Monthly Archives: September 2014

Keep a balanced scorecard

Remember that life brings darkness and dreams, and both are an important part of life.

I heard the most amazing song yesterday, and I’ve been singing it to myself for the past 24 hours. It’s from an Enya CD that Jon picked up at our local thrift shop over the weekend.

Here’s the opening verse:

Once you had gold,
Once you had silver,
Then came the rains
Out of the blue.
Ever and always, always and ever,
Time gave both darkness and dreams to you.

This seems to me to be a helpful thing to remember when we are in dark times: there are always dreams waiting for us too. So many songs are either about intense love or intense heartbreak, so it’s refreshing to see one that encompasses the spectrum of human experience in a more balanced way.

It reminds me of something a business advisor once told me: when you’re pitching an investor, always give a balanced scorecard. Don’t go in saying everything is wonderful, and don’t go in saying everything is terrible. Say what’s wonderful and what’s terrible, to give a complete and realistic picture.

I wonder what would happen if we gave each other balanced scorecards every day? When someone asks how you’re doing, rather than pretending everything is fine or complaining about how awful life is right now, why not share a bit of both? It might help you gain a bit of perspective on how your day, or your life, is really going.

Enya’s song, called Once You Had Gold, ends on an uplifting note:

What is the dark?
Shadows around you.
Why not take heart
In the new day?
Ever and always, always and ever…
Time gave both darkness and dreams to you.

May you have a balanced day with inspiring dreams lighting the darkness.

Love,
Alexandra

Why tackling small annoyances can make a big difference

If some small annoyance is getting to you, it can really pay to take a little time to put things right.

I bought new shoes last week, then wore them for the first time on Sunday when I walked rather more than I usually would.

I know, I know. You’re thinking it was foolish of me to put on brand new shoes then go for a long walk: you’re supposed to wear them in gradually. But the thing is, these shoes were exactly like another pair I’d already purchased, but in black instead of brown. (As you can tell, I favour outlandish colours when it comes to footwear.) The old ones were comfy from day one, so I expected the brown ones to follow suit.

Only they didn’t.

The pain certainly wasn’t agonising, but they definitely didn’t seem like a pair of old slippers, which is how I ideally like my shoes to feel. (But not look. Necessarily.)

When I took them off at night, though, imagine my chagrin when I discovered that the toes of both shoes still had screwed-up tissue paper stuffed into them, which was why they’d felt unsurprisingly bad-fitting.

Now, far be it from me to question the motives of a manufacturer sending out shoes with paper stuffed inside them (are you listening Mr Timberland?) but I do wonder why I didn’t sit down somewhere during the day to investigate what was causing the discomfort.

I thought of this when I read a story about someone seeing their neighbour’s dog sleeping on a wooden porch, right at the spot where he knew a rusty nail stuck out.

“Why doesn’t he move?” he asked his neighbour.

“He hasn’t got uncomfortable enough yet”, came the reply.

The point, I think, is that you and I sometimes put up with small annoyances which could so easily be remedied, if only we took a small amount of time to do so.

Frankly, life can be hard enough without having to endure minor hardships that can be readily fixed. Minor hardships can evolve into major ones if you’re not careful, and they can certainly add to your overall burden.

So what small thing is really getting to you at the moment? Is today a good time to finally take action? I think it might be.

Because, boy did those shoes feel better without the screwed-up paper.

Meet the man who’s been to every single country in the world

An inspiring new book will get you thinking in entirely new ways about giving your life a fresh sense of purpose and mission.

I thought I’d done pretty well to visit 17 countries in the year’s travelling I did when I was forty, but my achievement was as nothing when compared to the extraordinary odyssey undertaken by Chris Guillebeau.

Chris, you see, set himself the goal of visiting every single country in the world by the time he was 35, and to cut a long story short, he pulled off this mission in exemplary style by travelling to all 193 countries before it was time to blow out the candles on his birthday cake in 2013.

Chris blogs and runs events, and also writes rather good books, the latest of which is published today – I had the privilege of reading a proof a couple of weeks ago.

The Happiness of Pursuit (great title by the way) is an awesome collection of stories about people who found ‘quests’ that brought purpose to their life, just as Chris’s own world-travel mission has done to his own.

Three of my favourites?

1. Two guys who got fired by Apple, but then carried on sneaking into their office for months to finish off a project they were working on, which actually ended up getting shipped to customers. By Apple.

2. A young man who walked across America. Oh yes, traversing the Mojave Desert on the way.

3. A woman who went on dates in all fifty of America’s states from Alabama to Wyoming.

There are dozens more tales where these came from, and something that struck me powerfully as I read the book is (a) how empowering it can feel to have a sense of purpose and mission in your life, and (b) how dreadfully easy it is to lose this if you’re going through a shabby time mood-wise.

On a grey day I know it’s probably unrealistic to set yourself big audacious goals, but I do wonder if reading about others’ missions might inspire you, leaving you believing that you may be capable of more imaginative objectives than you’ve previously felt possible.

The Happiness of Pursuit has certainly got my own goal-setting juices flowing. Perhaps it could do the same for you?

Find out more about Chris’s brand new book.

Why low moods sometimes occur for no reason

Sometimes low moods occur for no good reason, so don’t beat yourself up looking for something that isn’t there.

People sometimes seem to believe that there always has to be an external reason for feeling as you do. I’m not sure this is true though.

When you suffer (as I do) from intermittent visits from the dreaded black dog, there’s an understandable tendency for other people to try and rationalise it, to attempt to find causes and reasons. You may even be tempted to do so yourself.

