Monthly Archives: November 2017

Opening up about feelings.

You’ve probably heard the joke about the two psychiatrists who meet in the street.

‘You’re fine,’ says the first, ‘How am I?’.

In fact you don’t need to be a health professional to have a reasonable idea of how those around you are feeling, simply by using your senses.

In my own case, I know that some outward signs of a low mood are having less inflection in my voice when I talk; moving more slowly; having ‘sad eyes’; being less productive.

Some of these may ring a bell for you.

Perhaps you’re aware of having others too.

Of course, while it’s relatively easy to detect a friend’s mood when you’re physically in front of one another, it can be much harder to spot how someone’s feeling when all you’ve got is an email or text message.

(Unless of course the message actually tells you.)

I think in general that it helps when those we’re closest to are able to understand us, and empathise when times aren’t so good.

It’s worth remembering, therefore, that in electronic communication it’s much harder for friends to pick up on our signals.

Taking that step to disclose your emotions and share your feelings could feel scary or even selfish.

But it’s often a good thing to do.

We all want to understand each other, we all want to be understood.

Squeeze out a smile.

I think most of us would take it for granted that we’re inclined to smile more when we’re happy, and to frown more when we’re not.

What’s really intriguing, though, is the experts’ view that it can also work the other way round.

In other words, smiling more could actually help you feel happier in the first place.

Whilst it’s certainly not easy to do, it seems that ‘making yourself’ smile when your spirits are low can give you a welcome boost, just when you need it most.

Of course, if you’re feeling gloomy, you’re unlikely to be striding around town with an inane grin plastered across your face.

Even were you to do so, people are actually pretty good at detecting a fake smile from the real McCoy.

So the trick is perhaps to pick opportunities when your smile is likely to be regarded by the recipient as unexpectedly welcome, rather than eerily misplaced.

Try a (proper) smile to a shop assistant, or to someone who stands back to let you go first.

Try it with a co-worker, fellow student or friend.

Even smiling to yourself can help.

So what are you waiting for?

Say cheese.

Set a timer to set goals.

One of my most useful gizmos is a pretty low-tech device.

I keep a simple kitchen timer on my desk, actually a little electronic one but an old-fashioned wind-up ‘pinger’ would work just as well, I’m sure. Or the timer on your phone.

Its purpose?

Nothing culinary.

It’s simply to help me focus on work (or a chore) if and when my mood has taken a meander downwards.

I don’t know about you but if this happens to me, I can find it pretty darned difficult to knuckle down to things, to focus and be productive.

What might normally take just a few minutes can end up occupying ages.

This is where my trusty timer comes in handy.

I set it for an hour, then promise myself that if I stick to the knitting until it beeps, I’ll take a break when it does so.

And the deal is that I get the break regardless of how much or how little I’ve actually achieved.

Invariably I will get through stuff, probably at a faster rate as the minutes tick away, to be honest.

I think the trick is to recognise that when you’re low, the things you must do can take on a formidable scale if you try to tackle them all in one go.

But break them up into smaller chunks and they can be more easily dealt with.

Where are you off to today?

I love maps.

I found a whole batch of them when I was sorting through some stuff recently, and opening one up 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 take them with you, to help in case you get lost.

Now and then 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 that’s a bad thing, or perhaps it’s good.

It can certainly keep you on your toes.

However, even if there’s no piece of printed paper that will 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.

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

‘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?

Displacing unwanted thoughts.

At times, I’m sure you’ll have been in the situation of trying to get to sleep whilst being troubled by a pesky thought that won’t go away.

For me, it often happens if I wake up partway through the night and fail to fall back to sleep immediately.

If I’m not careful, there it is. That pesky thought, which all too often is one that goes round and round in my head, generally pretty annoyingly.

Not always, but sometimes, I can send a worry like this packing, by forcing myself to think about something totally different.

It can take a substantial amount of effort to do so, but it can work.

Usually I have to add as much detail to my other thinking as I can – creating pictures and even sounds in my mind.

Of course the same thing can be true during the day, too.

There’s a lot to be said for taking notice of the things around you.

Being aware of your surroundings, savouring sights, and reflecting on what you see can make a great contribution to your general wellbeing.

It can also help prevent that nasty old rumination thing where you think too hard about life’s less-pleasing aspects.

(Most lives have them.)

So keep your eyes about you today.

Take notice – really take notice – of what you see.

There’s a lot to be said for it.

A little learning, a little mood-lifting.

Can you remember how good it felt when you learned to ride a bike?

Or when you learned to swim?

(I’m assuming you did both, apologies if that wasn’t the case.)

