Good girl gone bad?

goodandbad

People are good or they are bad. Is it really so simple? People throw judgments like these around every day, reaching a decision based upon the information they have to hand at that point.

You have a bad run at work, all of a sudden you’re a bad worker. You let down a loved one, all of a sudden you’re a bad person. Sometimes it surprises me how few people are willing to stop, think and perhaps ask more questions about a situation before reaching a judgment. I liken this to going to the gym – it can take you months (perhaps even years!) to build up your fitness levels and just days or weeks for it to disappear. Is it the same when it comes to our characters?

Before I go further, it’s worth saying that I know we as humans are programmed to make judgments, if we did not then decision making would be nigh on impossible. But something I’ve noticed recently is that the weighting given to a person’s ‘good’ behaviours and ‘bad’ behaviours seems off – it strikes me that to be ‘good’ you have to work bloody hard but to be considered ‘bad’ it can take just one or two actions. If this were illustrated in pictorial form it would look like a set of scales with one side having a huge pile and the other just a smattering…but the scales tip in favour of the lighter side.

I suppose all of this could just be put down to differences in perspective. For example, I know lots of people really value consistency and a meeting of expectations so when you do something(s) that goes against this, it results in feelings of disappointment and frustration. My own perspective is slightly different…I have always found the dark and light in people fascinating – it is part of what makes them beautiful. When someone is their imperfect self, the more real and raw they are being. It isn’t to say they can go around being awful, disrespectful or anything like that but rather I can forgive a relatively high degree of undesirable behaviour because I believe that it indicates something deeper is going on. Perhaps it’s my psychologist’s mind at play 😉 But… I am yet to find many people who will allow me the same understanding. How many people do you know who would still be standing there even in your darkest moments when you are not yourself? And not just standing there but holding your hand and telling you how okay it is to be imperfect.

Sometimes a few tough times come along and they really shake you one after the other, to the point where you can question who you are, what you stand for and why you bother trying so hard. When these things happen, of course you won’t be the same person for a while. But does that mean that you’ve somehow fallen from grace because you’re being selfish, moaning a bit or being sad? Are you no longer valuable for all the times you were at your best? Are you less strong because you can’t always find the strength to put on a brave face? And the big one that kept coming up…Are you destined to be alone because you can’t always project the people pleasing version of yourself?

These are all questions that run through the mind when those around you appear not to really ‘get’ it and / or don’t want to. I am thankful to say that for me personally, I’m coming through the other side of some dark times but I wanted to write this blog anyway to pose some questions that I think we can all reflect on a little more in a society where mental health issues are on the rise: am I being fair in my judgement of this person that I care about? Am I looking at the whole picture of who they are or just reacting to this snapshot of a time when they are acting in a hurtful way? How can I gather more information about what’s going on before I react? These questions I believe can help us to be better and more compassionate managers, friends, partners and people.

Before I finish up with the usual key reflections, I do want to emphasise that by trying to take a more forgiving stance on ‘bad’ behaviour I am not excusing sustained and repetitive hurtful interactions or cases where you have to sacrifice your own well-being long term to take account of the bad sides of someone you care about. Rather, this blog is about those people where if you were to take a step back and weigh up of the time you’ve known them, the main of it has been positive and good but there have been some times recently where this has taken a hit or something has happened that shocked or saddened you about them. We all have the right to be respected and treated well but sometimes it just isn’t possible for people to be the person we want them to be 24 hours a day for the rest of our lives.

So, in reflecting on all of this here’s three things I personally have learned:

  1. Behaviours are usually indicative of something deeper – ask more questions. More often than not, we judge behaviours because these are the tangible things that are obvious to us. Someone behaves in a certain way therefore it must mean XY or Z. But in many situations people behave in a particular way because they can’t or don’t want to verbalise whatever is going on in their head. Taking someone to one side and reflecting back in a kind way what you’ve seen and asking whether there’s anything they want to talk about could be all it takes to fully understand the situation.
  1. Be honest but be kind. Most people welcome some honesty from those they care about but the way in which it’s delivered is absolutely key. Generally people push back and / or defend against honesty delivered in a cruel or uncaring way but will react better to honesty they perceive to come from a place of caring and support.
  1. Take a step back, if you must judge someone then do it fairly. Have you got all the information you need in order to make the judgement you’ve made? We very often have a tendency to judge first and then seek out information to back it up – to affirm that we’re right. Try to fight against the natural inclination and approach it the other way around – gather more information through questioning and then make your judgement about what’s going on.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t profess to get it right all of the time and I’m well aware of how difficult it is to press ‘pause’ and gather information when you’ve been hurt, let down or disappointed by someone. But the conclusion I’ve drawn is that if it leads to the end result of a salvaged professional or personal relationship, it is well worth trying.

