Monthly Archives: November 2016

Put your wellbeing at the top of your To Do list.

The other day a newspaper carried an article about ‘To Do’ lists.

No doubt about it, they can help you organise your thoughts and prioritise things.

But at times they can also loom over you like a scary monster.

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Sometimes there are days when the very act of getting from morning to evening can seem a monumental effort.

Add to this the requirement that you’ll also be crossing things off a long To Do list and you’re virtually certain to set yourself up for disappointment.

One thought I did like in the article was that there’s always sense in recognising that some items on your list can be actions, while others are simply intentions.

Good to have the latter, but not so great if they distract you from day to day priorities.

You may, for instance, want to learn a new language, but you also have bills to pay and wellbeing (your own especially) to take care of.

The language lessons can almost certainly wait.

But the bills and wellbeing can’t.

So if things aren’t perfect for you anytime soon, please remember that it makes sense to focus on the genuine priorities.

Right now, instead of language lessons there’s always Google Translate.

Helping someone with their load doesn’t mean carrying it yourself.

Although I’m personally not a prolific Tweeter or Facebooker, I check both sites on a fairly regular basis to see what friends, and those I follow, are up to.

It’s intriguing to observe two quite different styles among those who are prodigious in their content generation.

It seems some people are overwhelmingly positive and light-hearted in their posts, while others dwell on the serious.

Sometimes the deadly serious.

And I suppose this online behaviour simply reflects real life.

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I’m sure we all know people who appear to radiate light wherever they go, and others who can cast a sense of glumness over everything.

Social media makes it relatively easy to avoid seeing the posts of gloom-mongers, if you wish.

Not so simple in the real world however, particularly if they’re people with whom you need to have regular contact, for one reason or another.

Although emotions can be contagious (if you’re not careful, someone else’s misery can get through to you too) it seems to help if you’re determined to see someone else’s burden as something you can help with, rather than needing to take its weight on your own shoulders.

Just as others can’t deal with it on their own, neither will you.

Share the load, by all means, but don’t try to carry it for them.

Try leaving your troubles behind you when you leave a location.

You sometimes hear people say they’re ‘closing the door’ on a certain incident, or a particular part of their life.

They’re putting it behind them, moving on from it.

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Although closing the door is a figure of speech, it’s also something you physically do plenty of times a day.

Generally a good idea, too, if you want your valuables to be still there when you get home.

However, whenever you need to, I think you can link the physical action with its figure-of-speech meaning.

It sometimes makes sense to compartmentalise life so that certain parts are in certain boxes, and you’re not trying to cope with all your stuff all at once.

Gets tricky, that.

So if you’ve been worrying about something while you’ve been driving, literally tell yourself that you’ll leave it in the car as you shut the door.

If work’s getting to you, reassure yourself that you’re putting it behind you as the door closes at the end of the day.

Last one out?

Lock it, and bolt it too.

If you’re Kermit, it makes sense to accept being green.

Kermit had a point when he grumbled that it’s not easy being green.

His argument was that being green made him blend in with so many things, which sort of ignores the evolutionary benefits of camouflage, but we do get what he meant.

The big thing, of course, is that Kermit was, is, and always will be green.

You’re a frog for goodness’ sake, man.

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It’s easy to believe that things would be different for you if they weren’t as they are.

You’d be happier if you did this or that.

You’d be better off if things were different.

You’d be more content if only, if only.

Sometimes, of course, change is possible.

But only sometimes.

So if you can’t change something, isn’t it better to simply accept it?

If you’re a frog, you’re green, and that’s the way it’s always going to be.

Surely only a muppet could disagree with that?

The pleasure of anticipation, and Happy Thanksgiving.

As a kid, there’s always something to look forward to.

Christmas, your birthday, the weekend, summer, winter, spring, autumn.

A new bike.

Thanksgiving, if you’re in the USA – and whether you are or aren’t, Happy Thanksgiving for tomorrow.

Generally a kid’s life is one big slice of anticipation, tinged with the frustration that nothing ever happens as quickly as you want it to.

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But as the years pass by, it can sometimes seem that there’s less to look forward to.

Life may feel humdrum, with a distinct absence of carrots dangling from the end of the stick.

However perhaps there’s a little, not unreasonable, trick that you can play on yourself.

Often we gain even more pleasure anticipating something than we do actually experiencing it.

So if it feels as though there are no big things to look forward to, actively anticipate the smaller.

When you’re working, imagine how good it will feel when you down tools at the end of the day.

Going to speak to a friend in a few days’ time?

Visualise how warming this will be.

Reading a good book at the moment?

