Monthly Archives: November 2014

Remember the good times?

I guess it’s human nature.

We tend to dwell on those things which have gone wrong, often completely failing to relive those which were successful, happy and exciting.

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Sometimes it may seem we believe that constantly replaying the sadder, badder stuff might make it all go away, whereas it often just assumes more and more importance, usually far in excess of its actual significance.

If you’re anything like me you’ve probably got quite good at ruminating over negative events, seeing the pictures in your mind just as clearly as they were when whatever it was first happened.

Often, though, a distorting filter gets placed in front of the lens, so the pictures you see are actually a misinterpretation of what actually took place.

It may be difficult, but there’s a lot to be said for thinking like a detective when the nasties show up in your head time after time.

Was it truly and honestly as awful as you think? Was everything about it as bleak as you remember?

And most important of all, is there honestly any value in playing it back as often as you do?

So here’s a thought. If you’ve become an expert at creating these remembered images, why not put your skills to better use now and then by re-running memories of an especially good and happy event?

Visualise the sights and sounds. Concentrate hard on re-imagining the thoughts you had at the time.

It’s surprising how well this can work, and how swiftly it can bring a small smile to your lips.

How to get better at acceptance

Practice? Practise?

I don’t know about you but it’s one of those spellings I really have to think about, like ‘effect’ and ‘affect’.

But even when you come down firmly on the side of one (practice, say) there may still be more than one way of looking at it.

As a verb, it can either mean ‘to do or perform often, customarily, or habitually’ – as in ‘practice politeness’.

Alternatively its definition can be ‘to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient’ – as in ‘practice the act’.

This is a slightly roundabout way of introducing the concept of us having much to gain when we ‘practice acceptance’, the idea that it is generally self-defeating to try and change those things we stand no hope of influencing.

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Now, in its original form, I suspect the version of ‘practice’ which was meant was the ‘customarily or habitually’ one, but in a neat semantic twist, maybe it’s also handy to think about the other one – working repeatedly at acceptance so we become better at it?

I suspect that you can’t go from accepting nothing to accepting it all overnight. I’m sure that just like all change, progress will be slow and steady.

But any progress is progress, and every journey can be thought of as a series of steps.

So could it be that the best way to practice acceptance is to practice, every day?

Why actually helping can beat offering help

My friend Anne and I were comparing notes about what generally happens when people around you realise that you’re having a hard time of things.

Often they truly want to help, but nine times out of ten this gets translated into them asking what they can do for you, one of the most frustrating offers in the world.

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Yes, you want help (sometimes desperately) but no – you’ve nowhere near enough strength to organise your thoughts sufficiently to ‘brief’ them.

As Anne said, ‘Don’t ask me how you can help, just tell me what you’re going to do, and do it’.

When times are tough, it may feel you’re using every ounce of your meagre resources simply to keep the plates spinning.

When a well-meaning friend asks how they can help, you’ve literally no capacity to work out a strategy. Better by far if they assume responsibility for a couple of plates. ‘I’ll look after these two’ – they’re likely to be the words you want to hear.

However, what happens if you agree with this principle but don’t know how to suggest it to others?

Two ideas spring to mind.

You could always lead by example – help others as you’d like to be helped yourself.

But if the need’s more urgent, why not let me do the seed-sowing? Just forward this email to a friend or two.

Almost certainly they’ll be only too pleased to know that the best way to help you is to simply roll up their sleeves and make a start on something, anything.

How you may be stronger than you think

Standing a mug on a sheet of the sort of paper you put in your computer printer is easy. Lay the paper on the table, then place the mug on the paper. Simples.

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What’s the result, however, when you’re told that only one edge of the paper may be in contact with the top of the table? Not quite so straightforward, is it?

Without a little forethought, sheets of paper don’t like standing vertically.

I’m sure you’re way too busy for me to leave you in suspense, so let’s cut to the chase and agree that among many possible solutions, rolling the paper into a 2 inch (5 cm) tube secured with a length of sticky tape, would result in a ‘column’ almost certainly sturdy enough to support the weight of a mug.

Please empty its contents before you try it though. Nasty things, dry cleaning bills.

This isn’t really about paper engineering, though. It’s more a suggestion that perhaps your life is like this sheet of paper.

You have surprising strengths. You can achieve things you may have imagined impossible.

But you (and I) will only do this with the right structure around you.

It may well be that you’re doing something day-in, day-out that could be oh-so different with a spot of rolling and sticking.

Have a think. Then, perhaps, give it a try.

Displace negative thoughts by paying proper attention to your surroundings

Just like a TV or radio, your mind generally shows just one channel or station at a time.

At times you may be doing the equivalent of itchy-fingered channel hopping, flitting between various thoughts for seconds at a time. But the truth is, when you’re genuinely thinking about one thing it’s almost impossible to focus on another at the same time.

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Perhaps, then, when you’re bogged down with the sort of negative thinking you’d rather not have, one way to help yourself is to occupy your mind with another matter, leaving no space for the bad stuff?

Easier said than done, you may think. Especially if your life feels as if it’s built on a raft of worries. It may seem that the only alternative to brooding about (a) is to fret about (b) or (c) instead.

I think this is where paying proper attention to your surroundings may come in.

In the Scouts we played ‘Kim’s Game’, in which you were shown a tray with a couple of dozen objects on it (knife, paintbrush, key, comb etc), then when the tray was covered over, you had to try and recall what you’d seen.

In the trickier version, one item was removed, then the tray was shown again, the challenge being to identify the object no longer there.

