its message, put it in a more prominent place. If you would like to enhance its message, what might replace it, to give you a better reflection?

We all need to work on our inner critics, and the everyday choices we make; these are generally pretty engrained. And we can begin the process of telling ourselves a better story about ourselves by simply changing some of our external metaphors or symbols for who we are. It’s simple and it’s powerful.

So go and find one to improve right now – and I’m going to put on that sundress that I told myself was too youthful for me. Sod it! I love that dress!

 

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DOES IT MAKE YOUR HEART SING?

I’m in the midst of one of my periodic clear-outs. I find it both satisfying and interesting to go through all my ‘stuff’ and get rid of things I no longer want.

It’s satisfying because it means cupboards, wardrobes, drawers etc. get cleaned and tidied and decluttered – and I find some of those things that get lost or buried – you know what I mean: the other earring, sock, the cheese knife, the favourite pen!

The interesting aspect is seeing what I can part with this time. Of course, there are some things we keep because they’re just useful: the vacuum cleaner, the washing up bowl, the tools we have to help us with our everyday tasks. However, most of us have a lot of stuff that doesn’t fit into that category. And years ago I realised that logic doesn’t help me to de-clutter everything else. Throwing things out because I haven’t used them for a year doesn’t work for me. What does work is a simple question: ‘does it still make my heart sing?’

In the first place, this question helped me to get rid of heaps of stuff that didn’t fit with my story any more. I let go of those things we have because someone gave them to us, and the things that were part of my past rather than my present, and the things I had because people like me are supposed to have them.

Nowadays, the answer to: ‘Does it still make my heart sing?’ shows me how my story is changing, what I’ve grown out of, so to speak. The process helps me to clarify who I am now, and at the same time ensures that the stuff I have makes me happy, makes me smile, reflects me back to myself.

And much of what I get rid of can go to the charity shop, and find another home, be in someone else’s story for a while. I also use freecycle, where you email in what you have on offer, and if someone wants it, they can contact you and you give it to them. I love finding someone who really wants those odd things you’d prefer not to just throw away!

If you haven’t looked through your stuff for a while, why not give it a go? Just do a bit of a check: does it make your heart sing? And if it doesn’t, let it go to a new home. And if it does make your heart sing, appreciate it, enjoy it fully.

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HAVE ANOTHER GO

Happy New Year! I was thinking about resolutions – and the ‘re’ piece means again or back to. And for most of us, any resolutions are another attempt to make a change for the better, usually ones we’ve had a go at several times before. However, if we do what we’ve always done, we get what we’ve always got. So the most important thing about having another go is to make sure that we learn from previous failures, and do it in a different way.

Life is one long experiment for finding out what really works for us, and we’re stubborn creatures – if it didn’t work for us before, it’s unlikely to if we adopt the same approach again.

So do have another go, but do it differently!

  • Make the goals smaller, easier to achieve – we are more motivated to build on a success.
  • Do the steps towards it in a different order, or using a different motivation
  • Find a different way of measuring your progress
  • Find some way of encouraging yourself to keep going

If you look back, you will realise that most positive changes in your life have come about gradually – some of mine have taken years to become habitual!

So do have another go – this may be the time that makes the difference, and the experimentation can be fun!

 

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THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE

Whilst on holiday I was reminded of how significant the spirit of a place really is. There are some ancient buildings that just feel good to be in, and others that you don’t want to linger in. there are streets that feel tranquil, others feel vibrant, and some that just provide a passageway to something else, or even feel hostile.

We don’t usually take the time to notice these differences consciously, yet we are all affected by them to some extent. And it is the human imprint that makes these differences: the activity, general mood, attitude, of those who have been there over time. Each one of us leaves a little of ourselves in wherever we visit.

A clear example of this is a church or temple. Many of them (although not all) have a feeling of tranquillity, of calm, and have a quietening effect on us. We sit for a little while, and add our own moment of stillness to their atmosphere, as people have done since they were built, even if we are not religious.