Plenty of people will say that they appreciate you for all of your sides – good, bad and ugly – because they know it’s the right thing to say. But how many remain by your side when you really go through something deep, dark and soul shattering? That is the true test of strength in a relationship and if you are lucky enough to find that kind of a friend, lover or colleague then hold onto them for dear life 🙂

“The imperfections of a person, their frailties, their faults, are just as important as their virtues. You can’t separate them. They’re wedded.” Henry Miller

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Fix the ship not the ocean…

sinking ship

As I sat in a busy bustling coffee shop on my own, I knew I was there to avoid thinking about things too much. My brain is constantly whirring, trying to work things out. So occasionally it’s good to just sit in the midst of it all, cradling a coffee (or the occasional cheeky glass of wine!) and watch other peoples’ lives unfold. As the warming taste of coffee started to kick in, I mused that there’s a sense of freedom to be found in concentrating on other people going about their business. And then it struck me like a slap in the face…I have more interest in helping to fix other people and resolve the external factors than I do in fixing up and looking after myself. When I start to sink, it would seem I’m too busy trying to fix the ocean around me to concentrate on the one thing I can truly affect…the ship.

I figure I’m not alone in this. Have you ever just reached the point when it feels like things are just ‘a bit much’ at the moment? I hit that point last week – I felt tired, low, unsociable and had a constant dull headache. At first, I put it down to ‘having a cold’ or some such excuse, but then I realised that when I laughed about something or turned my focus to anything other than my own life, the tiredness and headache lifted. I decided to be honest and acknowledge that there were at least two big areas of life where I wasn’t feeling happy or successful and for some reason, where I’d usually be able bang out a new plan of action faster than you can say ‘chaaaaange’, I was stuck, unable to come up with a way to make things better. Paralysis had set in and with it, even more feelings of guilt, uselessness and frustration.

So what happened next to make this situation a blog post rather than a tale of downward spiral? I realised that most of my issues were people related – it was the behaviour, words and actions of other people in a range of situations that were making me feel bad. For weeks (months in some ways!) I had been trying to get people to change. To be nicer / more appreciative / kinder (the list goes on). I’d done it because genuinely I felt (and still do an extent) out of principle they shouldn’t be given free reign to behave in a thoughtless, uncaring way. But in being blinded by my own values, I hadn’t realised the number one point that all great self-help books and motivational speakers will tell you – the one thing you will always be able to control and change is yourself. Now I know this is no great epiphany, people have been saying this for years…but the revelation for me was that, particularly where other people are involved, it’s near enough impossible to get them to change. People are like the ocean – wild, unpredictable and can be the both welcoming and destructive all at the same time. The self is like the proverbial ship trying to work with the ocean (people) but sometimes it’s just a rough day…and there needs to be to be a way to work with that. The ship needs to adapt to the ocean, not the other way around.

So, having written about this watery tale of reflection what have I learned? A lot actually, particularly about the sense of calm and clarity you can feel when you take back the control. Specifically:

  1. People are like the wind in your sails and the ocean beneath your feet. People can push you on and keep you on course, but sometimes they can knock the wind from your sails leaving you directionless and lost. But, you can choose to own your experience – choose to make the most of and appreciate the good conditions and fight to get through the rough ones. In some cases you can even choose to steer away from the rough waters into better seas. Put in real terms, love and appreciate the good people in your life and try to navigate through or around those who bring negative energy.
  2. When you feel like you’re sinking, perhaps it’s time to throw some things overboard. The guilt, the negative feelings and sometimes even some of your crew members need to go – to stay on course you cannot carry the weight of everything, much as you might want to.
  3. When the waters are choppy, keep the faith. Not necessarily religious faith (although of course this is fine too!) but keep faith in your course and faith in your destination. We all go through times where we question who we are, where we’re going and the decisions we’ve made / are about to make but don’t let one (or a few) bad days at sea make you turn back from your path.

So, in concluding I suppose to stop using analogy and to talk plainly, I’ve really learnt this past week that although I would never give up trying to change the world (and sometimes the people in it) for the better, the trick is to first fix yourself. Make sure you’re ready for the challenge before you embark upon it and be willing to take some knocks along the way in order to reach the best destinations.

“If the highest aim of the captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever” (Thomas Aquinas). 

