Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be

Have you ever remembered a fantastic childhood holiday, where the place you visited was this wonderful world full of joy and wonder?

Then, as an adult, revisited the same place with hope in your heart only to be disappointed as it is nothing like you remember?

On one hand, time changes places, especially in the UK where many traditional seaside towns have suffered from the rise in overseas holidays, but, on the other hand, you have changed too. That child, who could see wonder in the simplest things, has grown with many more life experiences that has lifted the lid on those things we once found fascinating.

However, if you have never revisited that place, your memory of that holiday remains intact despite the fact the reality is now far different.

It is this latter that can cause us problems in our present life.

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Not that it is an individual thing. We live in a society that seems to glorify an imagined past. It seems, for example, that every generation has a problem with “the youth of today”. When you take a look back through the last 60 years or so, the 50’s saw the older people complaining about the youth culture of rock & roll because “it wasn’t like that in my day”. Yet, today, those who grew up in the rock and roll generation complain about current youth culture “because it wasn’t like that in my day”, forgetting they were demonised by older people in their day!

Back on an individual level we can, sometimes, get stuck in past beliefs and actions that no longer really work for us today.

We believe we can’t do something because back in the past we failed at doing it, we don’t do something because back in the past we had a bad experience doing the same thing etc.

But that was in the past and things are different now – you are a different person now because, over the years, you have gained much more knowledge and experience of life.

Our past can hold us back yet, very often, what we remember is not quite the reality or what happened. We synthesise memories, if we have a good memory it is usually because we only focus on the good aspects of what happened, similarly bad memories zoom in only on those aspects which were bad.

If we go back to our fantastic childhood holiday, can you remember the specifics of the whole week (or however long it lasted)? You can probably recall the sense of enjoyment but could you remember all the dull parts that inevitably happen in a week? Maybe you remember the sights and sounds of the amusement arcade but can you recall that you were only in there because it was raining outside?

We do the same with bad past experiences, over time the memory becomes a single specific event that impacts on how we act today. We delete many of the other things that happened at the time because they were less memorable yet they still may have been involved in the cause of the event, or may, if we recalled them, make the actual event seem less bad than we now remember it!

“I can’t because in the past…” is not something we actually say to ourselves. We simply just don’t do it. Most of the time this is not a problem but, occasionally, we may find that our reluctance to do something, because of an event in the past, can impact on our lives today. We may have trouble with relationships as a result of past relationship experiences, we may have self confidence issues when we have had past failures, we may feel guilty when we cannot do what other people want us to do something as we had an issue when we did that thing once before or we may feel constrained by life because, once, we were held back from being our true self.

It becomes more problematic as we get older as, obviously, we have a lot more memories and because those older ones are a lot more distant making them more synthesised and less attached to reality.

Where we find ourselves reluctant or unable to do something, we should take the time to ask ourselves why. Was it because of a past event?

If so, then we need to ask ourselves, how reliable is that memory? Then move a little deeper, what were the circumstances that created that memory? Are the circumstances the same now? How much more do I know now than I did then?

Also ask yourself, what is different from then to now? Firstly, of course, you are different from that time but also the world is different, we can more readily find out more information, we can find out how others have overcome their reluctance to do something. Knowledge and technology have advanced so much that whatever happened in the past the world is a different place now.

If we want to lead a better life today, we need to recognise that the past can hold us back sometimes. We should never let go of the past because it is that which makes us who we are today but we should acknowledge that was then and we live in the now.

Mental Health, Let’s Listen

Mental health issues can be challenging to all of us.

During this Mental Health Week, we are encouraged to be open and talk about mental health issues yet, perhaps, the missing side of the coin is that we need to learn to listen to the people who are speaking to us.

I am sure you can all think of a time when you were getting increasingly frustrated as you tried to explain something to someone and it was quite clear that they were not listening to you properly. Just imagine if you are suffering from mental health issues and no matter how much you talk the other person just does not seem to be really hearing you.

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Here are a few tips that can make us better listeners;

Not all mental health issues are the same.

Think about physical health issues. You would not try to heal a cold by putting a plaster on your nose nor treat a minor cut with a sinus spray, would you?

Just as physical health problems differ so do mental health ones. Anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder etc are all different (and within each of those there are differences). It is very easy to lump all mental health issues into one label because it is not something we can see as easily as a physical health problem.

The only way we can really understand what an individual is going through is to listen carefully to what they are saying and the problems, symptoms and feelings they are describing.

