The Times They Are A-Changin’

Time. Goodness me, where does it go?

We’re already over a week into 2018, so it’s not before time that I wish you a happy New Year.

My sincere hope for you is that the coming twelve months will treat you with kindness, fairness, and lightness.

May your best dreams come true, and your worst fears prove groundless.

I last wrote a Moodnudges post on December 17th, explaining that I’d be taking a break from writing until the New Year.

As a result, a veritable multitude of readers got in touch to wish me well.

This was a delight and surprise.

It was also a joy for me to spend 10 days back in the UK, almost entirely with my mum, and my brother and his wife.

Although I adore my life in California (it’s been four years now) and do keep in close contact with my family at home, nothing beats being in the same room as the people you love.

Having a few weeks to take stock of things has also enabled me to start weighing up what might be next for Moodnudges.

Some readers have joined us recently (thank you) while others have loyally followed me since I began writing my daily newsletters for Moodscope in (hold your hats) 2008, a whole decade ago.

One heck of a lot has changed in that time, and although there have been good times for us both, I hope, I’m not so sure that the world in 2018 is much of a happier place than it was ten years ago.

Among many other monumental evolutions and revolutions, the way we communicate is very different.

In 2008, for example, email seemed – and was – a fantastic medium for someone such as me to communicate with a reader like you.

Not so much today, I think.

If you’re anything like me, your inbox has become virtually unmanageable.

The sheer volume of emails has made it all but impossible to deal with.

The Moodnudges email list used to grow consistently, but during the past year it has remained pretty static as some new people subscribed, while others left us – usually explaining a bit ruefully that they were just generally getting too many emails all-round to cope with.

Part of my thinking about taking a break over Christmas, therefore, was to give you a break from at least four messages a week, even though I suspect this would have been but a drop in the ocean.

Partly because of this, and also partly because my own work situation is in flux (in a good way, I hasten to add) I’ve concluded that it may be time to reimagine Moodnudges.

I have some exciting ideas, and I also want to involve you in the process. After all, we’re in this thing together – and I hugely value our friendship.

Over the next few weeks, therefore, I’m going to trim back the frequency of my messages, to just one per week, but I’m going to step up the openness of our communication, giving you more insight into what’s going on behind the scenes in my world, while also doing my best to prevent this becoming self-indulgent.

I hope you’ll find the next few weeks interesting, and that you’ll witness the evolution of something new and exciting.

More importantly, perhaps, you might take advantage of this experience to think a little about stuff in your own life which could benefit from a change or two.

Although stirring things up can sometimes feel uncomfortable, it’s frequently good to make a change or two.

Next week, I’ll tell you a little about what happened to me work-wise in 2017, and what I foresee developing in 2018.

See you next Thursday.

Let’s take a break.

It tends to be a busy time of year for everyone, and – often – a strange time of year, as well, for many.

Perhaps for you.

Life can sometimes feel complicated around the end of the year, often accompanied by a nagging fear that you might not get everything done.

Whatever “everything” is, exactly. I mean, organising gifts is one thing, but I hardly think we’re going to solve global warming by December 25th.

So partly because I really don’t want to add to all the “noise” you may be experiencing right now, and also partly because I’m going to be travelling for the next couple of weeks, I thought we’d take a Moodnudges break over Christmas.

I’ll be back in January with an update.

I fly from California to the UK tomorrow (December 18th) to spend ten days with the family.

A week early, therefore, I’d like to wish you a very good, and hopefully happy, Christmas.

Most importantly, thank you for being a loyal and supportive member of our Moodnudges community.

I can’t tell you how much of an honour it is for me to have you here.

See you in 2018.

You and your hidden powers.

Can you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up?

In my case I desperately wanted to be a cameraman for the BBC, specifically working on ‘Blue Peter’, my favourite children’s television programme.

I used to think this would be my idea of heaven.

It’s funny. When you’re a kid, everyone encourages you to want to be something you’re not.

I guess it’s what you’d call ambition, or having goals.

