Failure is a Thing

It is unlikely you have reached mid-life without someone, somewhere along the line telling you that that there is no such thing as failure, even Oprah Winfrey has said those words*. Usually there is something added to it. There is no such thing as failure only learning opportunities or, only feedback or, only results etc.
It may be a little controversial but I will say failure is thing.
Life is not perfect, people are not perfect so things can and do go wrong in life. Then when we experience those things we also have an emotional response to that failure. It can range from mild disappointment to depression, it can include frustration, anger or resignation. Failure can sap your motivation, damage your self-belief and leave you feeling useless.


The level of that emotional response is often dictated by the level of personal investment we have in something. The more we put our effort and time into something that means a lot to us then, if things go wrong, the greater our emotional response will be.
If you conform to the idea that there is no such thing as failure then you are setting yourself up for a double whammy. When something, inevitably, doesn’t go to plan not only do you get the emotional response from that failure, you also have the response to the fact you have failed in your belief that there is no such thing as failure! Causing the emotional equivalent of an aftershock following the initial earthquake.
However if we accept the fact that we will have failures in our lives and that we will have some form of emotion attached to that we can develop some resilience and bounce back much quicker.
The first thing to remember is just because you have had a failure it does not make you a failure. Some people will define who they are by the things that go wrong in their lives, ignoring any positives that come along and actively looking for those failures to justify the way they think. But if we know that any failures we have are just a blip on our way to achievement then we are putting things in a proper perspective.
Secondly, work out what went wrong. Be honest with yourself though, it is very easy to blame others or external causes and while these things certainly happen ask yourself if there is anything you could have done to have avoided the impact of the external influences.
It may be that you can’t for the life of you figure out what went wrong. It which case just go ahead and do things again, just make a slight alteration to something in the process and see if that brings about a positive result.
Those little phrases added to “there is no such thing as failure” are actually right, failure gives us learning experiences, results and feedback. We need to use those intelligently and constructively in order to correct any errors in our thinking, planning and execution of our goals. Sometimes learning what doesn’t work can make life much easier for us in the future as we know what pitfalls to avoid.
However, as you reflect on what you could have done to avoid failure also remember to reflect on those wins you had before things went wrong.
We often see top athletes bought to tears when they fail to win. It sometimes seems strange to us because they have achieved so much and coming second is still an excellent result but because they put so much personal investment into winning, that immediate emotional response is to their failure to win. Top athletes have the advantage of coaches and sports psychologists who will help them realise that they have made those huge achievements before meeting someone who was better on the day.
However us lesser mortals don’t have the luxury of such support. Therefore we need to be able to it ourselves. You may be lucky and have someone close to you who can provide constructive support but many don’t have so we need to become our own coach and point out all the successes we have had so far, how far we have come and how we can keep going onwards.
The important thing is, don’t stop, never give up.
Failure is a thing, but if we can accept it will happen and embrace the lessons it teaches then we can move forward on to success.
  

Reliving Your Future

If you have decided to turn a dream into reality, decided to achieve a new goal or decided to make a specific change in your life, getting started can often be the hardest part. It is like moving a boulder, getting going takes huge strength and effort but once it starts moving the momentum carries it along.
One trick to help getting going is to run in all backwards!
Take a bit of time to yourself and imagine that you have achieved what you want to achieve. Spend a little time basking in the glory of that achievement before starting to reflect on how you got there. Work backwards, what was the last step you took before getting to your success, what was the step before that etc all the way back to where you are now.
To illustrate, imagine you want to win Olympic 100m Gold. You can picture yourself standing on that podium with the medal around your neck and start that trip down memory lane. To get to that podium you needed to have qualified for the final. Before that you needed to actually qualify for an Olympic place, before that you needed to be one of the best in your country etc. All the way back to winning that first race that sparked your desire to become Olympic champion.
By doing this you can begin to build up a pathway from where you are now to where you want to be. You can begin to see those markers that you need to pass along the way.
Once you have done it once you can start to look into your chosen path further to see what targets or achievements you need to pass on the way.
So, returning to the Olympics, you could learn that to actually get into the final (at Rio 2016) you would need to run the distance in 10.01 seconds (men’s time) or 10.96 seconds (women’s time). To actually qualify for the Olympics you would need to be able to run 100m in 10.16s (men) 11.32s (women) and so on, I am sure you get the picture.
I have used the Olympic example because it is fairly straightforward way to illustrate the process but naturally many goals and ambitions are not quite so clear cut which makes this process even more useful.
The clearer your picture of the end result the easier it is to work toward that because you are creating the signposts and milestones you know you need to get to before you can achieve your goal.
If you are not sure of how to get where you want to be remember to seek out those role models who have been there before. How did they get to where they are now, then use their experience to work out your own plan.
The crucial thing is that once you have fixed all of this in your mind is that you actually make that first step. Remember the Positive Mindset, take positive action as well as using positive thinking.
Join that gym, start rewriting your C.V, sign up for that baking class or even start writing that mid-life self-help blog!
As you go along take time to go through the exercise regularly. Often it is difficult to see the finishing line, the final result as we move through life’s challenges on the way to our success but by taking time to live the goal backwards we always have that final success firmly in our sights.

