I fully realise that this may not be you. For you, there may be very little disruption to normal services apart from a one or two week holiday. And I wish you many blessings on that holiday, and that the time for you over the summer is rich and full and enjoyable even in it’s ongoingness.
There is a law of physics that states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
And this applies to life too.
For every YES we say, there is an inevitable NO.
I read the other day – every yes automatically says no somewhere else.
I am aware that the times I will have to say YES to my Nearest-and-Dearest are limited as they grow up and grow in independence.
So I am choosing to say NO to as many work commitments as I can over these summer holiday weeks. And so there will be a little pause in the blog.
Normal service will resume in August.
Meanwhile, I thank you so profoundly and humbly for reading my musings, for commenting, for telling me how much you are inspired and challenged by what I write. Knowing that you are reading means I love writing even more.
Over these past few weeks I have been musing here on a series of character traits that I believe are important that we model to the next generation. This all started from this marvelous quote from Carol B Hillman, a professor of childhood education:
One of the most important things we can do for young children is to model the kind of person we would like them to be.”
I guess that this has been close to my heart these past months as I have been learning how to be alongside one of my Nearest-and-Dearest going through major school exams. Her anxiety and time constraints, the pressure of the brutal workload, stress about the exams themselves let alone the outcome – all of this has served to dramatically increase the tension in the house to pressure cooker levels at times. And we are at a life stage when the same is true for many houses of friends and peers. There is a shared sense of being in it together as we seek to support and help them navigate through the assessments, studying, time management and exams themselves.
And of course what tends to happen in tense environments with people who know each other well and have to live together is that our little quirks and foibles become much more apparent. Irritations and narkiness fueled by anxiety and tension can easily escalate to full blown wars of words (or slamming doors, strops, sullen sulks, things thrown…depending on the outworking of anger for the individual young person in question!).
When we are in the heat of the moment, and are ourselves feeling stressed and irritated, we can often and easily show our worst. How much more important then to model to them the kinds of characteristics that we talk about being important.
If we can show when under pressure that we live out the positive ideals we talk, that is a powerful witness indeed.
not giving up
finding another way through
knowing our worth is internal not external
being quick to say sorry
Of course, none of us is perfect. We all get it wrong daily, but the beauty in this is that every time we get it wrong we have a chance to practice being quick to say sorry!
As you read that list, what stands out to you most?
Who do you know who exemplifies that characteristic, and what is it about that person that you most admire?
I have talked here a lot about the importance of knowing and living according to our values. There is a whole series that starts here if you would like to read more.
This list is not exhaustive, there may be loads of other characteristics that you would add that are especially noteworthy for you. It simply serves as a starting point. And importantly, it can serve as a checklist for how we are choosing to live each day. A generic values list if you will, for us and for the next generation.
Imagine getting up each morning, and asking yourself –
How can I best model kindness today?…. Where do I need to show resilience in a situation I would otherwise give up? ….Who around me can I encourage and affirm for WHO they are not what they do?
Now I am not saying that we don’t live like this already. None of us set out this morning to be UN-kind or UN-empathetic. But the reality of life can sometimes crowd out our best intentions and we find ourselves giving up, or getting angry, or being judgmental. Maybe that is just me.
However, we can also choose to be more intentional about actively seeking out opportunities to be kind. To come alongside someone who needs encouragement to persevere. To show extra resilience with grace in a tough situation.
We live amazing lives and so many opportunities are afforded to us. This is about supercharging those lives and modelling to those young people in our lives a way to live that focuses on BEING as much as DOING.
I leave it with you as to how you model this to the next generation.
How quick are you to say sorry when you have got something wrong? How important is it to you that others acknowledge their own mistakes?
I heard a politician on the radio recently apologising. Whatever you think of them, there are a lot of politicians about just now spouting forth in these crazy political times. Much angst, rhetoric, confusion, disillusionment and cynicism, as well as a fair dose of despair when we consider what sort of country and world our next generation will be living in.
Anyway, back to this particular politician. It was quoted on the news that he had apologised for a verbal fracas the previous day. However, on closer scrutiny of what he actually said, he was doing nothing of the sort. In actuality, he was apologising for any offence caused by his remarks. No word of apology for the remarks themselves or the underlying attitude.
This kind of political spinning is common, sadly. And it makes me cross because it demonstrates such a lack of integrity and good character. What sort of example is that to pass on to anyone, let alone those of a younger and more formative generation, as we have been musing here of late?
