Monthly Archives: December 2015

Why it’s important to care for yourself

You won’t remember it, but once upon a time you were a baby. Yep, a little bundle of smallness, incapable of doing much for yourself beyond crying, chuckling, drinking as well as two other things ending in -ing.

We take it as read that a small baby is totally dependent on its primary care-giver for just about everything from sustenance to reassurance, and all that comes between.

2015-12-13

As time goes by, however, you grew up, and it was no longer someone else’s job to take care of your body: its wellbeing was down to you. Before long it was you who decided what you’d eat and drink. It was up to you when you went to bed and got up. You were the final arbiter of whether or not you’d get any physical exercise.

Having someone else in charge isn’t great for your sense of independence, but it does relieve you of the responsibility for looking after yourself. It’s likely, though, that by now you’re the captain of your own ship when it comes to self-maintenance. It’s you, and you alone, who’s making those important decisions which are likely to have an important influence on your physical health, and in turn upon your emotional wellbeing.

But how seriously do you take this responsibility? Do you care as much for yourself as you might if you were looking after someone else, say? If the answer is yes, great: keep up the good work. If it’s a no, though (and that’s more likely) maybe it’s time to move this task up the importance ladder?

Be kind to yourself and look after that body of yours.

I do hope someone took really good care of you when you were tiny. Now, however, it’s your turn, although at least you shouldn’t have to cope with too much of that icky ‘-ing’ stuff.

Is it time to crank up your connections?

Almon Brown Strowger was an undertaker, born in New York state in 1839, but he’s best known for something else altogether. You see, he discovered that a rival of his was stealing all the local funeral business because his wife worked as a telephone operator, and would manually connect calls meant for other undertakers to her husband’s office. Crafty. Dead crafty.

Our Mr Strowger was something of an inventor, however, and believing that it should be the subscriber who determined where a call should go rather than the operator, he set about creating and patenting an automatic electro-mechanical telephone exchange. When I began working in advertising in the mid-1980s, with British Telecom as a client, many of BT’s exchanges still contained what was referred to as Strowger equipment.

2015-12-11

Nowadays, of course, phone calls are switched electronically by computer, but there was something quite magical (and clatteringly noisy) about those old exchanges in which you could quite literally see the connections being made.

I think we all go through periods when, perhaps, we don’t connect as much as we might. I’m not talking necessarily about electronic connections, although there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with those, more about any and all human contact we have with others, especially when the communication is on more than a mere surface level.

I wonder if there’s a correlation between your mood and the amount of social contact you have each day? If so, it may not be easy to determine what is cause and effect (do you feel better because you’ve spent time with others, or do you spend time with them because you’re feeling good?) but there does appear to be sense in trying to increase your connections whenever you can.

Those old-fashioned telephone exchanges seemed to be at their best when they were working hard, and didn’t always do so well if they sat idle. They’d seize up and break down. Maybe your mood is a bit like this?

And perhaps today is a good one to get those dials whirring?

The therapeutic value of occasional tears

I may not know a lot, but one thing is certain to me: there are very few who go through life without a care in the world, never feeling anything less than A1.

In fact there may be times when every day can seem the exact opposite, when it feels as though the weight of the world is pressing down on you and you alone. When it’s been like this for me, I know how impossible it can be to keep a sense of perspective. I know how impossible it can be to maintain any degree of logic that might enable me to make sense of my situation. I also know that the tendency at such times can be to shut myself away.

2015-12-09

Even if you can’t pull the real curtains tight, you can certainly do so with the metaphorical drapes, aiming to avoid engaging with others, and often making a pretty good job of it.

A theme that I’ve often returned to is the value at such times of being part of something bigger, but this can feel a complete oxymoron. How the heck are you supposed to connect to some higher purpose (which seems to imply being around others) when all you really want to do is sink into the sofa?

Maybe it’s at times like this that it can help to think about things that move you. If they do so – even if they make you feel wistful – it’s probably because they’re making powerful connections to your memories or beliefs.

Let me give you an example. There are certain pieces of music which make me sad: simply playing them brings tears to my eyes. However, although it may seem counter-productive, I find they’re at their most moving and helpful when I’m feeling at a low ebb.

Sometimes, getting sad when you’re already low can seem to help rather than hinder. Perhaps this is because it causes you to reflect on people, places or times that have been important to you, and this in turn becomes a powerful reminder of what, to you, is the meaning of life.

For me, it’s music. For you it may be a movie, or a book, or a poem. The important thing to remember, however, is that experiencing something evocative can sometimes help when all might seem otherwise lost.

You don’t expect your friends to change, so why are you so hard on yourself?

Do you have a list of your friends tucked away somewhere, detailing the ways in which you’d like them to change? Unless you’re a closet therapist, I suspect you don’t. Even though they undoubtedly have their little idiosyncrasies (and who doesn’t?) you’re friends with them because of, or sometimes in spite of, who they are.

Similarly, the ‘you’ they count as their friend is the person you are today, not some idealised version of your personality that you maybe aspire to be.

2015-12-07

Given this, given that we generally accept others as we find them, and expect them to accept us as WE are, it’s sometimes surprising to realise that we’re not always entirely comfortable with who we are, especially if we’re going through a rough patch.

