The Challenges of Change (Part 2)

One of the biggest challenges to change is just life itself.
We have all had times when we set out to do something only to be thwarted by life events which take  time and effort  to deal with meaning we lose that  time and effort  to use as we originally planned.
Modern life is full of things that can take our minds and efforts away from the things we want to achieve but it would be a real mistake to think of this as a modern phenomenon, life has always been like this.
Go back a few thousand years to the tales of Ancient Greece where Hercules, on his journey to immortality had to first fight through madness and twelve labours, or Odysseus whose journey home from the Trojan War took 10 years all because he was in such a rush he forgot to make an offering to the Gods before he left (the Ancient Greek equivalent of forgetting your passport!).
Maybe come forward a thousand years or so to the Bible, where Jesus could not begin his preaching until he had wandered through the desert and faced Satan’s temptations.
It is easy to dismiss these as simple stories but think about the times you have had a problem that you think you have solved but always seems to come back at you twice as bad, like Hercules facing the Lernaean Hydra. Or the times you have been blown off course after being bewitched by a  seductive  distraction, like Odysseus and the nymph Calypso. And the times you have put off doing things because devilish temptations have appeared in front of you, like Jesus in the desert.
To put it in more modern terms
SH*T HAPPENS

And it has always happened. The real issue is how we deal with the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Shakespeare was in on it too!).
Some people appear to drift along in rudderless boats just being pushed and buffeted along by life’s events with no real ambition to get anywhere. There are those who will simply endlessly moan about their constant bad luck in life or those who develop extremely bitter anger and resentment at life as if all of those negative events are deliberately targeted at them. Then there are those who strive to find the best way to  deal with it  and move on.
It is the latter we should all strive to be if we want to grow and move on in our lives.
Obviously it is not always that easy, some life events really push us to the limits, mentally and physically. The tragedies and personal traumas that can occur in our lives can leave us, at times paralysed and unable to move on at first but, eventually we do, sometimes we need the help of others to lift us from the depths, other times we find the strength within ourselves to pull ourselves up and overcome these events.
Life gets in the way, life has always gotten in the way, as long as we accept that and the fact that life gets in everyone’s way in one way or another. As long as we accept that fate, the gods or the universe has not singled us out, no matter if it seems like that, we can begin to overcome the hurdles and move on with our ambitions and our lives.
More to come on how we can leap those hurdles of life…..

The Challenges of Change (Part 1)

Throughout the first half of our lives there are a lot of transition points. These points of change are fairly easy to mark out, the different stages of our education, the change from education to working life, the move from living with our parents to a home of our own, marriage, becoming a parent etc.
Mid-life is also a transitional point yet it is much harder to identify and define.
If you try to search for when is actually occurs you will get a whole range of different ages and ideas about when it occurs and what it actually means!
Because of  our individuality  we all experience mid-life in different ways some with a full blown crisis, others with a feeling that fulfilment is missing in their lives. Our lives to this point have been full of change and now we face the prospect of life becoming stale because even though changes will still occur they do not have the same impact as the first times these changes happened. For example moving home for the second or third time does not have quite the same impact as that first time you had your own home. Becoming a grandparent is fantastic but it is not quite the same as becoming a parent, that responsibility now falls to your child.
So, at mid-life, if we want to continue to grow rather than stagnate we need to be much more active in introducing new experiences and change into our lives.
Change, though, presents challenges for us.
Do this brief exercise, draw a set of circles, one inside the other.

Now write your name in the centre circle, then, in the next circle out, write the names of those closest to you, e.g. your spouse, children etc., on the next those not quite so close e.g. friends (although a BFF may appear in the circle closest to you), carry on working outwards until you have filled the last circle which should simply read “strangers”.
If you think of this circle as a still pond and then you throw a pebble of change into the centre what happens? The effect of that change will ripple outwards to have some impact on those around you, more particularly those closest to you. Even a small change will create some ripple effect.
On the flip side, what happens to that pond if you do nothing, just let it lie still and undisturbed?
It will stagnate and that stagnation will also affect everyone you have placed in your virtual pond.
The trick then is to introduce change in your life but in a way that considers those closest to you. That does not mean avoiding change because it may upset people rather deciding on change and sitting down with people and explaining what you are going to do and why you are going to do it. There are other advantages with this, they may have ideas that had not occurred to you, they may have ways in which they can support you or ideas on how they can adjust in a way that helps you.
However if they are unsupportive or critical you may want to consider where they fit in you circles!
We do not live in isolation (with the odd exception!) and whatever we do has some impact on others. One of the challenges of change is to be mindful of the effect our changes may have on those closest to us and how we can grow our lives and our relationships harmoniously.