Flourish or fail?

flourish

Working in the field that I do, an analogy has often been used comparing the success and development of people to the growth of a plant or tree  (yes, yes I know it sounds a bit ‘hippy’ but stay with me 🙂 ). That is to say, within certain conditions we will thrive and flourish and in others we shrivel up and shrink away. The idea of ‘greenhouse organisations’ in which staff are provided with the right conditions for growth, development and expansion is not a new one but I am reminded recently of how rarely our leaders and managers try to understand our individual level ‘greenhouse conditions’. The tragedy that subsequently results, is the shrinking and confinement of otherwise excellent staff.

As ever, I’ll start with a little context and perhaps a personal anecdote or two. Usually I choose to write about topics outside of a work environment but as I started thinking about this, it struck me that ‘greenhouse conditions’ and ‘nurturers’ are just as relevant to our personal lives as they are to work. We are talking about understanding our conditions for success and the people who support and encourage that.

I have been fortunate in my life (or unfortunate depending upon how you look at it!) to experience a very wide range of people, personalities and styles – most of them incredibly positive and inspiring but a fair few I have to admit unfortunately fall into the ‘soul shrinking’ category. As my experiences grow and I talk more and more with people of similar-ish life circumstances, ambition and outlooks it is becoming less and less the case that I hear somebody say ‘I love my job. My team are great, the work is interesting and fulfilling and my manager is fantastic. I feel valued and recognised for my contributions and I can see myself staying here for a long time. Better still, I look up to and admire our leadership and I’d like to aspire to be like that some day”.

Some people may look at that statement and say “huh? that’s idealistic thinking right there – no job is like that” but I can tell you, I have been lucky enough to live that job and thrive in that environment – it does exist! Perhaps I am now ‘spoiled’ forever more as a result 😉 One of the main issues is, we’ve all become accustomed to just ‘putting up with’ the quite frankly mediocre (and in some cases toxic) environments we find ourselves in – in many cases even thinking ‘perhaps it’s my own fault, I expect too much’. So what (in my humble opinion) is at the heart of this outbreak of unfulfilled, down-trodden, unheard staff? Bad management and bad leadership. And linked to this, an idea I am calling the ‘enemy within’ for many organisations of today. That is, a glut of bad managers and leaders who are poisoning the organisations from the inside out and bringing down many bright, passionate staff with them.

One of many issues with the ‘enemy within’ is that people are unaware it’s there and / or are unwilling to accept it’s existence. Bad managers and leaders are allowed to crush and shrink their staff like the proverbial plant shoved into a dark corner. This can be for a number of reasons – it might be because those people are good at ‘politic-ing’ and maneuvering away from scrutiny or that the organisation doesn’t care enough to honestly reflect in on and challenge itself. The most common thing I’ve heard (and seen) a lot of is the genuine belief of some leaders and managers that they are great at what they do, but the reality is a far cry from their perception.

This situation I think raises so many questions for the modern day workplace (and could be extended out to our personal lives too) about how we understand our people, value them and ensure the very best performance that comes from the heart.

I can’t (and wouldn’t want to) tell others what to do, as I am far from perfect and have much still to learn. But as usual I will share my thoughts on what works – as a manager and leader and as someone who has been managed and led. These are the killer questions I ask of myself:

  1. Have you sat down in a relaxed environment and asked your people about themselves, their interests and ambitions? This sounds basic and common sense but I believe this is where many managers and leaders are going wrong – they haven’t really invested time in getting to know their people so how can they genuinely care for and understand them.
  2. How clear are your expectations? Do your people know what you expect of them in terms of delivering specific things and the kinds of behaviours you would hope to see? This is another important thing for me, as a manager or leader there is no getting away from the fact that you will have expectations of your people – for me I think it’s about clearly articulating these but then allowing people the space to decide for themselves about the approach they take to meeting them. Goal and objective setting together is a great way to understand each others’ expectations and aims.
  3. Have you developed trust and openess with your people? This doesn’t just happen because you say it does. Actions speak louder than words so how do you really show people that you are to be trusted and that you truly welcome honesty.
  4. Do you regularly ask for feedback with a genuinely open approach? Are you prepared to hear the ‘bad’ things as well as the good? Nobody is perfect and hardly anyone gets things right first time. When someone is new to your team (or wider life) how do you find out how you’re doing and whether you’re hitting the right note? It’s by asking regularly and being prepared to listen to ways in which you can do better.
  5. Have you spent time reflecting on what things might feel like / be like for that person? Empathy is a hugely important part of connecting with someone, so being able to think about how you might feel if you were in their shoes goes a long way to helping them to feel understood and supported.

I know much of the above sounds simple and common place but having recently seen too many fantastic, intelligent and ambitious people be adversely affected by bad managers and leaders it struck me that perhaps more sharing of experiences and ideas wouldn’t go amiss. More challenge aimed at organisations to really assess whether they are good at leadership and managing their people.

