Shift your mood and find your gratitude

I had gotten off a call with a friend. I felt so much warmth between us on the call that it was almost palpable. He told me that he had seen this photo of me, as it had been posted on FaceBook. He mentioned it as he was speaking about history – my history and his, the history we have together. He is a colleague on a training program we have been following together these last 18 months. He spoke about how we are both growing and healing – even in the time that we have known each other. It was good to hear all that.  Our call had gone deep and I was aware that somewhere inside me, I also felt a bit sad. It felt like a good kind of sadness.
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This photo holds a lot for me – it was taken right after a particularly challenging time in my life . A few weeks before I had a had a nasty cycling accident, that had left me shaken up and depressed.

That weekend of the photo was itself very memorable. For one thing we were on the beautiful Gower coast in Pembrokeshire on an August Bank Holiday. We had great company, fantastic weather and amazing nature. What more can you ask for!

 

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After the call, I remembered what had been going on right before that weekend, many many years before. I remembered how I had stumbled into a nightly gratitude practice after my accident. This turned out to be the perfect antidote to dealing with the shock and depression of my accident. Looking back, it seems strange that I was so depressed. After all, the accident could easily have been much worse. I was definitely still alive and without any major injury. I realize now, that the depression was probably the way I dealt with the shock of the accident.
I feel lucky that I found this practice from ‘first principles’. It was a long time ago and not much energy was put into positive psychology in those days.  At the time it made sense to see how many positive things had happened in the day, and there were always a lot ! It gave me the grace to get things back into perspective. Life was good and I was indeed lucky to be alive.
As I got off the call and had these reflections, I noticed that my energy changed radically. I wasn’t pushing anything away. I hadn’t changed anything. I hadn’t pushed away the sad feelings, but my energy was different now.
What struck me the most is how easy it was to shift my awareness to something positive. I was still feeling tired but the darker mood had definitely moved on. I also realised that this type of mood-shifter is a useful tool that I had never thought of before.
I am wondering if you have used this kind of mood shifter? What works for you when something has just brought you down?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Do You make mistakes?

I know that I do make mistakes and sometimes they are big ones – ones that I really wished I hadn’t made.

Sometimes when you make a mistake you can do real damage. You can hurt yourself, or other people. For example, if you do a bad mistake whilst driving you might cause an accident and people will get hurt or worse. If you make a mistake when you are talking to a friend or colleague, you can say something that you didn’t mean to. The other person might feel hurt by what you said and you might have caused damage in the relationship. In the long run it means you have hurt yourself as well. Point being, it matters when you make a mistake, but we all do it as we are all human beings. Sometimes the impact of the mistake can be much greater than the thing we did itself.

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Recently I made a bunch of mistakes, so I’ve been thinking about mistakes and how we treat ourselves. I do not want to diminish the wrong action, but to find a way to come back to learn from the mistakes and so to  move on.

I was observing how I treated myself afterwards. Perhaps the mistake I made was foolish or ignorant but it was too late to change the outcome. In England there is an expression  ‘There is no use crying over spilled milk’. It means after you spilled the milk, its too late to be complaining that your milk is gone.

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In my case I was doing something for the first time, and if I am honest with myself, I wasn’t thinking straight. It happens even to the best of us! I didn’t realise it at the time, so I made the mistakes and I didn’t get what I wanted. Then I was gutted!!

That was when I got really hard on myself…. I kept trying to tell myself that it was a mistake, mistakes happen, everyone makes mistake sometimes!! But I was still hard on myself! Later I realised that I was so very hard on myself because I was also disappointed in the outcome. I hadn’t realised how much I really wanted it. 20:20 hindsight is a marvelous thing!

Once I recognised that the hardness came from my disappointment, and not from anything harsher, it was easier to have compassion for myself! I could give myself a break. The harshness came because I felt I had let myself down, and that was painful for me, but it was nothing worse. That was a relief!

Somehow, even after that realisation, I still wasn’t done with this. – I fell into a dark and unhappy state that I haven’t seen for a while.  It was odd to see it, but I realised that this part of me doesn’t actually want me to be happy, right now. It was a surprise to recognise that this part of me actually wants me to wallow in misery!  Maybe other people have that place as well…. its not an easy place to admit to and for me it was a startling realisation!

So I asked myself ‘Is this a place I actually want to live from ?’ The answer came back, NO!  That was when I remembered my first antidote to all this darkness is to remember to stop complaining and to get grateful…. there is always, always so much to be grateful for!
Gratitude, and choosing to feel grateful is like taking a medicine for your brain. That’s true, even when it doesn’t feel natural or obvious. Its even true when it feels like the last thing on earth you want to do. Gratitude changes something in the chemistry of your brain. They say that joy and gratitude go together. Its not that joyful people have more to feel grateful for, it is that grateful people experience more joy.! If you don’t want to take my word for it, you can check out Brene Brown on this topic over here.   You really can resource yourself with gratitude, and it works!

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Now that I had resourced myself, I could see that it was not surprising that I made that mistake. I was doing something new and I had been anxious about it.

Then I remembered to looked back on the last few months. I recognised that globally, I feel more lightness and more openness. And yes I do have a a lot to be grateful for. Simple things like having good food to eat – a nice apartment, things that nourish me, people who care about me and so on.

It reminds me that being happy is a choice. Sometimes I need to re-choose it over and over again. Old habits sometimes take hold and they can be hard to break. The thing is though there really are times when being happy is just not it, at least for me. In those moments, if I am honest, I don’t choose happiness. The challenge I have then is to be kind to myself, in the face of choosing ‘not happiness’. So that I can be a friend to myself no matter what.

