Monthly Archives: March 2015

Small goals for rough days

‘A goal properly set is halfway reached.’

This is what the American author, motivational speaker and splendidly-named Zig Ziglar said, and I reckon it’s a pretty decent way to set about things.


What if you’re going through a shabby patch though? Goals probably just seem like impossible dreams at a time like this.

Perhaps, however, that’s because we confuse the big goals and the small, knowing there’s no way for us to meet madly ambitious targets so therefore abandoning all hope of achieving anything at all.

If your mood’s low you’re unlikely to move mountains.

But this doesn’t mean that you couldn’t shift a mole hill, and the feeling of re-locating ANYTHING on days like these can give you a good sense of achievement.

The trick, if there is one, may be to set yourself just a few (even one) small, short-term, realistic goals. Even doing the dishes.

Then give yourself a reward. Do the dishes, then watch TV perhaps.

Don’t forget that, as Mr Ziglar said, simply deciding you’re going to do it means you’re halfway there.

The Popeye approach to life

It’s a fairly safe bet that Popeye had little self-doubt. After all, didn’t he sing “I Yam What I Yam”?

While I’m not recommending that you stick a corn-cob pipe in your mouth while knocking back cans of spinach, perhaps there’s something to be said for Popeye’s comfort with who he is.


It’s not always easy to be this way, is it? It’s hard not to slip into wishing you were someone else, or different in some way.

I think, at times, we can all imagine that life would be very different if only we had more money/less worries/more patience/less weight, and so on. But the truth is, we yam what we yam. With few exceptions, we’d do well to learn to be comfortable in our own skin.

Often, of course, we wish things could be different when we compare ourselves with others. But when we do so, we’re only seeing things from an external perspective. We may believe someone’s happy, successful or confident – but the person themselves may well have a very different view.

In the next day or so, if you catch yourself thinking the “if only’s”, try to focus instead on what’s right. Concentrate on your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

Think like Popeye.

Taking a more positive approach

Walking to work after having a coffee the other morning, I briefly stopped by our local supermarket to pick up some groceries. As the guy on the checkout scanned my shopping, I asked him how his day had been so far.

“Really great,” he replied. “I’m alive, and I’m in good health.”


Now he said this in all seriousness, without the merest suggestion of it being platitudinous. And it really made me stop and think.

How easy it is to find fault with our lives. How easy to focus on what’s wrong and unwanted.

How hard it can be to recognise, instead, what’s good – for there almost always is something.

In 1857 the American writer Thoreau said “we find only the world we look for”. We might interpret this to mean that if we go through our day looking for only the bad, that’s probably how things will pan out.

Be like the Whole Foods cashier, however, and things could look very different.

It may not always be possible, but whenever you can, why not choose to take a more positive approach?

Babies take setbacks in their stride

Most babies take their first tentative steps some time around their first birthday. A few begin as early as nine months, others aren’t walking until they’re around eighteen months.

The usual process is that a small child crawls first, then this gradually turns into walking.


One thing’s pretty certain, though. It’s pretty unlikely that any small kid gets to the walking stage without more than a few experiences of finding him or herself sitting on the floor involuntarily.

When this happens, of course, it doesn’t really work for a baby to just give up. No, most are determined to push themselves back up again, or grizzle until someone helps them up.

As little children, you and I both learned that life brings setbacks. And when it does, you simply carry on.

As adults, most of us realise that life’s generally not perfect. There will still be setbacks. But although you often can’t control them, you probably have more influence over how you react to them than you may sometimes believe.

So, inspired by a baby’s determination to learn to walk, here are three nuggets of inspiration:

1. Even though kids fall over, they see plenty of other humans moving around on two feet. Similarly, when you have a setback, remember that you’re not the first to have done so – and just about everyone (including you) gets over stuff like this.

2. When you fall over a few times as a kid, you soon learn how not to. Similarly, when things take an awkward turn for you, please try to remember how you recovered in the past.

3. A baby’s parents are terrific cheerleaders. They want their little one to walk and are of course there to help. If you go through difficult times as an adult, don’t feel you must soldier on alone. Ask for help. You’ll almost certainly get it.

When things get difficult, try to remember that before long you’ll almost certainly be back on your feet again.

Excuse me, do you have a second?

When you’re computer programming, 86,400 is a familiar figure. It’s the number of seconds in a day, and one (clumsy) way to find out yesterday’s date is to subtract 86,400 from the date and time – in seconds – right now.

It’s interesting to reflect on whether you believe 86,400 is a large or small number though.


A sum of money this big in most people’s currencies would be rather nice to be given (not so great in Vietnamese dong however – 86,400 dong is worth just about four dollars).

A crowd of people this size would pack most of the world’s bigger sports arenas.

On the other hand 86,400 grains of table salt would weigh just under 7 grams.

When it comes to time, however, you might agree that 86,400 seconds does sound rather a lot. Each and every day of your life you have all those seconds handed to you on a plate.

So what will you do with today’s 86,400?

And how many of them are you prepared to give to someone else? (Helpfully, giving it away doesn’t actually take it away from you. It’s one resource you can happily share without losing out.)

Giving your time is a great way to connect to others, and giving often makes you feel fine too.