So in finishing, here is my question to everyone out there…What will be your choice for 2016 and beyond? Do you choose to support people to flourish and grow or will you knowingly or unknowingly fail them, leaving them to shrivel in a world of disengagement and frustration? Will you choose to help your people to thrive and innovate or are you going to thwart ambition and change in favour of comfort and control?

An organisation is only ever as good and successful as the people working there and in investing time, effort and care in your people (much as that may require a cost to you in the short term) you will be successful beyond your greatest dreams.

“Success is a team sport. It requires dedication, inspiration, and passion; and one can never get that without cultivating the culture of trust, mutual respect, and empowerment.” Forbes 

 

An addiction to crack…

Light

I was first diagnosed with the condition of ‘giving too much of a shit’ at the age of 5 by my favourite primary school teacher.

I had been out playing with a group of friends when one of them rounded on the other, pushing them to the ground and stealing their favourite pog (it was a 1990s game!). As the victim of this heinous crime (!) ran away crying, I turned to the kid who’d pushed them down and asked them if they were okay… As the teacher came round the corner to smooth things over, he asked me why I was involved in the incident. So I told him I had just been there at the time and for some reason felt sorry for the other kid. The teacher just chuckled and told me that one day my caring for the ‘mean ones’ would either be my making or my downfall. As a five year old child, clearly this made no sense to me and I happily shrugged and skipped off back to my game of pogs… but several years later and I’m reminded of his words in my adult life.

Why is that we care for some people so deeply and not for others, particularly when to the outside world our care is wrongly directed? I imagine that if you were to ask this question to ten different people, you might well get ten very different answers. Are our feelings related to the things they do for us everyday, the words they utter to build our confidence, the support they provide in a crisis? Is it because they are perfect in every way and they only make us feel good? When we find ourselves drawn to people, what is it that keeps us there – even when, at times, it seems crazy to stay?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because on the whole, I think I’m a pretty good judge of character. I mostly surround myself with honest, caring and grounded people who I know I can depend on and trust. But I’ve also noted a pattern in being drawn to some quite complicated, complex and in some cases, destructive people too. When I care about someone it happens quickly and is pretty hard to shake, even when someone behaves in a way which is hurtful and to many, unforgivable. Does that make me stupid? Naïve? Ridiculous even? To keep giving my time to those who seemingly don’t deserve it…

The way I explain it to friends and family is that sometimes to get to the most beautiful parts of who a person is, you have to wade through the murky bits – with some people there’s just a whole lot of murkiness to contend with before you get to the good bit, but it has to be there. I guess I like the idea that much like the art dealer who finds a discarded masterpiece that others’ could not or would not take the time to see, that I’ll find the person / people who, with time, will be incredibly interesting and rewarding to be around. The diamonds in the rough 🙂 I know I’m not alone in this way of thinking, we can all surely think of a time when we’ve held onto someone even though we know they haven’t done a huge amount to deserve it and / or haven’t given us anything back in return…

So in thinking about this, there are the obvious explanations that spring to mind. Curiosity – perhaps the more someone behaves differently to ourselves, the more we want to understand and explain it. Self-punishment – perhaps we don’t believe we deserve any better so we’re willing to accept hurtful behaviour. Do-gooder syndrome – somehow we want to relieve the world of all it’s ills and pain, one individual at a time. The list goes on…

But I have my own theory – perhaps it’s the case that the things we seek in other people (be it friends, lovers, colleagues etc.) are sometimes the things we want others’ to find out about ourselves. By trying to understand someone who (for example) has treated you badly, perhaps you are somehow hoping they will try to understand you back. It’s a well known fact that we tend to seek out those who are similar to ourselves in life because it reinforces our view of the world and makes us feel our values and beliefs are the ‘right’ ones because they are shared (a several thousand word dissertation on the topic has emblazoned that particular fact in my mind! 🙂 But to dig into that deeper, perhaps alongside reinforcing our beliefs and values we are also seeking out ways to confirm that the not-so-great aspects of ourselves (our imperfections and cracks) are loveable and acceptable too. For example, by finding someone who is imperfect and broken, it makes it okay for me to be imperfect and broken too – an understanding between people who have experienced difficult times in life and have not just lived life safely in monotone, and they accept and care about each other because of it.

Everyone, regardless of the façade they put on, is looking to be heard, understood and accepted. To be truly understood is rare, and to be accepted for all your imperfections and cracks is even rarer. It has always been my view (rightly or wrongly) that a person with seemingly no imperfection and no issues is either a boring one or a fake one, so it follows that when I meet people who have things to work through I equate that with being real and having experienced life a little more. I’m not sure that’s something I want to change about myself but what I am realising is, at the point at which caring about someone comes at the cost of caring about myself, that is when a line has to be drawn somewhere.