Although plenty of people may have fallen out of love with formal education, there’s no denying the joy and satisfaction of learning how to do something new, or even of learning something for learning’s sake.

Making sure you keep learning is a great tip for staying well in the head department, so it’s worth making sure you maximise your opportunities for doing so in the next few days.

Find a new recipe and try it out.

Ask a friend who speaks a language you don’t know to teach you a word or two.

Find out how to fix something around the house (the solution’s certain to be in Google or on YouTube).

Open a big fat dictionary at random and learn a new word in your own language.

Learn a card trick and impress a friend.

When it comes to learning, the world’s your oyster.

What can you explore this week?

What new skill can you acquire in the next few days?

Prioritise your worries.

If you were to sit down right now to make a list of everything you need to do, ever, I’m guessing you probably wouldn’t be able to cross it all off by this time tomorrow.

Or even the day after.

When it comes to To-Do lists, most of us know we must be realistic.

The best course of action is generally to work out what’s most important, then to allocate tasks to the amount of time you have available.

This may seem obvious.

But why don’t we adopt a similar approach when it comes to tackling our concerns and anxieties?

Instead of working out a kind of priority list for worries, it’s very easy to fret about everything, all the time.

If you have too many physical tasks to do, you’ll probably have had that experience of actually getting nothing done.

The same can be true for worries.

If you try to think everything through at once you usually just end up in thought soup.

I’m sure there are lots of things on your mind at the moment, so rather than spending yet another day with them all racing around your head at once, why not prioritise?

Thinking things through one at a time could mean you’ll bring some clarity to your life.

Worth a try, anyway.

Exercise yourself happier.

It’s one of life’s cruel ironies that being in a low mood can lead to you being significantly less likely to get exercise.

Yet even a little bit of getting physical can work wonders for the mood.

What a pity that doing the right thing in this respect doesn’t come as naturally as it does when, say, we get hungry.

You’re starving, so your body tells you to eat, then you’re no longer famished.

Or you’re chilly, so you put on a coat, and – voila – you’re warm.

Quite often, working on your mood entails you behaving in what can feel like counter-intuitive ways.

One way to help, perhaps, is to be realistic about your expectations.

If you’re feeling below par it may be unreasonable to expect that you’ll suddenly race off to the gym or swimming pool.

It’s much more likely, though, that you could go for a walk.

Or do some gardening.

Or even some house work.

All three of these can release endorphins, making you feel better.

And with the latter two, you’ll also have the added side-effects of being able to enjoy a tidier garden or home.

When negative thoughts intrude.

Last week I treated myself to an hour’s walk along the beach in Pescadero, on California’s Pacific coast.

It was a gorgeous day and an incredible place to be in, so why on earth did I find myself starting to worry about other things?

Why was I beginning to think about all the stuff I might have to do a few days from then?

In fact, I had to have a stiff word with myself.

What was I doing?

What was wrong with just revelling in the moment, making the most of where I was?

By doing this, the worries evaporated – leaving me able to simply enjoy the experience for its own sake.

It’s all too easy to let worries gnaw away at us.

Perhaps we excuse it by telling ourselves that we’re thinking things through, but that’s rarely true, is it?

The next time you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in an agreeable situation, don’t let those pesky negative thoughts keep you from enjoying it.

It’s not always easy, but try to send them packing.

Focus in the here and now, rather than on the there and later.

Being remembered is a wonderful thing.

‘You want your usual, Jon?’

Holy smoke.

To be greeted with this when I returned to a breakfast place I hadn’t visited in, ooh, two and a half years suggests one of two things.

Either I’m a man of enormously predictable choice, or the place in question is run by people with elephantine memories.

Actually it’s a bit of both I suspect.

(Two eggs over-easy, bacon, hash browns, sourdough toast. Always.)

More importantly there’s no denying how very good it is to be remembered by someone.

It makes you feel wanted.

A bit special too.

Technology could pull off a trick like this.

A camera could take your picture as you walk in, facial recognition software would identify you, then it could pull out your past orders from a database.

To be honest though, I don’t think that’s how they do it at this particular restaurant.

It’s down to people who like people, and who take a pride in providing a warm welcome.

Knowing how good it feels to be remembered, of course, suggests that you can make others feel great when you do the same for them.

And in the happy way that these things often work, giving someone else a boost gives you (the booster) a welcome shot in the arm too.

Why not give it a try today?

Scan your mental notes when you’re talking to someone, and ask them about something they might have expected you to forget.

Be careful though, not to ask them about something they’d actually have WANTED you to forget.