Maybe we imagine that things would be so much better for us if only we were a little less over-conscientious, or a bit more outgoing, or a tad more positive.

There’s no doubt that we may all be capable of small degrees of change, but the key words there are ‘may’ and ‘small’. Circumstances and genetics have acted in tandem to create the you who wears your clothes, and the chances of you becoming someone very different are frankly pretty slim.

Better by far to embrace yourself for who you are today, and to accept that, having got this far in life, you already have a strong foundation to build on.

Think about the people who like and respect you just as you are. Maybe they’re right?

Only 10 hours of recorded music? Seriously, why did The Beatles bother?

How long do you think it would take if you played every song released by The Beatles between 1963 and 1970 back-to-back?

Although it’s not easy to establish an exact or definitive answer, there’s general agreement that it would come to somewhere in the region of ten hours. If you put them on in alphabetical order, this would mean that you’d get from ‘Across The Universe’ to ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ in something considerably shorter than one of your waking days.

2015-12-06

This is the band that many would regard as the greatest in history, and they had no less than seven years to do their stuff. In some ways, it doesn’t sound a lot, does it? Around six hundred minutes. Ten hours.

So what do you think? Say you were John Lennon, in the studio in 1963 to record ‘Please Please Me’, and someone said, you know what, I wouldn’t bother if I were you. It’s going to be seven years before you release ‘The Long And Winding Road’ and after all that work, all that graft, it’ll still only amount to ten hours of material. I’d call it a day now if I were you.

Well thank goodness this didn’t happen. In my humble opinion our world would have been all the poorer without the music of The Beatles, who started their careers with the most positive of attitudes – perhaps this is what got them through their estimated 10,000 hours of playing live in Hamburg before they even started proper recording, in fact.

When you see early press conferences given by Messrs Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr, you see confidence, and you get the feeling that these four twenty-somethings knew they’d got what it would take.

Just imagine what would have happened if they hadn’t taken a positive approach, however. Things would have been very different.

So how about you, today, then? Positive or negative outlook? It’s fairly easy to predict how things will pan out if you opt for the latter, but choose the former and who knows where things could go? I’ve got a feeling.

3 ways to bounce back when things aren’t so good

Why does a ball bounce? Let’s say it’s a tennis ball which you’re about to drop onto a hard surface. Before you let go of it, the ball has potential energy (because of its height above the ground) then as it falls, this is turned into kinetic energy.

On striking the ground, this kinetic energy is used to squish the ball – then a moment or two later, the ball’s elasticity causes it to rapidly return to its former shape, and doing so makes it leap away from the hard surface – back up into the air again.

2015-12-04

A tennis┬áball doesn’t have to think about this, as the laws of physics come into play. Things that will bounce generally do bounce.

Humans, of course, don’t have this degree of elasticity when it comes to impacting with hard surfaces, which is why cycle helmets make such a lot of sense. But what about metaphorical hard surfaces? How do we bounce back when we run into mental barriers and obstacles?

At times it can be unquestionably tough. Resilience is a marvellous strength, but one which may be in short supply just when it’s needed most.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers in this area, but can at least offer some suggestions for dealing with adversity.

1. Is there a way to think differently about the situation? Rather than viewing it as insurmountable, might it be possible to see it as a problem whose solution will be found once it has been teased out?

2. Might there be value in seeing the obstacle as temporary rather than permanent? This way, you needn’t pretend that it’s anything other than big, but you might be able to believe that its impact could recede over time.

3. Maybe you’ll be able to restrict the obstacle’s impact to one area of your life, rather than despairing that it’s affecting everything? You’ve fallen out with one person, say, but you still have others around you – that kind of thing.

The laws of physics may not govern the ways in which you can demonstrate resilience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t establish some of your own.

Make plans, even when you absolutely don’t feel like it

When I browse around book stores here in the USA, I’m often struck by the use of a particular Dr Seuss quotation on cards and gifts meant for newly graduating students:

‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’

When you’re young, there’s a strong tendency to believe that as one thing finishes, another – perhaps better – begins. That’s probably mostly what you’ll have experienced during the progress of your own education. As one door closes, another is already opening to welcome you in.

2015-12-02

Also, as you grow up there are always those age-related milestones to look forward to: being allowed in a bar, getting your driver’s licence, seeing movies that were forbidden when you were younger.

The life of a growing child is pretty goal-driven, you’ll probably agree. For many, however, things change as the years pass. It may seem as though there’s less to look forward to, and possibly even that some of what’s to come is to be regretted or even feared.

This is never more so than at times when the clouds have descended on your mind. On a particularly grey day it may seem as though there’s little to anticipate, not much to get excited about.

However, although it’s supposed to be impossible to tickle yourself (I’d try but I’m in a university library) there are certain neurological actions that can actually be self-started. For example, you can schedule yourself something you’ll look forward to.

While this obviously wouldn’t work with something like a surprise party (unless you’re pretty forgetful) it’s certainly possible to create your own things to get a little excited about. I’m sure you’ll have ideas, so why not schedule something positive for later on?