Goodbye 2012, hello 2013

Wow what a year it’s been. 2012.

1409165_christmas_ballsI left one job, was unemployed, then found another one and happy to say I’m still employed.

I went through a break-up and I am now single for the first time in what feels like ages.  Being single with all its ups and downs feels like I’m remembering something  that I experienced long ago and it’s all coming back to me now.

When you’re single, there’s the upside of being able to do what you want when you want, not having to tell anyone what you’re doing, who with and where, and having lots of spare time to devote to your interests.

With time comes clarity and I’m beginning to see more clearly my relationships now that I’ve had time to stand back from them, which is always the case, but you can never see it when you are in them and then suddenly it clears up like a fog and all becomes obvious.

Then there are the lows. I guess every human is always looking for that special someone and it’s an instinct for us to look for someone to love. At the same time though, I’m realising that being single is so much better than being in a relationship that doesn’t work for you. This might seem obvious to some, but it wasn’t always obvious to me.

In the past I’d put off breaking up with someone because I was scared of being on my own. But I realise now, that like with everything, the idea of something is usually worse than the reality. When you make the leap and take things as they come, nothing is as bad as you imagine it will be.

This year, I’ve made some big decisions about work, relationships and my future  –  which is saying something for me, who would often put off making a decision for as long as possible, but doing it too many times has made me realise that being in state of indecision is worse than deciding something. Spending time in indecision is time wasted and drains away your energy.

There’s no point worrying about the future, because it won’t help, if every time I start worrying I just stop and it’s slowly becoming a habit, and I feel much better for it.

Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used is better than the one to come?” Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak

Merry Christmas everyone, wishing you lots of happiness, health and love for the year ahead.

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Row, row, row your boat, as fast as you can down the stream

Me next year hopefully :-)

Me next year hopefully 🙂

Recently I’ve started rowing and it’s become a bit of an obsession.

It’s had to be considering the training is four times a week, it’s a lot to commit to.  The idea is to get us to be fit to race next year, which requires technical skills in the boat as well as having the physical fitness.

It requires discipline getting up every weekend morning at 7 am  which means I try to get an early night even at the weekends. So I’ve been thinking what exactly do I really like about this? Firstly, when we are in the boat, rowing requires full concentration. You have to all row in time with each other and so you have to focus on the rhythm of the boat, and make sure that you’re doing everything well technically as well. This feels like a type of meditation for me – total focus on what I’m doing, no time for the mind to wander, and if it does, it’s likely to show quickly because I’ll end up making a mistake.

Our trainer is not the most patient type and has coached an advanced crew before us, so his frustration is quite visible. Yet we keep on showing up four times a week and keep trying to be perfect, better, faster.

There is also a feeling of satisfaction when it’s only 11.30 and you’ve already done 3 hours of training, it makes me feel like I’ve really taken advantage of my whole day, because if I wasn’t forced to wake up at 7 am, I would probably sleep until late and by 12 I’d probably just had my breakfast, a cup of tea and read the news.

I like the feeling of being in a team. Everyone in the boat affects everyone else. If you make a mistake you throw the whole boat off balance.

I also like the social side of it. Everyone there is passionate about rowing, otherwise they couldn’t do it. It’s great to be there with people that share that passion and as we are all quite new to rowing in our group, it’s also amazing to see how quickly we improve, week by week, session by session.

It feels like rowing has opened up a whole new parallel world, which was on my doorstep before, but I’ve not discovered it until now. It’s great having a new hobby which I’m really passionate about, and makes you think how many more opportunities there are out there to discover and get excited about. Although I don’t think I’ll have time to discover them right now, because I’ll probably be out rowing.

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The How of Happiness

I’m just about to finish reading a book called The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. Lyubomirsky is a psychologist and presents strategies in her book that have actually been tested on people and have been proven to make them happy in the long run.

The most surprising information in this book was for me that 50% of how happy we are is down to our genes (quite a lot!), 10% to our circumstances (not much at all) and 40% to the way we think.

So having a bigger house, finding your soul mate, winning the lottery, getting your dream job, or whatever you think it is will make you happy, will actually only make you happier by 10% because you’ll soon adapt to the change and it won’t make you so happy as you thought in the long run.