In The Company of Random Strangers

Believe it or not random strangers have an impact on our lives, more particularly, on how we behave.
This is because we tend to be more self-conscious when we are around strangers, leading us to either be more guarded in what we say or do or even avoiding a situation all together.
This can be especially true when we hit mid-life. We can be a little more unsure of ourselves as changes in our lives happen and we attempt new things.
Have you ever been on a training course or started an evening class where nobody really knows each other? There is always that moment when the tutor fist asks the class a question and everyone looks around, afraid to answer in case they make a fool of themselves. Or, perhaps, you have put of doing something, like going to the gym, because you are worried about what other people may think of you.
We tend to be more like this the more distant our relationship from people. With family and close friends will be a lot more comfortable and freer in how we behave, with work colleagues or acquaintances we will be somewhat guarded and a little conscious of how we are behaving but with strangers we will be a lot more self-conscious.
The ironic thing is we tend to over-estimate the amount of attention other people are giving us meaning we need be less self-conscious when we are around strangers. It is something known as the spotlight effect.


What we humans tend to notice most is difference and we are most likely to spot difference in people we are closer to. If, for example, I, with my receding hairline, we to suddenly start wearing an elaborate toupee, those people I see regularly would certainly notice it (and comment on it!). However people I don’t know would not know what I looked like without it and therefore pay less attention. The may see a random stranger wearing a toupee and have a smirk to themselves but they would soon forget about it.
And, just as you are busy worrying about what other people think, so are they and therefore not really noticing things that others around them are doing.
If we go back to the classroom example, one brave soul answers the tutor but gives the wrong answer, they will probably be thinking “everyone else probably thinks I am stupid” whereas everyone else is more likely to be thinking “thank God that wasn’t me”!
If you are self-conscious about your body and reluctant to go to the gym, remember that most other people there are focussing on what they are doing and their own self-conscious thoughts not leaving time for studying anyone else (and if you have ever been to a gym you will know there is a certain percentage of people far too busy looking at themselves and hoping others will be looking at them too!)
So never be put off doing something or be overly self-conscious when you are in the company of strangers.
If you are putting of doing something because of this then recruit a friend to go with you if possible (there is safety in numbers!), if they can’t go with you simply speak to them about your fears, going into a new situation just knowing you have supportive friends and family waiting for you at home can alleviate some of the worries.
Always keep in mind that others are feeling, to some degree or another, the same as you. They are worried more about what you are thinking of them and by recognising that in others it is easier to build a rapport and make the situation a little easier for you all.
The company of random strangers immediately sets off our self-consciousness but armed with the knowledge that those random strangers are actually more focussed on their own self-consciousness, rather than critically assessing us, we can move forward with more confidence.