It is easy to write politicians off and consider that we ourselves would never behave in such ways.
But how often do we apologise and keep it straight and simple?
If we are really honest with ourselves, how often do we add a wee qualifier onto the end of the apology? This diminishes the value of the apology itself and keeps us in a position of power over the subject of the apology. We still are not prepared to fully admit we were wrong, and defensively justify our behaviour.
An apology should be just that – a simple, uncluttered and unadulterated
I’m really sorry. I messed up and got it wrong. I have hurt you.”
And then we stop and close our mouths and resist the temptation to say…
So often however our pride prompts us to stick the knife in by adding that ‘but’.
‘I’m sorry but I wasn’t thinking…’
‘I’m sorry but I usually get it right…’
‘I’m sorry but I was busy doing lots of other worthy things….[subtext: look at how important I am]
‘I’m sorry but look at all these other things I have done for you….’
Kids notice things. We expect them to say sorry to their sibling for hitting them, or to us for forgetting their chores, or to their teacher for lying about their schoolwork. Or whatever misdemeanour is pertinent.
And yet do they experience us apologising to them for forgetting something important to them, for being distracted and not giving them our full attention, for breaking something of theirs?
Even more important is what they witness when we don’t know that they are watching. Do they see us apologise to our partner when we have said something hurtful or shouted angry words? Or do they see us make a half apology and then add that fateful word BUT…and apportion blame elsewhere, or go on the defensive, or make excuses.
Our children learn from what they see of us and our behaviour.
That is a hard truth. So how often do the children and young people in your life see you offer a genuine, humble apology? Do they see you admit when you get it wrong, see that that has not destroyed you but there is scope to make amends, learn and move on? To show the person to whom we are apologising that they and their feelings matter more than our pride?
So this week, when you have a chance to say sorry to someone, let your sorry be just that: a simple, humble and BUT-free apology.
How do you measure your self worth? What is it based on?
What do you think are the top things that commonly are linked to self worth? You might come up with:
what you do
what you achieve
Possibly also your financial independence or lack thereof, how well connected and popular you are. These are cited in a recent article on self worth that points to all these things as wrong determinants of our self worth.
I have talked a lot about exams here of late. If this has been of no relevance to you, and it becoming irritating, I do apologise. It’s just that for us, exams have been the dominant part of life these past few months. They are now completed, but one major aspect remains:
And therein lies the rub in terms of how we communicate value to our young people. Do we tell them – verbally or otherwise – that their worth is tied up in what they achieve? Or in who they are?
This is a tricky line to walk as the results of exams do generally matter quite a lot. Further education, a degree, passing a course, gaining a qualification that is needed – all are important outcomes that we are seeking to achieve when we start out down the exam path in the first place. But even so.
I have worked with many clients who have a deeply scripted negative belief system that their selfworth is tied to what they achieve, and if they fail to achieve then they have no worth. Undoing this takes time, and is about building a strong sense of self – who I am, what I can do, what my unique skills and abilities are, what contribution I make by being me and what I bring to situations by being the best of myself.
Instead, we reward effort as much as success, we model resilience and perseverance and we help them learn how to move on from failure. Equally, this is about consistently affirming them for who they are – their kindness, or thoughtfulness, or sense of fun, or generosity. Whatever it is about them that makes them WHO they are.
I wrote here a number of moons ago about a lesson learned by Nearest-and-Dearest about technology. The issue in question was getting a mobile phone. And the conversation revolved round the central fact that we do not get things because of the way they make us look or feel. Our worth is not tied up in what we HAVE – status, possessions, image. You can read those early musings here.
At a more complex level, as adults we all struggle with this too. I had an interesting conversation with a coach friend who is a missionary. Her observations showed the dichotomy here. Every quarter she was required to write to her financial supporters outlining what she was doing – essentially, to prove that she was achieving something with their money. The focus necessarily had to be on external success. But she – like all of us – works best when fueled by an internal sense of self worth, not an external pressure to succeed. When she is being her best. So there is a gap.
Of course, both are necessary. Achievements and external success are important otherwise we would not get very far in our jobs, lives, careers. It is important to be able to measure and see that success too.
But if that is our only way of measuring our self worth, then our focus will be skewed.
We also need to be confident in who we are. When we know our values, and we choose to live accordingly, that brings self worth and self belief. Many external things that we might otherwise tie to our self worth are also outwith our control.