Conformity: Challenges, Choices and Meghan Markle’s Handbag

If you want a modern example of how hard-wired we are to conform just look at the “Meghan Markle Effect”. On an early official visit with Prince Harry the handbag she was carrying sold out within 11 minutes (link below). For some the need to be just like someone high profile is a powerful force. For others, obviously, this type of conformity is less important, some people go through life only conforming as they need to for others conformity appears to be much more important than their individuality.
As we hit mid-life our urge to conform hits a wall as we re-evaluate our place in the world. The thing is, nowadays, conformity has many challenges, conflicts and choices!
Once upon a time – a century or two ago – life was a lot simpler. Everyone knew their place within their community and social circle and change came slowly because news travelled relatively slowly (a gross over simplification but you get the idea!). Then came along mass production, mass media and change at what seems like lightening pace.
In this multi-media global world there are so many different ways to conform that it adds an extra layer of mental stress for many people.
We are now able to identity with and conform to an ever increasing range of ideas, people or organisations. Some people moan about the “cult of celebrity” that has grown but it is hardly surprising given the amount of television exposure and the availability of different role models nowadays.
While I have no personal urge to wear David Beckham’s pants (or whatever it is he is selling at the moment) I can understand how some people feel their identity fits in with that culture and buying celebrity endorsed clothing is their way of conforming to that identity.
Obviously there are dangers in conformity, some people’s need to conform is so strong that they end up in cults, gangs, or victims of unscrupulous people.
The real challenge in today’s world is to find the way that fits you and fits your individuality.
YOU being the most important element because there are many people out there who want you to conform to their way. We all know what it was like when we were younger, at school, when peer pressure impacts on lives but this continues throughout our lives just in a more subtle way. Obviously politicians, advertisers and companies pressure us to conform but there are also more personal pressures that we do not always realise.
You strive to be the ideal parent, spouse, child but your parent, spouse or child may have a different idea of what that ideal is and they will pressure you in to conforming to their ideals rather than your own. This, in turn, may make us feel guilty that we are not meeting the other persons expectations, that somehow we are wrong (perhaps stupid) in our own ideas or we can become resentful as we feel others are trying to change us.
Obviously we can all be guilty of doing that to others as well if our ideas are different from thiers.
Where we feel we are being pressured in to conforming to a role, or aspect of that role, that makes us uncomfortable we need to learn to be comfortable in expressing our concerns with others.
We need to learn how to be ourselves not try to be the person that everyone else wants us to be yet we also need to learn tolerance of how others choose to conform in their own way.
There is nothing wrong with following the crowd, it is what we are naturally wired to do, and the choice facing us in these times is which crowd (or crowds) suits our individuality the best. In mid-life it is also natural to question whether or not the life you conform to now is the one that still best suits you and whether or not it is time for change.
 If you want to buy Meghan Markle’s handbag feel free to do so.

Yes We Are All Individuals

Have you ever felt slightly at odds with the world? As if you can’t really see where you fit in the world at the moment? When we feel like this, especially at mid-life, we begin to think the problem is with us and this causes worry or stress.

Actually, it is perfectly normal to think like this, because it is a quirk in the way our minds work.

The first thing to understand is that how we each see the world is as individual as our fingerprints.

Each of us filters the world based on our beliefs, our values, our education, our upbringing which means we experience every experience we have differently from those around us. Even family members sharing the same experience will mentally interpret it differently. Take, for example, two children on a family holiday. They will experience the holiday differently, their age difference will have an impact because of their understanding of the world at their age and one will probably get more enjoyment out of the holiday than the other depending on the activities they do. The result is they will have slightly different memories of the holiday adding to their individual view of the world as they progress through life.

As we experience more experiences it makes us even more individual in the way we see the world.

Obviously we are not always so wildly different from everyone else.

