Tag Archives | well-being

SOLITUDE

There is something lovely about being on your own. We often confuse being solitary or alone with being lonely, feeling deprived of company. The two do not necessarily follow: we feel lonely if we wish we did have company, but being alone is a choice to enjoy your own company.

And that choice allows the possibility of just doing and being whatever we feel like – it is a form of freedom. When no-one else is involved we have the opportunity to follow our own rhythms, to indulge our own fancies, to consider ourselves first.

We can eat and drink what we like, when we like. We can sing our hearts out, or have complete quiet. We can get up when we’re ready to, or lie in bed with a cup of tea and read a book. We can even have complete control of the TV remote!

In our busy world, it is good for us, once in a while, to have some solitary time. It allows us to replenish our energy, and that freedom to be completely ourselves,

So this year, see if you can find yourself a little solitary time. If you live with others, suggest they go out for the day, and bask in the freedom of solitude for a little while.

May 2019 be a great year for you!!

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CAN YOU LET YOURSELF HAVE A DAY OFF?

I’ve just spent ten days pushing myself to keep going and finally realised that I knew better – I needed to let myself have a day off. That made me reconsider what a day off really means.

In this case, I was feeling somewhat under the weather – just not well. I made some allowance for it, cutting down on my expectations of myself, but I wasn’t willing to ‘give in’ to it. The consequence was that I didn’t even meet the expectations I did have of myself, so got cross with myself, or did and felt unreasonably exhausted. And of course, my health didn’t improve at all.

So eventually I remembered that the answer is to remove all the expectations, even those we aren’t usually conscious of, like getting washed and dressed or answering the phone. I spent two days doing what I felt like when I felt like it, with no list of must do’s at all, and I feel so much better for it!

It’s the removal of expectations that makes it a real day off, because that frees you up to genuinely follow your own body and heart preferences. It doesn’t mean doing nothing – unless that is what you feel like – nor taking some of the tasks off the list. It means giving yourself free rein for a day.

Usually we fill our days with expectations of ourselves, which come from us, from our culture and from others, so can be quite a collection! We assess how successful our day was by measuring ourselves against these expectations – and frequently fail to come up to the mark!

If we do allow ourselves a bit of space, because we’re feeling a bit ‘off’ in some way, or sometimes because we think we’ve earned it, that usually means that we take a few of the expectations off the list for the day. ‘I’ll leave the washing till tomorrow, or make that phone call later in the week, or finish that task another day.’ So we load our next few days a bit more, and still have the rest of our expectations of ourselves in the day we have alleviated.

I have known for a long time that a day without any expectations of myself at all, except to do just what I feel like doing, is as good as a holiday. It allows my mind and body to reset and refresh themselves. And yet I realise that, although I am kinder to myself than many, I rarely give myself permission to really take time out from the demands of everyday life.

So I won’t be waiting next time till I’m desperate for that relief. I’m going to write some days off into my diary, and teat them as a priority for my mental and physical health.

So what about you? Do you let yourself have real days off? And if you don’t, can you plan one in and experiment with it?

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JUST BEING HERE NOW

We spend so much of our lives doing stuff: work, chores, going places, watching things, talking with others. Even when we’re not busy doing, we’re usually busy in our heads: reviewing what’s already happened or thinking about what’s ahead of us.

And in all this occupation, we miss something important: this moment now. If we stop for a little while, we can appreciate our world, and be with ourselves more completely. I don’t mean some grand or difficult version of being present. I just mean that moment of noticing what’s happening around you, what’s going on with you, how you are in this moment.

For example, I am sitting in a courtyard with warm air around me. There are noises of people and movement and cars outside but they don’t feel intrusive – they just highlight the peacefulness of this spot. I am enjoying my morning cup of coffee and feel quite relaxed. And I feel comfortable with myself this morning. That’s it! It doesn’t have to be deep and meaningful – it is just a way of being present for a moment, before the mind rushes off somewhere else.

As we stop, we notice more of what’s around us in the world and can appreciate the buzzing of the bees, the light playing on the wall in front of us, the colour of a favourite cushion – whatever it may be – and take a little taste of delight. We can also assess our own state and if necessary, do something to improve it.