Dastardly Devils

Having learnt to emulate our heroes what do we do with our villains?
By the time we get to mid-life we have encountered endless numbers of people some who have drifted in and out quickly others who have taken a more permanent place in our lives.
And some of those people can be dastardly devils. The villains who seem to thwart our paths forward, the rogues who seem to be out to get us, the scoundrels who seem to demand money and time from us. Many self-help books will tell you that we should eliminate toxic people from our lives but the reality is we still have to go to work and we still have to socialise.
And the thing is, not all of those people are actually bad!
Obviously there are really nasty people out there in the world who are out to manipulate or step on others, those who seek to take whatever they can from the world not matter how much damage they inflict on others and those who knowingly abuse the trust of others.
However not everybody who we cast as villains in our world actually is. We tend to feel anyone who is different from us, who thinks differently from us or who does not conform to our world view is a bad person.
I am sure we all have had bad bosses in the past who we have cast as villains in our lives but were they really bad people or was it their circumstances and beliefs that made us dislike them? What was their motivation behind making demands of you that seemed, to you, pretty pointless? Perhaps the boss isn’t too bad but it is other work colleagues that you avoid if at all possible because spending even a little time with them seems to be an eternity.
We have all had those acquaintances, those friends of friends, who we try to avoid because we just don’t like them, maybe it’s their views and opinions, or perhaps just something we can’t quite put our fingers on that makes us slink away in the opposite direction when they appear.
How do we deal with these dastardly devils?

Firstly we need to take a look at ourselves and ask why don’t I like this person? Are they actually bad or is just that we don’t have the same view of the world. A bad boss may still be a bad boss, not though, because of the demands they make but because they fail to understand the importance of leadership when they are making those demands.
Then we need to see beyond a couple of those cognitive biases that plague our thinking. Not everything is about you! When someone is demanding or in a bad mood, it may not actually be directed toward you. It is more likely to be something else going on in their lives which is causing the way they behave. We also tend you view people because of the worst (or best) trait we see. So ask yourself is this person bad in all aspects of their behaviour or is just one behaviour that is distorting your view of them overall?

Try to step into their view of the world, but you can only really do this by talking to them first. Be polite and attentive, if it someone you work with enquire why it is they do things in a particular way or how the business benefits from what needs to be done. You will probably find that if you do this that your attitude toward them will change as will theirs toward you.
The real villains in life, however, will probably sneak up on you unawares. The real manipulators will, to start off with, be the most charming people around. They will be attentive and pleasant. Then they will start by asking you to do one little thing, then something else, then something a bit more significant. Eventually you will find yourselves tangled in the web they have spun around you. Breaking free becomes especially difficult, if that is, you have even realised that you have been trapped.
There are ways to stop yourself being trapped in the first place.
Always stay true to yourself and your beliefs. One of the tricks manipulators use is our desire to conform, so they ask for small favours, trapping people into a cycle of conformity before making bolder moves. Never be afraid to say no or at least question the reasoning behind what is being asked of you.
Seek out a second opinion. Talk to those you trust about anyone new in your life and listen to what they say and think, particularly if you have been asked to do anything that you are not sure about.
There are real villains out there and there are villains we have created in our minds. Defeating these dastardly devils, both types, helps us free negativity from our lives and create a better world for us.

The Footsteps of Giants

One of the issues with moving your life in a new direction is finding the right way for you.
For example, have you, or anyone you know tried to lose weight – and failed? Maybe you’ve tried the latest fad diet, which worked for someone you know but did not work at all for you.
It is all back to the issue of how individual we all are. We all have different motivations, beliefs and ideals that have an effect on how we do things in life.
One of the most popular ways in joining a diet club, such as Weight Watchers or Slimming World. The reason these work is because of social pressure, the thought of being weighed in the group every week provides an incentive for those who go. However, if you are the type of person that really does not care about what anyone else thinks or if you are an introvert for who the thought of mixing with relative strangers once a week is an horrendous one, then diet clubs are never going to work for you. You need to find another way.
Whatever it is you want to achieve, there is rarely one best way, it depends on the type of people we are.
Similarly we deal with the problems that life throws in our faces in different ways. Think of the times you have been frustrated by something within seconds of it happening and those times when you have patiently, without complaint worked through other things in order to overcome them, or perhaps a time when you have solved something for someone else who could just not seem to get to grips with the issue.
While we have these individual approaches to the  desires  and problems of life, there are those who are similar in their approaches and closer to how we think who have already achieved, or tried to achieve, whatever it is that you want for your life. By seeking these people out and learning from them it makes our lives easier.


