Monthly Archives: April 2015

Remembering those who taught you emotional strength

In 12th century England, a young person could learn a trade from a master craftsman by becoming their apprentice.

An apprenticeship was a legal agreement between craftsman and apprentice where the latter would be paid a small wage in return for the skills that he (apprentices were almost always boys) would pick up.

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These agreements were known as ‘indentures’, so-called because they’d be written in duplicate on a single sheet of paper which was then split into two pieces with an uneven jagged (indented) cut.

One piece was held by each party; their authenticity could be proved at a later stage by matching the two parts’ jagged edges – rather like a key fitting into a lock.

Although I never served a formal apprenticeship, I’ve unquestionably learnt at the elbow of people I’ve considered master craftsmen and women.

Richard taught me to turn other people’s business problems into solutions.

Alex showed me anew how impeccable organization can help you move mountains.

And my Dad? Well, among other things he was the master of creating ingenious systems based around forms, files and folders.

I’m pretty certain you’ve had similarly significant influences in your own past.

Also, like me, perhaps you’ve known others who’ve demonstrated ways of weathering the storm when times become emotionally challenging?

Now and then, when I face uncertainty and difficulty, I find it helpful to ask myself: ‘What would (insert name) do now?’

How would they tackle this situation?

And then – you know what? – that’s exactly what I do.

So who was the master craftsman to your apprentice? What did they teach you? And do you still practice what they preached?

Can learning be more fun without Google?

This may make you smile.

Just now I wanted to write about a particular sixties pop song, so I typed ‘Do you know the way to San Jose’ into Google.

Lo and behold, just under the entry for Dionne Warwick’s 1968 hit, Google gave me driving instructions from where I am to, yes, San Jose.

Just head south on US-101 and it’ll take me 33 minutes to cover the 24.2 miles, apparently.

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These days, of course, it’s easy to believe that it doesn’t really matter that you don’t know something.

It’s alright, Google will tell you.

And I have to admit that my neighbours down in Mountain View, which I’d pass on my way to San Jose, have built an extraordinarily clever search engine.

The thing is, though, it can actually be rewarding to admit now and then that – no – you don’t know something, but that you’ll ask someone who does.

In many ways we’ve become a society of know-it-alls, or at least Google-it-alls, to the extent that we forget how warming it can be to learn from another real-live person rather than from a web server, albeit a staggeringly ingenious one.

Really, you’re not expected to know everything. In fact, pretending that you do can be stressful and a bit isolating.

Some of my cleverest friends are the best at confessing their total ignorance on some subjects. They listen with genuine interest if I put them in the picture. At least, I think it’s genuine interest.

Even if they’re very slightly feigning their lack of knowledge, though, an exchange such as this can be a whole lot more rewarding than tapping a few keys on your computer.

Change your mood by changing clothes

In one of the most extraordinary scientific experiments of the 20th century, social psychologist Stanley Milgram asked people to deliver electric shocks to another person they believed was taking part in the research.

In fact, the person being ‘shocked’ was an actor, and no shock was actually administered.

But the participants didn’t know this. A considerable proportion obeyed the man conducting the study, even when they believed they were delivering potentially lethal shocks.

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Milgram was exploring obedience to authority, but even he was amazed at how willing his participants were to do as they were told.

One way in which the experiment established authority was to have the man running it (not Milgram) wear a grey lab coat. Apparently this ‘outfit’ played a substantial role in making those taking part follow directions that anyone outside this context would surely have viewed as cruel and inhuman.

The thing is, I suspect that simply wearing the lab coat also played a part in helping the experimenter feel superior. Clothes can do this.

Now while I’m certainly not suggesting you dress as a dictatorial lab manager (heaven forbid), there’s nothing like a reminder that what you wear can affect the way you feel.

In the wrong circumstances, dressing down can lead to you feeling down. As for the opposite… Well perhaps there’s a reason it’s called dressing up?

Why not give it a try? Once in a while, for instance, dress as though you’re headed for an important meeting even if you’re actually doing nothing more demanding than your grocery shopping. Please don’t blame me if people suddenly start treating you more respectfully, however.

Lift two people with a retrospective thank you

Today, if you can, I wonder if you might find time to think about one person who, sometime in the past, made a difference to your life?

