Befuddled Brains

Did you know that, in the UK, antidepressant use is higher in 40-54 year olds than any other age group*? Or that some researchers have concluded that we are less happy in mid-life than at other times in our life**?

None of this is rocket science though because in mid-life our brains are much more likely to be befuddled by the conflict between “happiness” and “responsibilities”.

The responsibilities of adulthood can stack up in mid-life, you can still feel ‘responsible’ for your children even if they are grown and have flown the nest, there could be the responsibility of caring for elderly parents.

Unless you are one of the very lucky people who can earn a living doing what you love, work responsibilities often impact on our happiness, this in turn, relates to the financial responsibilities we have e.g. the responsibility of having to work in order to maintain your home and even paying for activities that you hope will make you feel happier.

adult art conceptual dark
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Not that happiness and responsibilities are mutually exclusive, for example looking after grandchildren is a responsibility that can bring happiness, but there are, obviously, times when we would rather be doing things that make us happy than doing those things that we feel we have to be doing as responsible adults.

The problems occur when we find the responsibilities overwhelming and we sacrifice happiness because we feel we have to do the ‘responsible’ thing.

We may find ourselves with feelings of guilt (as I am writing this, which I enjoy, there is a sense of guilt because I know there is a stack of clothes upstairs that need ironing!). Guilt at feeling or doing something that makes us happy can soon make the feeling of happiness evaporate as our sense of responsibility makes us chastises us for not doing what it considers the important things in life.

We can easily find ourselves caught in a responsibility trap where we only do those ‘responsible’ things and forget that we need time to relax and do things to offset those things we feel we have to do. Think of times when you have put off doing something pleasurable in order to do the responsible thing.

Are there times you can think of when those responsibilities that just continued to stack up and you never seemed to be able to do what you want?

Without those times when we can truly relax and do things that make us feel happy, our stress levels grow, our happiness levels drop and we can find ourselves in a downward spiral.

We need to STOP and remember that our own emotional well-being and happiness is probably one of the most important responsibilities we have.

If we feel good about ourselves and feel happy about our lives we can undertake those responsibilities much more efficiently.

Make certain that you make time every week (at least) to do something that makes you feel good and don’t feel guilty about it! It does not matter what other responsibilities you have in your life or how many people you feel responsible for, without making time for yourself you will never be able to be fully discharge those responsibilities. Think about a time when felt you had failed in a responsibility because you were tired or felt overwhelmed, then just imagine how much better it would have been if you had been more refreshed and happy before starting that task.

Our brains become befuddled by the conflict that often occurs between our responsibilities and our happiness, it is up to us to ensure that we look after ourselves by making time for those things that make us happy because our emotional well-being is a responsibility we must put at the top of the list.

 

*Eurobarometer SP345 2010

**https://www.economist.com/christmas-specials/2010/12/16/the-u-bend-of-life

Nurture Your Nature

Today, modern society seems to demand everything instantly.

People want everything right now, they want their food fast, they want to get rich quick, they want their deliveries the next day or they want their fat to be burnt by magic pills!

Yet it is the nature of Nature that things do not happen instantly.

nurture

Growth and change of any kind take time and we instinctively know that. We would not expect a new born child to walk and talk immediately, we know that takes time and nurturing to help the child grow. We know that flowers and plants do not grow immediately, it takes time, care and nurturing to make your garden grow year after year.

We know these things yet, often, we forget to apply the idea to ourselves. If we want to live a full and fulfilling life we need to nurture ourselves in a vast range of ways to help ourselves to continue to grow year after year.

None of us is wholly identical to anyone else and this applies equally to what we need to nurture our nature and how we grow in the way we want too.

Take a moment to think of the plant world and the flowers planted in gardens. Some like direct sunlight, some like shade, some like a little bit of both. Similarly some flower and wilt away for the winter, others stay evergreen throughout the year.