As soon as I can find kindness for myself in the face of choosing ‘not happiness’ , then something shifts inside me. Its amazing! There is more space for me to be myself and I find my centre again. Once I find my gratitude for life, happiness, calm, being centred, is never far away.

It has been an interesting journey these last days and not an easy one…. I felt pulled in many different directions, and not easy to find the distance I needed inside me. I am deeply grateful for the tool of Focusing which has helped me find my way.

What happens for you when you make mistakes?

 

 

By the way upcoming I have 2 workshops one on Self Compassion on March 12 2017 where we can really dive into methods to find kindness for yourself. Details here

And on April 23rd an Introduction to Whole Body Focusing in which we will learn the basics of Focusing.

 

 

 

Is Happiness an Inside Job?

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege and the honour to speak at the first ever Serious Waffle Session. If you haven’t heard about them you might be wondering what on earth is a Serious Waffle Session? Whilst the TED talks https://www.ted.com/ seek to inspire Serious Waffle Sessions seek to educate. I was invited to give 3 key learning points on my talk on happiness. Why Waffle Session? Whilst Brussels is well-known for its waffles, there is also a pun involved here. In the UK to ‘waffle on’ about something means to talk at great length on a subject – often in a boring and roundabout way. A Serious Waffle is not a long and boring talk, but a short one and to the point – I had 15 minutes. There are two more Serious Waffle Sessions in the coming series. You may like to join me as part of the audience. I am sure the next round of speakers will be excellent and thought provoking. Serious Waffle Talks

I had agreed to give this speech because I believe I have something of value to say about happiness, and it was also a good opportunity to raise my profile. As one of three speakers for the evening, we addressed the topic of happiness. Sascha Siegmund kicked us off, by talking about some of the myths about happiness. Andy Whittle followed with some principles to follow.  You can check out what he said over here   Andy Whittle’s principles of happiness

For my own talk I wanted to give some tools that can be useful in everyday life. Keeping my talk practical and hands-on idea was a key motivator for me in giving this talk. After I had said YES a few months ago, there were quite a few moments when I had serious second thoughts. What did I know, really? What made me think I had something useful to say on the subject? I noticed the barrage of negative thoughts, but I kept reminding myself why I wanted to give this talk. What it meant for me, was a big motivator.

As a trainer and facilitator, I am used to standing up and talking to people . But I had never given a proper speech before!! Truth be told, I was terrified! We met as a group a couple of months before, to review the planned event. I wasn’t liking it – it was feeling too formal, too real even. I was very much in contact with my own fears of about giving this kind of speech.  But I felt committed.  I wanted to do this even though I felt scared about it.

Agreeing to give this talk was challenging me in more ways than I had bargained for. I had forgotten that I had spent much of my earlier life perfecting the art of invisibility. When I look back at my childhood, it seems that being visible almost always got me in to trouble. Even when I had done something good. A memory is standing out, of me at about 8 years old.  I was given a  certificate  for some good work I had done. I was called out in school assembly and congratulated, for my hard work and endeavors. It should have been a nice happy moment for me. Unfortunately for me, my elder siblings were also present and they found it hilarious. They didn’t rate my youthful hard work as they were not as studious as me. They laughed at me, as only elder siblings can. I was young enough and sensitive enough to take it to heart and it was painful! I ended up feeling that I had done something wrong , when I was just being a good conscientious student!

Through that event, and others like, it I learnt not to stand out. It was never good news, so I became a master of being there without ever being noticed. So now, what on earth was I doing, thinking that I would stand up and make a speech?! I had never done anything like that before!! In  a sense, I was challenging myself to rewrite my history.  I needed to create a positive memory in the present to counter-balance the negative memories from the past that were still impacting me. Even after all this time.   Its only now after the fact that I recognise why this was so important for me, and so scary.

Before Christmas I had a vague notion of what I wanted to talk about. When I  was in the shower, or out for a walk, thoughts arrived that belonged in my talk on happiness. Most of all, I realised that I definitely did have something to say about this topic. I realised that I used to be invested in  being unhappy – without even knowing it. No longer!  My perspective had changed so much that I definitely wanted to share some of it. This was already building my confidence, as was my excitement about my topic.

Then I had the good fortune to go on holiday over the Christmas break. It turned out to be perfect opportunity to think about my talk. I went away with a group but I hadn’t bargained on being almost the only single amongst many couples. This not a topic that I think about much in daily life. But  I was on holiday now,  and some moments were excruciating!

I asked myself if I believed everything I said about happiness? What a perfect opportunity to find out! As I realised this, I remembered the practice I had received years before, from my then teacher Alan Lowen, from the Art of Being. This practice of ‘No complaining’. It took me a long time to learn that one, and now I can talk about it!! This practice of ‘no complaining’ pulled me out of the pity party I had fallen into. There is so much here and now to be grateful for, even if its not ideal. I am fortunate to have this opportunity, to go on this holiday. I am enjoying this glorious sunny weather in the middle of winter. The people were all friendly and inclusive, some of them were going out of their way for me.  Thats plenty to be grateful for.

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This was my first tip that I could speak about. And I had some good anecdotes from my holiday

By now my speech was writing itself, new memories and old ones kept coming. I even learnt my speech by heart, all 15 minutes of it.  I had not never imagined I could do that. The words were alive inside me. I am glad to report that my speech went super well. It has helped my confidence no end and I am looking forward to the next opportunity!

And here you can see me in action

Is happiness an inside job? No doubt about it now, I am sure of it. What about you? Please add your thoughts in the comments below.