Sunday, 31 July 2011

It's the little things that make a big difference.

It’s late, I’m tired, and I’m writing this from a laptop in my little Travelodge room at the side of the A1, just outside Grantham. But it couldn’t wait…

Today has been the best day of 2011 (so far), though it didn’t start out that way - far from it. I actually woke up feeling quite low; a (metaphorical) hangover from the night before. I headed off on this work-trip feeling a little uneasy in myself, relying on Mindfulness/CBT to keep it together.

But then I arrived at my destination and managed to sneak in to the back of a seminar one of my favourite authors was taking part in. Jo Swinney has become a friend of mine, but I am still a little bit of a fan-boy towards her. I love her work and, after the seminar, it was an immense privilege to spend ten minutes talking with this truly delightful young lady.

That would have been more than enough to make my day, but there was more to come…

I raced off to my hotel room to catch the Formula One Grand Prix, which was won by my man - Jenson Button! Trivial, yes, but it raised my spirits even further.

Especially since, during the race, I’d checked my messages to discover a friend of a friend had written a blog-post about something I’d said! Highly flattered, I was, and as a result I now have a new lovely friend too, it seems!  

And, as if all that wasn’t enough, just this evening I had the further privilege of striking up another potential-friendship with a fellow exhibitor (and an extremely talented artist!). My thesaurus tells me ‘enchanting’ is a synonym for ‘delightful’, so I’m gonna go with it to avoid repeating the superlative… It seems an appropriate way of describing today’s events!

All these are small things; I didn’t win the lottery, or get married, or go on an exotic holiday. Those things, great as I’m sure they are, are not necessary. I believe, if we watch for the flashes of sunshine, those moments of delight - often unexpected, especially on a ‘blue’ day like mine started out as, life can be transformed.

Today has become the Day of the Year – one of the happiest I can remember in a long, long time. So, look out for the little things, however you're feeling right now. You never know what the next moment might bring.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Stepping out of your comfort-zone is the only way to grow.


Doing things that don’t come naturally, or that we don’t think we can do very well, is always going to be a bit scary, but it’s the only way of broadening our horizons and developing new talents.

The other day I played some tunes at a local jam night, and didn’t feel like it went very well. My ‘comfort-zone’ musically these days is playing at acoustic nights, on my own, after lots of practice. After the jam night, I thought I might stick to that, and not perform in the more difficult (to me) scenario anymore.

But then I remembered that playing at acoustic nights used to be out of my comfort zone as well. It was only by doing it, over and over – and messing it up a few times too – that I got better at it.

We can cling to our comfort zones because they’re safe. We know them, we understand them; they’re not going to hurt us too much and they’re not going to bring us any unexpected traumas.

It could be anything: staying single to avoid getting hurt, or staying in a relationship we don’t really want through fear of being lonely; living in our home town, rather than taking a job somewhere else; going on a beach holiday, instead of the snow-boarding we’d really like to do but are afraid might break our bones. Or even small things, like staying in with a DVD and a take-out instead of going out and meeting people.

The safe option might not bring unexpected trauma, but it won’t bring unexpected joy either. We won’t learn anything new; we won’t discover new things – both beautiful and difficult – that we hadn’t experienced before. We won’t be really living.

So, what scares you? What do you wish you could do, but don’t think you can? Go and try it. Even if you fail, so what? Try it again. The only people who might make fun of you are those too scared to try it themselves…

Friday, 22 July 2011

What makes you angry? Act on it!

My friend, Rachel Harding, posted this on her blog the other day. My comments continue at the bottom...

It caught my eye, mainly because it’s pretty much awesome in its entirety, but I especially liked the line: ‘Pay particular attention to what makes you angry’.

This is something I’ve thought about before, and it’s to do with passion: if something makes you angry, it’s likely you’re passionate about it. And that’s why it’s important to pay attention.

Throughout history, great things have been achieved because someone was passionate about them. Slavery was made illegal; women were given equal rights (ok, more equal); we’ve begun to see fairly-traded products in our supermarkets. These things happened because someone saw something, some injustice, and felt strongly that it was wrong – I don’t doubt it made them angry.

