Monthly Archives: July 2015

Lending a hand, and giving yourself a boost.

You may remember, as I do, your very early school days when teachers might praise one child for doing something which helped another.

Perhaps someone helped another child carry something heavy, or they might have lent a hand when it came to tidying things away.

2015-07-13

Helping others is generally seen as pro-social behaviour, something to be encouraged, something which helps to keep groups and communities glued together.

Helping others, too, feels good. And I don’t think it’s simply because we were conditioned to see it as good when we were young (although that’s possibly no hindrance to those positive feelings).

I think one very good side-effect of lending your help to someone is that when you’re busy doing a good deed you have less time to focus on your own worries, giving you a kind of mini-break from your hassles.

Don’t necessarily wait to be asked. Offer your help in a pro-active way. If a friend’s lawn is looking shaggy, rather than simply asking if you can cut it for them, re-frame the suggestion in a more assumptive manner: ‘I was thinking about mowing your lawn. Would that be OK with you?’

It may be a free gig but you’ve still got to talk them into it sometimes.

So who can you help? What can you do for them? And when are you going to suggest it to them?

Why cultivating social connections makes so much sense.

When life gets you down, it’s tempting to shut yourself away. To draw the curtains, close your eyes and ignore the telephone. To wish that it would all just go away.

Perhaps you try to justify this behaviour by seeing it in some respects as unselfish? Maybe you think that because you believe you have little to offer others when you feel like this, it’s better to stay out of their way?

2015-07-12

However, when you do so, you probably make yourself worse rather than better. On your own you’re likely to ruminate, to turn your worries over and over in your mind, under the faulty impression that this may somehow make them better.

Generally, though, you’re looking at life through a distorting lens. As a species we’re designed to empathise with others, to care for one another. So when we close the door on those around us we’re denying them the opportunity to do what comes naturally.

We’re also cutting ourselves off from one of the things that can really help. Our social connections keep us on course. They make us who we are. They’re a crucial part of maintaining a healthy state of wellbeing.

Of course, when times are tough, it’s unlikely that you’ll suddenly snap out of your despondency in a wildly extroverted way.

Maybe a more sensible approach is to think about the different communities of which you’re part. Perhaps it’s possible to open up to one (or some) rather than to all?

Could it be that there is a work colleague who’d value a closer connection with you? Or a neighbour? Or one particular family member? Someone in a community organisation with which you’re associated? An old school friend?

The point is to think broadly about the people you know, and more importantly to take that first important step to reach out to them, so that they in turn can reach out to you.

Being comfortable with who you are is like a favourite pair of shoes.

What do we actually mean when we say shoes are comfortable?

I suspect it’s simply that they don’t rub or pinch. That they’re neither too tight nor too loose. And that when we’ve slipped them on, we more or less forget we’re wearing them.

2015-07-10

I wonder whether something similar applies to the idea of being comfortable with who we are?

Just as we may not really stop to think about our favourite pair of shoes, the fundamental principle of accepting ourselves for who and what we are has little to do with pride or consciousness, but is instead about getting on with things without constantly fretting that our life doesn’t fit us.

Of course we can all occasionally make fundamental changes to our circumstances, and sometimes life does that for us, whether we like it or not. Broadly speaking though, we are who we are.

You could have a few pairs of shoes stashed away in a cupboard somewhere, one of which is more comfortable than the rest. You can choose to wear these whenever you like.

In the same way, there may be more than one ‘you’. Perhaps you behave differently in different circumstances, and with different people? I know I do.

But which of them is the equivalent to those comfy shoes?

Maybe it’s a good day to be yourself, and in particular to be the self you’re most comfortable with?

Why staying positive can mean making constant small adjustments.

As you sit on a plane coming in to land on a windy day, you’ll know that in the last few minutes the pilot generally makes small corrections to the aircraft’s course.

As his eyes make visual contact with the runway, he lightly touches the controls to adjust for local conditions, and shortly thereafter you’re on the ground being welcomed to your destination by the flight attendant.

2015-07-08

What sort of mental attitude did the first officer have during these manoeuvres?

Well, one distinctly hopes he was feeling positive about the whole thing, and that he was 100% optimistic about getting his passengers safely into the terminal, whilst at the same time maintaining complete awareness and remaining 100 per cent focused on the task in hand.

As you go into today, you’ll probably have choices about whether to take a positive or negative attitude about the things you’ll do.

On rough days it’s easy to think that staying positive is an impossibility, but perhaps the trick is to approach a day such as this in the same way in which a pilot lands his plane in windy conditions.

If he relentlessly maintained the same course, gusts of wind would take him away from the runway. In the same way, trying to adopt some sort of artificial positivity probably won’t help you either.

It’s almost certainly better to have a quiet inner belief that you can get there, but be ever-ready to respond to the events which may try to blow you in a different direction.

On behalf of Moodnudges Airways, we hope you enjoy your stay. Thank you for choosing to fly with us.

Choosing the right mode of transport for your journey through life.

Whether or not you welcome it, your life will move on during the next 24 hours.

