Monthly Archives: October 2016

The first part of looking after others is looking after yourself.

As kids, it’s drummed into us that to be selfish is wrong.

Share your toys.

Share your food.

Share the airtime in conversations.

Of course this is sensible guidance, since living with others in relative harmony means not keeping everything to yourself.

The theory is that if you share with others, then they’ll share with you too.

However, being unselfish isn’t the same as believing that it’s somehow wrong to care for yourself, and to look after No. 1 at times.


When you travel by air, the safety demonstration tells you to put on your own oxygen mask before tending to the needs of others, and this clearly makes sense.

If you’re going to be of help to those around you, you must be strong yourself, so ensuring that you’re well-rested, well-fed and well-adjusted isn’t selfish.

It’s right and proper.

Keep your own fuel tank topped up like you would your car’s.

If your car runs out of petrol/gas, either you’ve been negligent by not filling its tank, or you’re on one of those unfeasibly long, straight Arizona roads you generally only see in movies.


As I say, in general, the only one to blame when your car runs out of fuel is you.

But when this is so self-evident, why do we expect our bodies to keep on running at full speed, and our minds to keep making sensible decisions, when we’ve not kept ourselves properly fed and watered?

Why do we work through lunch without stopping to eat?

Worse still, why do we do so, then give in to a bar of chocolate a couple of hours later – promising that it’s deserved because it’s simply a meal replacement?

Eating properly, healthily and regularly is vital.

Yet when you’re busy, stressed or down, it can be one of the first things to get forgotten.

You don’t need me to tell you what’s good for you and what isn’t, just as you don’t need me to tell you when to eat and when not to.

So do the right thing today, and make sure your tank’s filled appropriately.

Running dry on one of those lonely Arizona roads isn’t a comfortable experience.

Even the hardest times are rarely pitch dark.

How do you react when things don’t go your way?

I’m afraid it’s ever so easy to become unrealistic in the way you reason.

You lose out in a competition, for instance, and you declare that you never win anything.

The train doesn’t turn up when it should, leading you to grumble that they’re always late.

You temporarily fall out with a friend, and then moan that nobody loves you.

You and I know that it’s rarely the case that things are permanently up the creek, yet when you’re feeling rough, you may be liable to slip into this unfortunate way of thinking.

I know I certainly can.


A good counsellor might challenge your assumptions.

She would ask you if it’s genuinely the case that you’ve won nothing whatsoever in your whole life, and you’d probably begrudgingly admit that, well, you did once come first in an egg and spoon race.

Unrealistic reasoning isn’t helpful, and it’s invariably helpful to interrogate yourself if you ever find yourself ruminating in this kind of way.

Almost certainly you’ve won something at some time.

You’ve experienced punctual trains.

And someone somewhere loves you.


For clearer thinking, hunt down a quiet spot.

You know that thing where you’re supposed to pat your head while simultaneously rubbing your stomach?

I’m not good at it.

That’s possibly because I’m a ‘one thing at a time’ kind of guy or – as I’m sure the majority of women might say – a man.

Some of us are able to multi-task, while others operate best when they’re fully focused on a single objective.

But my point today is that when you need to do some proper thinking, it’s hard to concentrate with too many distractions around you.


On the train the other day, thanks to two phone conversations going on next to me, I found myself reading the same sentence over and over again, so in the end I got up and found a quieter place to sit.

Sometimes we all need a little peace, a little solitude, a little quiet time.

When you’ve tracked down a space like this, it’s surprising how much it will add to your clarity of thought.

Often you’ll have to actively seek it out, but it’s worth the effort, even if it’s not always easy to find.

Looking after your mind starts with looking after your body.

I’m reliably informed that back in 2006 Mariah Carey’s legs were insured for a knee-trembling billion dollars.

Over the years, a procession of celebs have had eye-popping policies covering various body parts (often, I suspect, largely for PR purposes).

However, it may make you wonder why such a chasm should exist between those who take care of their bodies (I’m assuming that if you have billion-dollar legs, someone somewhere is going to be keeping a very close eye on your pins’ wellbeing) – and those who don’t.


I reckon there’s a tendency for many of us to assume that our bodies will simply look after themselves, even when we treat them carelessly.

But that’s not always so, and it’s easy to slip into bad ways.

Not surprisingly your mental wellbeing is pretty closely dependent on your physical health, and this in turn is clearly affected by the degree to which you look after yourself.

Unless you know something I don’t, you’ve only got the one body.

Does it therefore not make sense to look after it?

If you can’t change it, accept it. Perhaps even celebrate it.

Can you change the colour of your skin?

Tanning booths aside, nope.

Can you add six inches to your height?

Not really, no.

Could you lose a few pounds?

