Queen Elizabeth II has just celebrated seventy years on the throne and the United Kingdom has enjoyed an extended Bank Holiday weekend. For many, this was an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the longevity of the current monarch, for some this was simply a longer weekend, and for some this was a weekend much as any other with work and other commitments filling the time. And, of course, some went out of their way not to celebrate for a multitude of reasons.
Two thoughts come to me. The first is that a weekend like the one which we have just had gives many of us purpose. A point in time to organise an event, wear one’s finery, meet with friends and neighbours, eat and drink well. Purpose which is so important because we, on the whole, function better when we have purpose. And purpose can be about the big stuff; our calling in life, the grand tour, the mountain to conquer, the marathon to complete. It can equally and just as importantly be about the small stuff; the plans for Friday night, the next holiday, meeting a friend for coffee, walking the dog. Purpose which makes our world go around, and purpose which was so detrimentally lost during lockdown.
The second thought is the importance of direction and reflection. As we celebrate or otherwise the most recent jubilee there has been lots of reflection about the monarch’s life and what she has done. I find myself wondering what her reflections are about the last seventy years, what she has done well, what she could have done better, and what her legacy will be. Maybe we should do the same. Step back and reflect. Ask yourself if your life is going in the direction that you want. Consider your legacy and how you want to be remembered. It is never too late to change. It is never too late to be differently. It is never too late until there is no time left. And you know this already, don’t you?
Depending on which research you look at, it's about now that most people have broken their New Year resolutions. All those plans, all those good intentions, fallen by the wayside, and we're only in the second week of January. The reasons for this are, of course, many. For some, the resolutions will have been light-hearted suggestions with no real desire or intention to make them reality. For others, the resolutions may have been linked to something that they wanted to change but little if any thought went into considering the reality of change and what it would actually mean.
That said, there will be a good number of people out there who really do want to make changes, who really did set their New Year resolutions with the absolute certainty that they could make it happen, who really do want to be differently. And the frustration, the disappointment at not having succeeded, indeed having not even made a start is real and disheartening.
And if it is you, wanting to make change, making what you believe are the best of plans, there are a number of common mistakes which people make; setting goals which are too vague, focusing on feelings rather than actions, and attempting to do too much, too quickly. It really is a case of being specific, focussing on actions that trigger the positive emotions, and aiming for small goals which one step at a time take you where you want to be. It's as simple as that. And you know that already, don't you?
Back in July 2020 I wrote about llamas, and the scientific work around llamas and a cure for the flu. You can read the article here. Much to my surprise llamas were back in the news more recently with a discovery that llamas could provide a cure for covid. And again, I was left wondering, why look there?
It really proves the point that answers, if we really are looking for them, can be found in the most unexpected of places. And it helps if we are open to the possibility of answers coming from anywhere, no matter how strange or unusual the source may be. Because, of course, the reality is that we can learn from every experience, from every moment of every day. Lessons can come from within and without. Ideas and inspiration can be formed in our deepest unconscious, shaped, and formed by what we’ve consciously and unconsciously experienced, analysed, coded, and retained, one day rising to the surface and entering our consciousness, providing us with a way forward.
The more open we are to possibilities, solutions and answers, to new ideas and new ways of thinking, new ways of doing, new ways of being, the greater our choices. It is, without a doubt, the law of requisite variety; those with the greatest number of options with the greatest flexibility have the greatest chance of success. It can only be more, can’t it?
It’s that time of year when many are driven by excitement; the excitement of Christmas, the festivities, and the prospect of a new year. It’s a time when many are planning get-togethers with friends and family, perhaps more so this year given the restrictions in place in 2020. It’s also a time which some find challenging, difficult, almost unwelcome.
And it always reminds me of how infectious excitement, much like laughter, joy, and happiness, can be. It’s also true that when we are driven by excitement we can achieve so much more. Excitement leads us to take another step, and then another, and then one more. Excitement allows us to overcome the challenges, resolve the problems, and learn from the setbacks. Excitement gives us energy.
Remember, then, as you make plans, set yourself goals, and pose challenges, that you need to do so with excitement. If there’s no excitement, it’s almost certain that you’re aiming in the wrong direction, looking for the wrong thing, focussing in the wrong way. Because, when you’re driven by excitement, even if in the end it all turns out differently from what you thought you were heading for, it’s still worth the trip. Which you already know, don’t you?
Much is written about grief, it is an emotion which most, if not all, of us experience at some stage in our lives, and it is our response to loss, whatever that loss may be. There also appears to be general agreement that there are five stages to loss and the process of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. A seemingly linear process against which we can measure our progress in any given moment.
Life, though, is never that simple. We don’t have to experience all five stages, we might believe that we have reached acceptance and then something comes along which temporarily sets us back, and the stages can, of course, happen in any order. I would also question whether acceptance is the end goal; do we really have to accept the loss to be able to move on from the grief, or is it more about finding a way to live with the loss?
There is one aspect about which I think we can be certain. Staying stuck, stuck in the loss, stuck in the emotion, is never helpful. We are designed to move forward, to seek more, and being stuck is in direct conflict with the pursuit of more, of better, of differently. So, accept and understand the emotions. Experience the emotions as part of a process. Follow the process to the point where you are more, you are better, you are differently. You know that you can do it, don’t you?