As we encounter other people in life there will be those we get on with and those we do not. If you take time to think about it, it is those whose world view is closer to ours that we get on with and those whose view is at odds with our own that we will avoid. All those times you have taken an instant like, or dislike, to someone new, it is our filters subconsciously working and assessing how this person will fit in to our life.

It is our unique view of the world that makes us who we are and who we relate too.

So YES we are all individual.

BUT

While we are all unique we are also all hard-wired to conform.

Conformity is a natural part of human evolution. The survival of the pack, tribe, community is dependent on those within it working together and coming together for the benefit of the community. It is the conformity within society that sets the rules and boundaries of acceptable behaviour (in a given time and place!). It is a powerful force used (and abused) by politicians, advertisers and anyone seeking to gain an advantage over others.

So deeply ingrained is the need to conform that even those who rebel against conformity usual find some way to conform themselves – for example think about “rebellious youth” over time, Teddy Boys, Mods, Rockers, Punks, Goths, each developed their own way to conform, the clothes they wear, their music etc.

Those who truly don’t conform in society are usually labelled as insane or as criminals.

Naturally the degree to which the need for conformity affects us is dependent on our individuality but because of our individuality and our need to conform, every so often there are inevitably going to be clashes within us. Sometimes our individuality dominates and we feel at odds with the world other times we can be consumed by the roles we conform to and we feel that we are losing our identity, our individuality.

As long as we understand that this is normal, because that is how human brains work, then we also know that there is no need to get to worried or stressed when it happens and we can work out why it is we are feeling the way we are at those times.

The better we can develop our self awareness in all aspects of our lives the better we can move forward in life.

Individuality and Conformity, and the relationship between them, is obviously a complex subject and I have only skimmed the surface here – for now

All About You (Part 2)

Self: – Confidence/Belief/Esteem/Worth/Awareness

As we progress through life there seems to be ever increasing challenges to our self-confidence and our self-worth.
Our self-confidence can suffer when things do not go right for us, or at least, as we think they should. Perhaps you notice a few more niggles in your body after exercise and then they seem to take longer to heal than they used to. Perhaps you make a small mistake but it seems to dwell on your mind or perhaps you feel like your forgetting more things than normal. These and many other factors can easily start to erode our self-confidence and increase our self-doubt.
Self-worth is how we value ourselves in society and if life events make us feel less necessary to others our self-worth lowers. Children could be less dependent on us, we could feel less important in the workplace or maybe it is we feel we are unable to contribute to wider society because our self-confidence has been dented.
Then what happens is, as our self-confidence is dented or our self-worth falls, our self-esteem, how we see ourselves, also falls.
None of this happens logically, rationally or analytically, we’re humans not robots with self-diagnostic programmes running. We don’t say to ourselves,
“wow that event certainly impacted on my self-confidence”, or
“my self-worth is considerably lower after that tough day”
What happens is that we react emotionally.
We start to feel down, about ourselves and the world around us. Sometimes this is only a blip and we bounce back pretty quickly but other times things just get worse. What kicks in is something called confirmation bias. When we’re feeling down every little thing that goes wrong seems to be magnified yet things that go well seem insignificant, this makes us feel even worse and before you know it feeling down is heading rapidly to depression.
Once we are in that cycle it is pretty hard to break because, usually, we are totally wrapped up in the effect rather than tackling the original cause. Most forms of therapy and counselling are based on addressing this but there are ways we can help ourselves.
Firstly we can make that logical, rational, analytical part of our mind look at the way we are feeling. We can ask ourselves “What caused me to feel like this?” and, more specifically, “What was it about the cause that had this effect on me?”
Then we can engage that other wonderful human talent – imagination.
Take a little time to imagine looking at yourself from the outside. What would you say to someone else who was feeling down about themselves because of whatever cause you have identified? What words of advice and encouragement would give to that person? By detaching ourselves mentally we can begin to detach from the emotional effects of the cause. This may not fully stop us feeling down or depressed but it is a start and just by being aware of what is happening to us helps weaken the cycle that is dragging us down.
The second thing is to re-evaluate the whole idea of self-worth. It is something that happens unconsciously and based solely on the perceptions we develop through life. However, the reality is, as we get older our value to the world around us increases all the time.
Both our successes and failures add to our worth because both success and failure give us something far more valuable, EXPERIENCE.
Success gives us experience of how to do things, failure gives us experience of how not to do things. If anything failure gives us more value as we learn more, we will learn how to change things in order to overcome failure whereas we tend not to change or learn when something is successful. It is gaining experience in life that helps us grow as individuals, the more we grow the more value we have to the world around us.
Now I can almost guarantee that anyone reading this has had times when their advice or experience has been ignored or dismissed by others but that does not devalue you or your experience rather it is about the other person being on their own journey through life, gaining their own experiences and learnings (more on other people in the next post!).
In essence life throws seemingly endless things towards us which knocks our self-confidence, self-worth, self-belief and our self-esteem, which, in turn, can impact on our mental well-being

