Tag Archives | improving life

STOP PAYING ATTENTION TO THE NEWS

 I was watching an interview with Steven Pinker the other day. I’ve admired his work for a long time and love his perspective on a range of things.

He was talking about the difference between daily news and longer-term trends, which is a topic he has researched for many years. And his conclusion is that, whilst there are still many ways in which we can make things better in our world, the overall trend is improvement, so there is a reason to be optimistic. I love it because it is based on facts, not just hope or preference.

And he said something which really hit home: ‘News is a non-random selection of things that are wrong right now.’ He was making the point that the news now follows what people are concerned about – more so if it’s on social media – and it feeds our fears. It is a long way from everything that is happening, good or bad, at any given time.

We have become used to living with fear and disappointment, and the news feeds both those tendencies, keeping us in that frame of mind.

There was a period in my life when I didn’t listen to the news at all, and you know what, I didn’t miss much! If anything momentous happened, people would tell me about it, but most of the time, it just gave me space to pay attention to more useful information.

I confess I got caught back into watching the news when Trump was elected, and became an addict again, following the awful stories about him and others, with a horrified fascination. But Pinker has just prompted me out of my addiction, and I feel better already!

So, I’m ready to suggest again that less news is good news for our mental health and a positive attitude. I have, for a long time, subscribed to a magazine called Positive News, and I’m going to stick with that. It is genuine good news, recording some of those improvements that Steven Pinker talks about. – things we don’t hear about on the daily news.

Many lives are saved every day, and a few are lost. Many people behave kindly, and a few are abusive. Many people are honest, and a few are corrupt. Whatever we pay attention to grows in our minds and lives – let’s concentrate on the better side of human nature.

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BEING IN YOUR ELEMENT

My dad used to make perfect model replicas of different British aeroplanes. He could spend hours painting intricate detail on those models and it drove my mum mad. ‘The trouble is, he’s in his element,’ she would say. It wasn’t a compliment! He was ‘gone’, and she was aware of his absence and knew she had no chance of getting him to do anything else till he was ready to come back.

And she was accurate in her description of him being in his element. I’ve been reminded of this as I’m re-reading the book by Ken Robinson called ‘The Element’. It is a brilliant exposition of what being in your element means, why it matters, and how important it is to find your own version of it.

So, being in your element is when you’re doing something you love doing, and that you have a natural ability in. It’s your particular passion that completely absorbs you.

Some people have one area in particular: dancing, painting, cooking, looking after children – it can be anything. Others have several things that take them into their element.

And there is no hierarchy. It doesn’t matter if being in your element leads you to being a famous chef, or a great mum or dad, a renowned professor, or a delightfully helpful shop assistant.

What matters is that we find those things that enable us to be in our element. Because when we are in our element, we are creative, we are happy, we are fulfilled. And that has a knock-on effect in the rest of our lives.

I am lucky. I have found quite a few different ways to be in my element. And I use them to boost my positivity, to enliven my life, to just feel good.

So, when are you in your element? Are you allowing yourself to enjoy your own talents? It’s never too late to find more ways of being in your element, so don’t let convention stop you from having the joy of doing what you love and what you’re good at.

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THE WONDER OF NATURE

Sometimes we humans tend to over-rate ourselves as superior in this eco-system called Earth. We consider ourselves to be separate from and somehow better than the laws of nature.

Once upon a time, indigenous people saw themselves as the stewards of the earth, there to care for it and help it to thrive. This was wisdom, because if the earth’s eco-system thrives, so do we.

Nowadays we are more like an invading army, taking our spoils from the earth’s resources, damming rivers to alter their natural flow, covering the earth with concrete and tarmac, destroying eco-systems for short-term gain, polluting the atmosphere, and forgetting that our long-term survival depends on Nature’s help.

There is a lot of talk at the moment about the need to do something about climate change, but there is not a lot of action at the level that we need. I find this shocking because we are actually dependent on nature to live.

