Monthly Archives: November 2015

Who would you love to hear from? Reach out to them now instead of waiting

It’s not always easy to find the right balance when it comes to connecting with people.

Perhaps there have been times in your life when you felt as though you might be suffocated by the demands of others?

Equally there may well have been periods when you felt lonely and longed for someone to pay you attention?

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However, this is simply looking at the downside of the feast/famine situation, rather than its possible upside.

Maybe you’ve relished times of unfettered connections, when your life seemed full of others.

And those quiet days could well have provided keenly anticipated solitude.

As I say, the balance may not be easy to achieve, but what’s almost certainly the case is that our relationships with others are some of our most important assets.

Almost certainly your address book contains the details of people who you don’t see enough of: friends or relatives who know you well, but who have drifted off your radar (and maybe you off theirs too).

On a day when you wish someone would reach out to you, when you know how much it would help to have some good human contact, think quickly about one or two individuals you’d be delighted to hear from, then – if it’s practical and possible – get in touch with them immediately, rather than waiting in vain for them to read your mind, which I’m sure you’ll agree is pretty unlikely.

An email, a text message, a phone call, or even a snail mail greetings card could do the trick.

OK, you may be reluctant to make contact in case they’re over-busy or preoccupied, but think how you feel when you hear from someone out of the blue.

It’s normally pretty good, isn’t it?

Nurture your friends and your friends will nurture you.

Ignore them and…

well, you can maybe guess the rest.

So what are you waiting for?

Why doing things for others can do things for you too

If I gave you a dollar, you’d have it and I wouldn’t.

If I mowed your lawn, you’d still have your energy but I’d be exhausted.

(You did say you’d got a big garden, didn’t you?)

If I gave you one of my favourite books, it would be on your shelf rather than mine.

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When you do something for someone else, you might be forgiven for viewing it as a sacrifice, where you always end up worse off than they do, but fortunately it’s generally a lot more two-way than this, isn’t it?

What’s notably absent from the equations above is the feelgood factor – that positive glow you get when you help someone.

Knowing that it works in this way means there’s absolutely nothing wrong in harnessing the effect when you need a lift yourself.

Simply look for ways in which you can do a good deed or two.

There’s not even any particular need for them to be big things: small acts of kindness work just as well.

Pay someone a genuine and heartfelt compliment.

Smile at a stranger in the street.

Spot a news item that might interest a friend and email them a link to it.

Offer to run an errand for a neighbour.

Give a child fifteen minutes more of your attention than you normally might.

Pick up three pieces of litter.

Tell a friend a joke you know will make them chuckle.

Cook someone a meal.

The laws of physics suggest that ‘nature abhors a vacuum’: empty or unfilled spaces are unnatural, as something always rushes to fill them up.

In much the same way, the ‘gap’ created when you do something for, or give something to, someone is almost guaranteed to be replaced by a not unpleasant warmth in your heart.

So what do you think?

Is today a day for doing things for others, perhaps?

The true value of a friend who helps you grow

When you tell someone that a bunch of keys belongs to you, what you mean is that they’re yours.

You own them.

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If, however, you talk about belonging to a club, society or religion, it’s almost certainly not the case that you’d regard that particular organisation as ‘owning’ you.

You may simply mean that you’re a member.

But of course the word ‘belong’ can infer something more emotive than mere membership.

In my childhood, the television puppet pigs Pinky and Perky sang ‘We belong together’, in a way that I guess was supposed to suggest that their being together was meant to be.

I just discovered, by the way, that Pinky and Perky’s high pitched singing was achieved by recording, and then speeding up, the voice of Mike Sammes, whose group The Mike Sammes Singers – much to my astonishment – also performed backing vocals on The Beatles’ ‘I Am The Walrus’.

But I digress.

It’s often said that feeling you’re part of something bigger plays an important role in maintaining a healthy state of mental wellbeing, but rather than this necessarily implying that you have to be one of a large crowd of connected others, it seems to be more about the thought of belonging to something which is somehow bigger than the sum of its parts.