In others words, look for your role models and the people who inspire you. If you want to become an entrepreneur, who do you aspire to be like? Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, James Dyson, all very different people who found different ways to make their money. Perhaps you aspire to be a successful author, like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King or Agatha Christie. Again people with different styles, backgrounds and methods.
You get the idea.
The trick then is to take time to study how your role model achieved what they did and then apply that, where you can, to your life. It will not suit every situation but it will help you having a broader perspective on things, a perspective that is more in line with how you think.
Role models need not be distant celebrities, they could be people much closer to home. Where this is the case use the opportunity to speak to them, and ask them how they do what it is you admire so much. They may not be able to tell you exactly (try explaining something you do automatically!) but you can learn how they learned, how they approach life and the problems they encountered and, importantly, who inspired them.
We are most likely to choose role models because we feel we can relate to them, this is because they appear to think and behave the way we do. There will always be some differences but that does not mean we should ignore their experiences and history. If we can learn something from their successes that we can usefully apply to our lives, then we can create our own success in whatever it is we want to do.
In this wonderful multi-media world seeking the footsteps of giants is so much easier and making the time to do that right now can really make it easier to move forward in life.

An example discovered after I put out the post originally – https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/01/health/13-virtues-wisdom-project/index.html – worth a read
  

The Challenges of Change (Part 2)

One of the biggest challenges to change is just life itself.
We have all had times when we set out to do something only to be thwarted by life events which take  time and effort  to deal with meaning we lose that  time and effort  to use as we originally planned.
Modern life is full of things that can take our minds and efforts away from the things we want to achieve but it would be a real mistake to think of this as a modern phenomenon, life has always been like this.
Go back a few thousand years to the tales of Ancient Greece where Hercules, on his journey to immortality had to first fight through madness and twelve labours, or Odysseus whose journey home from the Trojan War took 10 years all because he was in such a rush he forgot to make an offering to the Gods before he left (the Ancient Greek equivalent of forgetting your passport!).
Maybe come forward a thousand years or so to the Bible, where Jesus could not begin his preaching until he had wandered through the desert and faced Satan’s temptations.
It is easy to dismiss these as simple stories but think about the times you have had a problem that you think you have solved but always seems to come back at you twice as bad, like Hercules facing the Lernaean Hydra. Or the times you have been blown off course after being bewitched by a  seductive  distraction, like Odysseus and the nymph Calypso. And the times you have put off doing things because devilish temptations have appeared in front of you, like Jesus in the desert.
To put it in more modern terms
SH*T HAPPENS

And it has always happened. The real issue is how we deal with the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Shakespeare was in on it too!).
Some people appear to drift along in rudderless boats just being pushed and buffeted along by life’s events with no real ambition to get anywhere. There are those who will simply endlessly moan about their constant bad luck in life or those who develop extremely bitter anger and resentment at life as if all of those negative events are deliberately targeted at them. Then there are those who strive to find the best way to  deal with it  and move on.
It is the latter we should all strive to be if we want to grow and move on in our lives.
Obviously it is not always that easy, some life events really push us to the limits, mentally and physically. The tragedies and personal traumas that can occur in our lives can leave us, at times paralysed and unable to move on at first but, eventually we do, sometimes we need the help of others to lift us from the depths, other times we find the strength within ourselves to pull ourselves up and overcome these events.
Life gets in the way, life has always gotten in the way, as long as we accept that and the fact that life gets in everyone’s way in one way or another. As long as we accept that fate, the gods or the universe has not singled us out, no matter if it seems like that, we can begin to overcome the hurdles and move on with our ambitions and our lives.
More to come on how we can leap those hurdles of life…..