So why not take a moment now, to just be here, now, – and then another in an hour or so. It gives us an extra fillip to our everyday.

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THE RICHNESS OF LIVE EXPERIENCE

Last night, my friend and I went to see James Taylor in concert. It was wonderful and just reminded me of the vast difference between a virtual experience, through a screen, or listening on a player, and actually being there for the live experience.

Visually, it was captivating, musically it was perfect and delighting, yet it was so much more than that. The atmosphere was all-enveloping and warm, and the feelings evoked in us were obviously shared and therefore amplified by those around us. And James Taylor exuded love and joy and warmth which helped create that closeness with the band and the audience that grew with every moment – a wonderful feedback loop.

It was filling my memory bank with delight, and at the same time, calling to the front similar memories, linked to James Taylor, his music, other great concerts, and just joyous moments.

I came out completely filled up and replete, body and soul, with another amazing experience shared with my friend in both our stores of good times. And I was reminded of why I go to a concert rather than watching it on TV, or listening to the cd. It gives me so much more.

And on an everyday level, I also realised why I so much prefer spending time with someone face-to-face, rather than talking on the phone or emailing, messaging, texting. It involves so much more exchange of all sorts of information, and opportunity to influence the feedback loop between us.

I like my life to be rich. I can treat myself to the odd concert, but I can also enjoy the richness of live experience with people, with places, with life. How lovely is that!

Do exploit every possible moment of live experience – it’s so much more wholesome, in every sense of the word, than anything else we’re given.

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YOUR ENERGY BANK

We all have bank accounts for our finances, and most of us manage them with some care, because we know that being overdrawn is not good – in fact it costs us even more than we owe.

It is the perfect metaphor for our energy levels, because our energy is equally vital for our survival, yet most of us take very little care of our energy banks.

Our energy banks fluctuate more, but at the same time, they are easier to top up – we are not reliant on an external input once a month, and can have more control over both inputs and outgoings.

What do I mean? Well, the inputs to your energy bank are simply all those things that energise you, many of which you can actively bring into your life. And the outgoings are all those things that drain your energy, many of which you can exert some control over.

For example, you may find physical activity energising, or the company of good friends, or just having a rest. You may find certain aspects of your work draining, or certain relationships, or housework.

By the way, it is a little more complex than this: sometimes the same activity can be both draining and energising at the same time, so we need to assess whether the overall ‘balance’ is in the black or the red. And some activities may be draining one day, yet energising the next: for example, you may feel good doing some gardening one weekend, and exhausted by doing it the next weekend.

Our energy bank matters because it is what fuels us to live our lives well. When it’s well topped up, we achieve more, we are happier, and we are lovely to be around! When it’s in the red, everything becomes more difficult, and we damage our health by over stretching ourselves.

Obviously we can’t control everything that happens in our lives. There will always be the unexpected or unavoidable that lands in our laps and drains our energy bank – or tops it up!

However, we can learn to notice what’s going on with our energy bank, and deliberately choose to do something to top it up if it is running a bit low. By becoming consciously aware of it, we can ensure that we keep it as well-filled as possible.

So start by making a list of some of those things that usually give you an energy boost, and those that usually drain you – you know what they are, and you know which ones are within your control, because your physical and emotional reactions tell you. Then list those that can come into both categories, so you are aware of them.

And now find a couple of extra things you could put on the energy-giving list. They don’t have to be complicated: reading a chapter of an enjoyable book; phoning a friend; dancing to a favourite music track.

With this awareness, you can now take more care of your energy bank balance. You can plan in some energy-givers, particularly when you have to do something that drains you, and when you have time to do some extra topping up.

If you have a healthy energy bank account, the world is your oyster, life automatically gets better.

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IS THIS USEFUL TO ME?

Sometimes we all make our own life harder for ourselves. One of the more subtle ways we do so is by the way we think about our experience of life. Most of us have a constant inner commentator who pronounces judgements on us as if there is a scorecard with our name on it, with a ridiculously high pass mark against every activity, behaviour and thought.

