Good girl gone bad?

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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 

 

Let me know if you need anything…

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‘Let me know if you need anything’ – a well-meaning, often used phrase which we’ve all used at one time or another to provide support to those around us. If someone is ill, upset or down we want them to know we are there and that we can provide things to help. But the issue with this phrase is that it supposes the person knows what they need to make them better and further, that they would feel comfortable in coming right out in asking for it. Personally I can think of maybe one or two times when I’ve known what I’ve needed to feel better and then asked for it… In fact I’d go so far as to say that the times when I’ve needed someone the most, have been the times when I’ve been unable to articulate why or what I need.

So why do we use this phrase so much when it sort of implies that if you don’t tell me what you need, I won’t help? Has it perhaps become a lazy way to show support without the commitment of actually doing anything about it – an absolution of the guilt of inaction because ‘they didn’t let me know what was needed’? Or are we truly unsure of the best way to help some people and therefore must ask them for guidance on what to do? Perhaps we think we’re helping by getting the person to outline what is wrong and therefore what they need to change – a sort of soft coaching approach? Whatever the reason, I would hazard a guess that if you think back to the times you’ve said this to someone, they’ve often politely replied with a ‘thanks’ but not advised of you of what to do to help.

Sometimes someone just needs a hug…without first having to admit a hug is what they need. It takes a great friend indeed to pick up on that and do something appropriate and tangible rather than asking you to spell out what you need…

But I’ll be the first to admit that I too have been guilty of using this phrase – until recently I thought it was a really good way to offer support. But being entirely honest (as I always am in these blogs!) I’ve recently being going through some hard times – I’m a classic case of the clown, mostly smiling and bouncy on the outside while on the inside really struggling to feel good about life. I’d much rather talk about other peoples’ problems than my own – mostly because I care and want to be of help and support but it can also act as a subtle deflection technique as I find it hard to articulate personal challenges when not in paper form. The way this has manifested for me now is physically in the form of migraines – it cannot be a coincidence that having previously never had them, I’ve had a year of getting pretty regular attacks. My friends and family are wonderful, they’ve all texted / emailed in one form or another and have all said to ‘let them know if I need anything’ – but I truly don’t know what I need. It might be for someone to turn up on my doorstep and take me out for a walk and talk somewhere far away or it might be to drag me out to listen to some upbeat music for a bit. But I would never be the one to directly ask someone to do that and I can’t honestly say it would work either.

I remember back to a time when a really close friend of mine split with her long-term boyfriend and was absolutely gutted. Myself and another friend wouldn’t take no for an answer and told her we were coming over to eat chocolate, drink wine and watch gory vampire movies – we didn’t ask her what was needed but intuitively tried to guess what would help. And if that approach hadn’t worked, I’d have made my way through a great long list of things until I found out what did.

Now I know life isn’t always simple like that – I guess I’m ‘lucky’ (hmm) that I’m free and single so I can jump in a car at my will and be there when needed. The point here isn’t about grand gestures but I think it has to be something more than a ‘tell me what you need’. In a society where mental health issues are on the rise and suicide rates are higher than they should be, I’m absolutely convinced that although a text to say ‘you’re thinking of someone’ or ‘you’re there if they need’ is a good first step, there needs to be more action behind the well meaning. Clearly it will depend very much upon the person, for example, if someone is more of an introvert and hates being surprised then you wouldn’t turn up on their doorstep in the middle of the night (you’ll give the poor blighter a shock and a half! 🙂 ) but let’s get creative and stop putting the pressure on people to outline exactly what they need.

In a world where social media, mobile phones and other technology makes it easy to be in touch but not fully connected, how can we give support to people going through rough times in a more meaningful way…Here are just a few of my ideas:

1. If you live nearby, pop over to their house and see if you can have a cuppa or go out for an hour. Seeing someone in person can make the world of difference and really, an hour out of your day vs. the five minutes it takes to send an email or text can be time well invested. Catching someone when they’re feeling whatever it is they’re feeling is important, because the next day / time you meet it may have passed or been down played. If they’re not in / not answering drop a nice note through the door with some times when you might be in for them to visit back.

2. Organise something to distract / relax them – a film, a walk, a gig or something else. Sometimes in order to talk about something, you need to stop thinking about it too much so it then flows out naturally. If you’re a good friend to someone, you know the things they love so pick something nice to do and take it from there.

3. Make an expression / vision board. Some people are really rubbish at expressing themselves and need a stimulus to get them talking…how about cooking a meal and then spend some time rooting through old magazines and cutting out pictures that jump out. Ask them to talk about why the pictures they have chosen hold meaning for them…often this leads into topics that have been on their mind / are important to them.

4. Don’t ask if they’re okay / need anything…because 9/10 most people won’t admit to being down or needing help. If you need to ask the question, then chances are you’ve intuitively picked up on something that suggests all is not right. Why not gently acknowledge that with them and come up with some ideas for spending time together so you can get to the bottom of it?

I suppose the bottom line is to ask yourself when you’re tempted to use that well-meaning term ‘let me know if you need anything’ – will this person actually tell me what they need? And if the answer is ‘no’, how can you make the first move by doing something tangible right here, right now? There is absolutely no doubt that if you’ve used that term (or another similar one!) with someone then you are a lovely, caring and thoughtful person… but there’s also the risk that someone who needs your help desperately just isn’t brave enough to ask for what they want.

So to wrap this post up, I’ll finish (as ever!) with a quote I found on Pinterest which I thought sums things up pretty well:

“When a friend is in trouble, don’t annoy him / her by asking if there is anything you can do. Think of something appropriate and do it.”

