Sunday, 31 March 2013

Gloomsters.

Although I'm personally not a prolific Twitter or Facebook contributor, I check both sites on a pretty regular basis to learn what friends and those I follow are up to. It's fascinating to recognise two very different styles amongst those who are prodigious in their content generation. Some are overwhelmingly positive and light-hearted in their posts while others consistently dwell on the negative. I suppose this online behaviour simply reflects real life. I'm sure you know those who seem to radiate light wherever they go, and others who cast a sense of grey glumness over everything in sight.

Social media makes it relatively easy to avoid the posts of gloom-mongers, if you choose. Not so simple in the real world, however, particularly if they're people with whom you need to have regular contact for one reason or another. Although emotions are contagious (if you're not careful, someone else's misery can get through to you too) it seems to help if you're determined to see another's burden as something you can help with, rather than needing to take its full weight on your own shoulders. Just as they seemingly can't deal with it on their own, neither will you. Share the load, by all means, but don't try to carry it for them.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Every cloud?

I wonder if you sometimes stop to remember that you often have a choice about the way you react to the events around you? I heard from good friends yesterday that the landlord of the flat they've happily rented for eight years needs them to move on. He has good reasons, which they understand, but what's interesting to me is the way in which they've chosen to view this as a positive event. Instead of worrying about the hassles that will inevitably head their way, they're seeing it as an opportunity to find a new place with fresh possibilities.

You might just have a whole day today when not one single thing goes wrong, in which case congratulations. Truly. But things aren't generally like this in the real world. More often than not, you do have the option to react to problems in the way of your choice, however. So how about experimenting today by looking for the positive side to life's little snarl-ups? Of course there might not always be one. But isn't it worth at least investigating?

Friday, 29 March 2013

A plug for unplugging.

I don't feel old, but I do remember a time before technology. My parents didn't own a television until I was four or five. We didn't have a telephone until I was old enough to remember it being installed. Of course there were no computers, games consoles or iPods. However, to claim there was no technology wouldn't be correct. In our living room sat an old-fashioned valve radio which took a few seconds to warm-up and come on. There was a record player with its associated stack of shellac 78s. I say I don't feel old, but writing this does make me sound decrepit. The thing is, though, we've probably all had gizmos and gadgets around us for most of our lives. They've become hugely more complicated and sophisticated, but one way or another we've adopted them as part of our lives.

Good or bad thing? Well not surprisingly I'm in favour of a lot of the fantastic stuff that technology allows us to do. As a teenager I published my ideas to fifty people at a time using a primitive spirit duplicator (loved the smell of the copies, though). Now I can write to many thousands of people a day, sitting at a table in a coffee shop. But simply because technology can be incredibly useful doesn't mean it should be allowed to take over our lives. From time to time it can be enormously liberating to unplug. Not to check your email every few minutes. To leave your phone at home. To just be. Try it. You might like it.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Mending fences.

When I bumped into a friend recently, it had clearly been one of those days for both of us. I know I was tired, and I suspect he was too, so we ended up having a slightly staccato conversation - one of those unsatisfactory interactions which leaves you feeling a bit regretful. It felt important to repair the damage the following day, so I found an excuse to drop by with some brochures I thought might interested him. This time neither of us was quite so exhausted, and although our chat was only brief, I'm sure we both knew we'd repaired the unease which had resulted from our previous exchange.

Our relationships with others are so important, but just like anything precious they can also be fragile. They benefit from careful handling. They may sometimes need maintenance, and the mending of a friendship is best done with a light touch: when you know something isn't right, so does the other person. Probably no need for an inquest, then, just some appropriately warm words. So are there any bridges which might need building? There's no time like the present to begin the job.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Awfully quiet out there.

It can take a change of routine to remind you about the important things in life. During a week house-sitting for friends, I realised with a jolt that aside from one brief conversation with a woman who knocked at the door to collect the parish magazine subscription, I'd not actually talked to anyone for one whole day. What a weird feeling: I hadn't even spoken to anyone on the phone. What's most foolish is that when I went to the supermarket at lunchtime I even took my shopping through the self-service checkout, missing out on exchanging a few words with another human being at the register.

Although I don't spend all my time engaged in deep meaningful conversation, I realised that I do generally pass the time of day with quite a few people. Not being able to do so left me feeling isolated and, yes, a bit glum. Maybe you find yourself in this situation occasionally, or even frequently? If so, do try to make the most of the smallest opportunities for social interaction. The briefest exchange can give you a boost, and it generally does the other person good too. When you're feeling alone, please avoid the self-service checkout.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Living in the moment.