So where does this leave things I wonder for a crack addict like me? Well I think my three step programme would sound something like this:

1. Remember that understanding people is good, trying to fix them is not. The one thing which is a sure fire way to be eternally dissatisfied is to believe you can fix people – people can be broken by others’ but they must always fix themselves. You can support people by providing the tools to help and the unwavering support but ultimately they are the only ones who can do what’s necessary.

2. Keep caring but don’t let it come at the cost of your own needs. This is one I will struggle with because I just never like to give up…but it’s an inescapable truth that you can give all of yourself to help someone and they’ll take it all, leaving with you nothing. Know when it’s ‘just too much’ and take a step back, you do no one any favours by sacrificing yourself.

3. Remember that cracks are as much of who you are as rest of you. Imperfections and ‘isms’ are what make us unique and interesting, allowing people to see that can be a good thing. I remember reading an article about the success of ‘the imperfect leader’ as a leadership style because people identified with it and felt that when a person is willing to be vulnerable, it shows their ability to be real and present.

Finally, a quote which has stayed with me ever since I first encountered it is below. Although it sort of feeds my addiction to ‘finding the cracks’, it also makes me feel good that as an ambitious woman trying to make my mark in the world, it’s okay to sometimes show your vulnerabilities and drop the mask for a while 🙂

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” Cohen

Searching for unicorns…

Unicorn2 I’m a dreamer, an optimist and a Piscean – a combination some might consider a recipe for disaster. Not only do I like to (occasionally) live outside of the real world but I also believe there’s got to be a better world that I may have a cat in hell’s chance of creating…there has to be more to life than the card that has been handed down, and I have a duty to do what I can to make it so 🙂 Ever since I was really young, I was the same. Obsessed with stories, adventure and mythical creatures – I could spend hours just lying in the grass on a warm Summer’s day dreaming about all manner of things… from the places I would explore one day, to the stories I would write as a famous novelist, onto how amazing it would feel to be in love with someone with all my heart… So I would spend days looking up at skies of pure blue and feeling so happy and full of anticipation I could burst. But I think I knew at the back of my mind that one day I would need to grow up and become ‘sensible’ – I would need to give up the daydreaming and tone down my imagination. I would need to swap unicorn chasing for a steady job and an occasional adventure. The trouble is, although I now have the steady career and sensible life, I’m not so sure I’ve quite given up the chase. There are still some things in life that feel like the proverbial unicorn…talked about, rumoured to exist, glimpsed by some and yet, so illusive and out of reach to me. There are things other people claim to have seen, experienced and felt but still, they continue to escape me until I begin to question whether the things I really desire are out there at all.  Perhaps the thing(s) I want with all my heart and soul is so beautiful and pure it might as well be a mythical creature…but still I search and still I long for a sign that it’s real. To put this another way, have you ever had the feeling that perhaps you are looking for something that may not exist or materialise? It might be a feeling, an idea, a person or a dream place – the ‘something’ is a thing you’ve held onto for a day or even a lifetime and yet it is so important to you, you’re not sure you’d be able to look back on life and say you’ve truly ‘lived’ without having experienced it? So at what point should you just accept that your ideas and dreams may not translate to every day life and they are not for this world… Your long held desires need to be discarded and replaced with the reality of ‘what is’ rather than what could be… I suppose the challenge I’m trying to work through in this blog is how you balance out remaining ambitious and hopeful in achieving your dreams and desires with being realistic and accepting when you’ve given it your best shot and it’s the right time to let it go. I’m optimistic enough to believe that I should be able to achieve what I set out to achieve in this life but I hate the thought that I could be holding onto an ‘ideal’ that may never be. Desiring something that may never happen has been known to make people bitter and cynical – something I am determined never to become.  So can you be hopeful and hopeless all at the same time? A hopelessly hopeful dreamer perhaps 😉 You see, the seductive thing about dreaming is that it represents hope and hope provides a purpose to life. For example, I might hope to have my own business one day and so it gives me something to aim for – therefore the steps I take in my career are towards that purpose. Or perhaps I dream of a better world in which people feel appreciated and respected for who they are – therefore the way in which I behave and interact with people around me will be towards (on some small level) achieving that goal. My own personal dream which is very close to my heart is about my desire to cultivate a life filled with ‘real’ connections and ‘real’ relationships – it’s about really seeing people as they truly are and that they will see me as I truly am. I get so tired sometimes of so many ‘surface level’ friendships and relationships where we talk about such meaningless things…I’m someone who needs connection and meaning (not all the time – don’t get me wrong, I can have my silly carefree moments like the best of ’em! 😉 ). I keep chasing the idea that one day I’ll meet more people who just ‘get’ and love me for me…and I for them. I guess it’s my view that there are just some dreams that if you let them go, you may let go of a part of yourself….it’s like accepting that you’ve failed to achieve something you really wanted to achieve. But equally at the same time, the down side of never letting go of the unobtainable is that it may hold you back in other ways that you don’t even realise… So, in my soul searching what exactly have I come to conclude? Well this has been a particularly tough one for me and I don’t think there is one black and white answer that anyone can tell you about when to keep going and when to give up, but here are my thoughts… 1. Keep chasing until it holds you back. I think it’s important not to let go too quickly…all the mythical stories of unicorn chasing almost always involve a huge amount of perseverance and blood, sweat and tears before the character finally catches the long awaited glimpse. In real life, most dreams worth pursuing may be hard work and require a huge amount of faith. But the point at which perseverance tips over into pain and disappointment, perhaps it’s time to make the call about whether continuing is the right thing to do. 2. Dream in multiples. The one thing I have most definitely learnt is how important it is not to put all your eggs in one basket – having several dreams which you hold close to your heart helps you in striving for a fuller and richer life, but also helps in taking the edge of the disappointment if one doesn’t materialise. If one seems impossible or out of reach, shift focus to another. 3. Make your own decision – don’t let others tell you what is or isn’t obtainable. Someone once said to me that I should never limit my accomplishments to other peoples’ expectations of me and just like that piece of advice, I don’t think you should let others tell you what you can and can’t dream of for your life. Listen to advice, of course, but use the advice to make a decision that you can own completely. I’ve always believed advice is (mostly!) for confirming a decision you’ve sort of made anyway… All in all I guess what I’ve learnt is that dreaming is a positive thing… until it’s not! Holding onto an idealistic dream of something which may never happen can of course hold us back from enjoying the present and ‘what is’ but our hopes and dreams can also give us passion and purpose. They can give us ideas for what our future may hold and can stir up excitement about what we might be capable of…An amazing man once said: ‘There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living’ Nelson Mandela

