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

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, male it to the front cover of a glossy fashion magazine today?

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 75

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.

person reading the daily fake news newspaper sitting on gray couch
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

(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.

white lightning heating mountain
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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!

 

 

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 EXTRA Ordinary

When you are a young adult you can get away with a lot of unconventional behaviour, people will label you as a rebellious type, a bohemian or, perhaps, a free spirit.

When you are a much older adult you can also get away with unconventional behaviour, this time you will be labelled as a bit of a character or, perhaps, a harmless eccentric.

Yet for those of us stuck in the middle years unconventional behaviour is often frowned upon as society demands we are sensible, conventional and just plain ordinary. Any deviation from the ordinariness meets with such labels as “a bit weird” “odd” or, of course, the classic “must be having a mid-life crisis!”


While, as mentioned before, we humans crave some degree of conformity there is a difference between us choosing to conform and having conformity thrust upon us by societies decreed expectations. Us humans don’t particularly like change, especially when that change is outside our control. So if we, as individuals, choose to take control and make changes in our lives, those around us can become a little resistant because it is outside of their control.

How we react when faced with being labelled and challenged by others not only varies from person to person but also within ourselves. The more confident we are in our “non-conformist” behaviour the more likely we are to shrug off the opinions of others.

However when we are starting out making changes in life or doing something different our confidence levels are lower and when others throw challenges at us we are more likely to cave in to pressure and abandon our cause.

To successfully move from the conventional and ordinary life we need to develop ways to meet the challenges from others.

Firstly, always keep in mind why you want to make that change in your life. When others challenge or try to label you negatively just focus on the important elements that made you decide that you needed to do something different. You certainly don’t need to justify yourself to others, you just need to hold your focus on you own reasons. You could write these down and revisit them every time someone casts doubt in your mind, you could get into the routine of repeating the reasons to yourself every morning before you head out to face the world or you could just simply have faith in yourself knowing the reasons you have are the best for you right now.

Another way to develop that self-belief and self-confidence is to connect with others who are pursuing the same goal or dream as you. You can join a club, a class or just gather a group of like-minded friends together. Nowadays, thanks to the internet, you can even connect with like-minded people around the world. By connecting with others who are following the same path you know you are not alone, when others throw doubts and labels at you, feeling alone can be demoralising yet knowing there are others like you helps build that confidence within because it means you are not “odd” or “having a mid-life crisis” but, instead, you are taking control of your life just as many others are doing.

The pressures to be ordinary, safe and unchanging can be immense but if we want to live our lives in a way that brings us a sense of being, a sense of satisfaction and a sense of happiness then we need to break free from those restraints and forge our own path. Naturally we have to be mindful of others but those who love us will obviously benefit from us being happier and more fulfilled in our lives.

Forget being ordinary become extra ordinary and become the person you truly want to be.

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.