Destructive anger is no good – these people could have gone on an anarchic rampage, destroying lives and invoking fear, I guess like the terrorists of today. But, instead, they used their anger as a motivation to do something constructive, to put right the injustices they saw.

So…what makes you angry? What do you see and think, ‘Things shouldn’t be this way’? Everyone is different, and we all have different passions. Follow yours; you never know what you might achieve.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The stuff life is made of.

Life is everywhere.

As I’ve worked on this blog, I’ve sometimes thought it felt like a ‘productivity’ blog. How to do more things, better. I’ve mentioned the Radiohead song, Fitter Happier, and I’ve been conscious of not wanting to sound like that!

In my last post I talked about how there is more to life than simply making enough money to pay the bills. I’ve said a few times to friends recently that life is about experiences – even bad ones. A dead person can’t even have those.

That thought really helped me whilst going through the, pretty stressful, application and interview process for my job last week. I actually found myself sat in the room waiting, feeling pretty nervous and unsure, but thinking I was privileged to be going through it.

‘So, this is what it feels like to be at an interview; this is what it feels like to be facing redundancy; this is what it’s like to have to wait for the outcome.’

Of course, I’d rather not have to do it again. But I have done it; I can sit here and tell people I’ve been through that. I now understand; I can now empathise. And I can add it to that metaphorical list of experiences.

In some ways, I’m even glad to have had such an experience. For these are the things that life is made of.

I think there is great joy to be found in being content with what we have, to enjoy the lives we lead for what they are, whatever they are. Because we won’t pass this way again.

"I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow human being let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."
Stephen Grellet, 1773-1855 (French-born Quaker Minister)

Monday, 18 July 2011

Thoughts on redundancy and following your dreams

© Edward Monkton
In the last couple of days, I've learned that I will soon be joining the ranks of those who have been made redundant in recent times. But I'm feeling pretty positive about it, and here’s why…

Last week, I read a blog-post by a guy whose stuff I really love reading. Don Miller talks a lot about telling good stories with our lives, and on this occasion he wrote that, most of the time, the best stories come out of facing our fears. Of course, sometimes it ends in tragedy, and we have to accept that might happen, but the potential gains can be far greater. You can read his post here.

If you or I want to achieve our ambitions, live our dreams, then sitting at a 9-5 desk job, pushing paper or moving numbers around a spreadsheet probably isn’t going to get us far towards it. In fact, it’s likely to have the opposite effect: stifling our creativity as we get more bored and more frustrated with every passing year, becoming regretful and bitter about wasting our lives.

That’s certainly how I would feel anyway. That desk (or checkout, or assembly line, or bus driver’s seat) might be safe, it might offer a certain financial security, but is that what life is all about? Is there nothing more to do than simply make enough money to pay the bills and perhaps enjoy some sort of leisure time, if there’s time, out of hours?

I’m not na├»ve enough to think those bills don’t need paying and I, more than most, understand that very few people can afford to jump out of the ‘plane’ of employed stability. But there are foolish gambles, and then there are acceptable risks.

I’d say that few things in this life are more important than being the person we feel we're supposed to be. Whether you believe in a Creator who designed you for a purpose, or whether you just want to make the most of the brief time you have on this planet, what’s stopping you from chasing after your dreams? Why not make a start on removing whatever those barriers are – today?

Sure, it might take time, especially if money is the main reason you haven’t done it. But if you make a start now, that time will no longer be wasted, however long it takes. We’re fortunate in this country to have luxuries much of the world can only dream of, and I’m particularly mindful of this with the current drought situation in Africa. So let’s not take these luxuries for granted; let’s make the best use of them we can. Perhaps your ‘dream’ might even be to help others less fortunate?

For me, losing the comfort-blanket of secure employment has made me re-focus on going after what I really want to do. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s also exciting. And I can’t wait for the next chapter.

How about you?

‘Even though it’s a long, long way from Hollywood
At least it’s a start, it’s a start.
You can end up places you never thought you could
If you make a start, so just make a start.’ 
‘A Girl Who Loves Her Smoke And Wine’ © 2010

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Work, rest and play?

I’m pretty good at working – not just in my day job, which I do alright at, but at home as well: you might notice I’m always ‘working’ on things like this blog, or my stories and songs.

