There seems to be a lot of talk at the moment about “social prescribing”. Instead of, or perhaps as well as, prescribing medication and medical interventions, doctors will start to prescribe social activities, from visiting galleries to playing the drums. And, from my perspective, this could not happen sooner.
There is an abundance of research and evidence about the benefits of doing something which has no purpose other than allowing us simply to be. Something into which we can submerge ourselves, losing track of time, and something outside of or other than the material and the physical. Something which Émile Durkheim referred to as “sacred time”, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explores as “flow”; being so engrossed in an activity that one loses a sense of time, and the reward is the activity itself.
Assuming that prevention is better than cure, what could you be doing to improve your well-being? How will you have sacred time, and find flow? Whatever you find which takes you away from the material and the physical, make sure it becomes a part of your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly life, one step at a time. And you know that it makes sense, don’t you?
In November 2018, the Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index was published and, with 10 years of data, was able to show the relative state of 42 cities across the United Kingdom. And in 2018, Preston was the city with the biggest improvement.
A more detailed look at Preston shows a number of factors played a part. Preston was struggling badly after the economic crash of 2007 and with no plans, something had to change. There was real leadership, plans were drawn up, decisions were made, and action happened. There was external support, motivating and encouraging the local leaders. And finally, in addition to support, the local authority invested in external support, bringing in new knowledge and evidence-based practice. The results now speak for themselves, and it’s always rewarding when any hard work is externally and independently acknowledged.
This is an excellent example of the Satir Change Model in action. It is also an excellent example of personal change. There is first the recognition that the current model of the world is no longer viable or wanted. Secondly, for there to be change, we have to make plans and implement them. Without action, nothing changes. Getting external support is always good; it provides motivation and is a useful check on progress. And finally, being resourceful is about knowing where to get help and support, and modelling excellence is always a good way forward. The motto, then, is simple. Be like Preston. Because you know you can change, don’t you?
I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t get a little bit anxious from time to time, and I guess that most of us would see as normal the varying degrees of anxiety that we experience as we go through life. Much like eustress, that positive stress which motivates us, anxiety can force us to do better, overcoming that fear of the unknown. Anxiety can also become so overwhelming that it becomes an impossibility, a paralysing fear which stops all action. Some recent research from Liverpool John Moores University would suggest that in some cases the fear of the unknown, that anxiety, can lead to significant mental health issues.
Where do you find yourself on the anxiety scale? A laid-back 1 or 2? Occasionally a 5 or 6, yet still functioning and able to push past the fear? Or do you hit an 8, 9 or 10, changing plans and not doing things because the fear is just to great? And are there patterns? Many people find that most of the time they’re in control and can manage the anxiety, and it only gets out of control in certain situations. Some are anxious about everything. Who, then, are you?
Anxiety is, though, a decision. Just as you can decide to be anxious, you can decide to be calm and unconcerned. It may be a real, anxiety-raising challenge to make that decision. And just imagine, right now that you are calm, you are in control and you are unconcerned. Think about all the things you are doing by being calm, in control and unconcerned. Imagine the richness of life. Create the opportunities and choices you now have. It will be life-changing, won’t it?
Age is a strange thing. As children the quarters and halves really matter, as teenagers we sometimes pretend to be older than we are, and then we reach that age when suddenly we wish we were younger. And there is also that time when are chronological age does not seem to match the age we feel; 40, we are told, is the new 20, and old age seems to start later and later.
Age, though, is just a number, and what we do is surely more important that how old we are. There is growing research which suggests that maintaining a positive attitude and continuing to take on new challenges, big or small, has a beneficial effect on our physical and mental well-being, keeping us “younger” and staving off some of the decline that can come as we get older.
What are you doing differently? Are you stuck in a rut of the same thing day in and day out? Or are you continuing to explore and undertake new challenges? Is your inner child still coming out to play? Whatever you do, make the changes, focus on the positive, and be younger. You know it makes sense, don’t you?
I recently found myself reading a number of articles about how to improve on a budget the look of your home, from painting a feature wall to dying your bedding. It all seemed so easy, and it struck me that life can be a bit like that. We can make some superficial changes which give a sense of renewal; a different haircut or colour, a change of car, a new pair of shoes. The novelty wears off, and we start the process all over again. And why not? Isn’t life, after all, all about new experiences and doing new things?
I do, though, find myself wondering if addressing and changing the superficial is what we do because it is easy, and it allows us to be distracted from the profound, which of course can be much harder to change. A new pair of shoes is so much easier to navigate than a new career, a new life, a new model of the world. Which people do all of the time, realising that once you take the first step, it suddenly seems so very possible.
What are you changing in your life? What’s the reason for making that change? And the reason behind that? And the reason behind that? Are you making those changes because that it is what you want to do, or are you masking the profound issues which you are not yet ready to change? When you are ready, with or without support, you know that you can change what really matters, don’t you?
I wonder how often our days are defined by what went wrong – the missed bus, the gridlocked traffic, the boring meeting – rather than everything that went right. And the reality is that for most of us, most things go well for most of the time. It's about celebrating the small victories each day - a good night's sleep, getting everyone out of the house on time in the morning, the traffic being quieter, shopping and finding the perfect top, no queue at the petrol station, the well-timed cup of tea... the list goes on. Victory after victory, success after success.
There is a surprising amount of research which explores and establishes the importance of being grateful and expressing gratitude. This is not so much about spending your entire day saying thank you to everyone, although saying thank you when it's appropriate to do so never goes amiss, and more about acknowledging what goes well every day. And so much does go well. Maybe nothing which will change the course of human history, yet the small successes which mean that life, in general, generally goes well.
Stop for a moment. Think about everything you did yesterday. All the tiny steps that took you from the start of the day to the end. How much actually went right? Mentally tick them off, and celebrate each and every one of them. Briefly think about what turned out differently… how much did it actually matter, and how much did you turn into a victory? Because you know that it really makes a difference, don’t you?
I read a lot. In fact, I read loads. Books, articles, blogs, news sites… the list goes on. And I have been struck recently by how much is written about the future, from the macro to the micro, from global warming to improving well-being. It’s good to be ready, and it’s great to have a plan. Otherwise, life becomes a meandering sameness, interspersed by moments of chaos and action. Which, I guess for some, is not that bad.
The question then is, what are we actually preparing for? We know that life is not a dress rehearsal, we all only get one shot at this thing called life, and, in the context of human evolution, our lives are objectively very short. So, surely, we should make the most of every moment of every day.
It is surprising, then, that we find so many ways to stop ourselves from living and being as we truly want to live and be. We develop limiting beliefs, make limiting decisions and, at times, surround ourselves with limiting people. Just stop for a moment and ask yourself for the reason you are not who you really want to be – are you limiting yourself or are you letting others limit you? And you know that you can change that at any time, don’t you?