Monthly Archives: October 2017

How disclosure can bring people closer.

Like me, I expect you know people whose idea of a conversation is 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.

So they can talk even more.

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

You know, it’s not always selfish to talk about yourself.

Particularly when it’s in moderation.

Disclosing something of yourself almost always helps another person understand you better.

But it’s when you both do this, when the confidences are reciprocated, that a conversation takes on a life of its own, allowing you to both walk away from it having had a good experience.

Sometimes even a great experience.

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

Perhaps it makes sense, then, to tread carefully, to think before you disclose, and only to do this if you believe it’s not going to make the other person uncomfortable.

An uncomfortable conversational partner rarely makes an exchange a good one.

But there’s not a lot to beat the satisfaction of a genuine two-way flow of honesty.

The spit-in-the-tube stress test.

Some years ago, my British friend David the psychologist did some research that looked at the stress of driving in heavy traffic.

Although both sexes said that they didn’t find it especially stressful, David had a cunning plan which involved getting his participants to spit into a plastic vial before and after a drive.

Nice.

Anyway, the saliva was then subjected to some rigorous lab work which showed that while his female participants remained reasonably calm, the men’s stress levels rocketed – even though they insisted that the situation wasn’t affecting on them.

David’s view was that there’s possibly a kind of ‘fight or flight’ response brewing in men, but you can’t exactly do a lot of fighting or flighting when you’re stuck in a nose-to-tail jam.

So they became frustrated and stressed.

Being unaware of something like stress isn’t clever, as we can be inclined to behave irrationally or even dangerously when we’re massively wound up.

So if you think you know how you’re feeling (and especially, it seems, if you happen to be a man) perhaps it’s worth thinking again.

Pay attention to all the signs around you.

Take notice, too, of what those around you may be telling you.

It makes an awful lot of sense to be in touch with your emotions.

Martial arts for mood. Turning the strength of bad emotions against themselves.

At times we humans can be pretty good at focusing our thoughts, concentrating our thinking on one particular idea or concept.

The trouble is, this single-minded attention can sometimes be aimed at the very thing we shouldn’t be obsessing about.

I’m thinking particularly about the unhealthy behaviour of rumination – turning a concern or worry over and over in your head, to no good.

When you’re thinking bad things, possibly on the way to becoming depressed or anxious, you’re often not in the right frame of mind to benefit from the kind of sensible, rational thoughts which might just be able to help you.

Mainly because the whole process of rumination leads you to be anything but sensible or rational.

(I speak from experience.)

Some years ago I did a little martial arts training.

Whilst I don’t remember it all, I do recall the principle of using an opponent’s own strength against him/her.

And I wonder if we might adapt this as a mechanism as a way of breaking the rumination cycle?

I’ve found I can focus on something entirely unconnected to the source of those destructive thoughts.

Crowding out the bad ones with better ones.

Perhaps it’s getting involved in a long conversation with someone, about (in a Monty Python way) something completely different.

Or maybe it’s getting your teeth into a practical task which demands your full attention.

When the thoughts are going round and round, it may be tempting to sit there and let them.

Tempting, but not good.

At times like this, why not look for something new to focus on?

Then focus on it.

Fully.

The power of being part of something bigger than yourself.

Those who know about these things tell me that an important contributor to a happier life is having the feeling that you’re part of something bigger.

Leading a life of meaning, if you like.

For some this may mean belonging to an organised religious group of some kind, and I’ve certainly heard it said that those who go to church regularly are happier than those who don’t.

(What we don’t know, of course is whether going to church makes people happier, or whether in general it’s happier people who go to church.)

However, I’d say (and I possibly would, being only microscopically religious myself) that we can all live a life of meaning without necessarily being an active member of a religion.

For a start, you can be part of your community.

A more active part, perhaps?

There’s an opportunity for you.

You can be part of your circle of friends.

Again, perhaps a more active part?

Another opportunity.

And of course, I’m happy say you’re part of Moodnudges.

At the end of the day it’s you who chooses what you’ll be part of.

But knowing what an impact it can have on you when you feel a part of this bigger thing makes it all the more important to hunt it down.

In life, as in a maze, there’s nearly always a choice.

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 like a maze.

You know there’s 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 be able to scoot through it much easier than you can?

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

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 that kind of thing.

And that’s fine if, for instance, we’re always pleased that something good has happened.

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, that’s probably not the truth.

Just now and again (maybe even very often) someone else is to blame.

Someone else is the cause.

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

But almost immediately, there are others.

For example, do you blame the other person?

Or try and understand them?

Why not try and keep this in mind today then?

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’ve got choices.

Always.

Why it can be important to speak up for yourself.