So we can choose instead to take responsibility for the one thing we can control –
To know who we are and the positives that we bring to life that are unique to us. To take responsibility for aspects of ourselves that need developing and to choose to learn and grow rather than being defensive. Not comparing ourselves negatively with others, but seeking to understand and celebrate who we are. To show integrity in consistently doing what we say is important.
And to have people in our lives that affirm us for WHO we are and what they appreciate about us.
So this week, who can you affirm for some aspect of who they are that would build their self worth? And what are you celebrating about yourself that is important and unique and that enriches the lives of others?
This is the article that was published in the July edition of Woman Alive magazine 2019. It is reprinted here with permission from and grateful thanks to Woman Alive. You can find out more about them here http://www.womanalive.co.uk/
The original series of blog posts about our Black Dog starts here, if you want to read more.
Lessons from our Black Dog.Or, moving on from depression
Photo copyright Dylan Collard
A large Black Dog lives in the centre of our marriage. It was Winston Churchill who first described depression thus. For much of our quarter-century marriage, my husband has suffered from depression, and I have battled to live alongside him well whilst maintaining my sanity and emotional well-being.
The Black Dog left him feeling bleak, trapped, hopeless,
emotionally numb, and me struggling
with isolation, frustration and loneliness. Torn between loving support, and
angry resentment about the impact of this awful, and oh-so-common illness. Seeking
to honour the marriage commitment I made before God, trusting that God is in
the midst – but how to pray? What to pray? How to keep going day in day out in
a marriage so different from that which I had envisioned?
There are many different breeds
of Black Dog, and I speak only from our own experience. Depression robs the
sufferer of the ability to engage with or enjoy much of life, depleting them of
energy for much other than self-preservation. And for the person alongside –
partner, family member, friend – it is devastating to see a mere shadow of a
loved one. I mourned for the engaging, funny, inspiring and creative man I knew
was in there somewhere, the man I had chosen to marry but who had been consumed
by this Black Dog.
It is possible to move on from
depression – we are there now. But what have we learned along the way that
might both redeem our own experiences, and encourage others living with a Black
Dog? Three things stand out, that had I applied them earlier, I might have
saved us both a fair deal of heartache.
Firstly, talk about it.
Fear, failure, guilt, anger, withdrawal,
shame – often these emotions kept us pretending that things were OK, and not
opening up to others. And therefore perpetuated the isolation and loneliness
for us both. For men, it seems especially hard to talk about their mental
health. But depression is an illness.
I would now say to my husband:
This is not your fault nor does it make you a failure. This is hard for us both, and I want to see you enjoy life more – please can we seek help together.”
Talk about it – it is OK to not be fine. It is OK to ask for help. And most importantly you are not alone. The first time I shared with a trusted friend that my husband was depressed and I was very lonely within my marriage, my friend – who I thought I knew well – burst into tears, commenting that she thought it was just her who was lonely in her marriage. Once it is out in the open, the darkness of isolation starts to lose some of it’s power, and we can invite others to stand with us in prayer and walk alongside us.
Secondly, take time to understand yourself and what it is that you need.
Once it was known that my husband
was depressed, I would often find that well-meaning friends who focus their
concern on him. Through gritted teeth I would sometimes answer questions from
them as to how he was, waiting in vain to be asked how I was doing amid this
consuming darkness. There is no blame intended here – when someone is not well,
it is entirely appropriate to express concern for that person. But in living
alongside someone with depression, often your own life feels put on hold, lost.
I would swing through a full
gamut of emotions, sometimes in the course of a week or less, sometimes over
months. Deep concern and grief for what he was suffering, loneliness because of
the loss of connection between us, anger at the injustice of it all and how
invisible I had become in the relationship, resentment at all that I was doing
to run our lives and those of our children without his support, to a blank
shutting down as a form of self-preservation.
All these emotions are valid. The
challenge is what to do about them.
For years I kept them locked away inside and pretended to be ‘fine’. Needless to say, this did not serve me well; it is exhausting, and I was losing sight of who I really was. It took me a while to realise that I needed to make time to reconnect with myself and pay attention to my own needs. To bring those emotions to God, shout and rail at Him – He can most definitely take it – and allow myself to be loved and nurtured by my Heavenly Father. If you are living alongside someone with depression, chances are they need your consistent understanding and support.