Start to anticipate the feeling of getting stuck back into it before you do.

Even when you’re not a kid, there’s generally always something to look forward to.

Sometimes, though, you have to seek it out.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re struggling with emotional baggage.

I like to think that when someone pauses forlornly at the foot of a long staircase in a railway station, loaded down with suitcases, it won’t be too long before a good Samaritan offers some help.

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Perhaps it’s an idealistic way of viewing the world, but the bigger point I think is that when people can actually see you have a problem they’re more likely to come to your aid.

If it’s obvious that you’re struggling, it’s more or less human nature (or ought to be) for others to lend their support.

But whilst this theory may hold water, it only does so up to a point.

What happens, for instance, when you’re struggling inside?

Heavy baggage doesn’t always take the form of suitcases.

When your load is mental rather than physical, it may not be evident to those around you.

And it’s at times like these that you may need to ask for help rather than simply expecting it to be offered to you on a plate.

Don’t struggle on alone when you need a hand.

Do ask for it.

Being kind to others is also being kind to ourselves.

Setting out just now to write a few words about kindness, I decided I’d first check the origin of the word ‘kind’.

Now I probably should have thought about this before, but there’s (I suppose obviously) shared heritage between the words ‘kind’ and ‘kin’.

‘Kin’ meaning family.

So technically if I tell you that you’ve been very kind to me, I’m letting you know that you’ve treated me as if we were both from the same family – which is all rather heartening, I reckon.

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Although there’s probably not enough kindness in the world, it’s a resource that’s theoretically unlimited.

Unlike coal, oil or gas it needn’t necessarily run out, as long as you and I keep generating it.

In general, kindness is contagious.

If you’re kind to me, I’m more likely to be kind to someone else, and they’re more likely to pass it on to others too.

Even better, kindness is a gift that rewards the giver.

When you show kindness to another person, your own reward system is also given a boost.

Great acts of kindness are fantastic.

But lots of little acts build up to produce a similar effect too.

So why not be kind to yourself today, by being kind to others?

Perseverance is great, and so is changing course sometimes.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

So suggested American educator Thomas Palmer in his ‘Teacher’s Manual’ published in the first half of the 19th century.

Persistence, he argued, was the name of the game.

Stick at things and you’ll get there, was his advice.

I reckon he was largely right.

But only largely.

Whilst there are times when tenacity clearly pays off, now and again it can also be the case that a different approach is called for.

It’ll take you a long time to bang nails in with a screwdriver, for instance, but switch to a hammer and the job will be done in a jiffy.

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Someone (it may have been the author Rita Mae Brown, although some suggest it could have been dear old Albert Einstein) said that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing day after day, and expecting a different result.

So which way is best?

Well, both probably.

Focus and perseverance have a lot going for them.

But when things really aren’t working, so does stopping, thinking, and adopting a different approach.

If just one flower wilts, don’t discard the whole vase.

A while ago I spoke to Ali, a friend who has an intriguing take on things.

Like a lot of people, Ali loves having a vase of flowers in her home.

She told me:

‘If there are seven in the vase and one dies, I take it out and throw it away so I can carry on enjoying the other six.’

‘I wouldn’t throw away the whole bunch because one was ruined, would I?’

‘In the same way, if I have a bad day I write it off as a failure at the end, but I don’t give up on the rest of the week.’

‘That would be like throwing out all seven flowers at once, wouldn’t it?’

What a lovely suggestion.

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When something (or some day) goes wrong, there can be a tendency to catastrophise, to assume that the whole house of cards is crashing down, when in reality the damage is generally only limited.

Too right Ali.

Better a vase six-sevenths full, rather than an empty one.

Why it makes sense to tackle emotional challenges one at a time.

Say you needed to untangle a ball of string, but just as you began, you inadvertently dropped it into the kitchen sink, which was full of sudsy water; then the lightbulb went, plunging the room into complete darkness.

Now rather than trying to solve all three problems simultaneously, the answer is almost certainly to uncouple, and prioritise.

Dry your hands.

Fix the light.

Take the string out of the water and probably allow it to dry, too.

Then – and only then – have a go at untangling it.

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It seems pretty obvious to tackle a hypothetical situation in this way, so why do we often fail to follow similar principles when we’ve multiple issues occupying our minds?

Why do we believe we can solve them all at once?

Why do we persist in believing that they’re all somehow connected?

It’s easy to assume that, just because everything’s not as it should be in one part of our life, the same reasons affect the other areas.

This isn’t necessarily the case, though.

When you’ve multiple worries, it’s not always easy to uncouple one from another, but doing so is almost certainly the best way to move forward.

One step at a time.