It might have been a friend or family member. A neighbour even. Or, as in my case, a school teacher.

Perhaps they went out of their way to help you. Maybe they gave you invaluable advice. It could be something as fundamental as them simply believing in you.

Having brought them to mind, ask yourself the following. Perhaps you thanked them at the time, and to some extent their contribution has probably faded from your memory.

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However, what I’d like to suggest is that you write to thank them again. Doing so will almost certainly give them a boost, but the power of a genuine, heart-felt thank-you can also warm you, the person expressing gratitude.

I was lucky to have a couple of teachers whose influence I still feel, all these years later. And although neither is still with us, one of my most treasured possessions is a reply to the thank-you note I sent to a teacher from my secondary school.

I think I’d moved him by writing to him. His letter in turn moved me.

It’s so important of course to express your thanks before it’s too late, which is why I gently urge you to take action in the next day or two.

Your letter (or email) needn’t be long or complicated, but it should be genuine and specific. Exactly how did this person make a difference? Exactly what did this difference mean?

Don’t necessarily count on a reply: that’s not what this is about.

Do, however, count on feeling just a little better once you’ve dropped your letter in the mailbox.

Tidy your space: 5 minute mood boost

It’s comforting to have a friend that you can depend on when you’re going through a rough time. Someone who certainly filled this role for me back in the UK was Jane.

I think it helped that she’d had her own struggles, so there was a kind of fellow feeling. It meant we could each other, too.

For me perhaps, her most appreciated action was her ability to know, if she came to see me during one of my ‘spells’ that the stack of dirty dishes in the kitchen (a) wasn’t my usual style, and (b) was probably getting me down.

Without asking, or waiting to be asked, Jane’s tendency was to roll up her sleeves and get the kitchen looking ship-shape once again. A job like this could easily take you all day when you’re feeling lousy. Someone who’s not suffering, though, could probably dust it off in ten minutes.

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Here’s the thing that strikes me though. Just as clutter can be a sign of someone’s low mood, it can also work the other way round. Perhaps you’ve found, as I have, that living in an untidy space can actually contribute to you feeling down in the first place?

Here’s my suggestion for today, then. Why not set aside a modest amount of time (even five minutes can work) to tidy up one part of your environment?

It could that pile of clothes or papers in the bedroom. It might be a desktop, or a coffee table in the living room.

It may even be the junk drawer in the kitchen. Come on, we all have one of those, don’t we?

Note: you’re not setting out to tidy your whole house – simply to get one small part of it looking manageable again.

A tidy space can mean a clear mind.

Does being helpful mean you’ll be taken advantage of?

As a kid I was brought up as part of a 1950s generation which saw it as only right and proper to share whatever you were fortunate to have. Food particularly.

Maybe it was a hangover from the Second World War, when food in the UK was rationed and scarce.

Once the war was over, I’m sure people wished to share whatever they could – in some ways to put their hardships behind them.

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I think nowadays, though, ‘Help yourself’ has become something of an expectation, and it’s easy to believe that there are those in society who are takers rather than givers.

So does this mean that you should stop behaving altruistically? If you carry on being generous, will others take advantage of you? Will you be somehow be seen as weak?

I don’t think so.

In fact, in a world which can seem self-focused and selfish, perhaps it’s more important than ever that those who still believe in ‘spreading the love’ do so as energetically as possible.

When you help others, you help build a better world: but you also help build a better you.

That feel-good reaction you get from helping others contributes greatly to your physical and emothonal health. Please do all you can in the next few days, remembering that it’s a two-way street. At the very least, why not be super-generous with your smiles?

Ready to talk? Let’s talk

Today’s post is about that comforting feeling you can get from knowing you’re part of something bigger than you. As I sat down to write it, of course it occurred to me that this probably isn’t something we feel when our mood is low.

At times like these, you (a) feel alone, (b) (perversely?) want to be left alone, so (c) often end up being alone.

All of this doesn’t exactly foster a sense of being something bigger than yourself, does it?

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Let’s therefore try an experiment. My last post was about the power of knowing yourself. I mentioned Philipp Keel’s book ‘All About Me‘, with its multiple questions designed to reveal who you really are.