Suspend Your Judgement

We humans tend to be self-centred. And if someone is talking to us, about any subject, we often judge what is being said against how it impacts on us individually. Even the most sympathetic listener can have this tendency, for example someone might listen intently to a co-worker about their personal issues yet still, somewhere, in the back of the mind is a little voice saying “is this going to affect my workload?”

Stopping that completely is near impossible, which is why talking to strangers, such as therapists, is often more productive.

However, we can be more mindful of our own reactions to what is being said to us and we can suspend our judgement, while we are being talked to, and reflect on our own feelings at a different time.

Be Patient

It is often difficult, especially to start with, for someone suffering from mental health issues to fully be able to find the words to describe how they are feeling. Added to this can be a sense of guilt, shame or failure that they are unable to cope at the moment.

Give people space to express themselves and encouragement to carry on talking.

The more you do this the better they will feel about speaking and the better they will be able to articulate how they are feeling.

Don’t Be Pushy

“well you need to do this” or “you need to do that” is, perhaps, the last thing people expressing their mental health issues want at that particular time.

The first thing they need is to know that they are being listened to and that, in itself, is a start to overcoming the problem. By showing you are willing just to sit and listen you do far more good.

Obviously give advice if they ask for it but if they do not, take the opportunity to ask them what they think their next step should be, allow them to come up with their own solutions before suggesting your own.

Go Back

If someone has taken the daunting step of opening up to us about their mental health issues it is because they trust us. Therefore, it is only right that we should respect that trust and make sure we go back to them regularly to find out how they are feeling and listen again if they feel they need to talk more.

Knowing that there is someone prepared to come back to listen to you is powerfully therapeutic, it helps people know they are not alone in dealing with their problems, the more we can talk about mental health issues the better the chances of getting better sooner.

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Talking about mental health issues is important but all the talking in the world is useless unless someone is actually listening.

So let’s all take the opportunity to really help tackle mental health issues by becoming good listeners.

5 Tips for When Sh*t Happens

I have said it before and will probably say it again,

Sh*t happens!

Life will always throw “slings and arrows” at us yet we can deal with them rather than let life dictate to us.

In my own life, this week, the place I work is now scheduled to close, so I will have to find a new employment soon (unfortunately blog writing does not pay the bills!). It is something completely out of my control and something that I, and those I work with, will have to deal with over the coming months.

It is not just employment that can cause sudden change, our health could suddenly change forcing unwelcome change in the way we live, change can be forced on us by others close to us for any number of reasons and just the world in general can impose on our lives in ways that force us to do things differently.

There are, however, a few ways we can come out on top rather than let the world drag us down.

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1) OWN IT

Us humans are fickle creatures, we do not like change. More precisely we do not like change that is forced on us.

If though, the change is our choice, we are always much more enthusiastic about it.

So, if circumstances in your life change beyond your immediate control, embrace the opportunity and take ownership of the change you can control. Why waste your time, energy and sanity worrying about things you have no control over? It is far better to  focus  on the things you can control.

As I am writing this the London Marathon is happening and you can see many of the wheelchair athletes and individual runners who have had to face life changing challenges yet still have found ways to succeed in completing the 26-mile course. We should all be inspired by the way they have grasped their futures despite what life has thrown at them.

2) WALLOW IN SUCCESS

It is very easy, when sh*t happens, to wallow in negativity, “why do these things happen to me” “there is nothing I can do” “things can’t possibly get better” etc.

Yet throughout our lives there are ups and downs.

Take some time to think about those “ups” in the past, the times when you did somethings you felt really proud of, the times when you achieved something that you had worked hard for, the times when you felt fantastic.

Write all those goods things down so if you feel the weight of what is happening pressing down you can fight back with those positive things you know you are capable off.

3) FORGE YOUR PATH

Having reflected on the successes and achievements you have an excellent base to start planning where you go next. Your future is always in your own hands so it pays to plan the way forward, especially when you have been forced to change from the path you thought you were on!

Start by having a bit of a brainstorming session. Write down everything you want, it does not matter how outlandish or impossible they may seem, it is about stretching your mind to explore possibilities and, what may seem outlandish or impossible right now, may, in years to come, become achievable eventually.

How many of those “ups” you wrote down would you like to do again or pursue further?

Once you have done that, sort the list in the order of which are the easier things to do to the hardest.

Begin to build ideas about where you want to go in your life and develop goals that are about you.

4) TAKE ACTION

What was the easiest thing to do on your list?

DO IT

Maybe it is writing/updating your C.V.. searching out courses to further your education, or seeking out ways to improve your health and fitness. Whatever it is, make the effort.