Lyuobomirsky’s happiness strategies are:

  1. Thinking positively and being optimistic – imagining and writing down how and where you would would like to be in the future, 5, 10 years from now, which will make you actually realise where you want to be and you should start to work towards it
  2. Practice gratitude – be grateful for everything you have and make a point of writing it down regularly
  3. Avoid over thinking and social comparison –  over thinking about things that happened serves no purpose, so just forget about it and don’t compare yourself to others, because there will always be someone who’s doing better than you. Just do what you want to do and don’t care what anyone else thinks about it
  4.  Invest in social connections, make an effort with your friends and family and make an effort to meet new ones
  5. Practice acts of kindness
  6. Learn to forgive
  7. Live in the present
  8. Increase your flow experiences
  9. Savour life’s joys
  10.  Meditate
  11. Reminisce about the good times – you can do this by creating a savouring album where you put lots of things that you like, pictures of your family, friends, your favourite places, experiences, poems, quotes etc. and then every time you look at it will provide positive emotions for you
  12. Commit to your goals – all happy people have goals they want to achieve, so go for them and if you haven’t got any then create some
  13.  Practice religion or spirituality – religious and spiritual people are happier than non spiritual people
  14. Take good care of your body, exercise and eat healthy

Lyuobomirsky says that achieving happiness is hard work, it doesn’t just come to you as most people believe, you need to make it happen. She argues that just like any goal, happiness needs to be made time for and pursued, like it was exercise for example. To get fit you go to the gym 3 times a week, so to be happy you equally need to make some time and put some concentrated effort into achieving this.

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Writing is my flow

‘I never know what I think about something, until I read what I’ve written on it.’

William Faulkner

I couldn’t agree more with this quote. Writing for me is also a kind of therapeutic, or flow experience, where I just start writing, without planning what I want to write.

At school when we had to write an essay on a topic or do a piece of creative writing, there were always two groups of people. Those who planned exactly what they were going to write before they started, and those who just started writing and see where it took them. I was definitely in the second group.

Often, I would have a vague idea about what I wanted to write about, and then I’d just start writing and see what came out. Writing something down makes you start thinking systematically about it and you start neatly categorising your thoughts by writing them down on paper. If you’re writing a story, it starts taking on a life of its own.  I spoke to someone who is working on a novel recently and she told me ‘I was writing about a character and it really surprised me how he turned out to be in the end, I thought he would be just a marginal figure, but he became one of the most interesting characters in the novel, I can’t wait to see how his story will end.’ There’s something fascinating about this process as if you weren’t the person who was writing but rather something took over and was writing for you as your imagination begins to develop the story and guide your hand.

As with many worthwhile things it can be hard to start writing. Every time it’s time to write a new blog post, report, or personal statement I keep putting it off, whiling my time away and putting off starting writing. But the trick is to open up your notepad (or a new Word document in my case) and start writing the first sentence you think of and then just let yourself write. Keep writing and see what comes out. Sometimes you start off well and then suddenly the words dry up and you’re stuck in a dead end, but somehow you keep going until you get a second wind.

While writing you experience a sense of flow and when it’s done you’re proud that you’ve done it and when you look at the clock, once you start it actually takes very little time to get a lot done, the key is just to start. It’s like exercise, or taking on a new project, or forcing yourself to go out to the pub with your friends when it’s raining outside and your warm sofa feels so comfortable. Once you actually do it, you have fun and you’re glad you did it.

Sometimes you worry about if what you’re doing is any good, but in the end you just enjoy it and that’s what matters. It’s important not to over think too much otherwise you’d end up not doing anything and get bogged down by the details.

And before you know it another blog post is done…

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The Art of Happiness – by the Dalai Lama

‘Whenever I associate with someone, may I think myself the lowest among all and hold the other supreme in the depth of my heart!…

When I see beings of wicked nature, pressed by violent sin and affliction, may I hold these rare ones dear as if I had found a precious treasure!…

When others, out of envy, treat me badly with abuse, slander and the like, may I suffer the defeat and offer the victory to others!…

When the one, whom I have benefited with great hope, hurts me very badly, may I behold him as my supreme Guru!

