Tag Archives | useful thinking

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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OUR COMMON SENSE

I like the expression ‘common sense’. It says two things:

  1. We have it in common – it’s a shared knowing.
  2. It’s about sense, which is a word used for our awareness, not our head-centred ideas or rules.

What I find sad is that we’re generally not either taught or encouraged to use it or develop it.

I think the confusion and frustration about our ‘rules and guidelines’ for the pandemic illustrates this perfectly. Our common sense tells us that they don’t make sense. For example, if it’s not ok to be in our homes with more than a certain number of friends and family, why is it ok for us to be in a store with many more strangers?

There is an assumption that we don’t use our common sense written into all the guidance we’ve been given. Either they assume we have none, or they assume we won’t use it to question the rules.

And this is not the only way in which our common sense is ignored or repressed, by any stretch of the imagination. We all know we’re not robots, that we have a natural flow to our energy, and it isn’t consistent. Yet we are taught to work past this knowing and to be consistently busy and productive, resulting in burn-out for many people. (By the way, burn-out as an expression comes from machines that are pushed beyond their capacity – a telling metaphor).

Over the years, we learn how to habitually ignore our common sense. We stop listening to the inner voice that says, ‘This is not right.’ And each time we do this, we are repressing our own wisdom.

So come on, let’s start encouraging our own common sense instead. Begin to hear the ‘this is not right’, and take notice of it, act on it, whenever we feel we can. And let’s encourage others to follow this common sense as well. Talk about it. challenge the nonsense. Open the conversations about our knowing, our shared sense of right and wrong.

Maybe then we would have governments we could respect, better relationships with others, and enjoy our lives more.

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WHAT’S YOUR INTENTION?

Sometimes I am what my mother called ‘a forgetter’ – I forget to do things that really work for me. Over the last year, I have got into the habit of planning what I’ll do in a day and forgotten to start by setting an intention for the day. Fortunately, I have a friend who reminds me of things I forget – thank you Rebecca!

Setting an intention for the day makes a difference to how our days go, because it gives a bigger context for the plans – it flavours the activities, if you like. Rather than just doing stuff, it makes you aware of how you’re doing them, and prompts you to add in or take out of your plan, in order to fulfil your intention.

A simple example would be to say to yourself: ‘I will have a good day today.’ This prompts you to think about what a good day means to you, and to make sure you give yourself the chance to put the right sort of mix into the equation. It might mean adding in something you enjoy doing, or taking out one of the tasks you had set yourself because it would be one step too far.

Setting an intention for the day gives you something more satisfying to assess your day against. It’s taking it beyond what you did and into how you did it. and it gives you back control: even if we can’t always choose what we’re going to do, we can always choose how we go about it.

So, what’s your intention for the day? Is it to have a good day, a productive day, or to give yourself a break? Make it into a day with a flavour that suits you by just deciding you will.

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CONGRATULATE YOURSELF!

Most of us are struggling somewhat with what feels like never-ending restrictions, cold grey days, and a lack of ‘normal’ highlights in our week. We miss spending time with people we love, being able to go for a coffee or a pint with friends, having any social life.

And we can get quite miserable, but also somewhat critical of ourselves:

‘I’m not ill, so I shouldn’t complain.’

‘I’ve a home and family, and food on the table – what’s the matter with me?’

‘Others are much worse off than me – why am I being a miserable cow?’

That’s pretty mean to ourselves! How about turning it around and being proud of yourself?

You have got through nearly a year of unusual and difficult circumstances. You have adapted your normal way of life in the best way you can. You have managed to have moments of laughter and joy despite the dire circumstances. You have achieved some things you wouldn’t have done otherwise: maybe cleaning out some clutter or redecorating something; maybe reconnecting via zoom or phone with old friends; maybe pursuing an interest or hobby further.

We have all done some of these things, and anything we’ve achieved deserves congratulations – it’s happened while we have a dark cloud called a pandemic hanging over us!

So you have some bad days – that’s to be expected. But you’ve also had some good days – now that’s something to be proud of.

It’s not fun, living our lives with a black cloud hanging over us. And it makes it harder to deal with the normal ups and downs of life, because there’s a negative energy around before we even start to add in the problems we come across.

But we’re doing a pretty good job of dealing with it aren’t we? So be proud of yourself for your endurance, your resilience and your ability to find some positives in all this – congratulations! You deserve a treat today!

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MAKE A WISH

We have spent a lot of the last year under a cloud of fear and it feels like it’s time to change the story. Normally people make resolutions for the New Year, but I suggest we do something that’s more gentle and hopeful – we make a wish or two.

