Twenty years ago in Sydney I traded a slap-up dinner for some priceless knowledge.
The friend I met up with, Robin, had just been on a lateral thinking course based on the principles of Edward de Bono, and — keen to learn more about how to think — I plied my friend with food and drink in return for him passing on his learning.
Some time later I discovered that the ‘secrets’ he revealed were actually all contained in one of de Bono’s books but, hey, it was a delicious dinner (and it’s nearly always nicer to be taught in person rather than from the printed page).
I was reminded of this little experience the other day when I came across a copy of what I believe was Edward de Bono’s first book (‘The Use Of Lateral Thinking’) in a thrift store.
There’s a lovely line in it, which I have to pass on: ‘It is not possible to dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.’
He’s talking about problem solving of course, and the desirability of thinking laterally rather than vertically, but I reckon his admonition is every bit as relevant to the juggling of emotions as it is to the tackling of challenges.
When your mood is frazzled, sometimes it’s all you can do to keep digging that hole deeper and deeper.
However there’s much to be said for pausing for breath and taking a long hard look around you.
Might that lousy mood be telling you something?
Maybe it’s suggesting that there could be a better digging location.
It’s a thought, isn’t it?
‘Ever since you started hanging around with X, you’ve changed.’
It’s one of those allegations which may get levelled in relationships which are struggling through a rough patch, the insinuation being that the accused isn’t who he/she used to be.
The fact of the matter of course is that we do tend to take on the characteristics of the people we spend the most time with.
Socialising with optimists may give you a more half-full view of life, whilst being around those with a fundamentally pessimistic outlook might well drain your own glass.
Most of us have some around us who need to be there whatever the weather, but there’s nearly always an element of your social circle who are more discretionary — people you can choose to spend time with (or not).
I think life would quickly become bland if we opted to fill our lives entirely with ‘happy campers’.
But isn’t it worth going a little out of your way to benefit from being with those who generally lift your spirits rather than dampen them?
You know who I mean.
Why not arrange to catch up with them?
OK, let’s suppose you’re having a bad day – a really bad day – and out of the blue someone tells you a joke, or you see something funny online or on TV.
Does this change your underlying mood?
Is everything suddenly fine and dandy again?
No, of course it isn’t.
But yes, perhaps it is a little.
If you’ve been eating a poor diet for too long, one raw carrot probably isn’t suddenly going to improve your health.
But multiply this effect into several days of food that’s better for you, and things will unquestionably improve.
The trick, I think, is in not turning your back on that small first chink of light in the mistaken assumption that nothing (NOTHING) will help.
Building a better state of mind is hardly ever the result of one large intervention, but a gradual process building on a range of different inputs.
A laugh here, a hug there, little conversations everywhere.
So the next time you’re mired in the glums, don’t dismiss that involuntary chuckle as meaningless.
It, and other perhaps tiny slices of positivity, are what will gather to lift you back to where you belong.