And therefore you need to be resourced to provide this. It is not selfish or disloyal to talk with trusted friends about how you are, or to address your own needs. It is essential for your own emotional, mental and spiritual health. Do some fun activities just for you that resource you and serve as outlets to some of the pent-up needs. Exercise and get regular small breaks. Take time with God to allow Him to love and resource you.
But don’t lose sight of the person who is behind the Black Dog. Seeing depression as a third party helped me to separate the illness from the man I loved, and therefore avoid either blaming him or cutting myself off from him in despair.
Thirdly, people are worth fighting for.
Depression can make you feel that
life is on hold – numb, cheated of enjoyment, wasted years. To live fearing
that this is as good as it is going to get, and subsequently shut down to hopes
and dreams. But ask yourself – is this the life I really want to be living?
It was dealing with the Black Dog
that eventually prompted us to take stock, talk about it to others and get help.
But more significantly, to also look much deeper at the bigger picture of our
whole marriage. For us, the Black Dog had come and gone, and it’s power to
dominate our lives had lessened. But the legacy of this was a pattern of
dysfunctional communication between us.
There was a gulf between that was only going to narrow if we both chose to move.
Looking at my own unmet needs was not enough. Also required was a willingness to admit where my attitudes and behaviour were wrong. It was all too easy to blame all our struggles on my husband’s illness and his reactions to it. But some brutal self-examination showed me some harsh truths about myself that were not pretty. How willing was I to let go of my resentment, learn to be more gracious and humble, and let others in? I was heavily invested in being strong and self-reliant (partly learned as a defence mechanism but now an issue of stubbornness) and often gave the appearance of being ‘sorted’.
But where was God in this?
A process of learning to surrender to God followed, letting go of my hurts and letting my Father love me. With His help, to see where and what I needed to forgive, and to seek forgiveness. I could not change my husband – only God can do that. But I can choose to love him, to see who he is and is becoming, not remain stuck in who he has been. For us, the Black Dog eventually prompted us to take stock, learn to communicate better, grow to understand our own needs, and seek God’s help in changing ourselves and not each other.
Whilst I would not have chosen this path, I can now see that am I who I am now because we have walked this path, because of God’s extraordinary grace and ability to redeem and transform. This whole experience has taught me much about being willing to surrender to God and allow Him, through His Holy Spirit to graciously, lovingly, and oh-so-patiently, work to change me.
If you are living alongside
someone with depression, take time to seek help together and to talk about how
you are. Recognise that you have needs too, and they are valid. And allow God
in His infinite loving grace and patience to hold you, to mould you and to
About the Author: Catriona
Futter is a Christian Life Coach and speaker who is passionate about equipping
people to discover and live out their unique, God-given identity and purpose.
She runs her own business Equip for Life Coaching from her home in Glasgow,
Scotland, offering individual coaching, team coaching, and speaking. She blogs
What does courage mean to you? Perhaps you think of someone facing serious illness or death with grace and acceptance. Or a public example like Malala perhaps, the Pakistani activist for female education. Or school girl Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist who recently addressed the United Nations
Having courage in the face of extreme adversity
This month sees the 30th anniversary of the protests and massacre in Tiananmen square. This was the culmination of weeks of protests for democratic reform by over a million Chinese students and workers. The protest came to be symbolised by the astonishing act of courage of one man standing in front of Chinese military tanks.
Perhaps in your life you will be called to make a similar very public and life defining courageous stand for something you believe in.
But it might be as you are reading these examples of having courage you are thinking:
I could never do that. I don’t have courage like that.
Courage is the ability to do something that frightens us or that we find daunting.
I think of a friend who many years ago started to give blood, despite being seriously phobic. He did this as a response to my plea for blood donors in thanks for blood donations that saved my mum’s life. And he has continued to display courage faithfully in the multiple subsequent blood donations he has given.
I think of the teenager who stands up to those who are making their life miserable and says no, I am not prepared to be treated like this.
Someone who stands against the tide of public opinion or the popular view and says no, this is not how it should be.
Courage requires us to show strength in the face of grief or pain.
Standing with a loved one in the midst of their struggles despite the cost. Not giving up in the face of adversity but keeping-on keeping-on, day in and day out in a situation that seems insurmountable because it is the right thing to do.
This of course links back very closely to what I was musing about persevering and showing resilience. To not give up in the face of opposition, or oppression or obstruction or objection or a lack of optimism or opportunity. We chose to show courage and we keep going.
Courage takes wisdom, as well as perseverance and bravery. We need to be wise in knowing when to act and when to be restrained, when to speak and when to stay silent.