I’m also pretty good at playing too – I go out with my friends, have fun, watch a movie or engage in some other past-time.

I’m less good at resting; I really struggle to just…stop. When I do, I feel like I’m wasting time: I feel guilty for not doing the other, more productive, things on my list. Consequently, I often have days when I get up, go and do a day’s work, then come home and immediately crack on with some writing, uni work, music or website creation. It can be 10/11 o clock at night before I finally down tools and go to bed.

If you discount meal breaks, that’s easily 12 hours of ‘work’ a day.

Even if I go out of an evening, I’m not really ‘resting’ – it can be a lot of effort to get ready, be sociable (especially on days when I’m not on top form), and if I’m performing at an open mic, then that’s a different sort of ‘work’ as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all these things, very much so. Many of them I class as ‘leisure time’ and I’m very grateful to have the time, ability and privilege to pursue so many different interests. But I do get tired and burn-out for a time every now and then.

Does anyone else struggle with this? How do you deal with the ‘guilt’ of un-productivity? I’m thinking if I organise myself better, manage my time and build in ‘rest’ to my schedule, then I might feel less guilty.

But, again, I’m reminded of songs warning against treating everything like a business-plan. A good friend of mine, John Froud, once sang: ‘I see a world wounded, or should I be blind? Downsize my ambition, better manage my time?’ (John Froud, ‘Finished’. © 2000)

I might not be looking to ‘heal’ the world with much of my work, but it resonates even so…


Sunday, 10 July 2011

Staying single

I wrote a post a while ago about some of the positives of being single. This one takes it a stage further…

Recently I realised how much time and energy I spend thinking about and actively seeking a relationship. It’s a lot, and I’m not sure if that’s such a good thing: would it be better for me to actively forget about it? Make a deadline and decide to stay single until that point, perhaps till the end of the year?

It’s not that long since I was in the metaphorical hell of broken-heartedness. In the last 6-7 months, I’ve made a complete U-turn depression-wise, turning that pit into a relative ‘high’, or at least a level-plain, thanks to my CBT, medication and an excellent GP who has worked with me through it all to get the right treatment. Maybe it’d be a good idea to take some deliberate time out and enjoy my new level of ‘sanity’, free from the risk of getting knocked down and hurt again.

Of course, being single is not entirely up to me anyway; I’m well aware there’s a good chance I’d remain that way anyway, even if I don’t make the decision to. But this is about how much of my life and thoughts the search takes up.

Most times I go out, it’s with the hope of meeting someone and, so far at least, it’s been pretty much entirely unsuccessful. I’ve remarked a few times now that Saturday night has become my lowest point of the week, when each time I come home having failed to meet anyone who might be interested in me. I do get very lonely, but that could be because I’ve been so focussed on it.

Maybe if I am ‘not looking’, my focus will be on other things – I’ll know I’m not going to meet anyone, so maybe won’t feel so low when I don’t…? I’m sure there’s some logic in that somewhere…

I think I need to allow myself a little disclaimer though: if someone should come along, and it just…happens, then that’s a different matter. I’m not going to stop a relationship happening if it does, I’m just thinking of not actively focussing attention on finding one. Perhaps as a result (at the risk of sounding ominously like a Radiohead song) I’ll have a better, happier, more productive year…

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Want to boost your self-confidence?

Many people, myself included, struggle with low self-esteem from time to time (if not constantly!).

But, I’ve found something that can help…

A couple of years ago I was asked by my manager to read the book ‘Now discover your strengths’ (Buckingham, 2005), and take the quiz that forms part of it. I love those personality questionnaire type things, so I jumped at the chance. Maybe you’ve heard of, or done, a similar exercise – like Myers Briggs or something.

Anyway, as I read the results, I found myself thinking they described me really well. And the good news: it was all positive!

