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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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

Let’s Get Negative

Now I know self-help advice is supposed to focus on the positive, positive thinking and positive outcomes but, sometimes, we need to tackle the negative things in our life.

After all, life is about balance.

Call it what you will – Yin & Yang, light and dark, dualism or any of the many other term used in various philosophical and religious systems around the world. The fact is where we have positives we need to have negatives!

If you think about it if you want change if your life it is change from something, you want to turn a negative into a positive. If you remember back a few blogs, the one about motivation, we talked about “away from” motivation, which, often, is a negative we want to get away from.

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The important thing though is understanding those negatives properly. If we want to improve our lives and make truly positive change we need to know what it is we actually want to change.

We humans are particularly good at exaggerating or over stating things, to ourselves as much as to anyone else. We make sweeping generalised statements about ourselves that cannot possibly be true yet we choose to believe them.

Statements like “nobody likes me” “I’m stupid” or “my life is boring”.

To know how to move forward in life we need to recognise when we a making these generalised statements and then begin to break them down so that we can arrive nearer to the truth of how we are feeling and then we can more readily see the path we need to take to make our lives better.

Take, for example, the statement “nobody likes me” – how true would that really be? Nobody, at all, likes you? That would be a very rare thing indeed, wouldn’t it? It may be more likely you feel some people don’t like you, or perhaps, you are shy around people so you don’t interact with others which, in turn, makes them avoid you in the future.

Think about “my life is boring”. Would that be true? It would be unlikely that your life was boring every minute of every day, wouldn’t it. It may be more likely that certain aspects of your life bore you but at other times life is more enjoyable. It is just that we often ignore positives in favour of the negatives.

If we just use our generalised negatives to plan our changed future we could start ourselves of a false path, a path that takes us away from a false generalisation rather than the specific issue we really need to address. I am sure you can think of times where other people, businesses or governments have made knee jerk reactions to something negative without fully working out what went wrong only to find they have made matters worse by what they have done.

So, for example, who is it you feel doesn’t like you and why does that matter? What is it you can do to address that? Or, what particular thing are you having trouble with that makes you feel stupid? How can you tackle that particular thing in order to improve yourself with that task? What specific area of your life is boring? Is it something you can remove from your life or do you need to make other areas of your life more interesting?

To improve our lives, to make change for the better, we must introduce a positive mindset into our everyday lives yet that can only start by understanding the negatives, the reason behind the change we are setting out to achieve.

Use the negatives in your life to propel you forward, understand them and let them motivate you toward the positives.

Be A Hero

Be a Hero.
I don’t mean go out and perform dangerous and daring deeds, rather become a hero in the true sense of the word:
A person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities” (Oxford Dictionaries)
Become someone who others look up to, admire, and want to emulate.
If you think back to the post “The Footsteps of Giants” I encouraged you to go out and seek inspiration from those you most admired because when we find someone who inspires us it helps to motivate us, helps us to overcome obstacles in our lives and gives us someone to relate to when we hit times of struggle.

When you develop a goal in your own life and work on pursuing it think about how you can, in your own way become a hero to others. You could be a hero to your children or grandchildren, a hero to your work colleagues or a hero to your friends.
There are endless debates about how we as humans learn best yet the one aspect often overlooked is the fact that we learn most from the behaviours of others. If you watch a toddler nowadays you will often see them putting their hand to their ear pretending to be on a phone, nobody actually teaches them to do that, they copy behaviour.
Think back to how you learned to do many things, did someone teach you to turn a door handle or was it something you just picked up? Or are there times now when you suddenly find yourself doing something a parent did, again this was something you picked up rather than being taught.
On a grown up level you will often find bosses at work who tell you to act in a certain way but act themselves in a different way, if you look closely you find that their team will actually copy the boss’s behaviour rather that act as they are told to.
If, as you follow your dream, also think about how that path can influence and inspire others you add an extra level of motivation to yourself.
There will always be difficulties and challenges in life and following our goals will, at times, be hard as life and others things intervene, slowing us down or temporarily diverting us. Yet if we can meet and overcome these challenges with determination and success we can also inspire those around us to meet their challenges in the same way.
Think about your heroes and what it is about them and their life that has inspired you. What particular qualities do they have that really resonate with you, it may be their dogged determination, or their calmness in the face of adversity or perhaps their enduring pursuit of wisdom. Whatever it is once you have isolated it apply that to your own life and use what inspired you to underpin your behaviour so, in turn, you can pass inspiration on to those around you.
By thinking about how what we do influences those around us helps us think about how we behave and how we follow our dreams. It helps us focus on that path rather than simply giving up because we can’t be bothered, after all, is that the message we want to send to those around us? We motivate ourselves when we think about how we motivate others, we are more able to stick to our path when we know that others will be influenced more by our behaviour and actions than by meaningless advice. Because advice and words are only meaningful if backed up by experience.