You might conceive of your whole life as one vast project, but if you did, when would you reflect on the project's hopeful success? It would be crazy only to do so on the last day of your life as, for a start, who knows when this might come? Surely it makes more sense to consider this one overall 'project' as being built up of many smaller packages, and to look back frequently at how you've done.

Being more aware of the ups and downs of your mood means that when things go well, you'll have the reward of seeing how you are holding up. Alternatively if you're not having such a great time you'll gain the insight necessary to take action, ideally before things become overly low. In general I'm sure it makes sense to live your life day by day, reflecting often on how things have gone and what you might do to maintain a positive state of mind. What can you do today that might make you feel better tomorrow?

Monday, 25 March 2013

Signed, sealed and delivered.

If something's troubling you, write it on a piece of paper, then seal it in an envelope. This is the conclusion of research conducted at the University of Singapore Business School. Participants were asked to write about a recent decision which they regretted, then half of them handed in their papers as they were, while the other half sealed their papers in envelopes first - then handed them in. The envelope sealers reported feeling less negative about the event than the non-sealers did.

While I can think of factors which might have muddled the findings (maybe those who sealed their envelopes worried less that their regrets were going to be pored over by the experimenter?) the basic principle seems sound, and you could possibly even add to the effect by destroying or discarding the envelope. Definitely worth a try.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Give yourself a checkup.

Throttle? Check. Flaps? Check. Strobes? Check. As a pilot prepares for takeoff, there's a mandatory checklist to run through so nothing's forgotten and everything's tested. Checklists make huge sense. In fact in his recent book, 'The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right', author Atul Gawande (a surgeon) shows how briefly pausing to run through a task's requirements before starting it has huge value. Saves lives even.

We carry mental checklists with us all the time, of course. Whether consciously or subconsciously it's how you're able to walk out of the house without leaving the iron on.

Going through the twenty Moodscope cards every morning is, I'm sure, rather like running a ruler over my state of mind. It's a kind of checklist for my mood. But you can think in mental checklist terms on other occasions too. Next time you're sitting in traffic or lying in bed about to get up, why not make a point of deliberately and consciously asking yourself how you feel? Being aware of your mood is a first step towards managing it. Quite a big step actually.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Finding your way home.

When I was about five, one of my Christmas presents from my parents was a little black screw-top pocket compass made by the toy company Merit. It went absolutely everywhere with me. I loved it.

When I was forty I spent a year travelling the world and the pocket compass went with me, tucked into my wash bag. While it was hardly practical (it was just a toy, for goodness' sake) it symbolised something important, for I believed that if I ever became lost, it was a reminder that I could always find my way home. Now I'm in my fifties it's beside the computer as I type this. I still treasure it all these years later. Isn't it odd that an inanimate object can offer such reassurance?

I bet there's something you own which may have a similar effect on you, and if it's not already to hand, dig it out and leave it somewhere so you'll see it from time to time. It can be a real comfort.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Your purpose, your benefits.

When starting work on a new brief in my ad agency days it was generally sensible to conduct an analysis of 'features, functions and benefits'. Huh? Well in simple terms they're defined as (a) What is it? (b) What does it do? and (c) Why would someone want it?

An example, if you were advertising a cellphone, could be its caller display feature. So that's (a) taken care of. What does this do? Well it shows the identity of the person who's calling before you answer the phone, and that's (b). As for (c), the benefits could depend on your situation. You might for example use it to avoid unwanted or unknown calls. Or it may enable you to ensure you pick up if the call is from someone important. If you're otherwise engaged, you could put your phone on silent but keep an eye on calls, either to return them later or, if you believe they may be urgent, to excuse yourself and answer them immediately.

I wonder if you can apply similar thinking to the various roles you play in life? It's often said that it's good to know your true purpose, and I'm sure that - if you can - this tends to improve your overall mental wellbeing. So let's suppose you're someone's son or daughter. That's (a). How about your functions and benefits then? What's your (b) and (c)? What do you do? Why would someone want that? I'll leave it with you, shall I?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Giving the game away.

Back in the days when I wasn't as open about the ups and downs of my mood as I am today, I used to imagine that others had no idea how I was feeling. I figured 'I'd wear my mask' - the one you think nobody can see through - and to some degree it worked, but only to a certain extent. I think your mood leaks out in more ways than you may believe. One friend says he sees my true state in my eyes. Another in my voice. A third in the way I walk (upright and all's fine, stooped and it isn't). These physiological markers make sense. But a new one on me (and a fascinating one) came from Pete, a good 'real-life' friend who I don't see as often as we'd like - because of the distance - but with whom I'm friends on Facebook.

