Monthly Archives: April 2011

21Apr/11

Saving a Bad Day

When you are feeling low, unmotivated, tired or fed-up how good does your life feel?  And how does your day go?

Well,  mine used to go terribly. My bad days were Pete Tong, pear-shaped, disasters.  But recently I’ve been learning how to save the day.  Here’s what to do, but remember –  if it really is a bad day, following these tips might not be easy. I’m still learning.

  1. Notice how you are feeling.  Try not to think: ‘I’m annoyed and fed up, the whole world is a stupid place.’  Instead just think: ‘Today I’m feeling grumpy and angry, and that’s ok‘.  It might help to try and work out what the real problem is, but sometimes we are just grumpy and tired. It could be something simple like you’ve not got enough sleep, or you’ve had an argument with someone. Or it could be something more complex like being scared of a new project, getting out of your comfort zone, or worrying about getting everything done. Whatever it is, it’s easier to accept it, and deal with it if you know what it’s all about.  But sometimes it can be difficult to figure out exactly what the issue is, and that’s ok too.
  2. Be kind to yourself.  This involves accepting how you are feeling.  Don’t say: ‘I can’t be tired again, I’ve got too much to do today. Just pull yourself together and stop being so useless,’ because chances are you’ll go through the day not achieving much and hating yourself for it. Not a nice way to spend a day.  Be more realistic and accepting of your limitations: ‘OK, you were woken up a few times last night, so you are bound to be tired. Don’t beat yourself up about it, it’s ok.’
  3. Lower your expectations.   When you are low on morale, energy, inspiration, faith, passion or drive you will not get as much done to such a high standard as you are used to doing.  It’s a fact, don’t fight it. So instead of filling up your To Do list with loads of things that ‘Must Get Done Today’, filter out the jobs that can wait for tomorrow.  It might not feel good lowering your standards, but it will help you survive your bad day in a better frame of mind.  Personally I hate having to do this, but I’m getting to know the alternative is worse.
  4. Take time to recharge.  When our phone is low on battery power, we recharge it.  We are less good at recharging ourselves.   And I used to be particularly bad at it, even on my low days.  I would struggle on, feeling bad, using what little energy I had left to beat myself up and walk around in circles not achieving much.  Now, I accept the situation and do something different.  If my mind is not working, but my body is, I might do housework or ironing while watching TV. If I’ve had a bad night’s sleep I might lie down and rest for half an hour. If I am feeling completely useless, I might get the duvet and watch Pride and Prejudice, or I might go out and meet a friend, or go shopping for things I’ve needed for a while.  And although I still find it hard to give myself an hour or morning or ‘OMG a whole day’ off, it’s usually worthwhile and better than battling on.  Because later in the day, or the next day I have more energy and motivation.  (Note: if every day becomes a duvet day, that’s a different problem!). I know I am lucky working from home and not everyone can choose not to turn up to work, and obviously I can’t do this all the time. When I have workshops or coaching clients, or when I have to pick the kids up from school and cook their tea, I can’t just cancel.  But I can still be kind to myself in between the crucial jobs by doing things that recharge me or take the least energy.
  5. Support yourself. When I can’t take time off, I try to support myself to do the things I have to when I’m feeling angry or resentful, or tired and fed-up. The main thing is to be gentle and not battle against yourself. Also telling myself   ‘it will pass’  helps me a lot.
  6. Congratulate yourself.  Ok, lets be honest, we Brits are not great at patting ourselves on the back, but I’m learning to. Not in an over the top way, but in a gentle, ‘well done, you did your best, you’re only human’ kind of way. On a bad day I praise myself for not telling myself I’m rubbish or useless, and for doing all the great things I do do every day, not least, looking after my children.
18Apr/11

If you want to be happy, stop trying to be perfect

Ten reasons why being a perfectionist is harmful to your happiness.

  1. Perfection doesn’t exist, so you are chasing an impossible ideal.
  2. You are always disappointed with yourself because you can’t reach your impossible, idealistic goals.
  3. You fail to appreciate the good in your life already, because you are constantly striving for perfection or the next better thing.
  4. You suffer from black and white thinking. “Well, if I can’t do it perfectly, then I might as well give up.”
  5. You are constantly unhappy with yourself because you judge yourself  so harshly. You wouldn’t judge your enemies as harshly as you judge yourself. 
  6. Contrary to many perfectionist’s belief, being harsh with yourself does not make you work harder and achieve more. Instead it stifles your creativity, your productivity and your everyday happiness.
  7. Striving to be perfect is essentially the need to please other people, or make them think you are ‘good enough’.
  8. Time becomes a huge pressure.  If everything is to be perfect,  not only does each hour have to be used wisely and productively, it also has to run perfectly smoothly itself.
  9. You can never let go and ‘just be’, because there is always something to be done to make you or your life more perfect.
  10. If you are striving to be perfect, it means you don’t think you are good enough as you are. In other words, you are  rejecting yourself, which can only lead to pain instead of the perfect happiness you so crave.
14Apr/11

Circumstances vs Habits

In my earlier post I talked about how 40% of our happiness is derived from our daily habits – how we think and act each day.  Which means that only 10% is based on our circumstances (the other 50% is genetically inherited).  I am excited that this is the case because it means I can control a large part of how happy I feel with the choices I make every day.  But to be honest I still find myself trying to change my circumstances because I think it will make me happier.