That aside, it is about taking control when faced with dealing circumstances beyond your control. I am sure we can all think of times when we allowed circumstances to take control of our lives, as we were thrown around by waves of change feeling completely at the mercy of others and the world around us. We soon become lost, which in turn, affects our mental well-being.

By taking action we stop that, we start to focus on the direction we want to go. Our energies are used positively, and for ourselves rather than battling against the sea of change.

5) IT’S GOOD TO TALK

While these tips have focussed on how we react and what we do with our own lives, we do not live in isolation. Others may be in the same situation and we, hopefully, have others around us who will provide support, if we let them know we need it.

Sharing our hopes and plans for the future will help our focus and also provide a chance for us to hear what others think. Their views can give our own ideas more shape.

Talk to those who you know will be supportive and, if the same circumstances, who you know you can support. Just be a little wary because we humans can easily descend into negativity when chatting, so always keep it positive.

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Sh*t happens all the time, much of the time it is beyond our control.

But rather than let it drag us down and drift aimlessly hoping that something good will happen we can take control, be positive and make the good things happen.

It may not always be an easy or straight forward path but when we take charge of our lives it gives us a sense of power and enhances our ability to ultimately succeed.

Find Your Motivational Motive

If there is a goal you want to pursue or something you want to change in your life to improve it, once you have narrowed down the specifics, the next important thing is to think about the reason you want to do it.

This is because if you want to succeed you need a strong reason to succeed.

As strong reason helps you leap the inevitable hurdles’ we all face in life. Where as a weak reason will make failure the much likelier outcome.

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Imagine you have your goal in mind and the reason you are doing it because “everyone else is doing it” or “I’ve heard it’s a good thing” or “Her on the telly said everyone should do it”. Then, a few weeks down the line this are not going to plan, you are much more likely to give up and you mind will justify you giving up, “everyone else doing this is mad,” or “I must have heard it wrong” or “Her on the telly doesn’t know what she is talking about”!

We humans are creatures of routine and habit and it is often easier for us to fall back into familiar routines rather than make the effort, both physical and mental, to pursue change and difference in our lives. Perhaps you can think of a time you or someone you know has started a programme of change, probably it started off well but then faded away as old habits and routines returned.

Very often this is because we start off with good intentions, unfortunately though, good intentions on their own do not gives us the push to go beyond the initial steps. They do not get us past that difficult patch where relapsing into the familiar is such an easy thing to do.

A strong motive for succeeding can push us through that almost inevitable stage because that reason pulls us toward success.

A strong reason starts with you as an individual. What is it that YOU want to achieve from your goal or life change? Trying to do something because someone else wants you to do it or because it is the socially popular thing to do has inherent problems because your unconscious knows that what you are doing is not actually what you want therefore there is always a degree of resistance. It may be okay for small, less significant things in your life but for longer term, more substantial change It has to be for a reason YOU have.

By using YOU as your starting point you can develop your motive and, therefore, the motivation to get you started and keep you going.

Picture yourself having achieved your goal or life change. What are the benefits in your life you picture then, what are rewards you get from that success?

Remember it is all individual, it could be you want to be healthier, for example, the rewards then could include such things as being able to enjoy time with grandchildren without getting so tired, or being healthier could prepare you for embarking on a bigger challenge such as marathon running, or being healthier could allow you to lead a better lifestyle. Perhaps you want to learn or develop a skill, it could be that it earns you more money, it could be it allows you to change jobs or it could even be that you gain that sense of personal achievement which raises your self-esteem.

Before you start on any significant change in your life, take some time to think and reflect about why you need that change, list the rewards and benefits that change will bring you. Yet there is a need to be totally honest with yourself, list the things that the change could impact negatively on your current life e.g.- taking up a new hobby could take time and money away from other areas of your life.

Then, assuming the benefits out weigh the negatives, you can see the overall benefits to you can add and the greater rewards these benefits will bring to your life.  You build your reason for succeeding and, as you fix those reasons in your mind, any time you begin to doubt your success you have the motive and motivation to carry on.

You can succeed, and you strong motive for that success will help carry you along the path to that life you truly want.

 

Problematic Personalised Truths

As promised, more on Personalised Truths, those pesky, sometimes damaging, ideas we have about ourselves that we believe to be true even when there is absolutely no evidence that they are actually true!

These ideas may have been created by us or they may have been put in our heads by others, but whichever route, it is because we believe them to be true they become a part of our unconscious thinking and, therefore, impact on our feelings and actions.