Ask yourself – what would the best outcome be here?
This clears away the emotions and muddied motives and enables us to see instead the bigger picture of who else is invested here and what is most important.
And for me, one of the simplest […not necessarily easiest…] and most powerful ways to show courage is to ENcourage. To encourage has courage at the centre. It is easy to stay silent when we know we could speak out. It is easy to say nothing when we fear a backlash but we know that offering words of love and honest kindness would bring hope.
Sometimes we have to overcome our natural inhibitions or fears to tell someone we love them, or that they are beautiful, or that they are persevering with grace and integrity despite the hardship of their circumstance. We show courage in speaking up and offering specific words to restore and bring hope.
Who is around you just now who is needing a courage boost? Who can you seek out to tell them how much they mean to you? Where can you speak up for someone who might have lost their voice?
This week, choose one way to show courage by choosing to encourage.
Last week I wrote a lot about perseverance. We all face challenging situations that require us to persevere, but it can be hard, exhausting and demoralising. Having a clear understanding of WHY, plus motivation and courage to keep practicing are key. And more than that, having raving fans to persevere alongside us. Trusted folk who will believe with us that there is always a way through.
The number of links within last week’s blog indicate how often I have written about these subjects before, over these last 6 years.
Because these are some of the root issues of life.
Deepening relationships….Communication….Shared experiences….Trust and empathy….Kindness….Vision and clear goals….Resilience, practice and not giving up…..Personal growth through self reflection….Self care, honesty and knowing our limits….Seeking to be a good example.
I doubt there will ever be a time in my lifewhen I am not learning and growing in all these areas.
Sometimes when the situation before us seems entrenched or we have been battling for a while, it might feel like there IS no way forward. We are running out of resilience and our persevering is not getting us anywhere because it seems like the way forward is blocked.
But there is always a way.
Trawling back through my early blogs, and I find one on the Mona Lisa trick. This is about perspective. When a problem seems insurmountable and that there is no way through, perhaps we need to stop and step back and look at it in a completely different light.
An early art class for one of my Nearest-and-Dearest had her copying a painting but upside down. It happened to be the Mona Lisa. But the point is that when we are so used to seeing something in a certain way – a problem, relationship, situation – we can get stuck in that perspective. Finding new creative solutions to challenges and ways forward through difficulties requires us to look at things differently.
On our own, this can often be difficult because the situation is SO familiar and we are hampered by all the associated emotions.
That is where life coaching can be so powerful. Having someone objective listen, help you explore options without judgment or assessment, and recast vision for what is most important can often enable us to get back to the roots of the issue.
And getting our heads out of the problem and using our creative brains not our problem solving ones is often what brings the breakthrough –
– there is another option. There is a way through.
When you are stuck and there seems no way forward, questions that can help gain clarity might be:
what would I do if I knew I COULDN’T FAIL?
if there were NO LIMITS to what I could achieve, what would I do?
what would be the BEST possible outcome here?
if I woke up tomorrow and this problem/situation was successfully resolved, what would that mean? How would things be different?
what FEARS or inner drives are influencing your decision here? If those fears were removed, what would you do?
what would those who are most INVESTED IN you say about this? What would they do and why?
who do you most want to BE at the end of this process? What would best line up with that?
what do you NEED to get past this that you don’t have at present? How could you take a sideways step to address that before moving on?
As always, this is food for thought. But sometimes we need to look at a situation completely differently to see that there really is always a way through.
Not giving up, persevering, and being resilient are crucial elements of our character that we want to model to others. Sometimes road blocks can come our way that seem impossible. Who is around you who could help you look at this situation differently? To restore your hope that there is always a way?
Where are you having to persevere at present? And what helps you?
Think of a challenging situation that you are facing just now. It might be challenging in a good way, such as learning a new skill or studying for a qualification or coursework. Or perhaps it might be a much harder ongoing challenge. Perhaps a difficult relationship with a partner, friend or co-worker, some hardship facing someone you love, or an entrenched obstructive situation at work. Whatever way you look, there are blockages and obstacles, and you are struggling to see a way forward. Frustration, weariness, emotional and mental fog ensue.
This of course is closely linked to not giving up, something I was musing about a few weeks ago. You can read that here.
I think that the fruit of not giving up is learning to persevere. We learn how to persevere in a situation where we might be tempted to give up, and in so doing gain strength of character and also succeed. Now that success might not look like what we initially thought in the situation, but that is where learning to self reflect along the way is so important. More in a mo.