Conformity: Challenges, Choices and Meghan Markle’s Handbag

If you want a modern example of how hard-wired we are to conform just look at the “Meghan Markle Effect”. On an early official visit with Prince Harry the handbag she was carrying sold out within 11 minutes (link below). For some the need to be just like someone high profile is a powerful force. For others, obviously, this type of conformity is less important, some people go through life only conforming as they need to for others conformity appears to be much more important than their individuality.
As we hit mid-life our urge to conform hits a wall as we re-evaluate our place in the world. The thing is, nowadays, conformity has many challenges, conflicts and choices!
Once upon a time – a century or two ago – life was a lot simpler. Everyone knew their place within their community and social circle and change came slowly because news travelled relatively slowly (a gross over simplification but you get the idea!). Then came along mass production, mass media and change at what seems like lightening pace.
In this multi-media global world there are so many different ways to conform that it adds an extra layer of mental stress for many people.
We are now able to identity with and conform to an ever increasing range of ideas, people or organisations. Some people moan about the “cult of celebrity” that has grown but it is hardly surprising given the amount of television exposure and the availability of different role models nowadays.
While I have no personal urge to wear David Beckham’s pants (or whatever it is he is selling at the moment) I can understand how some people feel their identity fits in with that culture and buying celebrity endorsed clothing is their way of conforming to that identity.
Obviously there are dangers in conformity, some people’s need to conform is so strong that they end up in cults, gangs, or victims of unscrupulous people.
The real challenge in today’s world is to find the way that fits you and fits your individuality.
YOU being the most important element because there are many people out there who want you to conform to their way. We all know what it was like when we were younger, at school, when peer pressure impacts on lives but this continues throughout our lives just in a more subtle way. Obviously politicians, advertisers and companies pressure us to conform but there are also more personal pressures that we do not always realise.
You strive to be the ideal parent, spouse, child but your parent, spouse or child may have a different idea of what that ideal is and they will pressure you in to conforming to their ideals rather than your own. This, in turn, may make us feel guilty that we are not meeting the other persons expectations, that somehow we are wrong (perhaps stupid) in our own ideas or we can become resentful as we feel others are trying to change us.
Obviously we can all be guilty of doing that to others as well if our ideas are different from thiers.
Where we feel we are being pressured in to conforming to a role, or aspect of that role, that makes us uncomfortable we need to learn to be comfortable in expressing our concerns with others.
We need to learn how to be ourselves not try to be the person that everyone else wants us to be yet we also need to learn tolerance of how others choose to conform in their own way.
There is nothing wrong with following the crowd, it is what we are naturally wired to do, and the choice facing us in these times is which crowd (or crowds) suits our individuality the best. In mid-life it is also natural to question whether or not the life you conform to now is the one that still best suits you and whether or not it is time for change.
 If you want to buy Meghan Markle’s handbag feel free to do so.

All About You (Part 2)

