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.

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.

The Habit of Breaking Habits

In the last post I suggested getting in to the habit of breaking habits as a means to stretching the boundaries of your comfort zone but it is a thought worth exploring more because habits and habitual ways of thinking can impact on our ability to grow.
Now, as a general rule, habits and habitual thinking are a good thing. They are the brains way of creating shortcuts in our thinking because, if we had to stop and think about everything we did, we would never get anything done. Imagine getting yourself ready in the morning if you had to consciously process every step – “now I need to take toothbrush, now I need to open toothpaste and squeeze on to toothbrush, now I need to place toothbrush in mouth” etc. Being habitual means we save thinking time.
It is a bit like our brains having a predictive text system. Most of the time it works fine but occasionally it can all go a bit peer sheeped!
Obviously the mind is significantly more complex than predictive text yet there are similarities worth considering when talking about how we form habits. Predictive text starts by using socially accepted use of language that is the most likely words people will use in the context of what has been said before, the more it gets used the more it becomes individualised to a persons use of language based on what they have said before.
We form habits and habitual ways of thinking over many years, our upbringing creates some, our daily lives others, some come from the society we live in and others from our relationships and the people we chose to connect with.
It is very easy to become habitualised. How often do you find yourself saying something one of parents used to say to you repeatedly? Anything that we do, or happens to us, repetitively over time becomes habitual within us, neural pathways are formed in our brains to ease the need to think of everything. This can easily happen without us even knowing or realising, and it is not until we consciously catch ourselves acting in a certain way, like our parents for example.

The problem comes when those habits and habitual ways of thinking work against us. This can happen for a number of reasons, those habits and thoughts may not be appropriate for a new situation we find ourselves in, they could be holding us back from doing something different or they could simply be out of date.
Think about it on a wider social level. We often see stories that older people just don’t understand younger people today (and those stories have been running for decades!). Yet if we think about it when older people developed their habits and ways of thinking the world was very different from now and where younger people are developing their own habits and ways of thinking based on their society today. What was once the default way of thinking can often be defined as prejudice (or an ..ism) in the current way of thinking.
Coming down to the individual level we all have our own habits and habitual ways of thinking yet we need to question whether all of them are still relevant and still work for us in the best possible way. For example the way we do things at work might have been the ideal way of working a few years ago but as things around us have changed we may need to change what we do in order to perform at our best.
If we can take time occasionally, when we catch ourselves doing things automatically, we can review those habits and question whether or not they are still relevant to us. The next time you flick through channels, ask yourself why you don’t stop at a certain one. Is there someone or something you automatically avoid whenever possible? Ask yourself why and if that reason still applies now.
Habits and habitual thinking are, mostly, a good thing but some of those habits develop into bad ones or simply become outdated and not relevant to our lives right now. We may need to develop new habits and new ways of thinking to help us move on in our lives and to achieve whatever it is we have set our sights on.
Getting into the habit of breaking habits allows us to have a reality check on whether or not our automatic behaviours and thoughts are working in the best possible way for us right now.

The Delights and Dangers of What If

What If….
A small phrase but a powerful one. It can catapult us upwards to great heights of achievement or it can plunge us downwards into the dark depths of despair. It just depends on where we use it in our thoughts.
Our ‘what ifs’ can be located in the past, present or future.
If we use it in our thoughts of the past then it becomes a dangerous thing, especially in mid-life because when we use ‘what ifs’ in reflections of our past we are trying to change something that can’t be changed.
It would be a very unusual thing to reach mid-life without collecting a few regrets on the way and, as we reach a point where we are likely to reflect on our lives, it could be easy to add ‘what if’s’ into those thoughts. When you do that, it can lead to a chain of thought that impacts on you in the present.
Regrets in life are inevitable but they are the result of learning something new after the event. At the actual time you made the decision, or whatever it is you regret, you made the best choice for yourself with the information you had at that time. Regrets are important, they help us learn and make better choices in the future but when we focus on them and add in the what if’s. “What if I hadn’t have done it.” “What if I hadn’t said that.”, etc. we are starting to wish our lives had been different in the past, we can easily begin to resent what we have in the present.

The past can’t be changed (I can hear some clever soul saying “but what if it could”!), we can reflect on the past, we can learn from the past, we can use the past to influence our present and our future but we can’t change it. By imagining that we are simply damaging our present because we are focusing on regrets rather than what we can do to improve our lives for the future.
On the flip side ‘What Ifs’ in thoughts of the present or future will move us forwards. Not necessarily in a good way, there can be negative thoughts as well as positive ones, but they will drive our actions and deeds.
‘What Ifs’ have a tendency to spiral. So if we are in a negative frame of mind and we begin to speculate on ‘what ifs’ it can move us further into that negative mindset.
When that happens it can be difficult to break the cycle. It is all very well others saying “think positive thoughts” or telling us to “snap out of it” but it takes more than that. How we escape that cycle is a very individual thing but, a common thread you may recognise in these posts, the more aware we are of ourselves the better we can deal with these things. Once we recognise we are in a negative ‘what if’ cycle the easier it is to break free from it.
If we apply ‘what ifs’ to positive thoughts we can lift ourselves and our lives to new heights. Stretching our imagination positively leads us towards what we really want from life. Again these ‘what ifs’ tend to spiral, we need to be a little careful because we can just get caught in daydreaming mode. We need to ensure we have that positive mindset and ensure we take positive action to implement those ‘what ifs’.

A simple example, I want this blog to be a success and people to benefit from it. For that to happen I need plenty of people to read it. “What if,” I think, “I add a small paragraph on the bottom asking people to  share this blog.”  Then, as I am actually writing that I think “What if I write a post about What Ifs” again moving everything another step forward and, in turn, creating more ‘what ifs’ to be implemented soon!
‘What Ifs’ appear to be an ingrained part of human thinking. They represent the possibilities of what could have been or what will be but they are both potentially dangerous and delightful and we need to be able to recognise each, dismissing those negative thoughts and embracing the positive ones.
What if, right now, you think of a ‘what if’ that will take you toward success and contentment and implement that what if as soon as possible.