We need to dream of a more hopeful and improved future and believe again in the possibility of a world we want to live in. so let’s all put our wishes in the wishing well of the universe this year and between us create the version of a better world at every level. It is a powerful way of beginning to change the story, because we need to have an alternate picture, before we can begin to turn it into reality.

This is not an ‘if only’ – when we try to wish away how things are- that only confirms the realty we have. It is a dream – how I wish things to be – a vision for the future – that is what makes it powerful. Remember Martin Luther King: ‘I have a dream..’

So I think there are three l levels of wishes to put in that well:

  1. My wish for my own life
  2. My wish for the lives of others
  3. My wish for the world we live in

As examples:

  1. I wish that I may live life to the full, with big doses of joy and laughter, friendships I value and enjoy, and a sense of fulfilling my purpose in being here in this incarnation
  2. I wish that every human being may have shelter and enough to eat, be valued for who they are and feel loved
  3. I wish that we may all rediscover ways of caring for each other and the planet we live on, using common sense and compassion as our driving forces rather than greed or egotism.

I don’t know what your wishes might be, but I’d love you to put them in the wishing well with mine – it’s time we created a brighter future for all of us.

May your 2021 go well for you..

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THE SIMPLE PLEASURES

I began to write this, and my cat, Smokey, jumped on my lap and pushed the pen out of my hand. He had come for his morning cuddle, and nothing was getting in the way of that. No matter what, he insists on his 10 minutes of fuss – and it’s good for both of us: soothing, warm, a bit of love.

It struck me that we all need to put feeling good as a priority at the end of this year. Everyone I know has had it tough in one way or another, and it isn’t over yet. We all need to refresh ourselves. Cats know instinctively how to do this. Small children are similar: they can be really upset about something and then recover instantly when offered something that pleases them.

So let’s be childlike and actively seek out the simple pleasures for ourselves over this holiday period.

Enjoy the taste of good food, the smell of a scented candle, the twinkle of fairy lights, the cosiness of a favourite sweater, the sound of laughter.

Indulge yourself with a favourite movie or book, a soak in a scented bath, an extra helping of that dessert.

Appreciate the winter sun, the birds singing, the peace of a walk in the park or country, the beauty of nature even in its dormant period.

And delight in that close contact with those you love: give them an extra hug or video call, laugh with them, remind them of fun times you’ve had together, tell them you love them.

It would be lovely if the problems we have had through this year were over, but they’re not, so let’s concentrate on what we do have in our lives that’s good and leave the problems to one side for a little while.

Have a happy Christmas and refresh yourselves, ready to make a difference in 2021. Take a break and enjoy some simple pleasures.,

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THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

Many years ago, I studied the theatre of the absurd. Now I am living in it! We have a prime minster who looks like a clown, sounds like an advert spouting slogans and leads like a drunkard who has a ‘good idea’ – a less extreme yet equally unimpressive version of ‘crazy uncle’ Trump. His cohort in government is no better – they all seem more like caricatures than real human beings, and seem to be driven by the belief that if they spout their nonsense often enough, we will all fit in to their story.

If we go out anywhere, most people have face-coverings – remember when that was weird? – and we attempt to stay away from other people as much as possible. And we are all under threat from something we can’t see and we don’t understand.

It’s amazing we are coping as well as we are!

In this live version of the theatre of the absurd, I find it helpful to re-focus on my own corner of this world, and do what I can to give myself a sense of meaning, purpose and enjoyment. Despite the restrictions and the nonsense, I can still have contact with friends, work on my garden, do my writing, and enjoy the natural world as it goes about its normal natural flow. I can maintain and build and enjoyable and purposeful daily life that feels real, rather than being caught up in the absurd melodrama.

Focussing on what we have, rather than what we don’t have, what we can do as opposed to what we can’t do, paying attention to the things that really matter to us, ensuring that we have enjoyable moments in the day, keeping ourselves as fit and healthy as we can – these are the things that will bring us through this period of absurdity, and maybe then we can reach a point where we are in the theatre of enlightenment instead of the theatre of the absurd.

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NOTHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO?

I didn’t realise how important it was to me to have things to look forward to: holidays and concerts booked for sometime in the future. I didn’t consciously think about them much, once they were booked, but cancelling the last one in the diary definitely hit hard. They obviously gave me a sense of movement, direction, and a form of landmark.