The air that you breathe, the food that you eat, the water that you drink – they are all provided by nature and are all being affected by our lack of care.

And we could learn so much from nature, if we really wanted to thrive.

In nature there is an interdependency where plants, insects, birds, animals, all provide a service for each other. They work together and cooperate to help each other to thrive.

There is also an amazing, still being discovered, system of communication, through the ‘woodwide’ web. We use our ‘web’ to boast, criticise, and spread misinformation. Nature uses her ‘web’ to give warnings of danger, to help each other grow and find food, to support each other.

As for recycling, nature does it all the time. Nothing is wasted or thrown away, and it is based on cycles which are self-sustaining if we don’t interfere.

And nature demonstrates her resiliency and power to regenerate and recover from our predations. When I first read about re-wilding, it sounded rather pretentious, but finding out more, it is clear that the natural world rebuilds its eco-systems remarkably quickly.

As humans we have caused a lot of damage, and forgotten that we are also a part of the eco-system. Now is the time to become stewards again, to care for the natural world around us. And it is time we learnt to behave as supportively with one another as other parts of nature do. Let’s play our part and help the wonder of nature to thrive.

(Worth watching: the series on BBC called ‘ The Earthshot Prize’)

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IT’S WHAT YOU’RE LIKE THAT MATTERS

A friend I was very fond of died recently. I’m sad that there will be no more of those stimulating conversations with him, but glad that he is no longer suffering. And talking with his widow reminded me that the only real lasting achievement we have is who we are, what we’re like as a person.

It has nothing to do with our status or wealth or education. They are not what people will remember us fondly for. It is our kindness, thoughtfulness, helpfulness, our sense of humour, our ability to relate to others, our curiosity about life and the world – all those characteristics that we can all have, no matter what our circumstances.

Our legacy is not the stuff we leave behind. It is the effect we have had on others who have encountered us. We live on in people’s hearts, not their heads.

Tom was a lovely man, full of life. He enjoyed talking ‘big stuff’, and had strong opinions, but also listened and showed care for others’ worlds. He would turn his hand to anything and help in any way he could, without a second thought. His heart was always in the right place.

I want to leave behind that sort of legacy, don’t you? Let’s nurture what we’re likeand the positive effect we can have on others. It’s the most important thing we’ll do if we want to make a difference in the world, and leave a lasting legacy in people’s hearts.

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THE PATH TO POSITIVE THINKING

It’s many years since I first came across the concept of positive thinking, and I was reminded of it again recently, reading a book by Wayne Dyer. As with so many things, it’s easy to forget, and important to remember!

When we get caught in those negative cycles where our emotions make us miserable and colour everything, we are literally weakening ourselves. It affects our immune system, our physical strength, and our energy levels adversely.

On the other hand, our positive moods improve our health, our strength and our energy, which is great. The problem is, we can’t force ourselves into positivity – that just doesn’t work. Nor can we pretend everything’s okay and put on a positive face – that doesn’t have the same effect.

So what can we do when we hit the difficult times, when things upset us in some way?

Well, firstly, we can acknowledge it. When we recognise that we are feeling negative in some way, we have to step to one side of the feeling a bit, and observe it. This gives us the first step towards doing something about it.

Then we can identify whether we have a good reason for our feelings or if we have got something out of proportion. To do this, we need to weigh up the good and bad things in our lives, or our behaviour, or that of others.

For example, I may be miserable because I have a stinking cold, but when I consider it, it’s not my usual state – I’m relatively healthy – and it won’t last for long. Or I may feel bad because I snapped at someone unnecessarily, but this isn’t my habitual behaviour with them or anybody else, and I can just say sorry. Or someone may have been unpleasant with me, but they are not someone whom I count as a close friend, so sod them! These are all examples of getting it out of proportion, and we can reduce their effect just by noticing.

On the other hand, we may realise that there is something which we have been pushing to one side in our thoughts, yet which does have a negative effect on our lives. Examples might be: we’ve gradually developed bad eating habits, or we’ve become rather critical of others, or that friend or relative is always putting us down. In these cases, we need to do something about it.