If you feel you’re no good at anything, or you don’t know what your strengths are, or you just want a shot of self-confidence, then I’d recommend this book. I re-read my top five attributes today (printed below, if you’re interested), and it definitely helped me feel a whole lot better about myself, especially since the questions were designed by people who (supposedly) know about these things…

What have you got to lose? (Except the cover-price, obviously…)

Martin Flett - Your Signature Themes


You can sense the emotions of those around you. You can feel what they are feeling as though their feelings are your own. Intuitively, you are able to see the world through their eyes and share their perspective. You do not necessarily agree with each person’s perspective. You do not necessarily feel pity for each person’s predicament—this would be sympathy, not Empathy. You do not necessarily condone the choices each person makes, but you do understand. This instinctive ability to understand is powerful. You hear the unvoiced questions. You anticipate the need. Where others grapple for words, you seem to find the right words and the right tone. You help people find the right phrases to express their feelings—to themselves as well as to others. You help them give voice to their emotional life. For all these reasons other people are drawn to you. 


You like to think. You like mental activity. You like exercising the “muscles” of your brain, stretching them in multiple directions. This need for mental activity may be focused; for example, you may be trying to solve a problem or develop an idea or understand another person’s feelings. The exact focus will depend on your other strengths. On the other hand, this mental activity may very well lack focus. The theme of Intellection does not dictate what you are thinking about; it simply describes that you like to think. You are the kind of person who enjoys your time alone because it is your time for musing and reflection. You are introspective. In a sense you are your own best companion, as you pose yourself questions and try out answers on yourself to see how they sound. This introspection may lead you to a slight sense of discontent as you compare what you are actually doing with all the thoughts and ideas that your mind conceives. Or this introspection may tend toward more pragmatic matters such as the events of the day or a conversation that you plan to have later. Wherever it leads you, this mental hum is one of the constants of your life. 


You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information—words, facts, books, and quotations—or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts. These can be acquired and then stored away. Why are they worth storing? At the time of storing it is often hard to say exactly when or why you might need them, but who knows when they might become useful? With all those possible uses in mind, you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable. 


You live in the moment. You don’t see the future as a fixed destination. Instead, you see it as a place that you create out of the choices that you make right now. And so you discover your future one choice at a time. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have plans. You probably do. But this theme of Adaptability does enable you to respond willingly to the demands of the moment even if they pull you away from your plans. Unlike some, you don’t resent sudden requests or unforeseen detours. You expect them. They are inevitable. Indeed, on some level you actually look forward to them. You are, at heart, a very flexible person who can stay productive when the demands of work are pulling you in many different directions at once. 


Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger. Some may call it the collective unconscious. Others may label it spirit or life force. But whatever your word of choice, you gain confidence from knowing that we are not isolated from one another or from the earth and the life on it. This feeling of Connectedness implies certain responsibilities. If we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves. We must not exploit because we will be exploiting ourselves. Your awareness of these responsibilities creates your value system. You are considerate, caring, and accepting. Certain of the unity of humankind, you are a bridge builder for people of different cultures. Sensitive to the invisible hand, you can give others comfort that there is a purpose beyond our humdrum lives. The exact articles of your faith will depend on your upbringing and your culture, but your faith is strong. It sustains you and your close friends in the face of life’s mysteries. 

Monday, 4 July 2011

Personal seasons

It's brighter, it's cheer up?
I seem to have a predisposal towards hibernating at the wrong time of year.

For a couple of years I’ve thought that, in the Summer, I tend to feel less sociable, and more like staying in on my own to get on with stuff. My friends, on the other hand, tend to start going out more once the brighter months are upon us, whilst I’ve spent all Winter trying to find people to socialise with when they were ‘hibernating’!

I don’t want to over-dramatise this though, because it could simply be that I’m in a bit more of a ‘down’ period. There are some very valid reasons for this, that I’m mostly dealing with ok, considering. Or it could be that my personal ‘season’ is changing – for years I’ve been aware of a sort of 9 month cycle of Depression, where I’ll have 9 months of feeling ok, and then some-number-of-months feeling less so. Admittedly it’s not 9 months since my last ‘episode’ ended, but there were mitigating circumstances for that, and, actually, it may well be around 9 months since my last one began…

But anyway, I just wondered if anyone else experiences a backward-seasonal change? Or if you’re aware of your own personal ‘seasons’? 

And, apologies for the lack of real substance to some of my posts recently; I’m blaming the ‘weather’. 

I’ll try and get back on it soon…