Of course, perseverance has a much broader context. Sometimes giving up is not an option. Physical illness. Mental health issues. Difficult social circumstances. Injustice. Back to those entrenched situations at work.
I am at an age and stage in life where the challenges and situations faced by peers are complex and multi-factorial and unlikely to change any time soon. Teenagers and all associated joys and woes. Ageing parents. Health concerns. Relationship dynamics. Increased responsibility at work and in leadership roles. Huge restrictions because of the system, whatever that system is.
Sometimes the weight of it seems heavy indeed. And perhaps the tone of this week’s musings reflect the gravity of that.
Someone wise wrote that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. In the midst of suffering, that might be the last thing that you want to hear. A bit along the lines of the Great British stiff upper lip – chin up old boy, you’ll get through this.
But we can all think of experiences where this wisdom has been borne out. Times when it has been awful, hard, just plain grueling but we have persevered. We have stuck it out, come through it and see that along the way we have indeed gained understanding of ourselves and grown in character. We see we can persevere and that inspires us and empowers us to persevere again. And we model something very important to those around us.
That wisdom by the way – the suffering-perseverance-character-hope cycle -that was Paul, in the book of Romans in the Bible. A fair few years ago now right enough but to me, still holds true and is worthy of some reflection.
What helps us persevere?
Because this is what is needed in here, in order to turn the tone of this post around into something more positive.
being clear about WHY this is important – what is the desired outcome and why is that worth pursuing or fighting for? Stepping back from the precipice to self-reflect every so often.
this is linked to our motivation – what is going to help us keep going day in day out, and where can we give ourselves prompts? [old post about this here with a cheesy title, but it is part of a bigger series on steps to happiness and does not suggest that our motivation should always be our happiness!]
practice is often required, especially if we are persevering with learning a new skill or implementing a new habit. I observed to a good friend recently that I have been blogging (almost) weekly for six and a half years. 307 blogs. Phew. He was slightly stunned. And if I stop and think about it and allow myself a wee minor celebration, I am really chuffed at that achievement. A recent client commented on how important it was to her that my website is up to date, as evidenced by my blog. But goodness, how my style and confidence have changed over those years! [here’s an early one on perseverance – the themes have not changed much!] However I can see that I have persevered, learned, tried things out, and gained confidence and a voice.
self care is crucial, especially in really tough situations where we have to persevere. Understanding our limits – more on this here – taking time to restore our souls, being kind to ourselves on darker days.
and more than anything, someone to persevere alongside us. I believe strongly that we were not meant to live this life alone, as islands of independence and self-reliance. In our struggles, there is strength in letting someone else in and asking them to walk beside us and be strong when we think we cannot go on. Raving fans who believe in us and with us and who cheer us on.
Who is alongside you as you persevere?
Cherish them, thank them, let them love you.
And who can you come alongside this week in their struggles and hold them up when they are feeling face down in the mud? Who can you offer yourself to persevere with?
What are you most grateful for this week? When you think about the week just passed, how much of the time was your focus positive, and how often negative?
What we focus on and fill our minds with hugely influences our thoughts about ourselves, our lives, and others. There are twin laws at work here:
the law of cognition – you are what you think
the law of exposure – your mind thinks most about what it is exposed to.
It therefore follows that when you focus often throughout the day on what you are grateful for, that will have a hugely positive shift on how you perceive yourself and your life.
This does not mean that we take a Pollyanna approach to life and deny all that is difficult or challenging.
But if you regularly notice and are grateful for what you have and are, chances are you will approach challenges with more of a CAN-DO attitude. You can see where you have succeeded and managed before.
You will be more likely to take an “I GET TO do this….” approach rather than “I HAVE TO do this…..” as you see all the opportunities afforded to you.
When our minds are full of negative thoughts, frustrations, distractions, worries and woes we can tend towards feeling pessimistic about our lives, our opportunities, our chances to change things.
Think about your own life for a minute and where you most tend to go in your mind.
It can be a real discipline to stop the negative thoughts and worries and instead note what is good, positive and that you are thankful for.
But it really works in terms of shifting our perspectives and view of ourselves, our lives, and the wider world. There is loads of research into the power of gratitude – a nice wee summary piece here from Positive Psychology Program on multitude of benefits of gratitude.
This week, I am most grateful for elder Nearest-and-Dearest completing her exams.