Now I don't normally message him through Facebook - we phone or email - but of course your Facebook friends do see anything else you may post to the site. Things like your own status updates, or your comments on other people's. And Pete had detected that things might not be right for me because I'd 'gone a bit quiet'. Isn't it intriguing that it might sometimes be an absence of behaviour that can give the game away? It's definitely worth thinking about this with your own friends, and if there's someone who's gone a bit quiet, why not send them a quick email or text today? Tell them Jon sent you.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The best of times.

When you want to catch a fish, I'm told that the best time to cast your line is either early in the morning or during the evening. It's then that you're most likely to bag a big'un. A week or so ago I was wondering what time of day I'm at my most productive, so I decided to carry out a little investigation. I reckoned that a rough and ready way to measure it would be to check the creation dates and times of all the files on my computer's hard drive.

Now I know this wouldn't work for everyone, but my work tends to generate lots of smallish files. If I were a more regular kind of author I'd probably spend my time adding to one enormous document; however, my own working style generally involves producing one thing, saving it, then moving on to another - and so on. What did I learn then? Monday and Friday, it seems, are my least productive days. However, from Tuesday to Thursday, when I appear to be firing on all cylinders, I tend to do a lot of my work in the hours immediately following 1pm and 7pm. Strange, I know, because this is probably when most normal people sit down to eat. (Don't tell my mum.)

Having even a sketchy concept of the times at which you're likely to be your best makes sound sense. Perhaps you won't find a way to get to your numbers as easily as I did, but simply reflecting on it should at least give you a rough idea of when it makes sense for you to do the stuff you need to do every day, then perhaps you can tweak your schedule accordingly. No sense fishing when they're not biting.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Selfishness.

It sometimes seems as though we live in a selfish world. People allow shop doors to close behind them without looking to see whether there's someone following. They don't make way for others when they're walking along a footpath. They carry on loud conversations on their phones right in your ear. And these are just the minor irritations of everyday life. I'm sure you can think of much worse examples yourself.

So what's the answer? Do you fight fire with fire? Do you become twice as selfish yourself? Well I think (and hope) not. There's a lot of evidence that altruism can play a major role in our overall mental wellbeing. In a neat twist, it turns out that doing good can actually make you feel good. I suspect the reverse is equally true, too: those who behave selfishly end up with lower moods.

I also reckon that just occasionally our good manners rub off on those with lower standards when it comes to being thoughtful. But even if you can't make a dramatic change to the world, you can at least improve your own day by thinking about others. So why not give it a try today?

Monday, 18 March 2013

Changing places.

Not surprisingly, where you are can affect how you are. I'm currently taking advantage of this by spending a couple of weeks working in temporary office accommodation ten minutes' walk from home, and it's remarkable how much difference a change of environment can make. In my case it came about because I've a big chunk of work which requires complete concentration. Although I'm perfectly well set up to work at home, it's great to set off for an office every morning - and of course it's healthy to be leaving the work behind every evening (as you may have found yourself, the lines of demarcation may get blurred when you work from home).

I'm fortunate, of course. Not everyone can choose to work where they wish. But you could apply the same approach to just about anything you need to do. For instance, say you've a daunting pile of household bills to process. Why not sit at a different table from the one you usually do, and in a different room? Or how about packing up the papers in a bag and heading for the local library for an hour? Do the dull paperwork there. Remaining in the same physical place can often mean feeling the same way, so why not perk yourself up by parking somewhere different?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Sowing. And reaping.

It came in a plain white sleeve with stark black typography. John Lennon's 'Instant Karma' was one of the first singles my brother and I owned. I'm not sure either of us would have thought much about the meaning of the word 'karma' in those days, but it seems to make good sense to live your life according to the broad principle that you get what you give. And what goes around comes around.

If you want to be listened to, it makes sense to listen to others first. To be loved, love others. In general, to receive, first give.

When you make a mark in the sand, perhaps it starts the ball rolling?

It feels good when people are kind to you, so today could be a good time to sow a little kindness around you. Then hopefully reap some too.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The right stuff.

What went wrong? When things don't go to plan, we want to know why, and this applies to moods just as much as it does to missions. When you're down, it's understandable to believe that there must be a cause or reason (even though there isn't always one - sometimes low mood can just strike of its own accord).