Firstly, we need to imagine how we will be when this is no longer part of the story. It’s not enough to go: ‘I’d be feeling better without this.’ We need to make it a really good picture with lots of ideas about how it would have a better effect on us, on our relationships, our energy and our actions – all the knock-on positive effects. This gives us a compelling reason to make a move.

Often we haven’t tackled it because it looked too big or difficult to handle. If this is the case, we need to identify some simple small first steps we can take towards rectifying it. For example, I may decide to make my own fresh healthy dinner once a week, or buy one less chocolate bar. Then we can feel a sense of achievement, however small. This leads on to another small step, and helps us to gradually work our way through the issue.

Sometimes what we really need, in order to do something about the negative effect, is an ally – someone to encourage us, praise us for the small steps we make, someone to help us keep going. This is why people go to that gym session or painting class with a friend. And most people love playing this role of ally – it’s positive for them too.

Life is too valuable to waste on negativity. You are too! If something is bringing you down, it’s time to turn it around, and make your life feel good again.

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A BIT OF PEACE AND QUIET

When we were kids, I remember my mum shouting at us every so often: ‘Can I just have a bit of peace and quiet!’ We got to know that it was the warning that she was reaching the end of her tether with our noisy play, so we’d better get out of earshot.

Now I realise that it was more than that – we were just the icing on the cake, so to speak. We all need some peace and quiet, both from external stimuli, like children playing noisily, and from our internal emotions and thoughts.

Since then, the external disturbances have increased significantly. Mobile phones, tv, cars and lorries, are all much more prevalent. Once upon a time, someone walking down the road talking to themselves was a bit disturbing. Now it’s normal, and it’s loud, so that the person at the other end of the phone can hear them over everything else around them!

And 24-hour news and social media constantly bombarding us add to the stress of our own emotions and thoughts, as we try to get through our busy lives.

If we don’t stop and give ourselves a bit of peace and quiet, we become overwhelmed with all that’s going on, and can easily end up in a negative frame of mind that affects everything we do or say.

Notice that peace and quiet doesn’t mean silence. Its implication is that we can just be calm and regain perspective by having a quiet mind. We can find peace and quiet through a lovely piece of music, or by being in the garden, or a park or woodland. Sometimes reading something inspirational or gentle can have the same effect.

However you find your peace and quiet, it needs to be a vital part of your day. Just 15 minutes is enough to reset the buttons and enable you to reduce the effects of modern-day living.

Make your life a bit easier – give yourself a bit of peace and quiet.

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ARE YOU BEING SELFISH ENOUGH?

We are taught from a young age that being selfish is bad. We are supposed to share what we have and to put others first. If we follow this precept to the nth degree, we would be selfless – that can’t be right, can it? It would imply that there was nothing left of us.

Of course, most of us don’t ‘stick to the rule’ to that degree – we just feel guilty if we think we might be being selfish!!

I believe there is a distinction between being narcissistic – I only care about me and ignore the needs and wants of others – and being properly selfish.

The bible says: ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ – not instead of yourself. We need to take care of our own needs and feelings to the same level as we do those of others.

When we really care about others, we make sure that we are able to give to them from the heart, not out of duty or obligation. This requires that we have filled our own fuel tank first. As they say when you take a flight: ‘put on your own mask first, before you help others to do so.’ You can’t help someone else to breathe if you can’t breathe!

So don’t say yes when you know you’re running on empty – you will only end up resenting it.

And do give yourself room to be properly selfish – allowing yourself to top up your energy, your good mood. Others will appreciate what you have to give them so much more, because it will be done with a good heart. And the giving will top up your positive feelings even more, because making others feel good is one of the ways we can add to our own good feelings.

We are all sources of happiness and love when we have allowed ourselves to ‘indulge’ our selfishness without guilt. Isn’t that a better way to be in the world?