However, if we develop our own self-awareness in recognising these things we can help ourselves, and our mental well-being. And by learning and practising that self-awareness we can better recognise our value in the world.



All About You (Part 1)

When writing this post in my head I was struggling hard not to make it sound too much like a New Age piece, with elements of spirituality and meditation because these things do have a kernel of truth at their root and, when we reach a crossroads in life or are seeking ways to give new meaning to our lives, introspection is a necessity to ensure that the road we will take is the right one for us.
Why is this so introspection important?
Simplistically the better we can understand ourselves, our motivations, our beliefs and our values, the better we can build ourselves a life that truly fulfils us.
But before we can really start searching and understanding those things, we need to acknowledge one important fact that has hindered our lives so far.
We are very good at lying to ourselves!
There is a huge list of cognitive biases that impact on our thinking and our perception of ourselves and the world around us. Many of these biases will be dealt with in later posts but for now it is important to recognise that how we perceive ourselves is just that – a perception.
Do this simplistic exercise:
Write down a list of 10-20 things that you can’t do.
Now working down that list how many things fall into the following categories;
            I could but I don’t know how to
            I could but I don’t have the confidence to do so
            I could but I don’t really want to
            I could but it would be wrong for me to do so
            I could but I don’t have the time/money/resources
            I could but to do so would have a detrimental effect
How many genuine “I cant’s” do you have left? My guess is not many, obviously there are some, usually based around physical issues. So for the vast majority of things we say we can’t do what we really mean is;
I could but I have come up with a reason not to do so.
Some of those reasons are very legitimate, e.g. climbing Mount Everest when you have a condition like COPD is likely to be detrimental to your health as you struggle to breathe at altitude. However other reasons are just an excuse not to step out of our comfort zones.
One of the keys to personal growth is learning to take time to challenge the beliefs we hold, especially if they are hindering us in what we want to achieve.
We are all very good at making generalisations and, because of that, we tend to lump things together in a way that hinders our thinking.
For example, someone might say they are not very good at communicating with people but if you dig further you find that is not quite true. If you ask, do you mean all people or people in a certain context? They may answer, all people but it is worse at work. Probe further, all people at work or specific people, again the may narrow down the field. Throw in another question, so you have never communicated effectively with anyone at any time? And you start to break down that belief which is just a generalisation developed from a specific instance.
It is harder to do that to yourself but it is something worth trying to do because as you break down barriers in your own thinking you can move forward in your life with much broader horizons.
Remember your life is all about you.

The Inevitable Truth

There may be many different factors that can impact on our mental well-being as we go through mid-life. These factors are dependent on our personal circumstances, our personality and our own sense of self. Yet there is one common factor we all share.
Mid-life means we are getting ever closer to later life.
And there seems to be some law in the universe that states time goes quicker the older you get, so the second half of the mid-way point will seemingly fly past! As yet (at least at the time of writing!) neither the secrets of immortality nor the Fountain of Youth have been discovered, so we need to prepare for later life.
Not that later life need be something we should worry about. Just look at the number of over 70s running marathons nowadays or the number of pensioners enjoying world travel.
But to be one of those people we need weave the preparations for later life within the goals we develop to improve how we feel right now.
There is an increasing body of scientific knowledge that shows both physical activity and mental stimulation help us live fuller, richer lives in our later years. Physical activity helps keep us mobile, prevents falls and more able to do the daily activities in life that we take for granted today. Mental stimulation helps prevent cognitive decline, keeping our minds sharper and, again, keeps us able to do those daily activities.
Obviously we can’t truly predict what will happen to us in the future but surely it makes sense to make sure we face the future in the best possible shape we can.
Balance is the key.
You may have decided that you want to run that marathon, which is a fantastic way to maintain that physical health to see you into later life, yet you need to use some of that time away from training to stimulate your mind. On the flip side, if you plan to write that novel that has spent years gestating inside your mind remember to take some time away from your keyboard to get in that physical activity.
Of course, as we plan for our transition from mid to later life we have to consider finances. Obviously many have already got those financial plans and pensions in place but for others, even some of those with pensions in place, there will be concerns about how they will cope in later life – another cause of stress in mid-life.
Now it is unlikely you will be able to persuade Bill Gates, Richard Branson or Jack Dorsey to hand you over a million or two, so it is time to take a reality check on your financial future and, once again, weave this into you vision and goals for the future. After all there is no point having a goal to travel more unless you have the money to back up that plan.
Rather than letting the thought of getting older and hurtling toward later life get us down we can start, right now, to build a vision for our future that embraces later life because, after all, it is the inevitable direction we are heading.