Obviously we humans are considerably more complex than plants (although we do, apparently, share 60% of the same DNA as bananas!) and our needs change as we progress through life, those things that gave us satisfaction and helped our growth in our teenage years change as we age. For example, on a basic level, where we were once ‘night owls’ we may have changed to being up with the larks, or where working was once about earning enough to have a good time, it has become about earning enough to meet financial obligations.

So the process of nurturing your nature has to start with a bit of introspection.

Ask yourself, what gives you the greatest satisfaction now? What is it the makes you feel content with life? What is it that excites you and makes you desire more of the same?

It is important here to be honest with yourself, you may be tempted to get nostalgic and think of those things that exited and inspired you twenty years ago yet think about how those things are really relevant to you right now! It may be that reigniting a passion from the past will help you grow now or it may be that being stuck in the past stunts that growth as you try to reclaim something that just isn’t there anymore.

Anything that makes you happy today is worth exploring and expanding. What is it about that thing that makes you happy and how can you to more of that and are there different ways you can achieve that happiness. For example, if gardening brings you happiness and satisfaction what could you do to broaden that experience? Maybe learn more about it or perhaps volunteer with a local gardening group or maybe just spend time sharing your passion with younger family members.

Remember that nurturing your nature means considering all aspects of your life so it is not just about those things that you are passionate about.

Just like caring for plants our lives also need pruning a little from time to time. Is there anything you are clinging onto in your life that is really truly unnecessary? We sometimes cling onto memories and ideas that no longer have any place in our lives, just like sorting through your house and finding things that you no idea why you kept them in the first place! So if you do come up with those nostalgic thoughts ask yourself, how relevant is that to me now? It may be a cherished memory worth keeping but it is just a happy memory rather than a glorious past to be recovered. Likewise a bad memory of the past is just that and not something that should be affecting how you act now because you have grown and changed since that time.

There are endless possibilities to explore in nurturing your nature and we will return to some. The important thing for now is understanding that nurturing and growth take time and we must actively take the time to nurture ourselves in order to lead a more content and happy life.

Be A Hero

Be a Hero.
I don’t mean go out and perform dangerous and daring deeds, rather become a hero in the true sense of the word:
A person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities” (Oxford Dictionaries)
Become someone who others look up to, admire, and want to emulate.
If you think back to the post “The Footsteps of Giants” I encouraged you to go out and seek inspiration from those you most admired because when we find someone who inspires us it helps to motivate us, helps us to overcome obstacles in our lives and gives us someone to relate to when we hit times of struggle.

When you develop a goal in your own life and work on pursuing it think about how you can, in your own way become a hero to others. You could be a hero to your children or grandchildren, a hero to your work colleagues or a hero to your friends.
There are endless debates about how we as humans learn best yet the one aspect often overlooked is the fact that we learn most from the behaviours of others. If you watch a toddler nowadays you will often see them putting their hand to their ear pretending to be on a phone, nobody actually teaches them to do that, they copy behaviour.
Think back to how you learned to do many things, did someone teach you to turn a door handle or was it something you just picked up? Or are there times now when you suddenly find yourself doing something a parent did, again this was something you picked up rather than being taught.
On a grown up level you will often find bosses at work who tell you to act in a certain way but act themselves in a different way, if you look closely you find that their team will actually copy the boss’s behaviour rather that act as they are told to.
If, as you follow your dream, also think about how that path can influence and inspire others you add an extra level of motivation to yourself.
There will always be difficulties and challenges in life and following our goals will, at times, be hard as life and others things intervene, slowing us down or temporarily diverting us. Yet if we can meet and overcome these challenges with determination and success we can also inspire those around us to meet their challenges in the same way.
Think about your heroes and what it is about them and their life that has inspired you. What particular qualities do they have that really resonate with you, it may be their dogged determination, or their calmness in the face of adversity or perhaps their enduring pursuit of wisdom. Whatever it is once you have isolated it apply that to your own life and use what inspired you to underpin your behaviour so, in turn, you can pass inspiration on to those around you.
By thinking about how what we do influences those around us helps us think about how we behave and how we follow our dreams. It helps us focus on that path rather than simply giving up because we can’t be bothered, after all, is that the message we want to send to those around us? We motivate ourselves when we think about how we motivate others, we are more able to stick to our path when we know that others will be influenced more by our behaviour and actions than by meaningless advice. Because advice and words are only meaningful if backed up by experience.