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LOVE IS…

I was lucky enough to be invited to be the celebrant at a blessing last weekend, held to celebrate the marriage of friends, with their family and friends, who weren’t able to be at the actual wedding.

I took as the theme, for my brief part in it, love, and it turned out to be even more appropriate than I thought it was.

I didn’t know many of the people there, but was welcomed in like an old friend. And I heard and witnessed so many examples of love in action, a microcosm of how our world could be if we all came from a place of love rather than fear.

It wasn’t about big declarations of love; it was about simple actions and reactions: laughing together, holding hands, stopping conversation for a moment to welcome someone new to the table, keeping an eye on each other’s children, talking with affection about each other.

It all created an atmosphere of joy and positivity, and I felt privileged to be included in it – I really got that old saying: ‘being taken into the bosom of the family.’

And it was still there in the morning, even with the requisite hangovers and tiredness.!

What a great reminder of how we can be, and, I believe, how we inherently are as human beings.

Let’s just do more of those simple acts of love, and spread it around, especially to those who rarely feel it. It changes the world.

And thank you, Marie and Merch, for inviting me to be a part of such a special experience.

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WHAT IS YOUR SUCCESS?

Have you ever met a ‘successful’ person? You know what I mean: good job, big house, nice car etc. I have met quite a few in my time, but very few of them were happy or content.

It makes me wonder whether we need to look at our own definition of success rather than that imposed by society. After all, if so-called success doesn’t make us happy, what’s the point in all that striving? It’s a bit like struggling to climb a high hill and then finding the view is disappointing and wasn’t worth the effort.

I think that at different stages if our life, we may have different definitions of success, but wherever you are up to, you need to check out that you’ve chosen the right hill to climb for you.

It is good to continue to work at being better at whatever it is: becoming complacent leads to entropy, and we slip and slide instead of making progress. We just need to ensure were making our effort in the right direction.

At this stage in my life, the hill I’m climbing is all about feeling good. For me, that means looking after my physical, mental and emotional state.

My success is when I have balanced my differing needs well: been creative, active, kept calm, felt happy. Obviously, I haven’t achieved this 100%! And sometimes it is really hard to even get close to it, when something throws me off balance. I suspect I’m going to be climbing this particular hill for the rest of my life, but that’s OK – it’s an enjoyable climb most of the time!

So just reflect on your own story. How would you define success for you at this point in your life? There are no wrong answers, but do make sure that you’re climbing the right hill for you, and that the climb itself is mostly enjoyable.

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WHAT IS YOUR DEFAULT EMOTION?

I read a great quote in the book ‘Greenlight’ by Matthew McConnaughey: ‘If we all made sense of humour our default emotion, we’d all get along better’. I hadn’t thought about what my default emotion was before – where do I reset my reactions to? And can we really choose what emotions are our go-to place?

And I realised that, when I was a young woman, my default emotion tended to be anxiety. I worried about money, about not being a good enough mother or a good enough teacher, about getting everything done – the list went on and on. I even worried when I didn’t seem to have anything to worry about, because I thought something was bound to go wrong! It was a hard way to live, and probably hard for those around me as well, and it prompted me to look for an easier way through life.

What I hadn’t realised quite so clearly before is that the personal development that I did helped me to change that default emotion. Of course, I still worry sometimes, but my default emotion, I think, is more like acceptance, which leaves space to consider what I can do about the circumstance.

And now, Matthew McConnaughey has prompted me to wonder if I can reset a bit more, because being able to laugh about it is even better! And again, I do it sometimes, but it isn’t yet my default emotion.

So I’ve decided to deliberately cultivate my ability to see the funny side of things, the absurdity of so many things that can send us into negativity. I’ll ‘use’ the friends I have who help me to laugh at situations to encourage me. I’ll ask myself how this could be viewed from a humorous perspective. And I’ll find more reasons to laugh.

So how about you? Has your default emotion changed over the years? Would you like to practise having one that makes life even easier?

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