Appreciate the Small Wins

There always seems to be plenty of choice around to help you achieve your goals.
The problem is knowing what it is you actually want to  achieve  in life. Mid-life, in particular, can leave us searching for a sense of purpose as things change in our lives.
You could, for example, have had children leave home, an event that challenges many people who have focused so much on being a parent. Perhaps you have found yourself stuck in limbo at work doing the same old job while watching high flying youngster being leap-frogged above you. Or, for no discernible reason, you could find yourself not knowing where your future lies.
Now if, at this point, someone comes along as says “you need to be setting goals for your future” they could be doing more harm than good.
You could well find yourself sinking further as you struggle to come up with those long term goals, knocking your confidence even further, or you could rush headlong into some vision without thinking things through properly and then, in a year or so, find that this new goal is not what you really wanted and you are back to square one, only this time with a lot less enthusiasm to start over again.
If you don’t know, right now, where it is you want to take your future start by taking small steps outside your comfort zone and explore the possibilities before  fully committing  to heading in one direction.
First of all take a little time think of something you would like to do, something relatively small. Is there a hobby or interest you have always fancied pursuing but never got around to doing? Was there an ambition you had way back in your youth that has always been unfulfilled, perhaps you just want to make the effort to get fitter and healthier, maybe you have a favourite holiday destination and would like to learn the local language.
If you want to consider your current working life, what is one thing you could do to make a change there?
Once you have that one thing you would like to do  commit yourself  to pursuing it for a whole 3 months!
YES JUST 12 WEEKS
If you would like to be fitter but have not exercised in quite a while  commit yourself  to walking at least 30 minutes a day, perhaps increasing that to an hour a day in the final month.
If there is a hobby or interest you want to pursue check out local courses at adult education centres, these usually run in 12 weeks slots, or if you are unable to find what you want locally, check online for courses.
Currently I am studying using udemy.com which is easy to use and reasonably priced but there are plenty of others out there to suit most needs.
The point of the exercise is to complete that 12 weeks. By completing that 12 weeks you have  achieved a win. You have been successful.
As important you now know if you would like to pursue whatever it was you did further or, perhaps, if it was not for you after all.

Personally, when I started my study with the Open University, I did not quite know what I wanted to study. So I took two modules one in computing and one in social sciences. The computing module I found interesting but the social science one I found fascinating so that was the subject I continued (and continue) to study.
The most important thing though is  commit yourself  to that 12 week programme. Start building your future through discovering what it is you really want to do rather than leaping head first in to an idea that, ultimately, may not be what you want or really need in your life.

By  successfully completing  those small wins you open up a whole host of things to set you on your way. Firstly you begin really developing that positive mindset, you decided what to do – positive thought and you went out and did it – positive action. Do that a few times and what have you got – a successful habit and, perhaps, more importantly, you start to gain confidence in yourself and your ability to succeed.
Additionally the small tasks will help you develop the bigger picture of where you want to be going forward. You may discard some ideas but others will guide you  onwards to achieving  bigger and better things. The small wins are the beginnings of the foundations on which you can build the rest of your life.

Appreciate the small wins they are the start of something bigger.

Positive Mindset An Introduction

Mid-life can assail us with a whole host of negative thoughts. Perhaps about where we are in life, or perhaps about our health or even, perhaps, about our looks.

The problem with thoughts of any kind, though, is that whatever thought is at the forefront it tends to dominate what we see in the world around us.