Now, as a reader of Moodnudges (for which I’m really grateful) you are of course already part of something bigger.

Our circulation is growing: it was 2,580 at the last count, still cozy enough to feel you’re not lost in a crowd, but big enough to represent all manner of views and outlooks.

So today let’s throw open the Comments section of the blog so you can bump into some of the other fine people who read these posts. How? Well, simply answer one question as a comment on the post – then/or feel free to chip in on others’ comments.

Easy.

Here’s my question, then: What helps you most when your mood is low?

Hopefully we’ll kill two birds with one stone. We’ll share some great advice at the same time as giving a voice to you and the other Moodnudgers who make up our flourishing community.

Why it helps to be comfortable with yourself

When a friend recently recommended a book called ‘All About Me’, I had to get myself a copy. It dropped into the mailbox at the weekend.

Written by Philipp Keel, the book is full of simple but provocative questions. Blank spaces are left for your answers, the idea being that you either use the book to help you open up to someone else, or to get to know yourself better.

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By all accounts the friend who told me about it became completely absorbed by it, spending hours filling it in.

But with questions such as ‘Recall a compliment that made you blush’, and ‘If you had a safe, you would keep (what in it?)’ I sense that completing it may be no easy task.

Although we’re often reminded that it’s emotionally healthy to be comfortable with who we are, this idea depends on knowing who we are in the first place, and I suggest that this may not always be the case.

Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we don’t really know.

So at the risk of making you feel a little uncomfortable, I have a suggestion to make. During the coming day or so, maybe there’s value in thinking (and perhaps even making notes) about who you are.

Who is the real you?

Philipp Keel’s book could be a great way to start the process, but you can always ask yourself questions of your own – possibly imagining that it’s someone else cross-examining you.

First, recognize who you are. Second, be comfortable with it.

How to get out of the right side of bed

Apparently the Romans believed it unlucky to get out of the left side of the bed, which is where the idea of someone ‘getting out of the wrong side of bed’ originated. As a Roman, you always did your best to get out of the right side.

Actually, the Romans had a big thing in general about left being, well, not right. In fact the Latin adjective ‘sinister’ originally meant ‘left’, but by the Classical Latin period it had also taken on the meanings of ‘unlucky’ or ‘evil’.

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Perhaps you’ve had the experience yourself of feeling grumpy for no particular reason upon waking up in the morning, ? I know I have. It’s neither pleasant nor helpful, is it? But maybe it’s just unavoidable.

One useful nugget of learning from it, though, is that your mind can indeed set a course for the day in such a way that much of what follows gets cast in a particular light.

And if this kind of self-fulfilling prophecy works for misery, couldn’t it also perhaps be harnessed to build yourself a better day? You know, I think it can.

Quite simply, telling yourself that you’ll try to view the events of your day positively may actually help things turn out for the better.

So at the risk of sounding a touch eccentric, looking yourself in the eye in the bathroom mirror in the morning and saying out loud ‘Today is going to be a good day,’ or more modestly, ‘Today is going to be a better day,’ can actually work.

You may only have limited influence over what happens in your life, but a more controllable factor is how you choose to react to it.

So if you’d like a more positive day, simply take a more positive approach. You can choose to do this.

Why it’s great to take notice

Whether it’s along a corridor, across a car park, or down a street, next time you’re walking somewhere, try and be conscious of where your gaze is directed.

You could be surprised. We may believe that we’re properly looking around us, yet often our focus is on a notional spot somewhere between the long-distance and the immediately in front of us.

In fact we’re not really consciously looking at anything, but are instead probably thinking about stuff we have to do, conversations we’ve just had, or simply life’s general hassles.

I bet you didn’t do this when you were a kid though.

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If there was a caterpillar to be seen, you’d spot it. If a woman with an unusual hair-do hove into view, you’d remark on it (probably a bit too loudly). If a dog was barking, you’d hear it.

Somehow as we get older we stop taking notice of simple things, and this is a pity because being aware of them can lead to little moments of joy.

As a child there were probably times when you were giddy from drinking in fresh sights, sounds and smells.

How about trying to recapture these sensations today if you’re out and about?

(Perhaps keep your thoughts to yourself, however, if the woman with the green hair is accompanied by a large gentleman with tattoos.)