What’s new pussycat?

What's new

Happy 2014 one and all! This officially marks a year and a half of blogging for me so I’m starting the year feeling good for persevering…when I started this, I didn’t even know if I’d make it past post one but clearly I’m a gal with a lot to talk about 😉

I am also a gal starting the New Year feeling different, something has changed.

Let me begin with tackling the ever contentious topic of New Year resolutions since it sets the context of this post nicely. The range of responses to this topic can be (generally speaking) summarised into two camps – those who don’t DO NY resolutions and those who use it to kick start something they’ve been putting off doing for a while. Personally (just to be difficult some might say 😉 ) I like to approach it slightly differently. I set myself NY aims with the understanding that although I want to have a goal(s) for the year ahead, if for some reason I don’t quite reach it or I let it go, I won’t waste time giving myself a hard time over it. For example, my aim this year is to do at least 12 hikes of varying difficulty and length (starting at 8 miles and working up to 18). I’ve already begun positively but if I get distracted and don’t reach my goal I won’t be too hard on myself. As a result of this, the pressure is immediately lifted and my goal becomes something I WANT to do rather than something I feel obligated to do.

This way of seeing things is a new perspective for me…I used to fall into the ‘all or nothing’ camps above. Each year December 31st would come around and I’d do my usual reflective thing and wonder why I felt a bit rubbish, even when the year had been full of achievements. After reading some excellent and insightful books, I realised that when I didn’t set any NY goals I felt as though I hadn’t strived to achieve anything for the year. But, when I did set the goals, I had set the wrong goals and therefore set myself up for failure…resulting in constantly giving myself a hard time for not achieving what I’d set out to achieve! Basically a ‘lose-lose’ situation. This is when I arrived at the small (but significant!) idea to set goals but to make them guilt free and fun to do.

