Tag Archives | useful thoughts

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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SPRING FORWARD

When I was young and the clocks changed, my mum always used to say: ‘Spring forward, fall back’, to remind us which way they went. Well, we’ve just had ‘spring forward’ and I thought it was a good metaphor for where we are now.

The lockdown is gradually easing, more of us are now vaccinated and given some protection from the virus, the days are longer and milder – all forward movement.

And let’s continue to move forward, not backwards. I don’t want to ‘go back to normal’ – that’s not moving forward. Let’s take this opportunity that’s been given to us to evolve the way we live our lives.

I want to continue to appreciate the simple delights of life that became so obvious during this period: a new flower blooming in the garden; someone phoning unexpectedly for a chat; a bird singing its heart out; a good movie.

And I want to continue and expand upon my appreciation of the company and support of friends, without whom this period would have been unbearable.

We have all been reminded that life is unpredictable, so let’s live our lives to the full, and give those we love the heartfelt hugs we have missed so much.

Let’s work less and love more. Let’s moan less and laugh more. Lets’ ignore less and care more. Let’s spring forward.

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ONE THING TOO MANY

I’ve spent the last month or so gradually unpacking the contents of my home and sorting them. And in that period I have become aware of a bad habit I have.

Have you ever tripped over your own feet? Lost your temper when something you were fixing seemed to get worse not better? Dropped that pile of things you had carefully piled up in your arms so you only had to make one trip? If so, you may have this bad habit sometimes too…

I call it the one thing too many syndrome. It’s when you know in your guts that it’s time to stop, at least for a while, but your head says, ‘ I’ll just finish this, or move that or put the other away.’ It’s not only a denial of your own awareness, it’s also almost always a mistake! That extra task is when you drop something or break it, or when you can’t find what you’re looking for, or when you can’t get something to fit together, or when the right words won’t come to mind.

My impatience to get things done has led to frustration and more things to rectify rather than extra progress. So I am retraining myself to listen to my guts, and to assess what I can do against my own energy and enthusiasm levels rather than some external measure that says I could do more.

I know this really – I preach it to others. I know that we don’t have consistent energy or focus levels. I know we are not robots and we work more effectively in short bursts. I know that a bit of a break can make all the difference. And I know that overall I am far more productive when I work with myself rather than despite myself.

So I’m back n this learning curve – wouldn’t it be great if we got the message the first time around!! – doing half a task well instead of a whole task badly. It’s been a useful reminder to me – and if you recognise any of this, I hope it’s a useful reminder to you. As Winnie the Pooh suggests, if you allow yourself to stop and have a think, or a little honey, things do get done and you don’t wear yourself out.

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‘ENTHUSIASM IS HALFWAY TO SUCCESS’

I read this in a quote for the day that I receive, and laughed because I was avoiding clearing out my mailbox – something I had no enthusiasm for! It went on to say: ‘Whatever you’re doing, do it with gusto.’

So I was prompted to do a reset, and challenge myself to tackle the task in hand with a bit more gusto, and less reluctance. And of course, it took far less time and energy than I had imagined, and I felt pleased with myself for getting it done.

This reminds me of something one of my mentors said many years ago: ‘Give 100% to whatever you’re doing in this moment, and then take 100% off it once you’re finished.’

These are both reminders to stop predicting in a negative way, and to stop having ‘hangovers’ from whatever happened previously, neither of which are useful for our state of mind.

I don’t know about you, but I can be a lousy predictor – I often overestimate the difficulty or complexity of things, and rehearse ways of dealing with it in my mind, using lots of energy on something that hasn’t actually happened.

More useful are the times when I set myself up to be ready to have a go at something: make sure my ‘fuel tank’ is full and have some useful thoughts about it.

And of course, sometimes things don’t go as well as we would like, but recognising that this is just part of the deal, and letting it go, rather than replaying it or beating ourselves up about it – again, a waste of energy, since it won’t change anything – is much more useful. One of my favourite phrases is: ‘Oh well..’ It prompts me to let go of the not so good stories.

And by saving our energy with less prediction and less hangovers, we are more likely to do whatever we’re doing with gusto, because gusto is energy.