In short may I, directly and indirectly, offer benefit and happiness to all beings; may I secretly take upon myself the harm and suffering of all beings!…

This is a prayer by the Tibetan saint , Langri Thangpa, which is the Dalai Lama recites daily.

One of the Dalai Lama’s teaching is to venerate our enemy and wish them the best. In order to be patient and compassionate, we have to learn to love our enemies. As most of us do not have many enemies in our life, when we find one we should even be grateful as it will give us a chance to grow spiritually.

We should try and see the good in our enemies, and search for positives. For example the enemy’s actions might have given us new opportunities. We should try and see them as another human being and realise that like all humans, they are also searching for happiness, just like us. Or if we really can’t find anything positive we should just ignore them, because hatred only lead to ours and others suffering.

I love the first line of the prayer:

‘Whenever I associate with someone, may I think myself the lowest among all and hold the other supreme in the depth of my heart!…

It’s often true, that sometimes we would not make such an effort to listen to someone, or pay attention to someone if we thought they were below us in some way. On the other hand we would go to great lengths to try and please someone who we think is above us or in the same position as us in terms of social or occupational status. But really, what this verse tells us that we are all human and we are all the same. One day all our status, money, job, youth will be gone and all that will remain is what we all have in common together.

Note: this post is based on my reading of the book The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for living, by the Dalai Lama and Howard C Cutler.

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Why meditate?

Focusing on what is around us is a type of meditation

I have been following an eight week meditation course. I’ve been doing it at home following a book written by Danny Penman and Prof Mark Williams called Minfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world.

I have been interested in trying meditation for a while now and when Danny Penman followed me on Twitter – I checked out his profile and found the link to his book. And because I believe in signs and the book looked good I decided to buy it – and I wasn’t disappointed.

My favourite parts of the book are that it comes along with an audio which has eight meditations, each focusing on a different area – like concentrating on your breath, sound, thoughts, body sensations, physical movements, etc.

What is mediation?

Meditation in a nutshell is being as present as possible, not thinking about the future or past, but being in the now. This is done by focusing on what you are experiencing at this moment – your breath, sounds, what you see, feel, taste.

It’s about observing our thoughts instead of identifying with them. The book provides a good analogy for this – our mind is like the sky and the clouds are our thoughts. Sometimes the sky is clear, sometimes very cloudy, sometimes there are white and sometimes black clouds. To be present is to be aware of our thoughts and observe them as we would the sky, we are the presence behind the thoughts and not the thoughts themselves.

Mediation physically alters the brain

Mindfulness meditation actually physically changes the brain in a positive way in just eight weeks of practice and can help tackle depression. The book quotes a study done on workers over an eight week period. After doing meditation for eight weeks, the part of the brain which is activated when we are happy showed higher levels of activity then before this period, even after the workers were exposed to stress.

Mindfulness  increased overall happiness, reduced stress, made the workers less anxious and more energised and even increased their immune systems by producing more antibodies. Research also showed that over several years mediation has a positive impact on the brain and actually changers the physical structure of the brain making you happier in the long term.

You might only have 6 years to live

‘If you are 30 years old, then with a life expectancy of around eighty, you have fifty years left. But if you are only truly conscious and aware of every moment for perhaps two out of sixteen hours a day, your life expectancy is only another six years and three months.’

Make sure you have enough nourishing activities in your life

We need to be doing nourishing activities to balance those that deplete us. An example that is in the book is when busy, most people often cut back on their hobbies, without realising that we need them to nourish us and keep us happy. But cutting out all our nourishing activities, could lead to a miserable existence and depression.

Meditation is hard to explain – to truly understand its benefits you must experience it

For me being present with my mind clear of thoughts is the greatest feeling. Its hard to explain and in fact I never understood the appeal of it, until I actually tried it.

The book ends with a beautiful poem, for as the authors write ‘sometimes poetry captures the soul of an idea more than any number of explanations.

Hokusai Says

Look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says keep looking, stay curious.

He says there is no end to seeing.

He says Look Forward to getting old.

He says keep changing,

You just get more who you really are.

He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself

As long as it’s interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,

Every one of us is  ancient,

Every one of us has a body.

He says every one of us is frightened.

He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive –

Shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees.

Wood is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw, or write books.