For example, we may decide to try cooking something different for a change. Our inner commentator points out that we probably haven’t allowed enough time for the new recipe, and that it hasn’t turned out like the picture in the recipe book. What’s more, those we cooked it for don’t really appreciate it anyway. And then that same commentator will criticise us for being a perfectionist and needing validation from others!

It is rare that our inner commentator says: ‘Well done for having a go’ or ‘That was a really good first attempt.

We need to learn to interrupt the commentator with its judgement and high pass marks. It puts us in a position of failure and disappointment over and over again.

Firstly, we need to change the pass mark into something more helpful. This means noticing whether it is a step in the right direction for us: ‘Am I doing a bit better than I did before?’ ‘ Have I made a slight improvement?’ This sort of measurement is not done moment by moment: it measures our general pattern. For example: ‘ I’m getting better at experimenting with something new’ or ‘I’m more willing to take a risk.’

Secondly, we need to remind our commentators that were human, not perfect beings. We won’t always get it ‘right’, we do slip sometimes, and our progress is not generally linear – it is more like an upward spiral, which sometimes goes downwards, but gradually reaches new heights.

Lastly, and most fundamentally, we need to interrupt the negative and critical thoughts and behaviours by asking a simple question: ‘ Is this useful to me?’ if our intention is to grow our lives into something more joyous and constructive for us, we need to question whether that thought or behaviour is helping us to do that, rather than judging it right or wrong, good or bad.

If our immediate response to the question, ‘Is this useful to me?’ is yes, then we are fine. If it is no, then there is a second question that naturally follows on: ‘So what would be more useful?’

For example, if my conclusion in the cooking experiment is that I won’t bother to do it again, as a result of the commentators’ views, I may decide that it’s useful because cooking is not really my thing, and I could use my energy on something that I do like doing. Or I may decide that it’s not a useful conclusion, and it would be more useful to cook something a bit simpler next time I experiment.

When we ask ourselves if our thought or behaviour is useful, we remind ourselves of the likely impact of it on us and others, and have a choice for how we move next. We help ourselves to grow the life we want.

So just start adding in that question, when you get caught up in the negative cycle. Is this useful to me? And if not, what would be more useful?

 

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WE ALL NEED A CUDDLE SOMETIMES!

I’d just picked up the paper and pen to write my blog when my cat, Smokey, came in. He looked at me and my occupied hands and knees, and then leapt up anyway, draping himself over the paper and pushing his head against the hand holding the pen. I gave in and cuddled him instead for five minutes!

Both my cats do this. They are very insistent when they want a cuddle, and obviously consider it to be far more important than anything else I’m doing. And I usually give in to their demand for two reasons.

Firstly, I like the reminder that it’s important to have some affection shown to you – more important than most other things. And I admire their clarity about seeing it as a right to ask for that when they feel they need it. Most of us have that feeling of needing some affection from time to time, but as grown-ups we’re less likely to voice it clearly.

Children know that hugs and cuddles make everything feel better, but we learn to stop asking for it – just that once or twice when we’re told it’s not the right moment, or to be a big girl or boy is enough to inhibit us. And hoping someone might realise what we want is not very productive – most of us can’t mind-read the needs of those we love.

The second reason I give in to the cats is that giving them a cuddle makes me feel good as well – in fact, sometimes I do wonder if they are doing it for me rather than just for themselves. I get the warmth of their body, the soothing effect of their purring, the reminder that affection is a silent and powerful exchange.

Wouldn’t it be great if we just stopped sometimes, in the middle of all our doing, and asked for a hug or a cuddle! We’d all benefit from that, wouldn’t we?

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BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Oh dear, when are we going to remember that we’re only human, not super – man or woman, not an angel of perfection!

I keep being reminded that we are taught too well to be critical of ourselves, and to expect more from ourselves than we do from anyone else. It is so mean!! We wouldn’t be so harsh with any of our friends or family because we recognise that they are only human, with ups and downs, good moods and bad moods, motivated days and apathetic days..