Let’s visualise this journey (have I been watching too much reality TV?) in terms of offering you a choice of metaphorical modes of transport.

2015-07-06

Will you take a bus? Once you’re aboard, someone else has already decided where you’re going, and the only control you have is to decide where you’ll alight.

Will you hail a taxi? Within reason, the driver will ferry you wherever you wish to go. But he’ll be behind the wheel and will probably determine the exact route he takes.

Will you walk? Although you may not cover as great a distance as you might in a bus or taxi, you’ll be in control. You can go anywhere you choose.

The truth is, I think we all have bus days – days on which we’re happy to be taken for a ride (in the nicest possible way). Responsibilities, such as families, friends, work, school etc, mean we must often simply get on with things.

But now and again it’s extraordinarily liberating to be able to wander through a day entirely under your own steam.

Maybe you’ll know exactly where you want to get to, and that’s fine.

Equally though, sometimes it’s intensely rewarding to have no tight agenda, allowing yourself the freedom to go where the wind blows you.

I don’t think it matters too much how you travel today, but perhaps there’s value in making a conscious decision about it rather than merely sitting there and getting nowhere.

So where are you going today? How are you getting there?

Life’s hard knocks might be vital.

I have soft hands. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit they have the podgy soft skin of someone who spends far too long at his desk, which never seems like real man’s work, if you know what I mean.

Contrast this with a friend back in the UK who’s a builder. When I shake his hand it’s like grasping an ancient baseball mitt. Roughened and toughened by constant manual labour, his epidermis is like dry old leather. You get the feeling he could crunch light bulbs in his bare hands without noticing a thing.

2015-07-05

Of course there’s nothing particularly unusual about this. We take it for granted that we can build strength and resilience in any part of our body by bashing it about a bit.

Going without shoes and socks for a couple of weeks will take you from the initial agony of walking across a pebbly beach to that state where your tough old soles feel nothing, wherever you wander.

If you so choose, steadily increasing your exercise day by day could take you from couch potato to marathon runner.

The same can apply to emotional strength, too.

None of us likes knock-backs. I’m sure we wouldn’t willingly volunteer for some of the unhappy situations in which we might find ourselves.

But maybe something good can come out of adversity?

What if you were getting a little stronger every time life throws a punch at you? What if, little by little, bit by bit, you’re becoming more able to deal with life’s struggles?

You know, I think you just may be.

What the Ancient Greeks can teach us about our view of the world.

When the Ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus died in AD 135, he probably had little idea that his thinking, and that of other philosophers from around his time, would inspire two psychologists to formulate the idea of cognitive behavioural therapy over 1,800 years later.

2015-07-03

Thanks to an excellent book by the British philosopher Jules Evans (Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations) I was fascinated to learn that Albert Ellis – one of the two CBT-inventing psychologists (Aaron Beck was the other) – acknowledged that the ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about the way our minds work.

Epictetus, for example, said: ‘What disturbs men’s minds is not events but their judgements on events.’

So true. When something happens, whether good or bad, we probably have more choice over how we react to it than we’re prepared to admit.

When we’re faced with a negative event, we might get angry, scared or despondent. We might instead choose to ignore it – or to face it, but refuse to be affected by it.

Our ‘judgements on events’ tend to be pretty ingrained processes – they’re learned behaviours which, left to their own devices, make us automatically react to situations in habitual ways.

But habits can be unlearned. We’re never too old to acquire new ways of judging the world.

It’s probably fair to say that neither you or I are going to mend our ways overnight, but simply becoming more aware of how we form our judgements is a great place to start.

Epictetus, we salute you. You were a wise old Greek.

Why it’s never sensible to empty oceans with an egg cup.

The Pacific ocean is big. Really big.

So let’s imagine a hypothetical situation in which I solemnly hand you a china egg cup, explaining that your task is to use it to empty the Pacific.

I suspect you’d rightly tell me where to stick my egg cup.

2015-07-01

For all sorts of reasons, the job is clearly an impossible one.

But let’s also imagine that you’re the world’s most diligent individual, the one person on the planet who never says no. So, egg cup in hand, you head for the coast, perhaps beginning work before eventually shaking your head at the futility of it all.

Being unable to live up to your own expectations, you’d probably become despondent. You may well simply give up, and very possibly you’d find yourself unable to tackle anything at all, let alone your ocean-emptying job.

Now I’m pretty certain you’re unlikely to face a project quite as big and daunting as this. Equally, though, most of us wake up each morning to a range of problems. Some large, some small.

When you’re feeling strong, you may well simply accept this at face value. That’s just the way it is.

But what happens when you’re not doing so positively? Perhaps the biggest problem of all looms so large that it seems to blot out everything else, making even the smallest job feel impossible.

The thing is, whatever you do today, the Pacific will still be there tomorrow. So instead of sitting there forlornly, gazing out to sea, perhaps it makes more sense to tackle the smaller, more manageable, jobs on your list?

Getting something done (no matter how small) will give you a sense of achievement, and the feeling that, actually, things are possible after all.