The other advantage of knowing how our behaviour can positively influence others is that it helps build our own self-confidence and self-esteem. Imagine how good it will feel seeing others you care about following in your footsteps as you inspire them in achieving their goals.
Be a Hero today. Move on through your life knowing that what you do is seen by those around you and by bettering your own life you know your behaviour and determination with inspire others to better their own.

Flex Those Motivational Muscles

What is your motivation for change?
We may dream of changing our lives but unless we have the motivation to make that change it will remain just a dream. To help us find that boost which gets us to our goal it is useful to understand what actually motivates us.
On a basic level there are two motivators, “away from” and “toward”, sometimes known as pain and pleasure or the carrot and the stick etc.


The “away from” motivation comes from our desire to leave or get rid of something. For example, we might want to lose weight to escape a negative body image, join the gym to escape health problems or join a group to escape loneliness. It is not just goal is our life that the “away from” motivator works, it is there at a basic level. We eat to get rid of hunger and we run away when we sense danger. The “away from” motivator is a part of our fight or flight response.
On the flip side the “toward” motivator takes us toward pleasure and success, again it works at a base level, those times we eat, not because we are hungry but because we are seeking the pleasure of eating something that ignites our pleasure hormones. The “toward” motivator is about adding something to our lives, making ourselves feel better, losing weight because you have an event where you want to impress, joining the gym for the buzz the feel of exercise gives you, joining a group because you want to expand you existing network etc.
Both forms of motivation are equally legitimate yet both can sometimes lack something in getting the change we want.
When the motivation to achieve something is “away from” we can have that initial push to get us going but once we a sufficiently far away from what it was we wanted to escape our momentum can falter. Think of it like using your feet to push you off in a swimming pool, the push itself will only get you so far, without any other action you will just be stuck mid-water.
With “toward” motivation we may gain momentum as we close in on our goal but it is getting started in the first place that may be the issue. Imagine you want to drive somewhere where you can really enjoy yourself, you won’t get there though until you turn the key in the ignition and spark the engine into life.
The real key is to use both methods in order to succeed, push and pull to get you where you ultimately want to be.
Start by thinking about what it is you want to change in your life and why you want to achieve that change. Is your primary motivation “away from” or “toward”?
Be honest with yourself. We can sometimes fail to recognise our true motives, hiding them behind things we prefer to believe.
Once you have figured out what it is that is motivating you move to the other end of the goal and find some motivating factor there too.
So if your initial motivation is “away from” think about what achieving you goal will gain you, what is waiting for you when you get to the finish line, what will success bring you. Say you want to join a group, evening class or such because you feel an element of loneliness in your life, you know your “away from” but what is your “toward”. Imagine the possibilities developing that new skill or knowledge will bring, the focus on the one possibility that really ignites your imagination.
If, on the other hand, your primary motivation is a “toward” one, what is it that is going to ignite that engine and get you moving. Perhaps, you want to be a great dancer, writer or something similar but what will that move you away from? If you are looking to achieve success it does, to a certain degree, mean you are feeling unsuccessful now so use that as you push forward.
Some things automatically lend themselves to having a push and a pull but others we need to dig deep to find the other end of the line that we will be travelling. By finding our “away from” and “toward” motivation we double our chances in succeeding in achieving change and success.
So flex those motivational muscles and head confidently toward your success.

Beware The Secret Psychic

The Secret Psychic lives in your head!
You hear the Secret Psychic all the time, although most of the time you don’t realise that the voice is there, misguiding you through life.
The Secret Psychic whispers into your inner ear, it reads the minds of other people and predicts your future.
The problem is that much of what the Secret Psychic tells you is wrong. Its information is based on out-dated information, assumptions and your insecurities. It channels those negative voices from the past that have held you back over the years. It echoes the preconceptions of society around you.
Think about the times when you knew someone didn’t like you, or the times you may have avoided someone because of the way they looked, and the times you didn’t bother doing something because you just knew you wouldn’t be able to do it.
That was the Secret Psychic whispering.

