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.

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You Can Overcome Your Obstacles

Imagine that you are on a journey and the route to your destination is blocked by a huge, intimidating brick wall.

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What do you do?

You could go and get yourself a ladder or some climbing equipment and clamber over the wall. You could get a shovel and dig a tunnel under the wall. You could take a diversion and walk around the wall. You could, perhaps, get a sledgehammer and bash a hole through the wall.

The point is there are many different solutions to the problem.

Unfortunately, when faced with real life obstacles, we are often stuck in our ways and we constantly repeat the same actions over and over again even though those actions don’t actually help us overcome the problem.

It is like constantly hitting our heads against that brick wall in the hope in gives way before our head does!

Sometimes (as the headache gets worse!) rational thought disappears and we start to hate the wall, we blame the wall for getting in our way. We curse the builder of the wall, without thinking that, perhaps, there was a reason for the wall being put there in the first place. No, we think, the builder deliberately put the wall there to thwart our journey, it is a blatant attack to stop us moving onward with our lives.

Our righteous indignation makes us more determined to keep hitting our head against the wall because we believe the harder our head hits, the more likely we are to succeed!

The reality, though, is we start feeling worse. In the real world that frustration turns to despair, and has a serious impact on our mental health. The more we pointlessly hit the wall, the more our self-confidence and self-belief becomes eroded and we end up just slumped against the wall, unable to move in any direction.

To avoid this happening to us we need to develop flexibility in our thinking.

If you come up against an obstacle and your initial way to overcome it fails, step back quickly, before that righteous indignation sets in and think of the alternative ways that you could use to move forward.

Take time to think of different actions, and the possible consequences of those actions. Weigh up all the possibilities before picking the best alternatives for you.

If we go back to our imaginary wall, climbing over the top may not be the best option if you are afraid of heights, tunnelling underneath may not be the best option if you get claustrophobic, and hitting the wall with a sledgehammer may just bring the whole thing down on the top of your head!

It is about finding the solutions that work for you.

YOU being the most important aspect of achieving your success.

We cannot dwell on what others may or may not have done to deliberately thwart us. We cannot dwell on how others may or may not have caused our dilemma. We cannot dwell on what others may or may not have against us.

We can only focus on what we need to do to move on toward what we want in life.

That is best achieved by reflecting on our own actions, beliefs and strengths.

You could, perhaps, take time to consider why the wall is there in the first place. Imagine getting a chisel and removing just one brick and peeking through to the other side. The could be nothing but the road onwards but maybe there is a huge chasm in the road or a sabre-toothed beast prowling and the wall has been put there to protect travellers on that path!

Stepping back to consider overcoming obstacles requires deliberate, rational thought but that does not mean we need to be completely sensible!

Perhaps we could imagine building a giant catapult and throwing ourselves over our wall! Perhaps we could take a bit of time out of our journey and decorate the wall (I am not advocating becoming a graffiti artist though!).

Engaging our creativity and imagination can often lead to new, different and exciting ideas. History is full of stories where things we take for granted today were created by accident, where people tried to do one thing but realised, they had come up with something else.

The story of the post-it notes says the inventor was actually trying to develop a strong adhesive but failed, luckily, they had the ability to realise the weak solution had a use.

Viagra was initially a failed heat drug, it was the reported side-effects that led scientists to realising they had stumbled on to something else that could be developed, they could easily have just dismissed the trials as a failure.

Creative, imaginative thinking can lead us on new paths which allows us to avoid the wall altogether.

It is not the walls in our lives that are the obstacles, it is our reaction to them. By developing better flexible and creative thinking the walls will come down or simply become irrelevant.

Flex your thinking muscles and the paths onward will soon materialise.

Build Your New Months Resolution

This time next year…….

Whatever it is you want to achieve or change in your life it takes time, you are not going to run a marathon or win a sprint just because you have decided it, you need to work to make it happen.

We have our dream and we set out to make that dream a reality.

The problem that often occurs though, is that a year is quite a long time (although it does not seem like it as you get older!) and the dream we start out with gets tangled and entwined by life’s challenges on the way. A bit like the wires behind the TV, they start out nice and neat but, somehow, next time you look, everything is tangled and you can’t tell which wire leads to what!

To help prevent the tangle in our lives we need to make certain we keep focused, and a good way of doing this is keeping control of your plan by breaking it down month by month and building a strategy for the coming weeks.

Ask yourself, what practical things can you do this month that moves you closer to your longer-term goal? How much weight do you need to lose this month? What distance do you need to run? How many words of your book do you need to write etc?

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It is also a chance to review where you are right now in your plan.

Did you make a New Years resolution? If so, where, at the end of February, are you at in achieving it?

If you have made little or no progress, don’t beat yourself up over it or try to find excuses for why, just accept that things haven’t gone to plan so far and start preparing your plan for March.

If, however, you have made progress, celebrate that, give yourself a pat on the back then knuckle down and focus on the next stage.

Your new months resolution needs to concentrate on what is necessary to move you to the next stage of achievement and closer to your ultimate aim. If there is anything that you feel you have not done, so far, then evaluate that first. How important was it in your longer-term plan? Is there something else you need to do that is more important than the thing you have missed?

In other words, prioritise.

Sometimes we can become so bogged down in worrying about things we have not done that we fail to realise there are other things. equally or more important, that we can be doing right now. A lot of times when we change to something else, the other thing we were bogged down by becomes easier once we go back to it because we have had a chance to forget about it for a while.