But there's a different sort of question which we don't ask nearly enough: what went right? If you have a day on which you feel better than usual, it really makes sense to try and pin down why. This time you may be more likely to succeed. Good moods are often inspired by something, or a collection of things. Feeling good isn't simply the absence of bad - it actually needs to be the presence of good. Of course it helps to know what might take you down so you can avoid it, but it's just as useful to know what may take you up. So you can do more of it.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Enough

In 1968 Jerry Butler sang that only the strong survive. But what did he know? While I'm sure it's true that you, me, we all, often possess more strength than we acknowledge, it's equally the case that now and again there are times when it really is okay to say 'enough's enough'. Times when struggling on with blind and grim determination really makes no sense at all.

Now I'm not suggesting that we all just give up and go home. Far from it. Not for one second. Life is for living, and to live it to its full extent generally takes persistence and tenacity. It's just that it's equally sensible at times to recognise that we've more on our plate than we can deal with. When that happens, to extend the metaphor, for goodness' sake don't pile more on - and preferably offload some of what's already there.

If the next day or two are looming over you with impossible demands, recognise that impossible means just that. Impossible. And actually, you know, saying No to things, and re-scheduling where you can, does take strength. So perhaps old Jerry had it right all along.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Wordpower

Perhaps sometimes we need to receive a gift before we know how to give one? On my way to a meeting yesterday morning, with loads on my mind, I bumped into one of my neighbours. In exchanging a few quick words, she gave me a boost which kept me smiling for much longer than it took her to say what she did.

It's easy to forget how much of a difference you could make to someone's day with a one or two carefully chosen sentences, so why not set out to spread a little happiness yourself by doing so today?

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Appiness

One of the two questions I'm most often asked is 'If you're not actually a Jonathan, why do you spell your first name without an 'h'?', and those who raise it do have a point. As my birth certificate will confirm, I entered the world as a John. But then at some time in my teens I decided that Jon just felt more artistic than John (pretentious, moi?) so I ditched the third letter and became the fellow I am today.

That was easy. But what's the other question?

Well quite simply, it's 'When is there going to be a Moodscope smartphone app Jon?', and that one is harder to handle.

In our recent survey, over whose results we're still mulling, rather a lot of people expressed a desire for a Moodscope app, and I can't tell you how keen we are to get one developed. In fact the only thing standing in our way is a lack of resource, but rest assured that we'll be on the case the minute we can.

In the meantime, though, you can of course access Moodscope on your tablet computer or smartphone whenever you're connected to wi-fi, and this has been recognised by the UK's National Health Service (NHS) who are today launching a useful Health Apps Library, that I'm proud to say includes Moodscope.

As you've already embraced the idea of tracking your mood using digital technology, I think you'll find other interesting apps in the library at:

http://apps.nhs.uk/

I like the fact that the site encourages people to leave feedback on apps, and if you have the time and the inclination, I'm sure it would indeed be helpful if you'd care to let the world know what you think about Moodscope (and please do be honest). Here's a direct link to 'our' page:

http://apps.nhs.uk/app/moodscope/

While we're on the subject (technology, not name-changing) I'm headed to the Healthcare Innovation Expo in London today, from which I plan to report back in the near future, which I know sounds as though I'm about to board a time machine, and I suppose in some ways I am.

Beam me up, Scotty.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Flipping thoughts

A friend has fought an ongoing battle with depression over the years, bravely experimenting with all manner of treatments and therapies. Happily she's making headway at the moment, working with a coach, and I liked her explanation of what they're doing together - she describes it as aiming to 'flip' her thinking. This makes sense. I'm sure that a lot of low mood is caused, or at least not helped, by negative thinking.

Sometimes we get mired in the kind of thinking that weighs us down, a bit like falling into water wearing a heavy overcoat. Removing it would give you a better chance of escaping, but it's often the case that the negative thoughts won't go away. Of course it's not realistic to imagine that you'll go from Negative Thought City to Positive Town in one step. But that's not to say that you can't begin to turn your bad thoughts on their head. Why not see if you can try a little of that today?

Monday, 11 March 2013

Hitching a ride

Although I generally love it when someone asks me for help, I'm not always the best at requesting it for myself. The other day I found myself leaving some business premises in the middle of nowhere, facing a thirty minute walk to the railway station in the pouring rain. As luck would have it, a woman was just dropping off some ordered food from a takeaway and after weighing up the fact that I didn't want to make her nervous, asked if she'd mind giving me a lift into town.