The other advantage of knowing how our behaviour can positively influence others is that it helps build our own self-confidence and self-esteem. Imagine how good it will feel seeing others you care about following in your footsteps as you inspire them in achieving their goals.
Be a Hero today. Move on through your life knowing that what you do is seen by those around you and by bettering your own life you know your behaviour and determination with inspire others to better their own.

Flex Those Motivational Muscles

What is your motivation for change?
We may dream of changing our lives but unless we have the motivation to make that change it will remain just a dream. To help us find that boost which gets us to our goal it is useful to understand what actually motivates us.
On a basic level there are two motivators, “away from” and “toward”, sometimes known as pain and pleasure or the carrot and the stick etc.


The “away from” motivation comes from our desire to leave or get rid of something. For example, we might want to lose weight to escape a negative body image, join the gym to escape health problems or join a group to escape loneliness. It is not just goal is our life that the “away from” motivator works, it is there at a basic level. We eat to get rid of hunger and we run away when we sense danger. The “away from” motivator is a part of our fight or flight response.
On the flip side the “toward” motivator takes us toward pleasure and success, again it works at a base level, those times we eat, not because we are hungry but because we are seeking the pleasure of eating something that ignites our pleasure hormones. The “toward” motivator is about adding something to our lives, making ourselves feel better, losing weight because you have an event where you want to impress, joining the gym for the buzz the feel of exercise gives you, joining a group because you want to expand you existing network etc.
Both forms of motivation are equally legitimate yet both can sometimes lack something in getting the change we want.
When the motivation to achieve something is “away from” we can have that initial push to get us going but once we a sufficiently far away from what it was we wanted to escape our momentum can falter. Think of it like using your feet to push you off in a swimming pool, the push itself will only get you so far, without any other action you will just be stuck mid-water.
With “toward” motivation we may gain momentum as we close in on our goal but it is getting started in the first place that may be the issue. Imagine you want to drive somewhere where you can really enjoy yourself, you won’t get there though until you turn the key in the ignition and spark the engine into life.
The real key is to use both methods in order to succeed, push and pull to get you where you ultimately want to be.
Start by thinking about what it is you want to change in your life and why you want to achieve that change. Is your primary motivation “away from” or “toward”?
Be honest with yourself. We can sometimes fail to recognise our true motives, hiding them behind things we prefer to believe.
Once you have figured out what it is that is motivating you move to the other end of the goal and find some motivating factor there too.
So if your initial motivation is “away from” think about what achieving you goal will gain you, what is waiting for you when you get to the finish line, what will success bring you. Say you want to join a group, evening class or such because you feel an element of loneliness in your life, you know your “away from” but what is your “toward”. Imagine the possibilities developing that new skill or knowledge will bring, the focus on the one possibility that really ignites your imagination.
If, on the other hand, your primary motivation is a “toward” one, what is it that is going to ignite that engine and get you moving. Perhaps, you want to be a great dancer, writer or something similar but what will that move you away from? If you are looking to achieve success it does, to a certain degree, mean you are feeling unsuccessful now so use that as you push forward.
Some things automatically lend themselves to having a push and a pull but others we need to dig deep to find the other end of the line that we will be travelling. By finding our “away from” and “toward” motivation we double our chances in succeeding in achieving change and success.
So flex those motivational muscles and head confidently toward your success.

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.

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.
  

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.