Phew. And a huge YIPPEE!
It has been a grueling year for her, and studying, assignments, assessments and exams have dominated all of our lives. Much of the time, my mind has been tended more towards the negative – the amount of work needing done, the outcome of these exams, how to help with study and deal with anxiety, planning our live around the workload.
I am of course not alone in this. Many friends are in the same boat, and it is a relief to know that it is not just me who has found supporting a teen through exams to be like an additional job on top of all the normal aspects of parenting.
But as I think about this in relation to being grateful – a wonderful character trait that we must indeed model to the younger generation – I am grateful for many things, large and small. It is good to stop and take stock of the past few weeks of study leave, and the last term and see all that we have to be grateful for.
Good education and opportunities. Supportive teachers who go the extra (many) miles. Great friends and family for moral support. Lots of resources to use, online and off. Lessons learned about the importance of work boundaries, rest and rewards. Lessons learned too about commitment, hard work, persistence, resilience, effort and not simply focusing on the end achievement.
Having time back as a family where we can hang out without any time constraints. Having lower anxiety levels in the house. No longer required to help out with some crisis at the drop of a hat.
In the middle of challenging and difficult situations, sometimes the last thing we feel like doing is finding things to be grateful for. But going back to the laws of exposure and cognition, this is the very time that seeing the positive is most powerful.
How to do this?
Well, like most things, it takes practice – as I was musing last week. And perhaps for you, some kind of structure.
at the end of each day, write down three things that you are grateful for
at the end of each week, write down your top three achievements – especially good if you are self employed and/or your own boss and the focus tends always to be on what still needs done or what problems there are
start a gratitude journal – lots of research to show the benefits of this, and some nice tips and templates here.
as you are practicing being more present in the moment (see last week), note what you are grateful for at the same time.
as you transition between things during the day, stop and acknowledge what just happened and express gratitude, internally or out loud
None of this is rocket science. But it does take practice and being intentional about what are choosing to fill our minds with.
How grateful a person are you? – what would it take to turn that up a notch this week?
It is an oft-quoted statistic that it takes 10,000 hours to master a new skill. This hypothesis was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers’, where he was referring to work by psychologist K Anders Ericsson. Gladwell’s argument is that with enough consistent practicing and effort, anyone can become an expert in a new field. 10,000 hours equates to 90 minutes per day for 20 years.
Practicing being present
Wow, what a thought.
But then, consider some you know who are brilliant artists, musicians, writers, chefs, speakers, sportspeople. No doubt they would attest to the importance of commitment, practice, repetition, reinforcement, and sheer hard work.
That 10,000 hours statistic has now been largely debunked. There is no ‘magic hour of greatness’ and success is multi-factorial and complex. The quality of practice is important, not simply the quantity. The environment in which you grow up and your genetic makeup play a part, as does your mindset.
And you would think that by now I would have got the hang of this, this being present and enjoying the moment business. After all, I’m the one doing the exhorting and encouraging.
But therein lies the importance of that reminder from Messrs Gladwell and Ericsson – this takes practice.
There is a LOT going on just now. A good friend and I remind each other most years of the need to approach June much as we would December. When you have school age children, the end of the summer term becomes as crazy-busy as Christmas. Add to that a number of other plates that I have spinning, and there is a daily – nay, hourly – tendency to be distracted by what I Need To Do Next.
So each day I am learning – slowly, this takes practice too – the art of practicing being present.
Stopping and noticing….
…what is going on around me.
…to how I am feeling and what my senses are telling me.
…what I am doing RIGHT NOW without the need to multi-task.
This great mindfulness tool is a wonderful practice to introduce to your day if you too are practicing being present and enjoying the moment. Great for anxiety, for grounding, for switching off to distractions.
STOP. Yes, right now. And notice…
5 things you can see
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste.
Really stop and savour your morning coffee. Listen to the birds singing and notice the variety, pitch, cheer in their song. Delight in the astonishing variety of green that is around us in abundance in our astounding natural world. Revel in that gorgeous soft fleece or the feel of wind between your newly unveiled toes (socks off, it’s summer!).
These are simple things yes. Trite and meaningless when considered next to our complex and troubled world? I think not.
Enjoying the moment and all the richness therein, knowing that this moment will never happen again is a skill (read this for more inspiration!). It can be achieved, but like most things, it takes practice.
I am practicing being present, and reaping the rewards. Try it with me, and see for yourself.