It’s neither the time nor place to go into all the whys and wherefores, but I heard the story of a man who’d been summarily dismissed from his job, despite a spotless history with the company until that point, simply because he’d not reported a minor accident he’d had at work.

Nobody was hurt.

Nothing was damaged.

His instant dismissal was simply down to not having followed rules about reporting things.

Now he’s a very kind, affable and nice man – and I have to tell you that he was utterly mortified by the experience.

I think we all would have been, in similar circumstances.

And the tendency in such circumstances is to be horribly upset, and to curl up into your shell.

Or alternatively to become completely furious with the person or organisation who slighted you.

Except that he didn’t.

He wrote a very polite letter of appeal, and two weeks later he got his job back.

In my mind this doesn’t make what the employer did excusable, but it was a hugely better outcome than might otherwise have transpired.

You’ll have knocks and setbacks in life, always.

Although you’ll need to simply accept some of them, others may warrant something more assertive from you.

It’s not always easy to stand up for yourself, especially if you’re not feeling great.

But it’s always right.

Finding a way to jog your memory.

I do my best, I really do.

But try as I may to keep track of things that friends and family tell me are upcoming for them (medical appointments for example), I often forget.

Then, of course, I kick myself when they subsequently tell me how they got on, when I’d far rather have been in the position of remembering to ask them in the first place.

Maybe it’ll make me feel a little better if I know it’s something which also happens to you, now and then?

But if it is, I don’t think you or I should beat ourselves up over it.

Much more importantly we shouldn’t feel offended when someone forgets something about US.

You’d need a brain like a super-computer to keep track of everything around you, but that’s just not possible.

But simple, practical systems can help.

For me, it’s time to start sticking those Post-It notes on the refrigerator door again.

I like it when I remember things about people.

They do too.

Be kind to yourself by taking more time.

I used to bemoan the fact that when I asked a programmer how long he thought it would take him to finish a project and he said four days, this actually meant four weeks.

But the trouble is, that’s often how things work – and in fact I’m as guilty as the next person for underestimating the length of time that tasks will take.

In business it’s good to exceed your customers’ expectations.

For instance I love that when I buy a book on Amazon, the site tells me it won’t get delivered for several days, but then my order often turns up tomorrow.

When you underestimate the length of time it’ll take you to do something, I think you’re really setting yourself up to fail.

Instead of being pleased with your achievement, you’ll be disappointed in how much longer it took than it should have done.

So why not try to be a bit more lenient when it comes to planning your time?

Instead of giving yourself 30 minutes to tackle a task, and being dissatisfied when it takes 45, why not allow an hour in the first place?

This way you’ll very likely end up with a spare quarter of an hour to spend as you wish.

Don’t over-schedule.

Do be kind to yourself.

Forget what went wrong, what went right?

When things go wrong, we can often be all-too ready to analyse the reasons, to look for underlying causes, and often to feel miserable as a result.

But what about when things go right?

What do we do then?

After a good day recently, when all the pieces seemed to slot into place, I didn’t even stop to think about it – just carried on with all the usual routines.

In fact it took a friend to drag me away from my desk for a celebratory coffee, talking through the good things that had happened.

I don’t think I do this enough.

I rarely stop to reflect on successes, whether they’re big or small.

And I don’t often allow myself to feel grateful.

I wonder if you do?

Even if the answer is yes, there’s no harm (and a lot of benefit) in doing a better job of acknowledging the good things in life.

They don’t necessarily need to be big wins.

They might even be something as simple as realising that for once you haven’t got a headache, for instance.

I reckon the late and great Ian Dury was right when he sang about ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’.

In general we all have them, even though they sometimes hide themselves in the recesses of our minds.

How about hunting some down today?

A cat and a kid crowded out the worries.

Walking to an appointment the other morning, I caught myself needlessly worrying about things.

Now, of course worries do sometimes have a useful part to play in life.

In healthy doses, they can be the catalyst that motivates us to make progress and take action, and to not simply sit on our backsides praying that things will get better.

But I think there’s healthy worry, and there’s the other kind.

The kind that eats away at you, gnaws at your insides, causing you to ruminate – turning things over and over in your mind, usually to no good effect.

However, for once I was ready for this sneak ambush.

In fact the solution was surprisingly simple, and right at hand.

All it took was to begin actively taking notice of my surroundings.

A vivid green and freshly clipped privet hedge.

A black cat nuzzling its head against the bars of a front gate.

A little girl walking alongside her mother, taking three steps for each one of her mum’s.

Paying attention to what was around me banished those worries to some inner part of my mind where I could happily allow them to remain for as long as they wished.

Sometimes worries and negative thoughts creep up on you, elbowing their way in to occupy any available space in your consciousness.

If you let them.

Better, I believe, to crowd them out with thoughts of the here and now if you can.