If you think about a time when you have met someone whose life or behaviour you really could not understand, for example someone obsessed with changing how they look through excessive dieting, excessive exercise or excessive plastic surgery or maybe someone with an addiction which is obviously detrimental to their well-being yet the continue to do it or, perhaps, someone whose lifestyle involves risky behaviour. Behind all such behaviours a personalised truth can be found.

There are two types of personalised truths that burrow their way into out psyche, those that we believe about ourselves and those we use to justify things that affect our lives.

The first, what we believe about ourselves, are those ideas about our bodies, our intelligence, our capabilities etc. for example “I’m fat”, “I’m ugly” “I’m stupid” “I’m a failure”. Naturally these truths are not always negative, some people are perhaps too positive and over confident and many of our thoughts are quite balanced. Yet where we have a negative belief about ourselves it can far outweigh any of those balanced ones.

Especially where those personalised truths can never really be true in the first place!

Take, for example, “I’m ugly”. Ugliness and beauty a wholly open to interpretation, ideas of beauty depend on individual taste and, on a wider scale, ideas of beauty vary from culture to culture and vary over time. Would Titian’s 16th Century vision of Venus, goddess of love, beauty and desire, make it to the front cover of a glossy fashion magazine today?

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Another aspect of problematic personalised truths is that we will ignore any evidence that contradicts them, the person who believes “I’m always unlucky” will dismiss any good fortune that happens to them or believe that a small piece of luck will be balanced by greater bad luck! A person who believes “I am a failure” will dismiss successes as mere flukes and believe that any praise they receive is just other people trying to be nice!

The other type of personalised truths are those we believe justify our actions. At a simplistic level remember those times when you have bought something you really didn’t need but justified the purchase by saying to yourself something like “I had to buy it because it was half price” or “I had to buy it because I haven’t got one that colour”!

On a more complex and problematic level people will justify staying in toxic relationships because they believe “it’s my fault” or “things will change soon”. Or people will justify addictions such as gambling with beliefs like “it is the only way I can become rich” or “my luck will change soon”.

The real challenge with uncovering and resolving problematic personalised truths is identifying them in the first place, they operate at an unconscious level and influence our behaviour automatically. If we spend a bit of time thinking about our behaviour at the end of the day we can begin to unravel those personalised truths that hold us back. Alternatively, if we are brave enough, we can asked friends and family what it is they least understand about the way we behave, that will give us a good route to uncovering those underlying beliefs.

Once we have identified them we can begin to really question them. What evidence is there that they are true? What evidence proves them untrue? We need to be fully critical here as we will, if not, just dismiss that contrary evidence. We need to engage with the process logically and rationally so that we can begin to believe those personalised truths are, in fact, untrue.

It is not an easy process but one we need to undertake as it will improve our lives and our well-being as we move forward to success and happiness in life.

Unconscious Untruths

Just as we can unconsciously emotionally react to events around us, we can also be unconscious victims of thoughts that are not true.

Our actions and reactions are based on what we believe to be true, and this happens on an unconscious level without us questioning whether or not those beliefs are true.

That is not to say that what we believe is lies but rather there are various versions of the truth which may hinder us in our lives.

Outdated Truths – Take a moment to think about things in your life that may have once been true but no longer are true. Perhaps it was once true to say you lived in a certain town but have since moved so it is no longer true. Or a time when you were single but now are in a relationship, maybe you were once in a relationship but now are single. Truth can change. Think of others examples in your life where this is the case.

The examples above are fairly obvious ones, as always things are not so obvious. As children we have truths instilled in us by parents, teachers and other influential people which may very well have been true at the time but life and society move on and those truths may no longer be relevant yet they still live in our unconscious impacting on our actions and reactions.

For example your school years may have shown you the ‘truth’ of how children should learn things and you may hold on to that truth despite the fact that the world has moved on and different learning strategies have been shown to be more successful.

Opinionated Truths – We are inundated constantly by opinionated truths, facts which are not actually facts but rather interpretations or opinions of facts. Politicians provide the best example of this, just look how different political parties present the same information in different ways but usually prefixed with expressions such as “the truth is” or “the fact of the matter is”. If you are predisposed to favour one political party over the other then you are more likely to accept their truth while dismissing the other as the other as ‘spin’ or outright lies.

Other sources of ‘fact’ also have a degree of opinion. The news, for example, is opinionated. If you get the chance watch the news on different TV channels, look at how different channels emphasise different stories, one may lead with a story (giving it an air of greater importance) yet another may give the same story a lot less emphasis giving the lead to a completely different piece of news.