Our new months resolution is also a means of keeping our focus on the end goal. Even where life distracts us, sitting down at the end of each month to think about the next months resolution, gives us a chance to assess and evaluate where we are now and where we need to be in a few weeks’ time. It becomes part of a continuous cycle of assess-plan-action that moves us forward and keeps what we want at the forefront of our mind.

So, take time this week to think about what you want to achieve next month and how you are going to achieve it. Think about things like the time you need to set aside from your normal routine, anything you need to get before hand or any other preparations that are key to finishing your mini monthly goal.

Your New Months Resolution is a way of keeping you in control of what YOU want to do in your life. Make your plan, stick to your plan and, at the end of next month, just see how much closer you are to your ultimate goal.

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.

 

Zoom In On Specifics

What do you want?

Do you want to be heathier, wealthier, or perhaps you want a new job, a new lifestyle or to be able to travel more?

We all have dreams of a better life yet rarely make the moves toward achieving those things we fantasise about.

One reason is that our dreams and fantasies are often quite vague on detail. We like the idea of these things but we just leave them as dreams to retreat into when our current existence gets to us. In order to make a real difference in our lives we need to narrow in on those dreams and develop them into specific goals we can use as a springboard to reach the real life we want to live.

Start by letting your imagination run wild. Really be creative in your dreams about what would bring you satisfaction if life, give yourself no limits on what you think of and allow yourself to mentally explore the most outrageous possibilities your life could be. Throw everything into the mix, everything you have ever dreamt of achieving, those childhood and youthful ambitions that faded away and those sparks of ideas that were smothered by life.

Once you have done that write down some of the ideas that appeal to you most. It is time to switch from the creative side of your brain to the logical side!

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Look at the ideas you have written down, do any of them need you to achieve one of the others first? For example, do you dream of a life of travel and of a life of financial independence? The life of travel may need you to have that financial security first. If that is the case cross off the dependent ones from your list.

Now, take what is ever left on your list and put them in order of priority. Which one feels most important to you right now? This is not to say you are dismissing the other ideas, we are just focussing on the most important idea right now. Those other dreams can just take a temporary backseat while we concentrate on achieving first things first.

Now zoom in on that one idea.

Remember it is your idea and how you view that idea is unique to you.

Maybe, for example, your number one priority is to be healthier. What exactly does that mean to you? It could mean losing weight, it could mean being able to run a marathon, it could mean eating healthier etc. You need to focus on what is important to you, not what other people are saying and not what society is demanding at the moment. Work your idea down to a single goal that you can aim for, a goal that is YOUR GOAL and one you can begin to work toward.

A brief warning, although we are aiming to create the goal to move us toward a better life it does not have to be perfect. Perfectionism is often a means of not making a decision and not taking action because we constantly wait for things to be exactly right and put off doing anything until we have got things exactly right!

Your goal does not have to be so precise and perfect it just needs to be something more concrete than the vague dream we started with. It is our call to action.

To start the process of changing our lives for our own benefit we need to start with something specific to aim for. Vague dreams make it difficult to find a starting point, so by using some focus to narrow down those dreams to an achievable, specific goal we can begin the process toward a life we want.

Be Smart This January

January. You can’t have helped but notice that every time you walk down the high street shops are enticing you to buy things to make you healthier, to feed those New Year’s Resolutions you sort of decided on.

It may be ‘active wear’ to help you with fitness, lotions and potions to help you ‘detox’ or books with alluring recipes to help you ‘get lean’. It is not just the high street though, there are those leaflets through the door encouraging you to join weight loss clubs and the media joins in with various ‘new you’ segments.

But before you start spending out or getting into some vague regime STOP AND THINK.

Remember for many of the shops, organisations and media outlets January is a slow month so for them, so jumping on resolution bandwagon is just a way of making extra money by appealing to our own frailties.

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Only you can decide what you want to do and it is important that you do it properly if you want to succeed.

START by really deciding what you want. Not a vague idea of “I think I need to lose some weight” or “I need to eat healthier” or “I want to be fitter” etc. but instead set yourself a specific goal, “I need to lose 2 stone” or “I need to reduce the amount of salt in my diet” or “I need to be able to run 10K”.

By setting yourself a specific goal it becomes more achievable because you can measure your progress over time, and time is also an important element. When do you want to have achieved your goal by? Having an end date gives you a greater incentive to work toward it. So if you have your summer holiday booked perhaps work to that date to be healthier, leaner or fitter. If you have a longer term goal then, with a specific end date you can break it down across the months so you know where you need to be by that summer date.

The other element of setting yourself goals is to be realistic. If you take up jogging in January you are not going to be running a marathon by Easter! Permanent weight loss is best achieved by losing weight at a steady pace rather than crash dieting and healthy eating is more about balance than completely eliminating something.

While I have concentrated on the typical January goals, these ideas apply to everything you want to get done, any goal that you set yourself. You need to use SMART.

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely.

You may have heard of this before but it is always worth remembering when you set out to achieve anything. The better the framework for your plan the better he chance of success.

So before you rush headlong into the temptations of a healthier lifestyle take a bit of time to really assess what it is you want to achieve this year and begin the process of planning how best to really achieve that goal.

Next time – More on setting those specific goals

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.

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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