Just to illustrate, a few months ago I had to buy a new car. I ended up buying a second-hand Hyundai i30. I had never considered buying a Hyundai but circumstances – i.e. the right size car at the right price – led me to sitting behind the wheel driving it home. Then the inevitable happened, from having never even registered seeing a Hyundai, the road suddenly seemed full of them. Everywhere I went over the next few weeks I saw just about every model available and, quite probably, just about every colour available.

Hyundai i30
This is the result of something being at the forefront of our mind and, if you are on the road shortly after reading this, you will probably start noting Hyundai’s everywhere too!

So when we have negative thoughts plague us everything around us seems to work against us. Negative thoughts spiral, an issue that may have begun at work will, sneakily, begin to affect our home life too.

It is not an easy spiral to escape from but if we can bring the idea of a positive mindset into our minds we can start to move forward and away leave the negativity behind.

I am using the term “positive mindset” to distinguish it from “positive thinking”.
The term positive thinking carries its own baggage. From blind optimism which ignores any potential issues that may need to be dealt with to the idea that you can get anything you want just by willing it into existence.

That latter idea, sometimes called the law of attraction, may work for some but only because they are, subconsciously, using a positive mindset. Because, as in the Hyundai example, if something is at the front of our mind we are going to pay more attention to it. So someone trying to will themselves rich should notice more finance related things around them, the difference between success and failure though is the action they take. They may notice financial information but unless they invest they are not actually going to increase their wealth.

Simply a positive mindset is positive thinking + positive action.

Elite sports stars illustrate this best.

They will use positive thinking and visualisation to see themselves performing and winning but they know that none of that is of use without the sacrifice and hard training needed for them to be truly successful in their sport.

So if we want to improve our own lives as we work through our mid-life years we need to adopt a positive mindset. This will involve deciding what it is we want out of life, what goals we need to adopt to achieve that and, while realising that every path in life has ups and downs, remaining positive that we will achieve those outcomes.

Subsequent posts will elaborate more on developing a positive mindset and goal setting but, for now, why not take one positive action and click on the subscribe button so that you don’t miss those future posts.

A raison d’être – why this blog exists

Mid-Life – a time for many of us that can lead to questioning our purpose in life. We may not have a full blown mid-life crisis but the little doubts and worries creep in, leading to those nagging, anxious thoughts that hinder our general outlook on life.

Many of us feel, on one level, like we are still 21. We are increasingly aware of the reality of the physical changes occurring once we are past our ‘prime’, be eyesight diminishing, hairline receding, joints creaking, waistline expanding or any of the multiple other possibilities.

Yet, perhaps, we are less aware of the psychological changes and issues that also besiege us. As we age our experiences and knowledge expand, our successes and knock-backs influence what we believe about ourselves. Modernity assails us with new stressors in life, we have children staying at home longer because of the difficulties in them getting on the housing ladder and mid-life could see us both carers for grandchildren and parents. In the workplace we could find ourselves under pressure from young high flyers or simply with job uncertainty in the current, seemingly ever fluctuating economy.

While the traditional image of a mid-life crisis – men trying to regain their lost youth – is, perhaps, an exaggerated example, the fact is, mid-life is a time of personal challenge. A time when anxiety, stress and depression can be caused as we attempt to re-evaluate our lives and where we want to go from now on.

This blog, I hope, will give you a guide to help you through these struggles. With tips to how we can grow into a new phase of life.

This blog serves both altruistic and self-serving purposes.

It is altruistic in that it selflessly gives ideas, advice, and tips on developing and growing through mid-life issues.

Self-serving in that it acts, for me, as one of the ways in which I can grow and move forward in my own life.

Back in the year 1999, when I was in my late 30’s I began studying Social Sciences with the Open University. A decade later I achieved my Master’s degree in the same subject and, since then, I have continued to study human and social behaviour in one way or another.

Yet what was the point of all of this study, it occurred to me, unless I found a way to pass on the learning in a way that would benefit others? Having had my own crisis of identity caused by redundancy and difficulty in getting employment I have been toying with the idea of how I can help others get through some of these issues and show how we can change in a way that not only makes us feel better but, as a result, improves the lives of those we love and, hopefully the wider community.

That then is the reason for the existence of this blog, I hope you find the future posts of use and helpful in your path in life right now.