Tag Archives | useful thinking

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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ACCEPTING THINGS AS THEY ARE

The other evening I was listening to an old album by Cat Stevens, and I’ve always loved the song ‘Moon Shadow’ (If you don’t know it, look it up – and listen to the lyrics as well as the beautiful melody). As I heard it again, it resonated even more with me than before, because it is about accepting things as they are, rather than fighting against your circumstances, and it was certainly a useful reminder for me!

At present I can’t be in my own home because it needs some big repair work after the fire I had, and I also recently tripped and cracked a rib which is very painful. So I’ve been feeling quite sorry for myself and railing against my bad luck. And what has that done for me? Just made me feel worse!

Wishing things were different never made it so, and in fact just emphasises whatever it is that we don’t want in our lives. On the other hand, accepting things as they are frees up our energy to look for ways of making it feel better.

It isn’t a passive giving in to the circumstances – that ‘poor me’ syndrome is caused by the contrast between how you’d like things to be and how they are. It is a simple ‘Well, this is how it is’, which leaves us room to actively begin to make the best of it, and space to begin to think about how we can adapt to make it work.

Once we say yes to how things are, we can start to be creative again, and help ourselves to improve the circumstances. I may have particular things to rail against at the moment, but this too will pass. And all of us have been suffering the restrictions due to the virus at a minimum, without anything extra to wish away.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever moan abut our circumstances and wish it were different – that would be denying our own feelings – but let’s keep it to a minimum, not in order to be ‘positive’ or a good person, but to keep our energy for something more useful.

After all, I may not be able to be as accepting as the song suggest, but a cracked rib means that I can’t do the hoovering, and I can choose new colours for the rooms in my house because they will be redecorating for me.

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THANK GOD FOR A SENSE OF HUMOUR!

I wrote a while ago about how kindness is good for us, and how it is showing its face more and more as this crisis goes on. The other aspect of our characters that is really useful at this time is our sense of humour.

They say laughter is the best medicine, and science backs this up – laughing releases health-giving chemicals into our bodies, and also helps us to let go of stress.

And there are streams of funny memes, tweets and video clips doing the rounds, to bring a smile to our faces. The TV channels have picked out some old sitcoms to replay in the space created by programmes that can’t now happen – they will certainly make some people laugh at them again. All of this will help keep us sane and in perspective, when everything else seems so serious and worrying.

And we can all play our part. We can actively choose to watch or listen to things that make us laugh. And we can tell others of the funny or absurd or silly things we’ve done or experienced while staying at home – I’ve done some, haven’t you?

I covered myself in dark green paint when I dropped the can and tried to catch it before it spilt, while painting the fence. It took ages to get it off my skin and there is still some on the clothes I was wearing. And I was glad there was no-one there to see me and I didn’t have to go out in public!

At the very least, we can smile at each other and say hello, even from two metres away! We don’t have to avoid emotional contact, only physical, so let’s spread more smiles, which are the beginning of laughter, when we are out for exercise or shopping.

We are living in absurd times – lets recognise the absurdity as well as the less positive aspects of it.

Find a reason to laugh today.

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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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ACTIVE AND PASSIVE CHOICES

‘You always have a choice, and you always make a choice.’

When John Grinder said this, I was sure he was wrong. After all, we sometimes have things imposed on us, and sometimes we have no control over what happens, and sometimes there seems to be no alternative, and sometimes others make decisions and we just go along with them.

It took me years to realise that he was right! The distinction isn’t between whether we have a choice or not, it’s between whether we make an active choice or a passive choice – bummer!!

Once you get this, it takes away all our excuses for being a victim of circumstance, and places the responsibility squarely on our own shoulders. And at the same time, this gives us the opportunity to be in full control of our own story.

We are all aware of our active choices, because we make them consciously. We decide to act or react in a situation in the way that feels right for us.

Passive choices are harder to spot, but symptoms include feeling like you have no control, or you can do nothing about it, or not speaking up when you know it would make a difference, or just feeling powerless. And in those circumstances, we can just take a moment to consider: what would make me feel better about this?

As soon as we ask the question, we are becoming active in our choice, even if we choose to do nothing. A simple example would be dealing with the weather – very relevant for me right now! We can bemoan the fact that it’s raining, the river is flooding, travel is difficult, or we can decide to dress for the weather and go out anyway, or to do something useful or fun at home. The weather doesn’t change, but our reaction to it does.

I have never felt comfortable with being a victim of circumstance – I’m obviously a control freak!  And I certainly prefer the feeling of making an active choice – don’t you?

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CLEANING UP YOUR ACT

We so often launch into things without stopping to consider what our intention is. And that’s OK a lot of the time.

Sometimes, though, it is useful to stop for a moment. It is those situations where you are ambivalent that benefit from that moment’s thought – otherwise we may find that we get caught in our ambivalence and end up doing it badly or resentfully.

I know that there are times when I am unclear about why I’m dong something. It may be a task: am I doing this ironing because it’s piled up and I should, or because I want to clear it and I’m in the mood? Once I’ve identified my own contradictory thoughts about it, I can choose which version of my intention to follow – or to leave the task until I’m genuinely ready to approach it in a positive way.

Of course, the same applies to interactions with others. We’ve all had those times where we’ve arranged to meet someone and then, as the time got nearer, wished we hadn’t. If we go into that situation without cleaning up our intention, we will be half-hearted in our connection and both sides will be dissatisfied.

Unclean intentions always result in muddied communication – a little sharpness in the voice tone, a lacklustre response, a misunderstood comment – which in turn can lead easily into disagreement or disappointment.

This doesn’t mean that we have to always approach everything in a positive way – it just means we think about what will work best for us, what outcome we want from the situation, which thread of our possibilities to follow, so it’s not accidental.