But why is this significant enough to be writing about I hear you ask (or more accurately, I imagine you ask because hearing voices would just be plain disturbing at 10 o’clock on a Sunday eve!:) ). Well it’s significant because it’s part of a whole new way of approaching things for me and as ever, when I have these changes I like to share them for my own clarity and also in the hope that it might help / stimulate ideas for someone else in the world too 🙂

So, what’s new? Over Christmas in particular and through some of 2013 I decided to read more – I love psychology and therefore I picked out books that specifically look at exploring and changing ways of thinking. I am currently about a quarter of the way through a book on how to bring about positive change. What this book (and some great ‘Psychologies’ magazine articles) has changed for me is my ability to understand the things that drive and motivate me. In doing this, it has changed both my ability to bring more positive things into my life and has also taught me how to deal with the negative a little better. Let me give two examples to illustrate my point:

  • The positive – I used to bounce between fitness drive after fitness drive, never understanding why I would keep flaking out after a matter of months. The reason, I discovered, is because I focussed on the wrong motivation – outward physical benefit rather than inner mental well-being benefits. Once I decided that the way it made me feel emotionally was more important than a physical reward, it changed what I wanted to do in order to achieve it…hence my switch to hiking rather than gym. Hiking gets me outdoors and I feel great after every walk completed – better still, it’s free, I can do it independently and I can do it whenever I feel the need day or night. And guess what? I can already see some physical benefit too! Bonus!
  • Dealing with the negative – when someone let me down I used to find it all-consuming. I’d keep thinking about all the things that could have gone better, all the things I blamed myself for and ultimately, tie myself up in knots working out why things went wrong. The worst part was, I beat myself up for even having these thoughts! The trick to dealing with it now is simple. I allow myself to feel whatever naturally comes to me, acknowledge the way I feel and then consciously decide whether I have the power to change it. If I can’t change it, I tell myself to put it to the back of my mind and think of something else. I’ve cut out the self-criticism and just accepted that sometimes you can’t control your thoughts but you CAN control what you do with them next.

Because this is a relatively new way of seeing things, I am yet to be really tested on it and so I can’t say whether it’s something that can be maintained through the toughest moments and times of greatest ‘wobble’ – I guess we shall see! The bottom line I suppose I’m getting to, is that from what I’ve learnt, it is entirely possible to change your thought patterns and way of seeing things – the key is mostly about understanding yourself, and in particular, understanding what motivates you. We all strive to be happy in life and to me, that’s about how you maximise the positive and limit the negative.

So, top tips of what I’ve learnt thus far (and I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to share as I read and grow!):

Start with the basics and get to know yourself. Strip back things to the absolute basics and ask yourself what motivates you. What gets you out of bed in the morning? Think of a time when you really persevered with something or achieved something great, what was it that sustained you and gave you the drive to keep going? I bet if you look at a few of these times in your life, you’ll see a theme start to emerge.

Don’t be unkind to yourself. If you don’t achieve a goal or have a thought cross your mind that you don’t like, don’t beat yourself up about it. If you beat yourself up, you are only doubling the pain – something has happened that you don’t like AND you’re giving yourself an ear bashing!! By all means acknowledge and reflect but just accept that whatever it is has happened and it’s time to focus on something else more positive. Trust me, the conscious acknowledgment of a thought or a situation is half the battle – upon acknowledging you then have control of the decision to either dwell or ‘put it away’.

Be determined to feel positive. Yes I know this is easier said than done, particularly in some really crappy situations, but you really ARE in control of your own feelings and so you can decide to find something (or better still a few things!) in a day to feel good about. More importantly, never go to sleep feeling bad – do something before bed to clear the mind and replace it with the good thoughts. You might laugh, but I even have a book of mantras I like to read when I feel rubbish – just positive sayings I’ve noted down to help me smile about things 🙂

As I say, there is still so much to learn but these are the three things I currently use to feel good and it’s working. Just as the saying goes that you ‘count the pennies and the pounds look after themselves’, I like to think that you make small steps and have mini epiphanies and the bigger picture will fall into place!

My final thought to end on before I hit the hay to get some beauty sleep, therefore is this… I am hoping so much that the new perspective lasts and by putting it into writing it also rubs off on some of you lovely people. It has really helped me to stress less and be kinder to myself. But do you know what? Even if it doesn’t last and you all think I’ve gone slightly mad, I’m not worrying as I’ll dust myself down and I’ll just start again…that’s the beauty of what I’ve learned, you can always try again and you can keep striving for happiness however many shots it may take to get there 🙂

No half measures…

Half measures
Life is for living and you have to live it with your whole heart, not just parts of it. I’ve always believed in this philosophy passionately and it explains why I will often reach decisions quickly, see them through to the very end and prefer that if I am to regret anything it should be the things I’ve done, not the things I haven’t. I don’t do things by half measures – it’s all or it’s nothing, you either do something completely or you don’t do it at all.

Interestingly though, I’ve never considered myself to be a ‘black and white’ sort of girl – I know that life has many colours on a spectrum far wider than just black, white and grey. For example, I believe that someone could come to me with pretty much any scenario, dilemma, issue or reflection and I would remain open-minded and judgement free…because I know only too well that life can be complicated, surprising and a long way from clear cut. But recently, I’ve found myself frustrated and uncharacteristically annoyed with people and situations that seem to float within the grey area of my philosophy which I have been so determined shouldn’t exist.