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 🙂

Believe your value…

Know your value

 

I love people – that’s a fact. When I see my friends and family I see wonderful, creative and inspirational people whom I consider myself lucky to know and spend time with. I made myself a promise long ago to make a conscious effort only to fill my life with people who make me feel good, who inspire my curiosity and who would help me learn more about the people and the world around me.

Yet over the past few weeks I have heard many a good friend criticize and belittle themselves – saying things that had I heard a stranger say it, I would have confronted them for speaking about my friend in such a way. I even heard one friend tell me that she blamed herself for her long-term boyfriend having cheated on her – that somehow a fault of hers had led to him going elsewhere! Another told me that he felt he had somehow deserved the frankly disgusting behaviour afforded to him by his employer and perhaps he should have been more ‘accepting’.

Of course on hearing all these stories I soon put them straight (anyone who knows me can imagine how quickly that was done! 😉 ). I also asked them to consider whether, had the same situation happened to me, would they be laying the blame and responsibility at my door? The answer was of course ‘no’ and the point was made. So then moving on from self-blame we were able to talk about how they felt and what did it mean for tomorrow, the next day and a longer term future. From destructive blame to positive solution (helped by a big glass of vino! :)).

But on thinking about my friends I have realised that I am just as (if not more!) guilty of doing exactly the same on a daily basis…constant self criticism, constant self blame and a large helping of regret…

– ‘If I’d just played that differently, perhaps it would have had a different outcome’

– ‘If I’d just been less honest and held back more…’

– ‘If I’d just said it in a different way…’

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I always told myself that this thought pattern was positive because I’m a ‘very self-reflective person don’t ya know!’ but the reality is, that self-reflection turns to self-destruction the moment you go from learning to approach things differently to blaming yourself for doing things ‘wrong’. Until this weekend, if I were to play back my self dialogue it would sound as though I felt I was to blame for all the world’s ills and conversely, any successes were down to pure luck!

So why are we always so tough on ourselves, yet such advocates for other people? Why do we value others so dearly and not even believe our own self worth?

If we start with looking at any given situation in life, the fact of the matter is that maybe you are responsible for the outcome and maybe you aren’t… so why automatically assume the blame when something goes wrong? In most situations there is usually more than one factor at play so why should we ignore the rest and focus in on ‘me’? The reason in most cases (including my own!) is control. In the majority of situations we cannot control others’ feelings / opinions / behaviours or the external environment around us but we can control our own internal thoughts and behaviours. So naturally when something doesn’t work out as we’d hoped, we focus on what we can have a chance of changing…ourselves. The trouble with this approach is, perhaps there was no need for us to change – we were probably great just the way we were.

The epiphany I have had this week is that self-blame and constant criticism holds us back from solutions and success. It does this because the only solution to something where you are to blame, is to change ‘you’ and lets face it, we can all change a little but we cannot become a whole new person…and neither should we. The better thing to try and change (and probably the easier thing!) is your perspective…stop seeing yourself as the cause of all wrong and ill in the world and instead, see yourself as the brilliant, unique and successful person you are!! (And if you don’t believe me go ask your loved ones, they’ll soon back me up! 😉 ).

This girl on this weekend has done exactly that. I’ve had enough and I’ve decided to change things – from this point on there will be less self-blame and more self-belief. If an employer, a love interest, a friend or anyone else for that matter doesn’t recognise what I can bring to their life and they don’t seize it with both hands, then it will be their loss rather than a fault of mine.

And for anyone wishing to do the same, here’s how I’m personally going to approach it:

Practice: For something to change and for something to become a habit it must be repeated over and over again. This is no different. I am telling myself on a daily basis to believe in my abilities and keep trying. I’m a capable, strong and decent person.

Catch negative thought patterns before they bring you down: If I slip into bad thought patterns, I am consciously stopping myself from listening. I’m sure on occasions I’ll slip up and allow myself to let them sink through but I’ll keep trying to replace them with something positive.

Listen to people when they tell you good things, believe it: When people I respect and love tell me I’m a good person I’m going to listen properly and play it back to myself during tough times. By not listening to friends and family, you are effectively disregarding their opinion so do them (and you!) a favour and take it in 🙂

Use it to grow success and resilience: If I want to be successful, strong and resilient I need to believe in myself and roll with the punches. To achieve great things you first have to believe you can do it.

Challenge yourself everyday: The achievement and recognition of challenges, however small, reinforces self-belief. Even if the challenge is just to get up an hour early one morning you’ll feel good when you manage to do it – it proves you can do whatever you apply your mind to doing.

Trust and rely on yourself: The one person who will always be in your life is ‘you’! It sounds obvious but learning to love and trust yourself is the key to feeling confident in whatever direction your life twists and turns – anyone else who chooses to join you along the way is just the lucky passenger along for the ride 😉

It is worth saying, however, that none of this is to suggest you should go through life cocky, arrogant or over-confident…that’s not the point. The point is to believe in yourself as a person capable of great things and to feel happy and satisfied in that knowledge. Of course there will be times when your behaviour has been less than ideal – reflect on it, learn from it and improve for next time. Everyone goes wrong from time to time but mostly when a rubbish situation occurs, it has more than one person or thing responsible for it. It is not just you! By believing in yourself more and blaming yourself less, you can enjoy success and cope with the bad times better.

Our parents, our friends, our partners, our (insert important person here) all tell us how brilliant we are and we respect their opinion on all other matters so why not on this? How is it that we know better? Trust your loved ones, trust yourself and skip into work tomorrow happy in the knowledge you are a brilliant person and that you will always give life your best 🙂 (Okay, okay…perhaps skipping into work is a tall order – lets say crawl in with a coffee in hand instead 😉 ).

A wise man once said ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are usually right’ – so go out there and believe you ‘can’!!