It doesn’t matter if you saw wood, or catch fish.

It doesn’t matter if you sit at home

and stare at the ants on your verandah or the shadows of the trees

and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength

are life living through you.

Peace is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid.

Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

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Seize the moment

So many options to choose from…

Frans Johansson a public strategist suggests that the biggest factor governing success is randomness. It’s not as much your talent, goals or persistence, but in how you welcome randomness into your life and follow different paths to what you have already followed.

The book is called The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World and I read about it in the November 2012 Psychologies. It reiterates what I’ve often felt that sometimes you hear or see something or your friend or someone you meet gives you a suggestion or you have a thought or instinct that you should do something, but you don’t know why, it just feels right and then you just have to go with it.

For example I had this feeling when my friend suggested  I try out rowing. I suddenly thought oh yes there is a river near my house where they row and it felt like I should do it. After my taster course I felt like joining the learning to race rowing course, it just felt right, even though people where asking me why do I want to commit so much time to it so suddenly, but I just do. What will come of it is still to be seen.  I have these instincts about people, jobs and ideas I get. I try to be open to everything and see where it takes me. Although sometimes it can be a bit exhausting as you can’t always say yes to everything, you have to follow your instincts and choose those things that you most feel could expose you to new experiences, ideas and opportunities. Because let’s face it you aren’t that likely to get those ‘aha moments’ doing the same things, going to the same places and seeing the same people as you have day in and day out.

Embrace randomness

The author’s message is that even though the idea that your life’s success depends on chance might be disturbing to some people, you can actually use it to your advantage by saying yes to random requests and seeking randomness out as much as you can.

A famous example is when Stephanie Meyer had the idea for the bestselling Twilight novel in her dream and she just started writing. The same goes for EL James and her Fifty Shades of Grey, she just had the idea for the story and went ahead and did it. Now some of you might not be fans of the above two authors, but there is no denying that they had massive success in what they did.

Create more click moments:

1.       Take you eye off the ball – let unplanned suggestions and ideas come into your life and follow them, don’t always go blindly after your goal.

 2.       Throw out your routine- if you put yourself into new situations and new environments that will increase your chances of getting lucky.

 3.       Feed your mind new treats – watch different TV shows and buy different magazines – allow yourself to follow up on things that you’re curious about – that’s where intuition lies.

4.       Celebrate when things don’t go to plan – look around to see who you could start up a conversation with or what could spark a new train of thought.

 5.       Reflect on past successes  – how did you make the key decisions in your life, was it careful planning or randomness.

6.        Think like a romantic – the only area where people usually think randomness is normal is in their romantic lives.  We accept randomness in our love lives – which is the most important factor in your life, but strangely we don’t like to think it runs other areas of our lives.

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“Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.” ~Erica Jong

Great quote, I certainly am the one to do this. I have realised that sometimes asking friends for advice, just destabilises you, because usually we already know deep down what the right course of action is and we only want to strengthen support for the decision that we have already made. So if our friends advise us the opposite of what we feel, we don’t like it or it can make us doubt our own judgement.

Decision making has always been hard for me, I mull over things too much, when deep down I often know what the right decision is, but I try to think about things ‘logically’ which only weakens the confidence in my decision, especially if I find ‘evidence’ against what I have decided.

Other times however, when something just feels right, or simply wrong it’s easy for me just to go with it – especially if it’s something that will not have a major impact if it does go wrong.

I often also struggle with what to advise my friends if they ask for advice. Should I be blunt with them and tell them exactly what I feel? Or should I just listen to them even though I think what they are doing/deciding is not right for them.

I have a friend who I like going to for advice, because she often asks me questions which make me conclude the answer on my own, without pushing me in either directions or giving me her direct opinion. This is probably the best type of advice to give, not telling people the straight truth but perhaps making them see the truth for themselves.

To be true to your own self is perhaps the hardest thing of all and in the end it’s not your friends or who will bear the brunt of your decision it’s you and so in the end I think it’s good to listen to people’s advice, but to bear in mind that you are the only person who know what’s best for you, you have the most information about the situation and you are the one who’s life this decision will affect. So it’s only up to you to trust your gut and make that decision.

