All posts by Jon Cousins

Put the correct fuel in your tank.

As you’ll find if you mix up the diesel and unleaded pumps, cars don’t work with the wrong fuel.

We kind of know this, just as we’re aware that babies aren’t likely to take to spare ribs, and should remember that you must never, ever give dogs macadamia nuts.

So why, if we’re this astute when it comes to the nutritional needs of cars, babies and dogs, do we seem to ignore that having a healthy diet is crucial to our own physical and mental wellbeing?

Why do we sometimes think it’s fine to shovel down unhealthy food without expecting to see an associated decline in our health and all-round happiness?

Of course there’s a lot of psychology surrounding what we eat and why.

It can get complicated.

But one thing that generally holds true is the principle adhered to by computer experts, among others: garbage in, garbage out.

You’ll have choices today about what you eat.

Try to make as many sensible ones as possible.

Your mind and body will thank you, even if your willpower gets a bit challenged.

Plan yourself some down time.

I may be the world’s worst when it comes to taking time out.

I wish I wasn’t, but something inside me seems to stop me stopping.

I know I’m not alone.

I’m certain you’ll have gone through this yourself from time to time.

But the thing is, when I do slow right down and take time off, the clarity of my thinking improves to an enormous extent.

Problems that seemed insurmountable appear much more manageable with the perspective afforded by a rested mind and a brain that’s no longer frazzled.

Often it’s not good enough to expect that an opportunity to rest will pop up by accident.

It needs to be planned, and put in your diary in indelible pen – just as if it was a vital appointment or a crucial meeting.

Don’t wait too long to do this for yourself.

I recall speaking to the wife of a retired clergyman who said that when she got home from the shops, her husband told her he’d booked them a fortnight’s vacation.

Now that’s the way to do it.

Sometimes it pays to down tools.

If you don’t succeed at first (they say) try, try again.

We’re told that persistence always pays off, that we can do anything once we set our mind to it.

Now, while there’s nothing wrong with determination, there are times (and days) when you’re not going to achieve your objectives no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you grit your teeth.

It would, for example, be plain daft to struggle on with a tree-felling task if the only tool you had was a steak-knife.

Better to put the whole thing off until tomorrow, then come back equipped with a chainsaw.

The same principle can apply to days when you just can’t get things together.

Whatever you do, you seem to be taking two steps back for every one you take forwards.

When this happens (and it will) there’s nothing wrong at all in postponing the task until you’re on better form again.

No sense in flogging a dead horse.

Every sense in realising that we all have limits.

Please remember this next time you have one of those days.

Act kindly.

Experts in the field of positive psychology tell us that we can get as much from giving kindness as we do from being shown it by others.

An ongoing campaign exhorts people to ‘practise random acts of kindness’ and there’s a lot to be said for this principle.

Actually it can be fun going through your day finding odd and unexpected ways to be kind to other people.

For instance, I always loved the idea of paying a toll on a bridge twice, telling the official that you were covering the charge for the car behind you too.

This random person would then be waved through with a ‘the guy in front got it for you’.

But it can be as simple as holding a door open for someone, or (on a train) offering them your newspaper after you’ve read it, or picking up litter in the street and putting it in a bin.

It doesn’t have to be much, but to feel good it ought to be as spontaneous as possible.

Why not have a think about this today, then see where you might be able to casually drop an act of kindness into someone’s day?

It’ll feel good.

Promise.

Is it time to look after yourself?

As kids it’s drummed into us that being selfish is wrong.

Share your toys.

Share your food.

Share the airtime in conversations.

Of course this is pretty sensible guidance because living with others in relative harmony means not keeping it all to yourself.

The theory is that if you share with others, then they’ll share with you too.

But not being selfish isn’t the same as believing that it’s somehow wrong to care for yourself, and to look after No. 1 at times.

When you travel by air, the safety demonstration makes clear that you should put on your own oxygen mask before tending to the needs of others, and this makes great sense.

If you’re going to be of help to the people around you, you need to be strong yourself.

So making sure you’re well-rested, well-fed and well-adjusted isn’t selfish.

It’s just right and proper.

Don’t struggle alone when you could ask for help.

If you needed to move a heavy item of furniture, you probably wouldn’t attempt to do so on your own.

There are some tasks that clearly require more than one pair of hands.