For example, my husband works long hours and doesn’t see the kids much in the week.  He leaves before they get up, and often comes home when they are asleep.  I try to support him in this but find it difficult because I fundamentally think it is a crazy way to live. So if I’m having a bad day, I huff and puff and feel resentful and try to come up with grand schemes (lets move to Dorset, lets downsize, lets live in a caravan) to change the situation.  But the research implies that I would be better off concentrating on how I think and behave each day rather than blaming the situation for the problem. Maybe how I think is the problem.

If I started to focus more on how lucky I am to have a husband who is very involved with the children and supportive when he is around, and how lucky I am to have a lovely house full of character and charm and a garden the children love playing in (paid for by my hard-working husband), then maybe I would feel luckier and happier.

If I set aside more time to do exercise, yoga or meditation would I be able to cope with the stressful times more easily, and create fewer opportunities for resentment and frustration to creep in?

If my husband and I sat down and worked out a 3-5 year plan would I be able to live more easily with the sacrifices we make now because I know that we are working towards a better future?

If I spent more time with and strengthened the bonds with my friends, family and community would I feel more fulfilled?

Happy people make the most of their situation. They get on with life despite the stresses and disappointments that get thrown at them.  They don’t bail out whenever they think the grass is greener.

Maybe changing how I think will help me live a happier life until we work out a way to balance our lifestyle. And then one day when we buy our dream house by the sea, I will have the happy habits in place to truly appreciate it.

11Apr/11

It doesn’t always have to feel good.

I’m not feeling very happy.  My day has not been a bad one, but it hasn’t been great either.  I worked hard on what I said I’d do but put far too much energy into making the ‘right’ decisions, and as a result I’m feeling restless and unsatisfied with my day.  I think the problem is that I can’t sit back, take a deep breathe and feel proud of today’s achievements.

A few months ago, I could easily have dived deep into a pool of self-indulgent despair, shouting at my children and being grumpy with my husband when he got home. But I’m proud to say that I haven’t done that today, because I’m trying to remember what I’ve learnt about perfectionists, namely that we expect every moment to be perfect and think that whenever we don’t feel wonderfully happy, then something is wrong with us, or the world. 

So while I’m not feeling great, I’m pleased that I’m not feeling awful, I’m trying to take on board the fact that I’ve had a good day, but that some things didn’t go well and that’s ok.  Bad days happen and that doesn’t mean that my life is way off track.

11Apr/11

What’s Golf got to do with it?

Some people would argue that golf is the route to happiness…but that’s not the reason why I’m talking about it today. I want to talk about how people cope with failure. Yesterday, after leading the pack for 3 days, 21 year old Rory McIlroy succumbed to the pressure of potentially winning his first major championship and self-destructed on his final round of the Masters Golf Championship.  He started the day 4 shots ahead of the rest, but finished way down the leaderboard.

I’ve always found it painful to watch when individuals and teams lose so badly, especially when they are expected to win. And I’ve always wondered how they cope with the loss. How do they explain the failure to themselves when they messed up so badly. How do they live with themselves?

At the 1996 Masters Greg Norman gave away a 5 shot lead on the final round and eventually finished 5 behind winner Nick Faldo in what is often cited as the No. 1 all time collapses in sport.    But in the post-tournament press conference Norman said: “I screwed up. I know I screwed up today, but it’s not the end of the world for me. It honestly isn’t. My life is going to continue…’  He has also said since: ‘I’m a better person for it.’

How did a younger McIlroy deal with the pain?   

He said: “I’ll get over it. I’ll have plenty more chances – I know that.”   And later on he tweeted: “Well that wasn’t the plan! Found it tough going today, but you have to lose before you can win. This day will make me stronger in the end.”

08Apr/11

Perfectionism: A definition.

Brene Brown, shame and perfectionism researcher. Visit her blog at www.ordinarycourage.com

Today I am going to share Brene Brown’s definition of perfectionism with you.  She talks about ‘shame, judgment and blame’ as being the emotions that perfectionists want to avoid and which drives their need to seem perfect to others.

Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.

Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable – there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.

Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. So rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.

Feeling shamed, judged, and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we’ll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because “I’m not good enough.”