The frustrating ones are often the people and situations that seemingly have no ‘resolution’ – resolution in the sense of having an ending / outcome and in terms of those people lacking in resolve or determination. There are certain situations and people I just wish were either one thing or another, black or white, open or closed and it really plays on my mind when they have any kind of ambiguity. In this sense I feel contradictory because on the whole I’m very open-minded and fluid but in this respect, I am quite resolute in my need for resolution and clarity.

I first noticed this pattern in relation to my love life but I think it also plays into work, friendships and everyday situations too. I’m an open and decisive gal and I like to know where I’m headed. Drifting along worries me because I could easily ‘drift’ into something that hurts me or isn’t right and that, dear readers, to my mind is a waste of time. As is spending hours on end agonising over a decision or situation when the answers are there for the takin’, if you can be brave enough to take the plunge. Thus when it comes to dating (for example) I’ll fairly quickly need to establish that I’m on the same page as the other person – once that’s out the way, I’ll settle down and let things move at their own pace. I’m not scared of hearing or doing something I don’t like but knowing what you’re dealing with sooner rather than later I feel is the way in which you make the most of your time on earth. It enables closure when things aren’t right but it also enables moving forward positively when they are. I need clarity and I’ll genuinely go to the ends of the earth to get it (well, the furthest I’ve been before was jumping on a plane to Egypt but hey, that’s pretty far! :)) – I suppose come rain or shine I just like to know whether to pack my umbrella or my sunnies 😉

I know I’m not alone in this way of living – some of you reading this are similar I’m sure. But it feels like I’m encountering more and more people and situations where drifting, lack of decision-making and generally ‘grey area floating’ seems to be the norm. Let me give some examples (admittedly ranging from the ridiculously mundane and everyday to larger, more significant situations but hey, I like to use variety!! :)):

Situation 1: Friends who take days to reply to simple text messages. To my mind you’re either in a conversation or you’re not – if this were a phone call or face to face situation you wouldn’t stretch a conversation out over days. For one thing by the time you respond I’ve forgotten what we were talking about and for another, it loses its ‘flow’. I know life sometimes gets in the way and it’s not always possible to get back straight away but this should be an exception not a rule. Talk to me or don’t but please don’t drift somewhere in-between.

Situation 2: Taking a decision to holiday but not booking the travel. If you decide you want to go on holiday or go to see someone in another country you need to put actions to words. Decisions that are made without the necessary actions to see them through are the most frustrating of all – if you can’t do what’s necessary then perhaps you should have reached a different decision.

Situation 3: Deciding not to close down an organisation or workstream after months of uncertainty but effectively doing so through restructure and remodelling. Decisions that sound like one thing but effectively mean the other are just the worst because to me, it means you weren’t brave enough to voice your real intentions and instead chose to sneakily call it something else. It assumes that you can ‘trick’ people into believing something that isn’t real. Call a spade a spade please.

Situation 4: Having regrets and wishing you’d just…(insert reflection here). We all have some small scale regrets (for example I wish I’d had coffee this morning instead of tea!) but looking back on life and wishing you’d done something majorly different is not a healthy way to live. When you regret the decisions you didn’t make or the dreams you didn’t pursue it’s the saddest thing to hear. I know I’ve made some decisions that haven’t always worked out well but looking back, I’m still glad I made them – wondering ‘what if’ is enough to drive anyone to distraction!

Okay, I think I’ll stop with the scenarios now as I think I’ve made my point 😉 But I guess what I’m getting at is about having the courage of your convictions to see things through. Some of the toughest decisions I’ve made have not always led to where I’d hoped they would…but sometimes they’ve led to somewhere better. When I flew out to Egypt to see if this ‘thing’ I felt with a guy I’d met travelling would work, it didn’t result in me finding the love of my life but I was glad and proud of going for it whole-heartedly… and I’d do it again tomorrow. Finding closure, resolution, peace, clarity or whatever you want to call it is the main thing – for some people that’s not important and for some even the drifting and uncertainty is a draw. I suppose it’s about knowing who you are and what’s important to you. Answers and knowing where I stand in this life are important to me.

Final thought? Well I remember quite vividly someone once saying: ” A life lived in fear is a life half-lived” – well as a gal who won’t accept any half-measures I guess this means I have to keep facing the fears and seeking my answers…I remain hopeful though that one day this will help me to cut through the ‘grey’ and into the answers I really want and deserve! I hope you too will do the same 🙂