Self: – Confidence/Belief/Esteem/Worth/Awareness

As we progress through life there seems to be ever increasing challenges to our self-confidence and our self-worth.
Our self-confidence can suffer when things do not go right for us, or at least, as we think they should. Perhaps you notice a few more niggles in your body after exercise and then they seem to take longer to heal than they used to. Perhaps you make a small mistake but it seems to dwell on your mind or perhaps you feel like your forgetting more things than normal. These and many other factors can easily start to erode our self-confidence and increase our self-doubt.
Self-worth is how we value ourselves in society and if life events make us feel less necessary to others our self-worth lowers. Children could be less dependent on us, we could feel less important in the workplace or maybe it is we feel we are unable to contribute to wider society because our self-confidence has been dented.
Then what happens is, as our self-confidence is dented or our self-worth falls, our self-esteem, how we see ourselves, also falls.
None of this happens logically, rationally or analytically, we’re humans not robots with self-diagnostic programmes running. We don’t say to ourselves,
“wow that event certainly impacted on my self-confidence”, or
“my self-worth is considerably lower after that tough day”
What happens is that we react emotionally.
We start to feel down, about ourselves and the world around us. Sometimes this is only a blip and we bounce back pretty quickly but other times things just get worse. What kicks in is something called confirmation bias. When we’re feeling down every little thing that goes wrong seems to be magnified yet things that go well seem insignificant, this makes us feel even worse and before you know it feeling down is heading rapidly to depression.
Once we are in that cycle it is pretty hard to break because, usually, we are totally wrapped up in the effect rather than tackling the original cause. Most forms of therapy and counselling are based on addressing this but there are ways we can help ourselves.
Firstly we can make that logical, rational, analytical part of our mind look at the way we are feeling. We can ask ourselves “What caused me to feel like this?” and, more specifically, “What was it about the cause that had this effect on me?”
Then we can engage that other wonderful human talent – imagination.
Take a little time to imagine looking at yourself from the outside. What would you say to someone else who was feeling down about themselves because of whatever cause you have identified? What words of advice and encouragement would give to that person? By detaching ourselves mentally we can begin to detach from the emotional effects of the cause. This may not fully stop us feeling down or depressed but it is a start and just by being aware of what is happening to us helps weaken the cycle that is dragging us down.
The second thing is to re-evaluate the whole idea of self-worth. It is something that happens unconsciously and based solely on the perceptions we develop through life. However, the reality is, as we get older our value to the world around us increases all the time.
Both our successes and failures add to our worth because both success and failure give us something far more valuable, EXPERIENCE.
Success gives us experience of how to do things, failure gives us experience of how not to do things. If anything failure gives us more value as we learn more, we will learn how to change things in order to overcome failure whereas we tend not to change or learn when something is successful. It is gaining experience in life that helps us grow as individuals, the more we grow the more value we have to the world around us.
Now I can almost guarantee that anyone reading this has had times when their advice or experience has been ignored or dismissed by others but that does not devalue you or your experience rather it is about the other person being on their own journey through life, gaining their own experiences and learnings (more on other people in the next post!).
In essence life throws seemingly endless things towards us which knocks our self-confidence, self-worth, self-belief and our self-esteem, which, in turn, can impact on our mental well-being

However, if we develop our own self-awareness in recognising these things we can help ourselves, and our mental well-being. And by learning and practising that self-awareness we can better recognise our value in the world.



All About You (Part 1)

When writing this post in my head I was struggling hard not to make it sound too much like a New Age piece, with elements of spirituality and meditation because these things do have a kernel of truth at their root and, when we reach a crossroads in life or are seeking ways to give new meaning to our lives, introspection is a necessity to ensure that the road we will take is the right one for us.
Why is this so introspection important?
Simplistically the better we can understand ourselves, our motivations, our beliefs and our values, the better we can build ourselves a life that truly fulfils us.
But before we can really start searching and understanding those things, we need to acknowledge one important fact that has hindered our lives so far.
We are very good at lying to ourselves!
There is a huge list of cognitive biases that impact on our thinking and our perception of ourselves and the world around us. Many of these biases will be dealt with in later posts but for now it is important to recognise that how we perceive ourselves is just that – a perception.
Do this simplistic exercise:
Write down a list of 10-20 things that you can’t do.
Now working down that list how many things fall into the following categories;
            I could but I don’t know how to
            I could but I don’t have the confidence to do so
            I could but I don’t really want to
            I could but it would be wrong for me to do so
            I could but I don’t have the time/money/resources
            I could but to do so would have a detrimental effect
How many genuine “I cant’s” do you have left? My guess is not many, obviously there are some, usually based around physical issues. So for the vast majority of things we say we can’t do what we really mean is;
I could but I have come up with a reason not to do so.
Some of those reasons are very legitimate, e.g. climbing Mount Everest when you have a condition like COPD is likely to be detrimental to your health as you struggle to breathe at altitude. However other reasons are just an excuse not to step out of our comfort zones.
One of the keys to personal growth is learning to take time to challenge the beliefs we hold, especially if they are hindering us in what we want to achieve.
We are all very good at making generalisations and, because of that, we tend to lump things together in a way that hinders our thinking.
For example, someone might say they are not very good at communicating with people but if you dig further you find that is not quite true. If you ask, do you mean all people or people in a certain context? They may answer, all people but it is worse at work. Probe further, all people at work or specific people, again the may narrow down the field. Throw in another question, so you have never communicated effectively with anyone at any time? And you start to break down that belief which is just a generalisation developed from a specific instance.
It is harder to do that to yourself but it is something worth trying to do because as you break down barriers in your own thinking you can move forward in your life with much broader horizons.
Remember your life is all about you.