Whilst this could indeed be brought about by active involvement in some kind of giant religious, political or social movement, I think it can also manifest itself at a more modest scale when you and one other person have some kind of special relationship.

This could be through a life partnership – a marriage, for example – but it might equally come about through a close friendship with someone, one in which the two of you support and bring out the best in one another.

Pinky and Perky’s rather obvious strings would have made it hard for them to not belong together, but why not have a think today about who in your life either is, or has the potential to be, someone that makes you feel you’re part of something bigger when you’re with them.

Then, if this relationship needs a little tender care, don’t be afraid to administer it.

The comfort of being comfortable with who you are

Have you ever wished that someone you knew could have changed a bit?

Perhaps you viewed a friend as selfish, loud or thoughtless?

If only you could have changed them.

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Or maybe you had a boss who was bombastic, over-critical or blind to your efforts?

If only they’d have behaved differently.

Often, however, people are who they are.

Much as we may wish they weren’t, they’re probably pretty set in their ways and, as is said, leopards rarely change their spots.

What’s funny, however, is that although we may recognise how unlikely it is that others will suddenly adopt radically new ways of being, we may tend to wish we ourselves could be different.

I’m sure you and I do have the power to change our ways in some areas, and in fact self-belief in this respect seems to play a big part in giving us the confidence that we can overcome periods of low mood.

But I’m sure there’s also much to be said for accepting that to some extent we are who we are, and there’s probably value in being comfortable with that.

For instance I think I’m a little overweight, with a build that might be charitably described as not very athletic.

It’s true that I can continue my current efforts to shed a few pounds, but because I’m notoriously unsporty, my physique is likely to remain much as it is.

Emotionally I tend to be affected greatly by the moods of those around me. My own moods wax and wane.

How much can I change this?

More importantly, how much should I want to change this?

Underneath it all, some of this makes me the man I am – so perhaps this is something to embrace rather than to wish it was somehow otherwise?

Maybe we can both be a bit more comfortable with who we are.

Why it’s always helpful to look for chances to see things positively

Is your glass half empty, or half full?

Although psychologists are divided on how much your answer to this question is down to inherited traits, and how much depends on environmental factors, it’s safe to assume that we do all have a reasonable degree of freedom to choose the degree of optimism with which we approach our day-to-day living.

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To some extent, people get stuck in their ways when it comes to taking either a positive or negative view of things, but this is an at least somewhat simple habit, and like all habits, the more you practice them, the ‘better’ you get: even if the skill you’re developing is a harmful one.

I think bad habits become unconscious actions: we’re generally not aware we’re exhibiting them.

Perhaps it doesn’t really matter, though?

Maybe it’s not that important whether others see us as grumpy or chirpy?

Actually, there are good reasons to aim for Van Morrison’s bright side of the road.

For a start, those with an optimistic approach to life are less likely to suffer from depression, and less vulnerable to some other physical health conditions too.

Of course, if you may be inclined to take a gloomy view of things at times (I’ve been there) you’re unlikely to change overnight, but you can at least set out to be aware of your attitude as the day progresses.

If you find yourself moaning and groaning rather too much, see whether you can turn down the volume a bit.

It doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly got to become all sweetness and light, but it’ll help a lot if you’re not constantly telling yourself that all is overwhelmingly gloomy.

I reckon you’ll have at least one opportunity to think more optimistically today.

In fact I’m positive.

Follow your hunches if you need to recover from a setback

When someone temporarily withdraws to recover from a defeat, we may say they’re ‘licking their wounds’.

It’s a strange turn of phrase which has its roots in the instinctive response of humans and animals to quite literally lick the site of an injury (just show a little prudence if you’re in company, however).

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Apparently there’s an enzyme in saliva which can help to fight off potential infection, so the thing a wounded cat or dog does actually makes sense, even though it’s likely to put the vicar off if he comes calling.

What’s fascinating to me is that animals may indulge in this behaviour instinctively (they could, of course, have learned by being licked by their mother if injured when young, but you get my point).