Telling you that person doesn’t like because they are avoiding eye contact and talking to you with short sharp words, when it is much more likely that person has other things on their mind.
That person you avoid because of their looks? That is the Secret Psychic echoing societies stereotypes, the negative stories you see in the media and, perhaps, the prejudices of relatives in your childhood. It could also be based on your past experiences with people who may have looked the same. The reality though is that everybody is different and unless we get to know the person we cannot make any assumption about them based solely on their looks.
Those times when you knew you would fail, so you didn’t even bother to do it in the first place. That is the Secret Psychic feeding your insecurities, reminding you of past failures, echoing those negatives words that were said to you when you were younger, undermining your confidence.
However, just because you failed at something in the past does not mean you will fail at something in the future. In that time you’ve grown, learnt more and are better equipped to try again. Those people who told you that you weren’t good enough, that you weren’t clever enough or your looks were somehow not right, were victims of their own Secret Psychic feeding them dodgy information.
One of the issues with the Secret psychic is that its words can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. You think someone doesn’t like you so, in turn, you act offish towards them, which then makes them not like you! You think you are going to fail so you either don’t do it or you become too nervous to complete the task successfully in other words, you fail. You become trapped in the Secret Psychic’s endless cycle.
The thing, then, is to learn to quieten the Secret Psychic and stop it from holding you back.
How? Start to question the truth of those negative things that it whispers into your mind because there are times the Secret Psychic could actually be right. We need to be able to distinguish between past fears or experiences and natural instinct.
When you have those negatives thoughts inserted into you mind ask yourself, what is the reality of this? How do I know it is true? What are the alternative possibilities?
When the Secret Psychic tells you that someone doesn’t like you ask if that is likely to be true. After all it could be they do not know you well enough to make any sort of judgement about you. Ask what the alternatives could be, the other person may have things on their mind distracting them and far from making judgements about you they could be so wrapped up in their own issues that they are barely even noticing you.
When thoughts of failure surface in your mind, challenge them. Are they based on past experiences? If so, question how relevant that past experience is to you right now, how have you or the world around you changed which renders that past experience void now. Do your thoughts come from hurtful words said to you in the past? Ask yourself why the words spoken by someone else’s Secret Psychic should have such an impact on you right now.
The Secret Psychic that lives in your psyche needs to be tamed. We need to take control rather than live under its influence. We sometimes need to Secret Psychic to hold us back a little but we need to use it to pause and question, just don’t let it rule your life.

You Gotta Have Faith

One of the problems that most of us have is that our self-doubt is more prevalent than our self-belief.
It is easy to see why.
One reason is that if we have self-belief in what we are doing we get on and do it but if self-doubt is there it nags at us, worries and stresses us, makes us nervous when we are doing things.
Another reason is that we often find it hard to see what we are good at, particularly if it means transferring that skill or ability to a different setting. Perhaps you know somebody who is super-efficient at work but seems to have a totally disorganised personal life, or maybe someone who seems cool and calm when doing certain tasks yet seem to fall apart with nerves doing other things?
Self-belief is, perhaps, less mentioned than self-confidence or self-esteem yet it the thing that underpins both. If we want to improve our lives in any way we need be in a place where our self-belief outweighs our self-doubt before we can succeed.