07Apr/11

What Really Makes us Happy?

What makes you happy?

I imagine everybody has asked themselves the question: What will make me happy?

If you have, how do you answer?

Money? Time with your family?  Chocolate? A new handbag? A meaningful job?  A husband? A sunny day?  Keeping in touch with friends regularly?

I seem to ask this question of myself quite a lot, and I don’t always know the answer. (Which is probably why I am now a happiness coach, because people tend to become experts in what they struggle with.)  So over the last couple of years I have read many books and research coming from the relatively new area of Positive Psychology. This is the study of happy people, and what makes people happier.  One of the most interesting theories that I’ve come across is one from  Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues.  She discovered through her research that our happiness is made up of:

  • 50% genetics – we inherit a happiness ‘set point’ from our parents, which doesn’t change much throughout our lives.
  • 10% circumstances – whether we are rich or poor, what city or house we live in, how healthy we are, how beautiful or plain, married or divorced.
  • 40% intentional activity – our daily behaviour, how we think and act each day.

While this does sound a bit gloomy (that we can’t change 50% of our happiness level)  it is also great news because it means that we can potentially increase our happiness by up to 40% by copying the daily behaviour of happy people.

7 Happy Habits

So what habits do happy people have in their lives? Below I have listed seven of the happy habits that researchers have identified.

  • They are social.  Happy people spend a lot of time with their families and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
  •  They practice gratitude on a daily or weekly basis.
  • They prioritise exercise on a daily or weekly basis.
  • They are mindful, live in the present and savour life’s pleasures.
  • They have an optimistic outlook on life, and think in an optimistic way when things go wrong.
  • They are kind and regularly offer help to people they know and meet.
  • They are committed to life long goals, for example, teaching strong values to their children, building cabinets or reducing crime.

Maybe you could pick one of these habits and think about ways of introducing some intentional activity into your life to give your happiness a boost.

04Apr/11

Happiness = Acceptance

 

Carrying on from my Tibetan Monk  post, I want to say a bit more about acceptance because it is such an important element of overcoming perfectionism.

As I’ve said previously, the thing about perfectionism is that it makes you want to be something or someone else.  It makes you feel like you are not ‘good enough’ as you are.  You are constantly striving to become a ‘better person’ because only then will you be worthy of love and respect. 

But the only way to find real happiness is to start with who you are now, and accept yourself with all your imperfections.  Obviously that is easier said than done – and it’s even difficult to say, especially out loud.  I definitely struggle sometimes with accepting the concept myself. ‘But I don’t want to be like this so why should I accept it?’ (Because it causes you so much pain and unhappiness, Thea, that’s why!) I often use the subtitle of Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection as a reminder, because she phrases it in a way that makes sense to me, even when I’m in perfectionist mode. 

“Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.”

It reminds me when I put pressure on myself to do and achieve too much, and when I beat myself up for not achieving it, that I am trying to be the perfect person I think I’m supposed to be, rather than the wonderful, but imperfect, person that I already am. (I even find that difficult to write that last bit down in black and white, which shows that I’ve still got a way to go before I believe it completely.)

Think about what is really happening when you don’t accept yourself and don’t believe you are enough. You are rejecting yourself. And if you reject yourself (by rejecting your successes, your failures and your negative emotions) then essentially you are rejecting reality.  And you know what we call people who reject reality….

01Apr/11

Who wants to be a Tibetan Monk?

The idea of responding appropriately to my emotions has always haunted me. Why can’t I control my temper? Why do I get so frustrated and irritated with my children – who I love and cherish with all my heart? 

I heard a story the other day about a monk who was an experienced meditator and who – while having his head covered in electrodes to measure his brainwaves – did not flinch when a bomb went off.  How amazing, I thought. How fantastic that he can control himself and his emotions like this. Why can’t I master the art of not automatically reacting to everything?

But then I thought…. Do meditating monks have children? 

If I had spent 20 years meditating on a mountainside my automatic emotional reactions would probably be different too.   But do I want that?  To be frank, No. I’d rather be an imperfect mother than a perfect monk.

The thing about perfectionism is that it makes you want to be something or someone else.  It makes you feel like you are not good enough already as you are.  So we try to be something else in order to be perfect and only then will we be worthy of love and respect. 

But the real answer lies in accepting ourselves now. With our faults and our bad moods and our crazy idiosyncracies.  This is who we are and the only way we will ever be happy is to accept it.

So I am learning to accept that it’s ok to lose my temper sometimes, and that it’s only natural that I get frustrated with my children. It does not mean that I am a bad mum or that I don’t love them. And it’s also ok to want to improve and control my temper more. It’s just that I need to do it in a realistic way, not by beating myself up because I don’t have the serenity of a Tibetan monk.