If you’ve played the game yourself, you’ll know that it’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds. It involves some seriously focused concentration.

Why not put this technique to work next time your thoughts take you to a place in which you’d rather not be?

Take a good look at your surroundings – a really good look – and take proper notice of them. Think hard about what you’re seeing. You’ll give your worries a respite.

Sometimes it can be a blessing that we do mainly have one-track minds.

That one person who truly understands you

We love to classify things, organising the world into neat little boxes.

But then along comes the mule.

There were the zoologists, secure in the knowledge that they’d classified horses and donkeys as separate species, then they turned their backs just for a minute and – what do you know – a male donkey gets jiggy with a female horse and around a year later out pops an in-betweeny, a mule.

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I’ve obviously led a sheltered life, as while researching this, I learnt that the opposite, er, coming together of a female donkey and a male horse (you are keeping up, aren’t you?) may lead to a rarer offspring known as a hinny.

The thing is, our neat little classification systems often break down, and insisting that everything has a box and that everything is in its box may lead us astray at times.

I thought of this during a fascinating conversation with people who supposedly have the same bipolar disorder as me.

Although our experiences had much in common, there were whole chunks that were very different from each other.

When you face your own challenges with mood, it’s tempting to believe that someone else who’s gone through similar times will know exactly how you feel.

But very likely they won’t, and can’t.

It’s why it’s so important to use your best efforts to make sense of your own feelings. Others can definitely help, but when it comes to true understanding, there’s only one real expert.

You.

How disagreements can become a thing of the past

Arguments sit at the very core of politics and law.

One side has its point of view, the other another.

Then it’s all about attack and defence, back and forth, parry and thrust, which for an outsider can seem bewilderingly confrontational.

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I never really got the debating society thing at school which very possibly is why I’m neither a politician nor a lawyer.

Despite this, I think most of us feel we’re ‘supposed’ to defend our point of view. When someone takes an opposing position about something in which you hold a belief, it can feel like an attack on you.

And when we’re attacked, we’re programmed to defend ourselves, which may sometimes take the form of fighting back.

Often, though, what really is the point?

Just as you’re hardly likely to agree with everyone else’s way of seeing things, neither are they always going to concur with yours.

You only have so much mental energy, and when the fuel tank is low, pursuing arguments can drain you.

So, maybe, just don’t.

A friend once told me that I should feel no need to defend my point of view.

And you know what? There’s no arguing with that.

Every now and then, unplug

Although I don’t really feel old, I do remember a time before technology.

My parents didn’t have a television until a few years after I was born. We didn’t have a telephone until I was old enough to remember it being installed.

There were no computers, games consoles or iPods.

But to claim there was ‘no’ technology wouldn’t be correct.

There was an old-fashioned valve radio in the living room which took a few seconds to warm-up and come on. There was a record player with its associated stack of shellac 78s.

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I don’t feel old, but I’m all-too aware that writing this does make me look very ancient indeed.

The thing is though, we’ve probably all had gizmos and gadgets around us for most of our lives. They’ve become hugely more complicated and sophisticated, but one way or another we’ve adopted them as part of our lives.

Good or bad thing?

Well not surprisingly I’m in favour of a lot of the fantastic stuff that technology allows us to do.

As a teenager I published my ideas to fifty people at a time using a primitive spirit duplicator (I loved the smell of the copies). Now I can write to thousands of people a day, sitting at a table in a university library.

But simply because technology can be incredibly useful, doesn’t mean it should be allowed to take over our lives.

From time to time it can be enormously liberating to unplug. To not check your email every few minutes. To leave your phone at home.

To just be.

Try it. You might like it.

Perk yourself up – learn some new tricks

One of my favourite cartoons appeared in the New Yorker in 1993. A couple of dogs are in conversation, and the one sitting at a computer declares: ‘On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.’

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I’ve always loved it, and it seems I’m not the only one. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

Now, to the best of my knowledge dogs tend to spend little of their time on the computer (although who knows what they get up to when we’re not looking?) but they can be trained to do some other pretty impressive stuff.

And the trick, apparently, when trying to persuade a pooch to adopt new behaviour is to reward them when they do.

Maybe this works with humans, too? And more particularly, perhaps with you?

Very possibly there’s something you could do today which might help you feel better, but ordinarily you’d put it off because it feels like too much effort.

A bit of exercise, say (a short walk would be fine). Writing a thank-you letter. Tidying some clutter at home or work.

If so, why not think like an animal trainer? Complete the action then give yourself a reward. It doesn’t have to be substantial, just a little something that will pep you up.

Preferably not a dog biscuit though.

Why today’s the day that things could change

I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the general concept of ‘the moment that changed my life’, the stuff of which compelling stories are told.

Perhaps it was when great lovers first met, when an individual discovered they had an amazing talent or – maybe – when something terrible happened to someone.

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Such life-changing moments can happen in the blink of an eye, but by their very nature aren’t everyday experiences.

However this needn’t mean that a big fat nothing will happen today.

New experiences give you new ways of seeing things. They open up fresh possibilities.

Now there’s a reasonable chance that you read these little Moodnudges posts at roughly the same time of day, and this means there will be 48 hours before the arrival of the next.

2,880 minutes. 172,800 seconds. (OK, rather fewer than that now as the clock’s ticking while you’re reading, but I’m sure you get my point.)

Little will change unless you let it, so why not do just that today?

We’re probably not talking earth-shattering transformation (although you never know). But there’s a good deal of sense in taking the road less-travelled, even if it’s simply a case of turning left instead of right at least once today.