Those few moments asking myself what outcome I intend from anything I engage in can make my life easier and more enjoyable – and that’s always my intention!!

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THE INTELLECT IS A GREAT SERVANT BUT A POOR MASTER

 I was blessed and cursed with a strong intellect. The blessing is that I am bright and can learn quickly, and I can usually find a good argument for almost anything. The curse is that it can lead me to ignore my intuition and my heart.

I have had to cultivate and consciously grow my awareness of my true emotions – my heart – and my inner knowing – my intuition. I did this over the years, not because I am clever but because my cleverness didn’t bring me a happy and contented life.

We may have the ability to be logical and analytical, and this can be very useful. We can ‘work things out’ and do the pro’s and con’s on situations. But this is only using one part of our brain – the conscious mind – and it is a small percentage of who we are.

When it comes down to it, our decisions are usually based on emotion, not logic, so we need to understand and allow our emotions, and listen to our intuition. A great example of this is finding a home. We work out what we need, what we afford, but our final choice is, more often than not, based on how we feel about places we look at. The intellect gives us some parameters, but it cannot calibrate our feelings, and they are what will lead us to a real home as opposed to just somewhere to live.

In fact, as the master of the situation, our intellect can often lead us to indecision, fear, or even paralysis. It can tie us up in knots with its ability to analyse the situation, and we can end up not acting at all to make any change.

So, cultivate your emotions, ask your heart not your mind, to make final decisions. We may have a bright mind, but we all have an even brighter intuition, and it is the gift that leads us into happier, more enjoyable lives.

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20-20 VISION

Nobody knows yet what this year holds in store for us, so we have the opportunity to create at least our part of the vision of 2020.

I chose to call this 20-20 vision because it has the implication of perfect or ideal – and we all need to shoot for the stars in creating our story. If we aim to make things a bit better – or, even worse, not so bad – we are setting a very low bar. Better to set a high bar and not quite reach it – it’ll still be closer to that ideal.

So, the first question is: how do you want to be in 2020? This sets the tone for the other aspects of your creation of your story. Your answers will be descriptions of how you want to feel as you go thrugh the year. Examples might be: happy; healthy; calm; active; kind.

Then we can go on to the next question: what can you do to help yourself to be like that? Notice that this question emphasises the actions you can take for yourself. If the way you want to be depends on external influences, such as other people, or a good job, or a change of government, you will have already made yourself a victim of circumstance, rather than the creator of your own story.

I think it is useful to look at the different aspects of yourself in this next set of answers. Firstly, what can you do to help your mind stay in a positive, constructive attitude? Then, what can you do to help your body feel good? And finally, what can you do to keep your spirits good – ways of feeding your soul?

At this point it is useful to consider how others can help you to help yourself. Not depending on others actions doesn’t mean we have to do it all by ourselves.  We can ask for practical and/or moral support from others. Examples might be finding a ‘buddy’ to do some physical activity with, or asking a friend or partner to encourage you by noticing when you’ve done well in your intentions.

All of this is about making your everyday life closer to the story you want to have, because that’s what makes the most difference to how we feel. A wish list is all very well, but it’s every day that we create the story of our lies most consistently.

So come on, set a 2020 vision for yourself and decide to make it a good year for you, no matter what happens!

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WHAT GIVES US HOPE

My dad died recently, of old age – 97 – and I was lucky enough to be with him for his final days. Through this experience, I have had a grand dose of the incredible kindness of other people.

I had loving support and kindness from friends and family, but also from the doctor, the district nurses – thanks to our NHS! – the funeral director, the minister who took the service for his funeral, his neighbours, the lovely lady who cleaned for him, and then those people who deal with all the paperwork and processes post-death.

Everyone I’ve encountered has been helpful, considerate and supportive, and between them they have made the whole business easier to deal with.

I am sometimes questioned on my belief in the essential goodness of human beings, but yet again I have been reminded of just how lovely people can be, and not just those closest to you, but also complete strangers who have no emotional attachment.

It gives me hope for our world in the midst of the noisy surface chaos and mess and lack of care, because lying just beneath that surface is compassion and warmth. When we relate to each other from our hearts, we remind each other that we may have created the mess, but we can also create the solutions between us, because we are essentially caring beings.

Yet again I am reminded to stay with my optimism that we can create a better world.

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BE A LEARNER

My daddy loved to learn. He thrived at school and at college. As a small boy, he taught himself to make model aeroplanes. When in the RAF, he took up fencing, horse riding, sailing and ballroom dancing, as well as doing the day job.

When he got married and had a family, he learned how to do DIY, service his own car, grow fruit and veg, and do dressmaking. When computers first became available, he had one of the earliest models and even taught himself how to programme it as well as use it.

And in his later years, he decided to train as a reiki master, and researched not just that, but also nutrition, meditation and Wiccan.

The result, besides being multi-talented and able to turn his hand to anything, was that in his 90’s, he was still as bright as a button, with all his mental faculties. Even 2 days before he died, he was still giving me instructions on what to do with his things, and explaining how to make the perfect gin and tonic!

He was a great role model for the benefits of keeping the mind active and exercising its plasticity.

And it meant that he would constantly surprise me. He was set in his ways as far as habits were concerned and liked his routines, but mentally he expanded his horizons. For example, when Brexit came along, my dad – a conservative all his life – extolled the benefits of being in the EU, with more cogent reasons than any politician. I also got a full lecture on herbal supplements and their uses when I kept getting colds!

Staying active mentally, being curious about other possible points of view or approaches, exploring anything that interests you – these all give us not just knowledge, but also a level of wisdom, and enable us to be truly alive.

So let’s keep learning..

Dedicated to my beloved daddy, who died on 10th November 2019 of just old age,

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