I may not always manage to be enthusiastic about clearing my mails, but at least I can do it with a bit of gusto!!

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IN THE EYE OF THE STORM

Our lives tend to be full of ‘storm’: the busyness of work, of everyday life, of the conflicting demands on our time and energy. It can be difficult to stop the constant buffeting and find a moment of peace.

When we do succeed in it, we usually do it by stepping away: going for a walk; going to bed; having a quiet bath. And those are great strategies, and important as ways of just giving ourselves a little break, a little space.

They also give us a chance to regain some perspective on what’s going on. By stepping away for a moment, we can see what’s really important, and what is merely a storm in a teacup!

And I am wondering about doing the opposite to stepping away and still finding some peace. After all, the story goes: in the eye of the storm, it is still, quiet. I think this is a tough one, so I am musing out loud.

I have had an opportunity to experiment with what the eye of the storm really means in our daily busyness, when it is not really possible to step away for more than a moment. What I have found is that it is a going in rather than a stepping away.

By this I mean that we need to find that peace inside ourselves. Now this is easy when we’re relaxed, peaceful already, in a place that’s comfortable, both physically and mentally, and no one is asking anything of us, including our own minds.

In the storm though?

So, we can begin by unpicking what actually happens

  1. I think it begins with our breath. Instead of that fast, shallow breath we tend to have when life is busy, we take a deep breath and let it out slowly – almost a sigh.
  2. Then we de-focus our eyes, allow our sight to be less clear, less sharp and focussed, so that everything is less defined and linear. And we may look at something in our environment that is pleasurable to see.
  3. As we do this, our faces begin to relax: our jaw softens, our mouth becomes less tense, our brows clear. We may even have a soft smile.
  4. With this, our minds begin to slow down, become quieter, and allow the possibility of peace.

With all of those, we can consciously choose to do them, even in the midst of chaos. We can use what our body does unconsciously when it happens naturally, and make them a set of conscious switches.

We could also help ourselves to make it easier by imbuing something we have with us regularly with that sense of peace. I almost always wear the same thing around my neck, so that’s easy. I just put my hand on it to remind myself. Or it could be your watch, or even one of your fingers! An alternative would be to just gently place one of your hands on your heart space.

And we can help to calm our minds by having a phrase we say to ourselves, such as: ‘From busy to quiet’, or ‘From chaos to calm’ – or whatever works for you. It is important to acknowledge the previous feeling or state and then gently suggest to your mind that it can move to that state of peace, just for a moment.

I am still at the experimental stage with this idea of finding peace in the eye of the storm, so these are only suggestions. You may find some even better ways – in which case, please let me know!

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WHAT DOES FAMILIARITY BREED?

We have an aphorism: familiarity breeds contempt. It has always felt somewhat cynical and pessimistic to me. It suggests that the more I get to know about something or somebody, the more faults I find, to the point where I lose respect for them or it.

I understand that one way we can interpret this is that it is easy to take for granted the thoughtfulness of those close to you, the comfort of being with people you know well, the everyday habits that you know how to work with.

And it is important to remind ourselves to appreciate and value these things, however familiar they may be. There is no guarantee that they will always be there, and our conscious appreciation is a way of affirming their importance in making our lives easier and more enjoyable.

To me, though, familiarity breeds three other underlying emotions that have tremendous value in our lives.

The first of these is trust. We get to know that there are aspects of our relationship that we can rely on and that stay no matter what. With a person, this may be knowing that they won’t betray a confidence, or that they’ll bounce us out of a bad mood.

The second of these emotions is comfort. We can settle back into the relationship, even after a space away, knowing how it will be, finding it easy, not having to make a great effort, accepting them as they accept us.

And the third one is affection. When we are familiar with someone, we are fond of them as a whole person, their mixture of characteristics, and even the thought of them makes us smile.

These are all important foundations which provide the basis from which we can move out to the unfamiliar, and thereby perhaps bring even more opportunities for appreciation, trust, comfort and affection – how lovely is that!!

Thank you my friends for being my familiars!!