I have learnt that I ebb and flow – sometimes inspired, sometimes daft as a brush – nothing is constant in me and my moods. And of course, that is our natural state – we aren’t robots or machines that can just keep going at a constant speed in a consistent way. The trick is to take advantage of the times of motivation and energy and let ourselves off and have a bit of a rest when we don’t feel like doing all that stuff – most of it is not actually that important anyway. I find I set myself ridiculous targets and deadlines, and then beat myself up for not meeting them. So I have to re-assess every morning – not whether I have ‘succeeded’ or not, but whether I have been giving myself too much to achieve. Ad if I have, I need to reduce the targets for that day. By doing this regularly, I can keep my tendency to make myself feel bad to a minimum!!

So this week, how about being kind to yourself? I is getting colder, the days are shorter, Christmas is coming and we are feeling the pressure of present-buying, card-sending and stocking up for that – we deserve a break!

So let yourself off, be a little kind to yourself, sit down with that cuppa and relax for 10 minutes, take that extra thing off your list – it can wait – treat yourself to something that makes you feel good, remind yourself of how much you have done, rather than what you have not done. Let’s have a being kind to yourself week – you wouldn’t be so mean with anyone else – don’t do it to yourself!

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MAGIC MOMENTS

It is so easy to miss the magic moments in our lives. They come in many forms, and it is not as if they usually have some major significance – they are just little reminders of what it’s all really about.

I’m talking about seeing the sun’s beams of light coming through the clouds, hearing a baby giggling with delight at something, smelling the scent of jasmine or roses as you walk past, that first mouthful of really good coffee or tea, feeling a few slight drops of rain on your skin when it’s been hot, exchanging a smile with a stranger you pass on the street.

These magic moments interrupt our normally busy minds, if we allow them in, and just for a moment, we stop and smile. And that moment is like a reset button. It puts a little more spring in our step, it lightens our thinking, it interrupts any negative stories we are creating in our heads, it gives us an opportunity to start again in our day.

Now we are all more likely to notice the magic moments when we are not caught up in our normal everyday lives. I always realise that there are hundreds of them every day when I am on Maui and taking life easy – and then tend to forget again when I get back to my normal life!

And I’m getting slowly better at noticing them no matter what is going on, because I recognise how much they can make a positive difference to my day.

So once in a while, let something catch your eye or ear, and give it a moment’s attention. Once in a while, just stop and appreciate that taste or smell, or sensation on your skin. Once in a while, look up and notice the person smiling, the baby laughing.

Let’s all have magic moments in our lives – they are there for the taking, if we give them a chance.

 

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BREAK THAT SPIRAL

Do you have any of those thoughts that spiral round and round in your head? You know the ones I mean: the ones that make us feel bad about ourselves. ‘I’m looking awful these days’, or ‘I always get that wrong,’ or ‘I’m not very good at…’ they can be like a stuck record, only worse, because they don’t just keep repeating, they seem to collect extra debris on the way, and add to their weight and criticism or fearfulness! So ‘I always get that wrong’ collects things like, ‘and I get this wrong as well, and oh this too..’ and after a while, we begin to believe we don’t get anything right. What’s more, we think that ‘everyone’ must think we’re an idiot!

It’s like having a computer virus in your head, gradually infecting your thinking until it seems to have taken over.

Well, the good news is that it is easier to tackle than a computer virus, because it isn’t really infecting anything. It would be more useful to view it as a vacuum cleaner. It’s collecting some of the crap you’ve got lying around in your thoughts, and if you were to empty the dust bag, you could get rid of some of the thoughts that are no longer useful to you, and have more space to notice the other, more useful thoughts that have been hidden by that carp!

So next time you notice that you’ve got one of those spirals going on in your head, empty the dust bag and clear them out! Write them on a scarp of paper and put them in the waste bin (not the recycling!). And remember, you’ve probably got quite a few similar bits of crap floating around somewhere in your mind – we collect a lot over our lifetime – so you may need to repeat the process. And each time you do, your mind has a little more space to put useful thoughts in. so remind yourself of some of your lovely qualities, and store something more useful in those spaces!

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