Possibly, but not overnight.

There are things about our physical selves that we accept.

They’re who we are, and how we look.


So why then do some of us (including me) wish we could be different in other ways?

We may pray that one day we’ll wake up permanently happy, or less anxious, or more sure of ourselves.

The thing is, that’s generally not going to happen.

Sure, you can work on your mind in the same way that you can on your body, but on the whole you’re probably who you are, you know: you’re probably not going to change that much.

Years of mood-tracking has shown me that I’ll always have rougher times alongside my better ones.

Knowing this and accepting it were two different things, though.

However, it helps hugely – it really does – to be able to declare that you are who you are: there’s a lot to be said for this.

Be a woohoo-minator, not a ruminator.

I guess it’s human nature that we should tend to dwell on those things which went wrong, often failing to recall those which were successful, happy and exciting.


Sometimes it seems as though we believe that constantly replaying the sadder, badder stuff might make it all go away, whereas it often just becomes increasingly visible, usually far more than its significance deserves.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got good at chewing over negative events, seeing the pictures in your mind just as clearly as they were when whatever it was first happened.

Often, however, a kind of distorting filter gets placed in front of the lens, so the pictures you see are a misinterpretation of what really took place.

It may be difficult, but there’s a lot to be said for thinking like a detective when these nasties show up in your head.

Was it truly as awful as you apparently recall?

Was everything about it as bleak as you remember?

And most important of all, is there honestly any value in playing it back as often as you do?

So here’s a thought.

If you’ve become an expert at creating these remembered images, why not put your skills to better use now and again by re-running memories of an especially good and happy event instead?

Visualise the sights and sounds, and concentrate hard on re-imagining thoughts you could have experienced at the time.

You may be surprised how well this can work, and how swiftly it could bring a small smile to your lips.

Others can try to understand how you’re feeling, but you’re the only one who truly knows.

Oh, how we love to classify things, organising our world into neat little boxes.

But then along comes the mule.

There were those zoologists, secure in the knowledge that they’d classified horses and donkeys as separate species, then they turned their backs for a minute and – what do you know? – a male donkey gets it on with a female horse and, around a year later, out pops an in-betweeny, a mule.


Now, I’ve clearly led a sheltered life, as while researching this, I learnt that the opposite, er, coming together of a female donkey and a male horse (you are keeping up, aren’t you?) can lead to a rarer offspring, known as a ‘hinny’.

The thing is, our neat classification systems often break down, and insisting that everything has a box, and that everything must be in its box, can mislead us at times.

I thought of this during a fascinating exchange with some people who supposedly all have bipolar disorder.

Although their experiences had much in common, there were whole chunks which were completely different from each other.

When you face your own challenges with mood, it’s tempting to believe that someone else who’s gone through similar times will know exactly how you feel.

But very likely they won’t, and can’t.

That’s why it’s so, so important to use your best efforts to make sense of your own feelings.

Others can definitely help, but when it comes to true understanding, there’s only one real expert, and that’s you.

To give yourself proper breaks, schedule them as if they were firm appointments.

I’m among the world’s worst when it comes to taking time out.

I wish I wasn’t, but something inside me seems to stop me stopping.

I know I’m not alone: I’m sure you’ll have gone through this yourself from time to time, or (and I do hope not) as unreasonably and unceasingly as I’m inclined to.

But the thing is, when I do slow right down and take time off, the clarity of my thinking improves to an enormous extent.

Problems that seemed insurmountable appear much more manageable with the perspective afforded by a rested mind and a brain that’s no longer frazzled.


Often it’s not good enough just to hope that a chance to rest will pop up by accident.

It needs to be planned, and put in your diary in indelible pen – just as if it was a vital appointment or crucial meeting.

Don’t wait too long to do this for yourself.

I chatted to a woman the other day who said that when she got home from the shops, her husband told her he’d booked them a fortnight’s holiday.

Now that’s the way to do it.

It never hurts to think a little about where you’re headed.

I love maps.

I came across dozens when I sorted through some stuff recently, and opening one instantly transported me to a completely different place.

On a map, everything’s so organised.

If you want to get from A to B, it’s generally pretty easy to see how you should go about it.

You can see where places are, relative to others.

And of course you can carry your map with you, to help in case you get lost.


I can’t help thinking how helpful it would be to have a special map that would do for living what a conventional one does for travelling, but life’s twists and turns are usually pretty unpredictable.

Maybe this is unfortunate, or perhaps it’s good.

It certainly keeps you on your toes.

However, even if there’s no piece of printed paper to help you navigate through today, I think it does help to have a broad idea of where you’re headed.

Not always easy, I know.

I’ve always liked these lines from Alice in Wonderland, though:

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

Where are you going to go today?