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IF ONLY…

There are some phrases we would be better off not knowing, and one of them is: ‘If only…’ It almost always expresses regret about something in our past: ‘ If only I hadn’t eaten that chocolate cake’, or ‘If only I’d held my tongue in that conversation’, or ‘ If only they had noticed that I was struggling’.

Most of them give us reasons to beat ourselves up, and some of them give us reasons to resent other people. None of them are useful!

They are usually referring to things that have already happened, and we can’t change that. It’s a terrible waste of our energy to wish something in the past were different, and positively sinful to beat ourselves up about it!

The alternative is to use those thoughts as a means of doing something different in the future. We can use those phrases to help us to create a different story for ourselves from now on.

If I hear myself doing an ‘if only..’, I ask myself a couple of questions:

  1. Can I do anything to rectify it?
  2. How can I approach similar situations differently next time, so that it turns out in a better way?

Can I rectify it?

If I ate chocolate cake, it’s done! But if I was mean to somebody, or unfair, I may be able to apologise to them and acknowledge that I know I got it wrong.

If someone upset me and I’m holding a grudge, there’s not much I can do about being upset, although sometimes when we re-examine the situation, we have a different perspective on it, and realise that it wasn’t really that serious – we just took it that way at the time.

How can I approach similar situations differently next time, so that it turns out in a better way?

Here’s the useful bit!

If we think about alternative approaches we could use, we are doing two useful things:

  1. We are learning from our experience, instead of repeating the same errors, or beating ourselves up about it – and by the way, beating ourselves up about it means that we replay the experience and practise to do it again next time!
  2. We automatically play our improved version in our minds, and this is like rehearsing to do it more effectively next time we experience something similar, so we have some practice at the new improved way of handling it, and are more likely to use this version.

So next time you find yourself saying: ‘If only..’, use these two questions and stop it in its tracks!

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DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

Last weekend we went to see Bruce Lipton. If you don’t know of him, he was originally a cell biologist who has, over the years, gathered together some fascinating information about how our biology works, and drawn some great conclusions from that. (Find him on YouTube, or read his books – it’s inspirational and educative stuff). Amongst other things, he talked about stress and its effects, and provided me with a very useful reminder.
There are lots of reasons why stress is not good for us. It releases chemicals into our bodies, which shut down our immune system, our healing, and renewal and maintenance of cells. It also sends all our energy into our hindbrain – the primitive bit that produces knee-jerk reactions – which makes us behave stupidly. And we all know this at some level.
What I found particularly useful was to be reminded of how our bodies are stressed. There are 3 sources of stress:
1.    Physical trauma of some kind – when we are physically hurt
2.    Toxins entering the body. This could be through the food we eat or the air we breathe.
3.    Thought – our own thoughts about things.
And what he emphasised is that our thoughts are the most common and most powerful stressor that we experience. This got me thinking – I hope in a constructive way! – about the thoughts we have.
The ones that stress us most are the ones which are anchored in fear, the ones we call being anxious or worried. Now a lot of the time we know these thoughts are unnecessary and our minds are exaggerating them. You now the ones I mean – the ones like: ‘I’m running a bit late and my car might not start’, or ‘I’m feeling a bit under the weather – maybe I’ve got a degenerative disease’. We can recognise that we’ve taken 2 and 2 and made 400! And we can take a step back and realise that these are not obvious deductions, but a fear-based emotional reaction. A few deep breaths and a bit of perspective can help us to bring these thoughts back under control.
Of course, sometimes being anxious is justified: a physical pain we don’t recognise or understand; having to do something we don’t feel confident about; facing something which may well have a bad outcome, for example. We know when we’re having these sorts of thoughts because they ‘plague’ us. They keep creeping in through other things we’re doing, we can’t argue ourselves out of it with any logic, they affect our dreams.
In these cases, I think the solution is to do something about it, take an action to alleviate the situation. We can go to the doctor, ask for some help from others who have dealt with something similar, prepare ourselves thoroughly for something. Putting off doing something about it because we’re anxious just perpetuates the anxiety and therefore the stress, and that is just a vicious cycle. When we take an action, we are taking back some control, and that automatically alleviates the stress.
Let’s not give ourselves extra problems through stress we can do something about. Life’s too short!

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