And there’s nothing wrong with those.

They give you something to aim for, something to look forward to, after all.

But I wonder if there also comes a time when it actually makes sense to stop trying to be someone else?

To accept who you are?

To a pretty great extent, you are who you are.

Like everyone, you can change some things about yourself.

And a few people do change radically.

But I suspect they’re in the minority.

On the whole, however, your main building blocks are probably pretty firmly set in place by now.

So instead of focusing on the things you’re maybe not so good at, doesn’t it make more sense to be proud of your unique strengths?

We’re all different.

We each have our own talents, our own special abilities.

And today’s the day to remind yourself of yours.

These are a few of your favourite things.

What are you good at?

What were you good at, but haven’t done for a while?

Whatever the skill or strength, it feels great when you’re doing something you excel at.

For me, it’s making things.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than getting out the glue to bind a book, or construct something out of paper or card.

Someone else may love fixing things, or cooking, or flower arranging, or brick laying.

The thing is, it’s good to identify your unique talents, and even better when you get a chance to dust them off and put them to use.

So what are you good at?

What were you good at, but haven’t done for a while?

More importantly, when are you going to do it?

I’ll gladly take all the help I can get.

Can I help you?

We’re used to hearing it in shops, but wouldn’t it be great if we could be asked this question at other more pertinent moments in life?

We all need a little help at times, but unless we’re lucky it’s not always easy to get.

And even when it’s offered, it’s all too easy to decline.

Thanks, I’m fine.

No, everything’s alright.

Last week I caught myself doing just this.

When a friend emailed to touch base and to remind me that she was there if I needed her, I replied saying thank you, but all was well.

Why do we do this, when a sympathetic ear is probably just what we need?

Next time someone offers you some help, bite their hand off.

In a similar vein, never (never) be afraid to ask for help.

As far as we know you’re not superhuman.

There will always be times when you’ll benefit hugely from a little bit of assistance.

The right answer to ‘Can I help you’?

Yes please.

What could you learn, at a stretch?

The other day I had a computer-related task Looming Large on my To-Do list.

My Mac and I are joined at the hip.

It and its predecessors have formed an indispensable part of the greater part of my life, and there’s not (too) much that phases me (whoops, fazes me, thanks Bev – see the Comments) when it comes to technology.

Generally I relish the opportunity to get down and dirty in the digital world.

However the particular challenge facing me was outside my comfort zone and I really didn’t think I’d crack it.

But I did, and it felt great.

As a result I’ve boosted my knowledge.

When we’re told that life-long learning is a great thing, it’s easy to imagine that this can only apply to ‘proper’ formal lessons like learning first-aid, upholstery, pottery or taxidermy.

In fact, we can all learn every day.

It might be finding out how to unjam the photocopier, rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

It could be discovering how to say good morning to a new neighbour who speaks a different language.

It could even be teaching yourself to do something new on a computer.

Time to pick up a new skill?

Will today’s worries mean much in ten years’ time?

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been keeping a daily diary for the past twenty years or so.

Now and then I look back at them to do my own kind of ‘on this day in history’, so I found myself flipping through the pages of the 2007 volume recently.

Ten years ago.

The entry for one particular day really got me puzzled.

I’d been fretting mightily about a situation which I’ve now completely forgotten.

Ten years ago I was clearly very upset about it.

But now?

Gone.

Vanished.

Disappeared.

It’s so easy to become wound-up about the things that are happening around you right now, and so difficult to remember that one day (perhaps not too far in the future) you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

Most of us face challenges, situations we’d prefer didn’t exist.

But if that’s the case, it’s always worth trying to imagine how you’ll feel about them further down the road.

Nearly always, problems look smaller in the rear view mirror.

Nearly always.

Put your bravery to a 10-question test.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned psychologist Professor Martin Seligman’s character strengths survey.

Positive response from Moodnudges readers encouraged me to experiment today with focusing on one of the survey’s 24 strengths, as well as giving you (and me) a way to rate ourselves against an average.