And this made me think about how we imprint our own homes. All the perfect décor and beautiful objects you can buy don’t make a home. It becomes a home when we express our individuality, our history, our attitude, in some of the things we choose to have round us. And then its spirit grows from the imprint of us and how we live there`; how much love, how much laughter, how much warmth, how much calm, how much care – OK, I know you’ve got what I’m saying now!

Now sometimes I’m frustrated, fed up, irritable, upset, in my home. That taints its spirit for a while. So from now on, I intend to burn a little sage or incense, or open up all the windows and doors, to ‘freshen it up’ more quickly. I know the general spirit of my place is lovey, warm and welcoming – and I can make it even better, by paying it more attention.

What about you??

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WHERE AM I UP TO?

It is common for us to get caught up in our lives, swept along from one thing to another. We don’t stop to consider, we just take the next step, do the next task, follow the routine.

It makes a significant difference if we take stock now and then.

On a daily basis, taking 5 minutes halfway thrugh our day, and then towards the end of the day to just ask ourselves, ‘Where am I up to?’, gives us a chance to assess our energy levels, what would be good use of our time next, what our priorities are, what really matters.

Then, on a monthly basis, we can take stock at a higher level: what have we done well or achieved, or made progress in; how well have we taken care of ourselves. And then we can look at what adjustments we would make for the next month, see what it is important for us to consider or make allowances for, and look at how we can make our next month easier and more enjoyable for ourselves.

And I also like to do a 3-monthly ‘review’. (I’ve always thought that the once a year version that produces New Year resolutions was too long – if I’ve gone off track, I want to catch it sooner, so I don’t have so much ground to recover!)

So at three months, I ask the bigger version of where am I up to:

In what ways is life going how I want it to?

Am I heading in the right direction?

Am I making it work for how I am now?

Is there anything I could do with increasing or decreasing in my life?

The answers to these sorts of questions then lead to a broad plan for the next three months: what I want to maintain, build on, leave behind, introduce, have more or less of.

None of this is hard work – in fact it’s best done gently, allowing answers to pop up intuitively, rather than doing it like an exam that you have to get right. What it gives you is the guidelines for those daily and monthly stock-takes, and a gentle reminder that as we continue to evolve in our lives, some of the priorities and concerns may change.

So where are you up to in your day right now? And in your life?

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IS IT UNCOMFORTABLE OR JUST UNFAMILIAR?

I was talking to someone the other day about changes in their life, and they said that they were feeling pulled out of their comfort zone. It made me think about the distinction between uncomfortable and unfamiliar. I was given this distinction many years ago, and have found it to be a really useful guide to where change could be positive for me and where it isn’t.

I find the metaphor of clothing useful to clarify the distinction: there is a big difference between the feel and look of a suit which fits properly and one that doesn’t. We may not be used to wearing a suit, so both may feel a little odd to us, but we know if that’s because it’s just unfamiliar, or if it’s because it doesn’t fit us properly.

So when we are facing some change in our lives, we need to ‘try it on for size’. Imagine yourself being in that new circumstance, and see how it feels. Your body will tell you if it fits or not. If you find that you want to immediately get out of it, the likelihood is that it is uncomfortable, a poor fit for who you are – our gut reaction tends to be accurate.

If you are tempted to give it a twirl, view it from another angle, or you smile as you try it on, the chances are it’s just unfamiliar. If you take notice of your body’s reaction, rather than letting your mind over-ride that information, you will begin to get the distinction.

And even if your mind does over-ride, just notice what language it uses to do so. If there are should’s and ought’s involved, you know it’s uncomfortable. ‘This should be fine’, or ‘I ought to be able to handle this’. On the other hand, if your mind is saying, ‘I don’t know how this will work’, or ‘I’m not sure how I will handle this’, it’s just unfamiliar, and you are identifying that you haven’t got a ready made formula for dealing with it.

What if it’s going to happen anyway?