When the work is of a physical nature, it’s pretty obvious to ask for help.

Then why doesn’t it seem equally sensible to do so then the heavy lifting is more mental?

When you’ve got too much to think about, too much to worry about, it can be tempting to keep it all to yourself.

But that’s not good.

In many situations, a problem shared is a problem halved.

(Not always of course, but it’s a rule that holds good a great deal of the time.)

Sometimes the simple act of talking through your concerns, worries and anxieties can help you get them into perspective.

Then, of course, there are other situations in which you really can ask someone else to take the load off your shoulders.

You’re human, not super-human.

If you’re carrying a heavy load, there’s nearly always someone who’ll help.

But usually you need to ask.

And that’s fine.

Why telling others you’re down can be better than trying to hide it.

I remember an unusual meeting which began with a five minute discussion about my mood.

Unlike other meetings (I’m sure I was never told about) when my mood had also featured on the agenda, at least I was there for this one.

It happened to be a time when I was feeling on less than sparkling form.

After many years of trying to hide my mood when it was low, I’d reached a stage when it seemed sensible to be more open about things.

Actually it was sensible.

We were discussing a project which would need my full engagement and energy, and if I wasn’t going to be fully on the case, it was better for us all to acknowledge this upfront.

Now if there’d been a piece of mission-critical equipment that was playing up, of course we’d have talked about it.

But the thing is, it did feel a little self-indulgent, a little selfish, to confess to being somewhat on the glum side.

So I had to ask myself how I’d have felt if another team member had promised to deliver, in the full knowledge that they couldn’t, due to feeling below par.

I wouldn’t have been happy.

I’d certainly rather have known upfront.

It probably helps to see things through others’ eyes in such situations.

And it almost certainly helps to be more open about the way you feel, particularly among people you trust, and on whom you depend (and vice versa).

Don’t be so self-cruel.

Who are you most kind to in life? And to whom are you least kind?

Then, think.

Where does the way you treat yourself sit on this scale?

Many of us aren’t nearly as kind to ourselves as we could be.

We’re hard task-masters.

We’re intolerant of our own weaknesses.

We’re often impatient with ourselves.

Although it’s probably human nature, it’s not very nice, is it?

So the next time you blame yourself for something that really wasn’t your fault, ask yourself whether you’d act like that towards a good friend.

I think you probably wouldn’t.

I’m the same, though.

I often beat myself up when things go wrong, rarely extending the kindness to myself that I wouldn’t think twice about showing to others.

If, and when, you find yourself doing this, be kind to you.

Cut yourself some slack.

It’s OK to do this, it really is.

You can’t do it all, but you could do a little.

‘I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!’

Remember the White Rabbit in the Disney version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

A busy bunny, he was anything but calm.

Racing around, he was never going to get much done beyond looking (and I’m sure feeling) stressed.

It can be easy to get yourself into a similarly harassed state of mind when you’ve too much to do.

And let’s face it most of us have.

You get in a tizz, becoming so anxious about all you have to do that you don’t actually get anything done at all.

A possible solution?

Well you’re almost certainly not going to get through everything, but wouldn’t it make sense to knock off at least one or two items?

Give yourself a small and achievable target to tackle.

Get one job done by a fixed time.

Once the first piece is in place, the remainder of the jigsaw may not seem so formidable.

You’re probably stronger than you think.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories about ordinary humans behaving in extraordinary ways in emergencies.

The tiny-framed mother who lifts a huge weight to release her trapped child, for instance.

Although this may be a bit extreme, I think we’re all stronger than we sometimes believe.

Especially emotionally.

I remember starting a day feeling really quite low, doing little more than going through the motions as the morning proceeded.

But when an important meeting began, a switch suddenly tripped and I’m sure I gave the impression of firing on all cylinders.

The thing is, it wasn’t an illusion, it was genuinely happening.

And it wasn’t just me.

I’m sure you’ll have experienced something similar at times.

I think it’s all too easy to begin a day feeling low, then to basically resign yourself to it being that way until you go to bed.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Although it’s not always possible, you can often be prised out of your shell.

Particularly if circumstances dictate it, and you’re open to it happening.

What’s important is to get to know what could trigger you feeling better, and to not say no if someone suggests doing it – even when you’re almost certainly not immediately in the mood.