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(For the record this blog is opinion of fact rather than the ultimate truth!)

On a much more personal level we can be influenced by friends, family, employers etc. who give us ‘facts’ which we accept as truth but which, in reality, are opinions of facts. Is there a time when you have been carried away by things a friend has told you only to discover later they hadn’t given you the full information? A friend could tell us a ‘truth’ about another person which unconsciously influences our behaviour toward that person yet later on we find out that there is a different version of that truth which, in turn, changes our actions again.

Personalised Truth – These are the truths we tell ourselves about ourselves. That internal dialogue, most often negative that affects how we behave and see ourselves. Those things like “I’m ugly” “I’m stupid” “I’m a failure” etc. Personalised truths are also those things we tell ourselves to justify or make sense of the world around us.

Personalised truth is a post all on its own so more on that next time.

For now the important thing to remember is that truth is a flexible thing. If you remember back to my last post “Lightening Reactions” I encouraged you too take time to think what causes those reactions, often it is a belief or ‘truth’ that we hold, it is then up to us to work out if that truth still holds or if it is an unconscious untruth that we need to eliminate from our minds.

Lightning Reactions

Are you afraid of spiders? If not you probably know someone who is.

But think about the process of being scared, how long is there between spotting that spider and letting out a scream or fleeing the scene quickly?

Firstly you need to see the spider, then your brain has to sort through the endless number of things you can recognise in order to identify it as a spider. Then it has to ignite the connection between a spider and fear, once your mind has decided that you need to be afraid it then has to start sending messages to various parts of your body, increasing your heart rate, pumping fight or flight hormones through your body and, not least, preparing your lungs and vocal cords for that scream!

All that happens in an instant.

It is, of course, a survival instinct. If, for example, you entered your bathroom and were faced with a ravenous human-eating tiger sitting in your bath licking its lips expectantly, then that instantaneous reaction to flee could be life-saving.

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The point here, however, is that we often find ourselves in emotional states that have been triggered at  lightning  speed, and because of that instinctive reaction we can find ourselves feeling fearful, sad, angry or frustrated without fully understanding why. Then, if we don’t fully understand what has caused us to enter that emotional state, the state intensifies. If we start feeling afraid for no apparent reason we become even more fearful, sadness triggers even more sadness, we feel angry at ourselves for feeling angry for no reason etc.

Then our emotional state begins to effect things we are trying to do or those around us. Imagine a state of sadness comes over you on your way to work, how would that sadness impact on whatever it is you do? You would probably be less enthusiastic, slower and lose concentration. Those around you would also be affected as you would be less engaging, less talkative and probably give off an air of “I really don’t want people around me right now”.

We need, sometimes, to  stop, pause and think  about what is happening to our minds and bodies in order to prevent those unhelpful emotional states taking over our lives.

Firstly, obviously, is learning to recognise the fact that we have entered an unhelpful emotional state.

That  lightning  speed at which our minds work at a sub-conscious level means that we can find ourselves in an unhelpful state without us consciously being aware of it straight away, if at all. It is, therefore, useful to sometimes stop and reflect upon our mood, our emotions and how we feel.

However to spend too much time inwardly contemplating is incredibly impracticable. We need to move forward in our daily lives yet if we take a moment or two every so often to check on how we feel can help us move forward.

For example, take a brief pause before you make a transition in your day, we all have points in the day where we move from one thing to another. That point where go from travelling to work and entering the workplace, think about how you are feeling – is your heart still racing from that point where another driver came perilously close to hitting you? Are you still seething because your train was late yet again because of some lame excuse the rail company gave out? Or that point when you return home from your weekly shop, is that frustration of being stuck behind the world’s slowest checkout operator serving the world’s slowest customer still coursing through you?

By taking the time to recognise those emotions it helps us to start too eliminate them from whatever it is we are doing next.

Then when we do have a bit of time to ourselves we can go deeper into our emotional states, especially those that happen without us really knowing the cause. What triggers that feeling of fear? What caused that random feeling of sadness? What exactly made you feel so frustrated with life?

By forcing some of those unconscious triggers in to our consciousness we bring them under more control. We may not be able to remove them immediately nor can we guarantee that they will not produce the same instantaneous reaction but by being more aware they exist we can control the effect a lot sooner.

You are an amazing person with a mind that works like  lightning,  however, just sometimes, that speed trips us up. When we learn to reflect on those times when unhelpful emotional states impact on our daily lives, we may still trip but hopefully it will be a stumble rather than falling flat on our face!