She didn't think twice, said yes immediately, and within minutes we were on our way while she explained that she was Polish, worked for an Oriental food business and had three children who didn't really like her going out to work. I reckon she enjoyed chatting, and probably felt good that she was helping a fellow human. (Most of the time I count myself as one of those.)

Asking for help isn't a selfish thing to do, because it can give the helper a buzz. And in my case it also got me to the station on time. I'm not necessarily talking about a big 'ask' - just something small. Why not give that a try today?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Cultural differences

Ethan Watters' excellent book 'Crazy Like Us - The Globalization of the American Psyche' suggests that the US (and probably the developed world in general) is actually creating mental illness in other countries by defining conditions to which people in those cultures then succumb. It's almost, he says, as if the definitions come first, then patients present with them.

But the West's influence might not have spread everywhere yet. I recently chatted over lunch to a 26-year-old Vietnamese computer science PhD student. As we discussed our respective work, I described Moodscope only to see that he just didn't understand the idea of depression, and wasn't even familiar with the concept of someone feeling suicidal.

He was a bright guy, so you can only conclude that it's a cultural thing. Perhaps depression is yet to hit Vietnam? Completely anecdotally, we'd both lost our internet access earlier on. I assumed I'd done something wrong, whereas he was certain that the problem was caused by someone else, and while it's dangerous to make assumptions from a sample size so small, I know there's evidence to suggest that whereas in the West we blame ourselves when things go wrong (unhealthy) in the East there's a tendency to externalise the issue (healthier). Interesting, isn't it?

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Togetherness

Most of us enjoy the company of others now and then, even though we may also be happy on our own at times. Spending time alone is fine, just so long as it doesn't turn into the only thing you do. The trouble is, although it's generally true that being around people will give you a boost, if you're feeling ropey, the obstinate part of your brain may try to keep you from social situations.

Crazy isn't it? Logic tells you to accept invitations, to arrange to see a friend, or to pick up the phone, but the annoyingly pervasive emotional side of your thinking tells you not to. What to do therefore? Well, perhaps when the opportunity arises to spend time with others on one of these not-so-sunny days, ask yourself 'What's the worst that might happen if I ignored my emotions'?

I guess the answer could be that you might get wherever you're going, then would need to make your excuses and go home. But (a) that's not actually terribly likely, and (b) it really wouldn't be that awful a thing to do if it was truly necessary. So why not try this next time you feel a bit rough? Nine times out of ten it's worked for me.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Nose dive

When, thank heavens, you return to feeling normal again after being depressed, everything around you will seem to have greater clarity. Colours will be more vivid. Music will be more melodic. And according to a report in New Scientist, smells will be stronger. (This could be good or bad depending on whether we're talking about the perfume of a rose or the pong of someone's whiffy old trainers, of course.)

More specifically the article details research undertaken at the University of Dresden, showing that people's sense of smell diminished when they were depressed. Amazingly this seems to happen because the part of the brain responsible for registering smells - the olfactory bulb - actually gets smaller, which was observed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It's fascinating to see the evidence building up which supports what I think we instinctively know. When you're depressed, you feel cut off from everything.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Variety is the spice of life

Although Germans are apparently still keen on buying music CDs, I understand that sales in the UK and US are considerably down. I certainly buy fewer new releases than I did (I don't believe it's simply an age thing, as I'm still a big fan of new stuff - but I'm more inclined to listen to it online these days). However, I still love a good charity shop bargain, especially when it's a compilation CD with a variety of artists and tracks.

The spontaneity wears off after a while, of course, but I think there's much to be said for listening to music when you don't know what's coming next. Some radio stations offer this. But doesn't this thought carry much further than music? Whenever you can, it's helpful to introduce variety into your life. Doing the same old things every day can leave you in the same old mood. But making changes, doing things in different ways, thinking different thoughts, can be the perfect way to perk yourself up.

So listen to something new today. Read a magazine you wouldn't normally pick up. Chat to someone with whom you've not spoken before. Today's a new day. Why not let its new-ness drive your approach to it? Even if only a little.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Attention please

Have you noticed that you don't perhaps always take notice? It could be that you're a great deal more observant than I am, but I can often catch myself not seeing something that's staring me right in the face, and taking notice of what's around you is a fantastic way to give your wellbeing a shot in the arm.