If we realise that it doesn’t fit for us, but it is not something we can just avoid, then we have the opportunity to ask ourselves, ‘What would make it more comfortable for us, a better fit?’ It may be that we need to declare our discomfort beforehand, saying that it doesn’t feel right for us. Or we may realise that we would find it more confortable if we had some overt support while we were experiencing it. Or perhaps we can make some small change to the circumstance that would make it feel a better fit.

And if we’ve established that it is unfamiliar, we may still feel we would find it easier if we have some form of support/encouragement, or suggestions for first steps into it. We also need to allow ourselves a bit of time to get used to it.

As a small child, you encountered the unfamiliar all the time – that’s how you developed, by gradually assimilating new things. But you needed reassurance, help, encouragement, and time to do the assimilation.

You also knew instinctively if something was uncomfortable for you, spitting out the food you didn’t like, yelling when you were being left for a while with someone you didn’t like being with.

You do know the distinction – use it to make life easier for yourself.

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THE WAY THINGS ARE GOING

The results of the recent British general election delighted me – not because of the actual final result, but because of the underlying message. It was called by the conservatives on the assumption that people would respond to their insistence that they needed to be an even stronger majority in order to ‘beat’ the European leaders in the Brexit negotiations. Their message was based on fear and arrogance: without them we would lose out in the Brexit deal, and they knew best how to do it. It seems that they were ‘inspired’ by Donald Trump and his victory. They didn’t even bother to cost their manifesto properly and made no attempt to suggest that everyday life could improve – in fact, the opposite; they proposed more cuts. And when their ideas didn’t go down well, they slagged off the opposition, suggesting they were incompetent.

Labour, on the other hand, our main opposition party, campaigned on the basis of the belief that there could be a better way to approach the future in this country, talking about strategies to make people feel cared for, and they emphasised the policies that would help us to move forward, not just try to offset previous economic problems. They had worked carefully on their policies and thought them through, and they didn’t take the negative approach of trying to put down the conservatives – they explained how their own policies could work. Their message was based on looking forward positively and the genuine belief that there could be a better way in the future.

In the course of the electioneering, we had two terrorist attacks in Britain, and even then, fear was not the overwhelming reaction – it was kindness and courage and community.

And the Conservatives did get the majority of the seats, but not enough to form a government on their own – less than they had before. And Labour did lose the election, but gained 29 more seats and strengthened their voice throughout the country.

It seems to me that more people are tired of the emphasis on fear and individualism, and are wanting something more positive, inclusive and forward-looking. No-one ‘won’ this time, but the tide is turning.

And each of us can play our part in helping this tide to grow, because we reflect in microcosm what is going on on a grander scale, and we also contribute to it.

Reducing our fear

We have all absorbed the message that we need to be fearful of things getting worse in some way, because it is so prevalent in our culture. It may be sticking with a job you don’t like in case there’s nothing else out there for you, or thinking that we are unsafe on our own in a street, or some form of fitting in with peers even though you don’t really agree with it.

Whatever you have that is driven by a fear, just consider the possibility of stepping away from it a little – no grand gestures needed, just not allowing it to control you so much.

Compromising what we have as core values

Sometimes we all go along with something that isn’t being true to ourselves. We can all stand up for our values and give our genuine opinion. This doesn’t have to be harsh or argumentative. It can be as simple as saying, ‘I don’t agree with that,’ or ‘ I think that life would be better if….’

Telling our truth is important, and it can be done gently and kindly.

Moving towards a better way of living your life

It is easy to get caught in the story of wishing things were like they used to be, but that doesn’t make any difference. Let’s look to the future, and find small things to do that improve our lives.

Caring for yourself and others

Small acts of kindness create big differences. Let yourself have a rest instead of continuing to push yourself. Smile at that stranger whom you might otherwise ignore or avoid.

 

We can watch the news and feel that everything is wrong in our world, so what’s the point. Or we can notice the small signs that the tide is turning, and add our weight to them by playing our part. I prefer the second alternative – it is a more empowering, constructive and fun place to live!

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