Student life can be an amazing experience; a first time away from home, new opportunities, greater freedom, relatively little pressure and responsibility. And if all goes well, at the end of it, you have a degree, life-long friendships, and a step into the career of your choice. Who wouldn’t want to be a student?
And yet, there is increasing evidence that among students there is a high level of mental health issues; from anxiety to depression, to sleep and eating disorders. Away from home. Away from the comfortable and familiar. Away from the networks built up over nearly two decades. Life can be tough. Really tough. And if you add to this the fact that students are now leaving university with an average of £50,000 in debts, and a lack of certainty over career options and choices, it is no wonder that some are sinking under the weight.
Add into this the experiences of Covid-19. How this has affected those already at university and those preparing to attend. It’s been very different times for so many.
The answer is complex. How many students are at university because this is what they want, and how many are there because this is what is expected of them? If you’re not yet there, ask yourself if this is what you really want. Take your time. It is a momentous decision which will affect over 50 years of your life. There is, therefore, no hurry, despite what some would have you believe. And if you’re already there, seek help. Talk to people. Get support. Learn how to overcome the challenges. Take it one step at a time.
And, irrespective of where you are, build your resilience. Learn to be strong. Develop the techniques. Use the strategies. Change your processes. Because resilient people are happier, and happy people are more resilient. It all makes sense, doesn’t it?
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. At least, that’s how the saying goes. And I guess that there’s nothing really wrong with trying again. There is, though, everything wrong with trying again, so let me explain.
There will be times when we do something that we’ve not done before. It may work out fine the very first time that we do it, and that’s great. If, however, we get a different result to the one we wanted, what do we do? If we try again, we may simply repeat the same erroneous steps, and end up with the same result. We may give up, consoling ourselves with the notion that “at least we tried”, and giving ourselves a false sense of achievement. We are at least better than those who did nothing, yet we are still so far from those who actually did it.
Instead, think about it another way. Decide to do it or decide not to do it. Be bold and resolute either way. If you decide to do it, commit to doing it. Leave the trying for others, and be the one that does it. If it works out, celebrate what you’ve done. You decided to do it and you did it. If you get a different outcome, don’t try again. Stop. Work out what worked and do more of that. Work out what could have been better and do it better. And then do it. And when you’ve done it, celebrate what you’ve done.
Of course, you may reach a point where you just cannot get to where you want to be. In which case, celebrate your progress. Celebrate all that you have done. Celebrate all that you have learned. Celebrate that you’ve moved forward. Remember, there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. Then decide what you want to do next. And do it! You can do that, can’t you?
The vast majority of us have no choice but to go to work. After all, living is not free and we all have bills to pay. If you’re fortunate enough to love the job you have, the chances are your days will mostly end on a positive note. However, whether you are in your dream job or not, the article by Abby Wolfe “4 Simple Ways to End Each Workday Happy” provides four great ways to ensure that your workdays do end well.
All four suggestions are great, and the first really stood out for me. We frequently forgot to praise what went well and all too easily slip into the criticism of what didn’t go as planned, allowing this to overwhelm us. Taking a few moments to review all of our accomplishments, however small, is a real boost.
Read the article. See what works for you. Try them out for 30 days and see what a difference they make. If they make your great job even better, that’s brilliant. If you realise that despite everything you do to find the successes, it’s still not the job for you, then it’s time to make some changes. Work out what you want, set some goals and go for it. You can do that on your own or with help, can’t you?
We are, as I write this, progressively moving out of the restrictions which have been in place as a result of Covid-19 and back into some form of normality, whatever that means for each of us. For some it is a time of excitement whereas for others a time of apprehension, and it is important to recognise what we are feeling. It is becoming a time of reflection, looking back on what life has been like for each of us during the last year or so.
Looking back will not, though, change anything. Instead, now is a time to take stock, to establish where we are, what’s working and what’s not working for each of us. And it is a time to consider next steps. Are we simply going to revert to life as it was before, pre-Covid, or do we want something more, something better, something differently?
Once you’ve decided what you want, you need a plan to make it happen, a plan for today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and so on. Plans that take you forward one step at a time to where you want to be. And you can imagine how good it feels as you are exactly where you want to be, can’t you?
It is Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme this year is nature. As we become increasingly aware of the importance of mental well-being, so frequently neglected in the past, it is crucial to see mental wellness as essential as physical wellness. It is equally crucial to recognise the symbiotic and circular relationship between the two; good mental wellness helps improve physical wellness, and good physical wellness improves mental wellness.
The theme this year is nature. And there is so much evidence of how reconnecting with nature improves our mental well-being; from enjoying and embracing time in parks and woodland, gardens and allotments, from houseplants to the wildness of open spaces, it all helps. It all makes a positive difference.
As with so much in life, making changes and embracing nature can be done in one swift move. It can take time, one step after another. The key is to start with the end in mind; an end which includes the joy of the natural world as part of our daily, weekly, monthly and yearly routine, time to renew and refresh. And you know that you can do it, don’t you?