Last weekend I travelled back from London on the train, only to discover (just as I was getting off, having spent nearly an hour on it) that a friend, Chris, was sitting in the very same carriage as me. If only we'd had our wits about us we could have passed the time chatting rather than staring out of the window. Instead we boarded the train, as we both do a lot, and just didn't really look around. It made me think, and made me aware that it's all too easy to go around with your eyes cast down, not noticing the world around you, and not savouring the moment. Look up and things may, well, look up.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Pardon me, your mood is showing

We may imagine that, when needed, we're good at disguising how we feel, but the truth is we're often spectacularly bad actors. When I was chatting to a friend recently I explained that I thought my own mood had been 'so-so' of late. Neither particularly but, but not particularly sparkling either. (In passing, I've learned that this often happens and when it does, I simply need to accept it. Life's like that.) What was illuminating, however, was that Ali said she already knew I'd been feeling that way, as it had been showing in my writing, and that came as a surprise to me.

Inevitably, a bit of how I am makes its way into these written thoughts, but on the whole I try to avoid this. They should after all be about how you are, rather than me. The thing is, others can frequently read us like books, especially when they know us well. So maybe we should wear our masks less often, to be more open and honest? Clearly one does this when it's appropriate, and with the people one trusts. However, I think there's big value in letting others in, and your feelings out.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Fellow feeling

It's probably fair to say that virtually everyone suffers from low mood. For a fortunate few this may simply be the very occasional bout of feeling a little less-good than normal. For others, however, it can be more serious. Low mood - and ultimately depression - is debilitating, destructive and downright dastardly, so it would be hard to believe that it has any upside whatsoever.

A friend keeps her mood issues pretty much to herself, but because we're able to be honest with each other she does open up to me. Somewhat to my surprise, chatting to her recently did make me see one definite advantage I've chalked up from my own trips to the dark side. 'Ah,' she said. 'But you UNDERSTAND.'

And with those four words she demonstrated the powerful idea that the bad times we go through make us better able to empathise with others. They help us connect with the people around us who've also either gone through it, or who are going through it right now.

Empathy, of course, is inclined to be a two-way street. I understand you, you understand me, we understand each other. We're told that to be upbeat we should surround ourselves with positive people, but isn't this rather simplistic? I think those who understand you best are your fellow travellers.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

A yearning for learning

Can you think back to identify a teacher who made a particularly big impression on you? The chances are that he or she was someone who made learning feel easy, who inspired you, who gave you the appetite to pick up new skills and acquire new knowledge. When it comes in the right shape and form, learning can be enormous fun.

So when was the last time you learnt something new? And more importantly when's the next time going to be? For me, every day with Moodscope is filled with learning, especially recently as I've explored ways to bring data to life using charts, graphs and visuals. Needing help, I've had excellent mentoring from a friend who is an expert in the field. He generously didn't laugh at my early efforts, and equally kept me on my toes as I became (I hope) a little more accomplished. Learning can be great for your self-confidence. It can be fun. And it's a tremendous way to give yourself a boost. So what would love to learn, and when are you going to start?

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Getting through

Someone told me of his unsuccessful attempts to reach a business contact by phone. Despite leaving frequent messages, this other person wasn't calling back. The caller was pretty confident he'd done nothing to cause offence, so he wondered aloud if it might mean that this man could have been suffering from the dreaded blues, and was therefore shutting himself away. Having been there and done this myself, I had to agree that it was a possibility.

It's easy to get to a point where you've had as much as you can take from the world around you, so you shut yourself away. The trouble is, it can be easy for friends to feel slighted if you appear to be avoiding them. Well you are, aren't you?

If you were the one with the low mood, what would you want someone else to do in such circumstances? Well if they had the persistence, I'd want them to keep calling. I'd hope they wouldn't accuse me of being difficult. I'd love them to be patient with me. Maybe you'd feel the same? If so, it might be worth remembering this when someone doesn't return your calls or messages. Try not to storm off in a huff. Just keep leaving those messages. They could well be in a difficult place, and your patience will almost certainly mean a lot to them.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Ever decreasing circles

'You won't believe the week I've had.' Interesting, isn't it, how often a conversation can slip into exchanging catalogues of disasters? If you're not careful, it can end up as a kind of one-downmanship in which each competes to out-gloom the other, and it turns what might have been an opportunity to lift one another up into exactly the opposite. We part having had a good grumble, but failing to gain the lift which a truly good conversation can deliver.

Generally, though, there are ways of steering a conversation out of bluesville. For a start you can help to set its tone yourself by talking about your own good stuff (even on the shabbiest of days, there is usually some) rather than running through all your woes. It also makes sense to ask about areas of the other person's life that tend to be positive rather than the bits you know have a tendency to make them crabby. Talking about bad stuff may leave you feeling bad. But talking about good stuff... well that's another story altogether.