To start the ball rolling, write out a list of things you know you are good at. This helps you strengthen your strengths in your mind. It brings self-belief to the front of your thoughts where self-doubt usually sits. Once you have written out your list, do it again as the more you focus on that list the fixed it becomes in your memory. It is important to do that as will be revealed a little further down!
Once you are sure your strengths are firmly fixed in your mind, write a list of things that you know you are okay at but could be better. Once you have done this work, systematically, through the list to work out what you need to do to move that skill or attribute over to your strengths list.
Do you need a little extra knowledge? Perhaps a bit more practice? Maybe you need to be a bit fitter?
Whatever it is write it down next to that attribute. Now rewrite the list, this time in the order you want to achieve those things. Which thing are you okay at would you most like to add to your strengths list first? As you work through this list the greater the number of strengths you gain and as you succeed in moving things to your strengths list the greater your self-belief becomes.
The reason for writing these lists and committing your strengths to memory?
The next time you find yourself in a situations where self-doubt creeps in, or if you are unsure of yourself or nerves are getting the better of you, think back to your lists. Which of your strengths would be most appropriate to the situation right now? It does not matter if they may not seem directly transferable as they can still help you get through the situation.
For example, say you are a person who gets nervous at speaking in public yet one of your strengths is attention to detail. Use your strength, focus more on the detail of what you are presenting rather than the fact you are doing it in front of a group of people. Then, the more you do this, speaking in public becomes less daunting and eventually a new strength.
Self-doubt plagues us but we can overcome this by strengthening our self-belief. The better our self-belief the better we can face the obstacles of everyday life and improve our lives in the way we want.
That does not mean ignoring the fact that we all have weaknesses as well as strengths rather that we have faith in our strengths to support us and neutralise those weaknesses. It means we have the belief in ourselves to meet the challenges we face.
You got to have faith in yourself and the belief that you have the strengths to see you through life.

And Relax

Having, over the past couple of months, gently cajoled you to move forward in your life, take the path toward your goals, to follow your dreams. I am now going to encourage you to stop, just for a while, and relax.
Have a break, have an unspecified chocolate bar!
The point is we can become consumed in heading toward our future that we sometimes forget to enjoy the moments right now.  We need to take time to live in the moment and relish those things that give us real pleasure in life.
When I say relax I do not mean getting home from work and vegetating in front of the television, I mean making time to get out and do something that really and truly soothes your soul and brings you joy.
Obviously for each of us that is different and for each of us there will be a combination of different things that bring us that joy. Maybe a long woodland walk, or a deep relaxing massage, maybe spending time with old friends or perhaps exploring new places or ideas. Whatever it is that brings you enjoyment, get out there and do it.
And while you are relaxing, fully immerse yourself in the activity, make a truly sensory experience. Focus on the expert touch of the masseur as they deftly work their magic on the tensions in your body, drink in the sights, sounds and smells of the woodland as you take that slow amble through the trees, bathe in the sounds of chatter and laughter as you catch up with your friends, let the taste of your favourite food flow over your tongue and ignite your taste buds.

Let go of the past, temporarily forget about the future and really, truly enjoy the moment right now.
Why? There are plenty of words out there about how our bodies respond under stress, we go into primitive fight or flight mode our bodies fill with adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones that often have a negative impact on our bodies because the stresses of the modern world are a little different from having to run for your life from a sabre-tooth tiger!
Finding the time to really relax and enjoy yourself helps fight the negative impact of these fight or flight hormones and also helps our bodies promote the production of the less publicised ‘happy’ hormones which give us those feelings of happiness and contentment.
As we throw ourselves whole-heartedly into that activity we enjoy, the worries and woes of the daily grind fade away giving our minds a chance to become refreshed. How many times have you worried over a problem but it is not until that problem has been forced from your mind that, suddenly, the solution seems obvious? If we make the time to get out and enjoy ourselves our minds will function better when we need them to.
And it is not just our minds, as our minds relax our bodies do to. The tensions inside you will ease away (more so if you’re visiting that expert masseur!), blood pressure comes down and the body is better able to heal itself. Have you ever felt that strange sense of relaxation running through your body after something makes you laugh suddenly?
Doing something that relaxes us has innumerable psychological and physiological benefits. If we want to live healthier, better lives then we need to ensure that those things that bring us joy, pleasure and relaxation are permanently built into our lives.
When we feel better, mentally and physically, we have greater strength to move toward our greater goals.
So make those plans today and build the anticipation of that total enjoyment you will get from that thing makes you so thoroughly relaxed.