So now what, in these times when everything is uncertain, and none of us know for how long we will be restricted in our movement and our social activity? One of my friends gave me the clue: she said she was planning in visits with people she loves, which included me, I’m glad to say! (We can still do that, at this point in time).

I’ve always enjoyed that, and I realised that it was a reminder about two things. The first is how much our relationships with others matter. We all realised that when it was taken away from us during the full lockdown – let’s not forget it or take it for granted again. Instead, let’s delight in our friendships and fully appreciate them.

The second reminder was that, even in ‘ordinary’ times, the only real certainty is right now, the present moment. Getting through our everyday with occasional highlights to look forward to is not living our lives, and if the highlight is disappointing, that’s even worse!

So what can I appreciate about today, how can I make today a good day? Taking the time to notice the autumn sunshine, the flowers still blooming in the garden; paying attention to my cats and their sweetness; laughing with a friend at the absurdity of it all; making a tasty dinner; watching a good movie – there are so many ways we can enliven our day.

I may not have anything to look forward to at the moment but I do have today. Let’s make it a good one!

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EVERYDAY RITUALS

Over the years my mornings have changed considerably. Once upon a time the morning routine consisted of a quick shower, a gulped cup of coffee, and putting my face on (that’s how I thought of putting make-up on!). Nowadays, there is quiet time with lemon tea, a coffee with journal writing, a check through any plans for the day, and eventually the actual getting ready for the day – wash, clothes etc.

I was remembering how it felt to rush off to work, and wondering if my mornings are simply an indulgence, now that I don’t have to rush.

But I think there is a bigger distinction between those mornings than just time taken. I used to have a routine – etymologically that means an automatic, mechanical way of doing things – and it got me out of the house on time. Now I have everyday rituals – etymologically rituals are a sacred act, with intention.

This distinction between routine and ritual is important because it is about choosing to imbue an activity with meaning rather than just doing it automatically. For example, your shower can be just what you do to clean yourself, or it can be a way of refreshing yourself ready for a new day.

Having everyday rituals helps us to punctuate our days with ways of refreshing, re-energising, or allowing ourselves to rest, and consciously using them for that purpose enriches their effect.

‘This is my wake-up cup of coffee.’

‘That spritz of perfume/cologne means I’m ready for what comes next.’

’The 5 minute walk round the garden is my time to re-energise.’

‘Reading a few pages of my book gets me ready to sleep.’

By connecting particular activities with an effect and saying so to ourselves, we give ourselves an easy way of achieving that effect.

So don’t have routines – they’re boring – but do have everyday rituals – they enrich your life.

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GOOD ENOUGH

Most of us have a really mean streak in us – it is mean to us much more than others. I’m referring to that tendency we have to judge ourselves against an impossibly high set of standards. We don’t usually realise that we’re even doing it – we just feel like we should have done better: been more caring; expressed it better; finished it more quickly; done it more thoroughly – you get my drift?

The questions we need to ask ourselves are: whom are we comparing ourselves to? And what standard exactly are we expecting ourselves to achieve?

In terms of whom we are comparing ourselves to, it seems to me that it’s generally in the realms of those who are much better at whatever it is than we are – not a bit better, which might spur us on to enhance our performance, but a lot better, presently unachievable for us – now that’s mean!

In terms of standards we are expecting of ourselves, well, it’s usually a level of perfection isn’t it! I know I have a tendency to expect my behaviour to be saintly in its compassion, forgiveness, kindness, equanimity, even though I know perfectly well that I’m no saint!

I am reminded of Robert Holden’s statement that there is no such thing as a happy perfectionist, and that is definitely true, because no matter how well we do, we are unlikely to hit perfection, so always have a reason to castigate ourselves rather than be pleased with ourselves.

Now these standards and expectations we set ourselves are largely unconscious, so a useful way to counteract their effect is to consciously decide what standard or expectation you will have about any particular aspect of your life where you tend to beat yourself up for not being good enough.

If we assess where we are now, and then set ourselves a small step further on, then we can have an assessment of our own progress which is fair, instead of another reason to be mean to ourselves. By doing this beforehand, we give ourselves motivation and encouragement before the event, instead of beating ourselves up after the event.

For example, if you tend to be impatient, see if you can take a deep breath and walk away from whatever is making you impatient the next time you feel it. If you’d like to be fitter, just set yourself to walk round the block once a day. Give yourself a sense of success and improvement rather than a sense of failure.

And remember, sometimes good enough is good enough. We aren’t here to be perfect, we’re here to be human.

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