I was also often afraid of if what if this or that decision is the right one and if I will regret it. It’s possible, but now I feel that once a decision is taken, it’s best not to look back or regret anything, because ultimately you can’t change it and everything happens for a reason, so there is no point of worrying about the past or the future. So as the saying goes, sometimes you have to “make a decision. And then make the decision right.”

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“Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.” ~Eckhart Tolle

I like this quote by Eckhart Tolle, I’m not quite sure how it works, but I do feel that every time I try to fight something or someone, even if it is technically working for a good cause, I somehow end up feeling frustrated and don’t feel like I am achieving anything.

For example someone says something insulting or wrong on Facebook. In the past, I have gone and commented on them trying to make them see the other side of the coin. I guess there is something in everyone that wants us to have the last word and for us to be in the right, that’s why after we’ve started a discussion it’s so hard to back down and you just end up getting more and more wound up and you don’t usually change anyone’s mind about anything, because it’s in this forceful context. So now whenever I see something I don’t like on Facebook, I just stay quiet. Is that wrong? I don’t know, but really I don’t want to create more negativity for me and others by adding to it.

Recently I’ve started an eight week meditation course, which I will write more about when I complete it, but a part of meditation I’ve learnt, is accepting what there is – your emotions, a situation, your thoughts. By trying to fight them we only strengthen them by getting angry, sad or frustrated, but by accepting even the bad things and observing them instead we become disassociated with them and they loosen their hold over us. Thoughts and emotions are like clouds passing across the sky of your mind. Sometimes it’s cloudy and sometimes it’s clear.

Say, if I’m meditating and thoughts or emotions triggered by thoughts keep popping into my head. If I get annoyed at myself or try to suppress them they become even more prominent, but if I acknowledge them and let them be, they slowly disappear.

For example when you are stuck in the rain you can either curse the weather and get annoyed with it or you can accept it, even though you might not exactly be loving it. Either way you’ll get wet, but you’ll have a worse experience if you get annoyed rather than if you accept it and you might even find something to like about it.

I feel the same when it comes to say ‘the war on poverty’ or the ‘war against crime’ it creates a stronger opposition to your cause, perhaps it’s just the way it’s phrased puts a negative connotation in my mind. I’d rather be working towards peace, or creating abundance for everyone, instead of using negative expressions.





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The search for happiness

Happiness is a long walk in beautiful, unfamiliar mountains

I’ve just read Hector and the search for happiness by François Lelord, which was recommended to me by my friend. The story is about Hector who is a psychiatrist and goes on a journey to try and find out what are the lessons of happiness. The book is quite funny and easy to read, as it’s written in a simple child like way, but talks about serious topics such as prostitution and globalisation which Hector encounters on his journey. Lelord, like Hector is also a psychiatrist, which gives his book credibility.

I’ve also now read Hector and the secrets of love and now I am reading Hector finds time, which I am also enjoying.

So what did Hector find out when he went searching for happiness? Well you can read his list here and it will save you from reading the book, although the book puts them into context, because he realises each lesson from the situations he gets into.

Hector’s lessons for happiness

  1. Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.
  2. Happiness often comes when least expected.
  3. Many people see happiness only in their future.
  4. Many people think that happiness comes from having more power or more money.
  5. Sometimes happiness in not knowing the whole story.
  6. Happiness is a long walk in beautiful, unfamiliar mountains.
  7. It’s a mistake to think that happiness is the goal.
  8. Happiness is being with the people you love.
  9. Unhappiness is being separated from the people you love.
  10. Happiness is knowing your family lacks for nothing.
  11. Happiness is doing a job you love.
  12. Happiness is shaving a home and a garden of your own.
  13. It’s harder to be happy in a country run by bad people.
  14. Happiness is feeling useful to others.
  15. Happiness is to be loved for exactly who you are.
  16. Happiness comes when you feel truly alive.
  17. Happiness is knowing how to celebrate.
  18. Happiness is caring about the happiness of those you love.
  19.  Happiness could be freedom to love more than one woman at the same time.
  20. The sun and the sea make everybody happy.
  21. Happiness is a certain way of seeing things.
  22. Rivalry poisons happiness.
  23. Women care more than men about making others happy.

What do you think, do you have another lesson to add?

Don’t worry, be happy.

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