The thing is that many creatures have their own in-built repair mechanisms, and it’s worth remembering this when it comes to knowing how to bounce back after a time when you’ve felt low.

Almost certainly you already know how to do this, and it can often be a simple matter of listening to your hunches.

You may need to start with a period during which you withdraw yourself from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

A bit of quiet can work wonders, but the golden principle is probably that a ‘bit’ is the operative word.

Shutting yourself away for too long is unlikely to help, so when the time’s right (listen to your hunches again) wean yourself away from relative solitude by easing yourself back into company, a person or two at a time.

Your heart may also tell you that certain places are good for you when it comes to recovering (the countryside does it for me, for instance) but it could be a zoo for you, or even a shopping mall.

What’s important is that almost certainly you do already know what to do, even if it’s been temporarily forgotten.

I just hope that all this talk of wound-licking hasn’t put you off your food, however.

Old dogs, new tricks

In the sixteenth century, an English gentleman by the name of John Fitzherbert wrote what he believed was crucial advice for shepherds: ‘The dogge must lerne it, whan he is a whelpe, or els it will not be: for it is harde to make an olde dogge to stoupe.’

They didn’t have spellcheck in those days, of course.

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By ‘stoupe’ (or its modern spelling, stoop) Mr. F. meant the act of getting your dog to put its nose to the ground so it would pick up a scent.

Of course, the whole sentence would probably be better recognised today as the adage: ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’

But is this literally true?

Probably not.

It may well be the case that older dogs take longer to pick up new things, but the U.S. television show Mythbusters, for instance, was able to train two pretty mature canines from scratch in just a few days.

The truth is that as a human (I’m assuming that no dogs happen to be reading this, but Woof! if you are) you’re never too old to learn, and the process of doing so is a sure-fire way to keep your mind and mood in fine fettle.

It’s never been easier to lerne/learn of course.

With a computer in front of you, and Google fired up, the world is your bivalve mollusc.

One query leads to another, and before you know it, you’re an expert in marine biology.

But learning needn’t simply be limited to acquiring new-found general knowledge.

In the next 24 hours, you could learn a new way to make a paper aeroplane.

You could learn the words to a favourite poem.

You could learn how to cook a new dish, to play a new chord, to dance some new steps, to juggle (a bit), to check a car’s oil.

There’s all sorts of ways to learn, and all sorts of things to learn.

The only question is, what are you going to discover in the next 24 hours?

Time to thinke like a whelpe.

Could there be an otter waiting to be discovered by you today?

It’s funny, I’ve just this minute noticed that in a wooden panel on the wall to my left are three knots which seem to make up the face of a friendly otter.

Four knots, actually, as two of them make up the otter’s nostrils.

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When you think about it, you and I take a lot of things for granted.

We live in a very familiar environment, generally with very familiar people, often doing very familiar things.

And, of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

If you suddenly found yourself in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people, you might wonder what was going on.

Particularly if you’d just got home from the shops.

A certain degree of familiarity is comforting and reassuring.

It enables you to get through life without the feeling that you should be constantly looking over your shoulder.

On the downside, though, if every day is almost exactly like the one before, you’d be lacking in stimulus and variety.

Your life would probably start to feel one shade of grey.

One answer, of course, could be to find a way to stir things up, finding new places to go, new people to see, and new things to do.

But what if this just isn’t possible?

What if your circumstances are tying you down?

What’s the solution if you find yourself in this kind of situation?

It’s at times like this that taking greater notice of the world around you can really help.

Even people and places that you think you’ve seen a million times before can, when subjected to close interrogation, reveal surprising new facets, rather like the friendly semi-aquatic mammal to my left.

Why not make a conscious effort to open your eyes wide as you go about your day

It could really help.

All of which reminds me of the Edinburgh Fringe comedian who recently said he’d been out for an Indian meal the night before, ordering a Chicken Tarka Masala.

Apparently it’s similar to a Chicken Tikka Masala, but a little ‘otter.