I think it’s a pretty standard thing for a human being to do. We’re programmed to make sense of things and if we can’t, it’s not unusual to find an explanation that might fit, then convince ourselves that we’ve cracked the conundrum.

But after tracking my own mood for almost seven years, I’m pretty convinced that there can very often be times when you feel bleak for no particular reason.

You just are.

Identifying a supposed cause suggests that you may be able to tackle your bleakness by removing it, but this can lead to a never-ending cycle of dissatisfaction, moving on from jobs, people and places simply because you’re maybe mistakenly blaming them for your feelings.

I think we sometimes just have to accept that we feel bad, and acknowledge that the underlying cause may just be, well, because we are.

Of course this (definitely) doesn’t mean giving up and giving in. You and I talk day to day about the things we can do to give us a lift and a boost. It makes huge and enormous sense to lead a life that adds to your wellbeing rather than gnawing away at it.

But spending too much time searching for something that may not be there, doesn’t. It really doesn’t.

How to avoid mutual moaning sessions

Use all your efforts to prevent conversations going bad – focus on the good stuff.

‘You won’t believe the week I’ve had.’

Interesting, isn’t it, how often conversations with others can slip into exchanging the catalogues of disasters which have befallen both of you?

It can end up as a kind of one-downmanship in which each competes to out-gloom the other.

And it turns what could have been an opportunity to lift one another up, into just the opposite. We part having had a good grumble, but having failed to get the lift that a really good conversation can deliver.

Generally, though, there are ways of steering a conversation out of bluesville.

For a start you can help to set its tone yourself by talking about your own good stuff (there’s usually some even on the shabbiest of days) rather than running through all your woes.

It also makes good sense to ask about the areas of the other person’s life that tend to be positive rather than the bits you know have a tendency to make them crabby.

Talking about bad stuff may leave you feeling bad. But talking about good stuff… well that’s another story altogether.

Why it’s always good to connect

Connections with others are too important to leave to chance, so why not schedule some “we time”?

I’m sitting in my local coffee shop writing this, with three highly animated conversations going on around me.

Each involves a pair of women. All seem fully engaged, leaning towards one other, with proper two-way dialogue taking place in all three.

(I’m not listening, ladies, honest.)

It’s creating a pleasant buzz in the room, alongside the classical music soothing its way out of the speakers.

And what a good reminder of the joy of conversation, the power of dialogue, the absolute pleasure of a jolly good chat.

I don’t know about you, but I nearly always feel better after I’ve interacted with someone else. I think our connections have the potential to lift our spirits.

Yet all too often we rely on chance for them to actually happen.

Something this good shouldn’t be left to serendipity. Just as the six women around me have clearly arranged to meet this morning – simply to talk – I reckon it makes sense for you to do the same.

So who can you get together with? Where will you get together?

And more importantly, when?

How to give yourself a lift by saying thank you

Sending someone an unexpected thank you card is a great way to give you both a boost.

I’d like to thank my manager, my agent, my parents, my next-door neighbours, the man who sells me a newspaper in the morning.

We’re all familiar with the Academy Award winners’ speeches, during which it’s evidently de rigueur to publicly express your undying gratitude to everyone you’ve ever rubbed shoulders with.

Nice for those thanked, I’m sure, but maybe a bit meaningless to everyone else?

Underneath it all, however, saying thank you is a fantastic thing to do for all concerned.

It’s wonderful to be thanked, of course. But there’s much to be gained by the thanker, too.

A while ago I bought myself a dozen ‘no message’ greetings cards which I carried around wherever I went.

Then whenever I had a few spare minutes, I wrote a few words of thanks to someone who’d made a difference to me on one of them and popped it in the post.

It was fun (and easy) to do, and the cards seemed to go down well with their recipients.

So why not give it a try yourself?

They don’t all have to be Big thank you’s either. I’m sure the man who sells you a newspaper in the morning will be tickled pink to get one.

Three strategies for liking yourself better

Loving yourself is great, but self-liking is a good first step. Learn by looking at ways of getting along with people you dislike.

I guess we’ve both been in situations which meant spending time with people with whom we didn’t really click. Circumstances may have even made it necessary to try and get along with someone we actively disliked. It could have happened in a work or educational environment, for example. Or perhaps we didn’t much like a friend’s friend but had to grin and bear them.

I think, when you weigh it up, that there are strategies which make it possible to “like” someone a bit more than you actually do.

I’m going to remind ourselves of them for a rather unconventional reason, however.

Because what if the person you don’t much like is not someone else, but you?

It’s really pretty common to dislike yourself – as I have – if you’re going through a bad patch. It’s also pretty debilitating.

So what can we learn from the “how to get along with people you don’t like” school of thought which might help like ourselves better? Here are three suggestions:

1. Instead of focusing on what you don’t like about that person (you), try to figure out their strengths. Please don’t dwell on your probably temporary negative characteristics (I’m miserable), but instead bring to mind your strengths (I’m a great and sympathetic listener).

2. Listen properly to what this person (you) has to say. Rather than dismissing your internal negative dialogue, lend yourself an understanding ear with the goal of understanding yourself better.

3. As Alex recently reminded us in a quotation attributed to Plato: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind always.” Few people glide through life without fighting battles and I’m sure you’re no exception. So give yourself a break, and honour the fact that you almost certainly have a legitimate right to feel as you do.

Would you like to like yourself better? I’m sure you would, and so would I.