You may not have money, but you do have time. So give it today like there’s no tomorrow.

Except, of course, that there will be.

Playing the part of an investigative reporter

Every so often the newspapers feature surveys which list the professions people believe are the most- and least-respected.

Doctors and nurses generally do well.

Unfairly (but I would say that) my old profession, advertising, usually appears in the bottom ten. Along with journalism.


Now I guess you get used to the knocks, but I’m actually happy to count several journalists among my good friends, and to a man and woman they’re all fascinating people.

They have stories to tell, which I suppose goes without saying, and you only end up in this position when you have an insatiable curiosity, an interest in learning, and a fierce determination to find out as much as you can about, well, just about everything.

Actually, being interested in all that’s around you and having a burning desire to learn is a sure-fire way to boost your wellbeing.

And if you happen to be learning from another person, it’s pretty likely that they’ll get a lift if you quiz them like a journalist might, teasing out every little strand, and (really importantly) intensely tuning in to what they have to say.

So you both benefit.

Learn as much as you can today, unleashing the mighty full extent of your curiosity.

Go wherever it takes you.

How to tell someone they make you happy

Who makes you happy? Today is the perfect opportunity to let them know.

The United Nations, no less, has declared March 20th International Day of Happiness. And to mark it we’re honored to be partnering with our amazing friends Action for Happiness to give you a neat way of sending free eCards to the people who brighten your life, each and every day.

The day’s theme this year is: “Your happiness is part of something bigger” and is all about the importance of our connections with others – particularly at a time when loneliness and isolation are reaching epidemic proportions.


As Action for Happiness explains: “We’re encouraging people everywhere to reach out and make positive connections with others on the day – both online and also in the real world.”

Learn more about today’s International Day of Happiness.

But I’d also like to encourage you to take real positive action today. We’ve set up a special page on our site, so you can make an immediate connection now with the people who are important to you.

I’m not going to write more. Your time is precious. Why not use a little of it right now to reach out to some people who mean a lot to you?

The gift of full attention

Can you be in two places at one time?

Unless you’re an expert in particle physics, it sounds far-fetched. It’s one of those exasperated things we mutter when too much is expected of us, when we’re already busy doing one thing and someone demands we simultaneously do another. Impossible. Infuriating.

Yet I think there is sometimes a way in which we can figuratively be in two places at once, and this is in those conversations where we’re not listening wholeheartedly.


I say ‘we’ rather presumptuously but despite trying hard not to be, I know I’m deeply guilty of it now and then.

Maybe you know the feeling. You’re chatting to someone, but in fact it’s all rather one-sided. They’re doing the talking, so you find yourself drifting away, thinking about other things.

You’re not really there.

It’s easy to do. It’s even understandable. But it’s a sure-fire way to leave neither of you terribly satisfied by your exchange.

A conversation such as this doesn’t really feel like a connection does it?

And that’s a shame, because the true connections we make during a day build up to boost our mood.

Not every single conversation can be a deep and meaningful one, of course, but perhaps you and I could aim to ‘be there’ a little more today?

I will if you will.

Three things to be thankful for before bedtime

Some people say a prayer. Some worry if they locked the back door. Others just collapse into bed on the fast-train to Slumberville.

However (and although I know lots of people already do so) there’s always value in reminding yourself of the power of thinking about three good things before you go to sleep each night.


Research has demonstrated that when this process is followed a little more formally (actually writing down three things for which you’re grateful and then providing a causal explanation for each of them) the effects can be strong and long-lasting, increasing happiness and decreasing depressive symptoms for a remarkable six months.

I see no harm, however, in simpifying the procedure a little such that it can become your last-thing-at-night habit.

So, say one of your good things was that you had a great conversation with an old friend, the cause might be that one of you phoned the other out of the blue.

No need for any further analysis, because what’s gone into your mental processing system is the idea that a moment of joy can come from simply picking up the phone, and once this seed has been sown you’ll be more likely to do so in the future. What’s more, in the couple of seconds it will take you, you’ll be powerfully reliving the moment minutes before you fall asleep.

And don’t worry about the back door. I’m sure you locked it.

Why it’s vital to nourish your brain

Although psychologists label it ‘cognitive processing’, you and I may understand it better as ‘knowing’, including under its umbrella behaviours such as awareness, perception, reasoning and judgement.

Basically it’s what you do when you make decisions, what you do when you think things through, and of course there’s a lot of the latter that goes on if you’re going through a rough patch.


One of the fascinating things about the brain is how much energy it consumes.

Despite brains (and feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you’re just about to eat breakfast) looking pretty much like creamy grey ham when they’re dissected, they burn up a disproportionate amount of power.

In weight terms your brain is the equivalent of about a bag and a half of sugar, accounting for only around 2 per cent of your body’s mass, but it hogs a greedy 20 to 25 per cent of your energy.

It’s no wonder therefore that what you call ‘just’ sitting and thinking can actually leave you physically exhausted, and this is a reminder of the importance of topping up your reserves with sensible, healthy food even when you may think you’re not being particularly active.

You’ll make better decisions when you’re properly nourished.

Now, about that breakfast. (By the way, that MRI scan above. It’s of me.)