How do you and I compare to others in this particular character strength?

Actually, I can tell you now that this one is a quality I sometimes struggle with.

Bravery.

The VIA Institute, an organisation set up as a result of Professor Seligman’s work, defines bravery as “not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain: speaking up for what’s right even if there is no opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular; includes physical bravery, but is not limited to it.”

Wow, sounds like something you’d need to be a warrior to pull off, right?

Well, in my case, I can sometimes be more of a worrier than a warrior.

Often there are actions that I know would be good for me, but the feeling that they might prove difficult, risky, wrong or unpleasant puts me off from stepping up to the plate.

Fortunately for me, it turns out I’m not alone.

Perhaps you too would like to be braver than you already are?

What can we do about this?

One tremendously effective strategy for reducing anxiety is to expose yourself to the feared stimulus in managed stages.

Think about someone who’s scared of snakes, for example.

A therapist might arrange gradual exposure to a snake: observing one from a distance through thick glass; being in the same room as a snake, but quite a way from it; touching a snake held in someone else’s arms…

You get the idea.

I’ve recently put a similar process into action, in an effort to manage my own fear of dentists.

I’ve been putting off having some work done for way too long.

Quite honestly, I didn’t have the courage to put things into motion, making all kinds of excuses.

However, the simple truth was that I lacked the required bravery.

I finally made the appointment, though, by breaking the process down into smaller, less alarming steps.

First, I drove to the outside of the dentist’s office, but didn’t actually go in. I just went home. Phew.

A couple of days later, I returned and went in, simply to make an appointment. Although I could have done this on the phone, going into the reception area was oddly reassuring. It also gave me a feeling of achievement.

Eventually, I turned up for the appointment itself.

Admittedly not the most enjoyable experience in the world, but it felt great to have finally made it happen.

The very last step in the process was to recognise that taking courageous action can take a lot out of you. So, after the appointment I was kind to myself, not planning to do too much for the remainder of the day.

Maybe you’d like to be braver in some area of your life?

In that case, maybe you too could benefit from this kind of “exposure therapy” methodology?

Begin with baby steps, gradually increasing what you expect of yourself.

You’ll almost certainly be surprised by your own bravery, just waiting to be unleashed.

Lastly, as promised, here’s a quick ten-question survey that will let you discover how your self-rated level of bravery currently stands.

Take it. If you dare.

https://uptalk.typeform.com/to/TRqclZ

Why I love walking and talking.

It’s a sunny afternoon (well it was when I wrote this) and I’m sitting on a bench in my local park.

Walking around the full perimeter takes about fifteen minutes, making it something like a mile.

And as I’ve been here a while, a few people have walked past me more than once.

(They’re doing circuits.)

What’s notably nice is that they’ve all been in pairs, and have been lost in conversation with one another.

Walking is good.

Talking is good.

But in my book, walking and talking is the perfect combination.

I reckon that discussions about tricky subjects can often feel more comfortable when you’re side by side with your conversational partner, and of course you both get the benefit of a spot of exercise.

It needn’t be an expedition, either.

Simply walking with someone to get a coffee can work.

I know that not everyone who reads Moodnudges is mobile, but if you are, it’s definitely worth remembering the benefits of being a walkie-talkie.

Is your saw blunt?

In Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People he talks of ‘sharpening the saw’, an idea explained by the story of a man who was getting nowhere trying to cut down a tree with a blunt saw.

Struggling on ineffectively, the man explained that he was far too busy to get the tool sharpened.

Do you think that sometimes we all try too hard?

You have a million and one things to do, but you’re tired.

And this probably means you’ll (a) achieve little, and (b) end up even more tired in the process.

I was sitting at my desk the other day trying to force myself to think, but the thinks just weren’t coming.

So, with no great plan in mind, I got up and went for a walk.

And – well – you can probably guess the rest.

As soon as I stopped trying to force myself, everything slotted into place.

It’s worth remembering this when that same feeling strikes you.

Sometimes we all need to step away from the tree to sharpen that saw.