Monthly Archives: November 2016

The perfect conversational recipe. Two listeners, two disclosers.

Like me, I expect you know people whose idea of a conversation seems to be that you mainly listen while they mainly talk, and the only time they encourage you to say something is if you’re asking them a question – allowing them to talk even more.

Although I was brought up to be a listener rather than a ‘teller’, as I get older I’m realising that there’s often a sweet spot between these two positions.


It’s not always selfish to talk about yourself, particularly in moderation.

A little self-disclosure can help people understand you better, but it’s when both of you do so, when the confidences are reciprocated, that a conversation takes on a life of its own, allowing the two of you to walk away having had a good experience, sometimes even a great experience.

It’s not always easy to do this, particularly if your disclosure might relate, say, to the fact that you’re not always a happy bunny.

Perhaps it makes sense to tread carefully, and to think before you disclose; only doing so if you believe it won’t make the other person uncomfortable.

An uncomfortable conversational partner rarely makes for a good exchange, but there’s little that beats the pleasure of a genuine two-way flow of honesty.

Constant micro-corrections help you balance your bike. Perhaps your mood, too?

Left a bit, right a bit.



It’s how most of us learned to ride a bike.


Start moving, and if you feel yourself starting to fall one way, lean the other.

While you’re still learning, you’re pretty conscious of what you’re doing.



Ooh, er!

Then all of a sudden you’re riding.

You’re a cyclist.

You stop thinking about what you’re doing and you just pedal.

You’re flying.

Many of life’s processes operate similarly, requiring you to constantly adjust a little this way, a little that way, to arrive at a destination.

It makes you wonder if we might not learn to ‘ride our moods’.

What if, when you felt yourself falling one way, you could compensate by leaning the other?

What if a little mindfulness could get you to a happier place rather than a gloomier one?

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

What do you think? There’s almost always a choice.

At any one point in a maze, there are generally two ways to go.

Sometimes more, but unless you’ve just reached the exit, there’s usually a decision to make.

Left or right?


Often, life can feel just like a maze.

You’re sure there has to be a way through it, but you don’t have a map.

Who knows whether the decisions you make every day are the right ones?

How come some people seem to glide through it much easier than you do?

But of course, not only do you go through each day faced with a million decisions, you also generally always have a choice about the way you’ll think about what happens, and this is the bit which is easy to forget.

Most of us tend to have familiar patterns of thought.

Something happens and we view it in a particular way – in general, the way we always view this kind of thing, and that’s fine if, for example, we’re always pleased about positive events.

On the other hand, it’s not so great if your reaction to bad stuff is to say: ‘Well, it’s all my fault. I bring these things upon myself’.

You see, it’s probably not the truth.

Just now and again (often, perhaps) someone else is to blame.

Someone else is the cause.

That’s one branch of the maze, then, one choice.

But there will be many others.

For example, do you blame the other person?

Or try to understand them?

Why not try to keep this in mind today?

Emotions, just like life itself, can take the form of a maze.

And the best way to progress (indeed, the only way) is to remember that you have choices.

Almost always.

Sometimes the best way to help is just to dive in.

A friend and I compared notes about what generally happens if those around you realise you’re having a hard time.

Often they truly want to help, but nine times out of ten this gets translated into them asking what they can do for you, one of the most frustrating offers in the world.

Yes, you want help (sometimes desperately) but no – you’ve nowhere near enough strength to organise your thoughts sufficiently to brief them.

As my friend said, ‘Don’t ask me how you can help, just tell me what you’re going to do, then do it’.


When times are tough, it can feel as though you’re using every ounce of your meagre resources simply to keep the plates spinning.

So when a well-meaning friend asks how they can help, you’ve literally no capacity to work out a strategy.

Better by far if they assume responsibility for a couple of plates.

‘I’ll look after these two’ – these are the type of words you may long to hear.

But what if you agree with this principle, but don’t know how to suggest it to others?

Two ideas spring to mind.

You could always lead by example, helping others as you’d like to be helped yourself.

But if the need’s more urgent, why not let me do the seed-sowing?

Just show this mood nudge to a friend.

You may well discover that they’re only too pleased to know that the best way to help you is to simply roll up their sleeves and make a start on something, anything.

Don’t ask, just do.

Don’t be surprised when thinking makes you tired. A working mind uses a ton of energy.

Why did I feel so tired?

A while ago, I had a spell of feeling physically exhausted, despite not having particularly exerted myself.

I wasn’t ill, as far as I knew.

I found the answer by reflecting on my mood.


Up to that point I’d had an extraordinarily stressful time – not especially busy, but a lot of anxiety and worry.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes forget that this sort of mental pressure can literally take it all out of you, making huge demands of your physiology as it causes your systems to work overtime producing all the hormones associated with stress, and it’s really not surprising that you need time to recover once things return to being on an even keel.

The learning?

It’s so important to listen to your body, and to look for clues such as mid-morning yawns and general lethargy.

Obviously, if there’s no clear explanation for this, it’s sensible to seek expert advice and help, but if it’s simply that you’ve been having a tough time (which you’re thankfully now beyond) it may be a straightforward case of allowing nature to work its wonders, getting you fixed in a day or two.

There’s a big connection between what you do and how you feel.

The power of being totally, utterly completely absorbed in an activity.

Did you hear about the good old country boy nuclear physicist whose hobbies were huntin’, shootin’ and fission?

Although I’ve never been an angler myself, I’ve always admired a dedicated fisherman’s ability to become completely absorbed in the process of sitting on a riverbank watching a float.


It’s not really my thing, but what definitely is, is the glorious sensation of doing something which demands your complete and utter concentration for an extended period.

You lose track of time.

You forget everything else.

You pack up your troubles in your old kitbag.

The splendidly named psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this state of mind ‘flow’, and there’s a huge amount to be said for it.

So when were you last similarly absorbed?

What were you doing at the time?

Every single social connection gives your mood a boost.

It’s worth remembering that connectedness is a pretty crucial contributor to your wellbeing.

Being around others can give your mood a seriously healthy boost: a kind of peach and mango smoothie for the soul.


But it can be easy to forget this, especially if you wake up feeling tired, lethargic, or a little low.

It can also be easy to forget that you generally start your day with more choice than you might believe about what will or won’t happen.

Today is a good day – a great one in fact – to go out of your way to connect with others.

Face to face is best, but a phone call can be great too.

Why not make today a connecting one?

A peach and mango smoothie one too, if you like.