Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Untangling things.

Say you needed to untangle a ball of string, but just as you began, you inadvertently dropped it into the kitchen sink, which was full of sudsy water; then the lightbulb went, plunging the room into complete darkness. Now rather than trying to solve all three problems simultaneously, the answer is almost certainly to uncouple and prioritise. Dry your hands. Fix the light. Take the string out of the water and probably allow it to dry, too. Then - and only then - have a go at untangling it.

It seems pretty obvious to tackle a hypothetical situation in this way, so why do we often fail to follow similar principles when we've multiple issues occupying our minds? Why do we believe we can solve them all at once? Why do we persist in believing that they're all connected somehow? It's easy to assume, because everything's not as it should be in one part of our life, that the same reasons affect other areas. This isn't necessarily the case, though. When you've multiple worries, it's not always easy to uncouple one from another, but doing so is almost certainly the best way to move forward. One step at a time.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Give a little bit.

Like me, I expect you know people whose idea of a conversation seems to be that you should mainly listen while they mainly talk, and the only time they encourage you to say something is if you're asking them a question - allowing them to talk even more. Although I was brought up to be a listener rather than a 'teller', as I get older I'm realising that there's often a sweet spot between these two positions. It's not always selfish to talk about yourself, particularly in moderation. A little self-disclosure can help people understand you better, but it's when both of you do so, when the confidences are reciprocated, that a conversation takes on a life of its own, allowing the two of you to walk away having had a good experience, sometimes even a great experience. It's not always easy to do this, particularly if your disclosure might relate, say, to the fact that you're not always a happy bunny.

Perhaps it makes sense to tread carefully, and to think before you disclose; only doing so if you believe it won't make the other person uncomfortable. An uncomfortable conversational partner rarely makes for a good exchange, but there's little that beats the pleasure of a genuine two-way flow of honesty.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Adjustments.

Left a bit, right a bit. Wibble. Wobble. It's how most of us learned to ride a bike. Start moving, and if you feel yourself starting to fall one way, lean the other. While you're still learning, you're pretty conscious of what you're doing. Left. Right. Ooh, er! Then all of a sudden you're riding. You're a cyclist. You stop thinking about what you're doing and you just pedal. You're flying.

Many of life's processes operate similarly, requiring you to constantly adjust a little this way, a little that way, to arrive at a destination. It makes you wonder if we might not learn to 'ride our moods'. What if, when you felt yourself falling one way, you could compensate by leaning the other? What if a little mindfulness could get you to a happier place rather than a gloomier one? Makes you think, doesn't it?

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Empathy.

Almost certainly you have a powerful ability to put together explanations when you see something happening (in the street, for instance). A huddle of people are looking up at a tree, so there's probably a cat stuck up there. A man is sitting on a shop doorstep, and he's likely to be homeless and will ask you for money. Of course we don't always get it right, and our assumptions can prove wrong. The tree observers could be council workers discussing a pruning job. The man in the doorway could be simply tying his bootlace.

However, there was no doubting the cause of a little scene I saw acted out the other morning on my way to work. Outside a nearby children's nursery, a young mum was smiling and waving through the window. I saw her first. A few paces on, I spotted her little boy inside, with the unhappiest face in the world: he clearly didn't want to be left there. As I walked on, it seemed mean and heartless of the mother to be smiling. Surely she'd be upset to see her son in such distress? Thinking more, though, she was probably doing the right thing, trying to get her little boy to see it as normal, nothing to get het up about, and this is probably a good way to hope others might behave around you when your own mood is low. Naturally, you'd like them to empathise with you, but the last thing you'd want is for them to suddenly become as low as you are. It's a fine balance, though, worth exploring when the boot's on the other foot and you're around someone else whose mood is low. The answer? Almost certainly to be yourself, and behave as normally as possible.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Decisions, decisions.

At any one point in a maze, there are generally two ways to go. Sometimes more, but unless you've just reached the exit, there's usually a decision to make. Left or right? Often, life can feel just like a maze. You're sure there has to be a way through it, but you don't have a map. Who knows whether the decisions you make every day are the right ones? How come some people seem to glide through it much easier than you do? But of course, not only do you go through each day faced with a million decisions, you also generally always have a choice about the way you'll think about what happens, and this is the bit which is easy to forget.

Most of us tend to have familiar patterns of thought. Something happens and we view it in a particular way - in general, the way we always view this kind of thing, and that's fine if, for instance, we're always pleased about positive events. On the other hand, it's not so great if your reaction to bad stuff is to say: 'Well, it's all my fault. I bring these things upon myself'. You see, it's probably not the truth. Just now and again (often, perhaps) someone else is to blame. Someone else is the cause. That's one branch of the maze, then, one choice. But there will be many others. For example, do you blame the other person? Or try to understand them?

Why not try to keep this in mind today? Emotions, just like life itself, can take the form of a maze. And the best way to progress (indeed, the only way) is to remember that you have choices. Always.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Unravelling.

What's bugging you? A friend who owns a local business was clearly miffed when we chatted the other day. It's a long story, but at its heart he'd helped someone with something and they'd not said thanks, but the thing is, I could see it wasn't really the lack of gratitude which had got to him so badly: there was definitely something else. I think he imagined it would be obvious to me, but I honestly had to tease out exactly what was making him so angry, but once I'd done so, I could understand and empathise.

It made me think, though, that when I feel cross or get down in the dumps, I'm not always clear myself about the true cause. If I'm angry because I break something, it could be because it was worth a lot of money, or it could be that it had sentimental value. But it might equally have been that I hated feeling clumsy, or that I knew I'd now have to clear up the mess but didn't have time.

It's not always easy to understand why someone else feels the way they do. So why should it always be immediately obvious why you feel the way you do? The next time you find yourself thinking less than sunny thoughts, ask yourself why, and preferably don't stop self-interrogating until you've pinned down the real answer.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

How can I help you?

A friend and I compared notes about what generally happens if those around you realise you're having a hard time. Often they truly want to help, but nine times out of ten this gets translated into them asking what they can do for you, one of the most frustrating offers in the world. Yes, you want help (sometimes desperately) but no - you've nowhere near enough strength to organise your thoughts sufficiently to brief them. As my friend said, 'Don't ask me how you can help, just tell me what you're going to do, then do it'.

When times are tough, it can feel as though you're using every ounce of your meagre resources simply to keep the plates spinning. So when a well-meaning friend asks how they can help, you've literally no capacity to work out a strategy. Better by far if they assume responsibility for a couple of plates. 'I'll look after these two' - these are the type of words you may long to hear. However, what if you agree with this principle but don't know how to suggest it to others? Two ideas spring to mind.

You could always lead by example, helping others as you'd like to be helped yourself. But if the need's more urgent, why not let me do the seed-sowing? Just show this mood nudge to a friend. You may well discover that they're only too pleased to know that the best way to help you is to simply roll up their sleeves and make a start on something, anything. Don't ask, just do.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

This is your body speaking.

Why did I feel so tired? A while ago, I had a spell of feeling physically exhausted, despite not having particularly exerted myself. I wasn't ill, as far as I knew. I found the answer by reflecting on my mood.

Up to that point I'd had an extraordinarily stressful time - not especially busy, but a lot of anxiety and worry. I don't know about you, but I sometimes forget that this sort of mental pressure can literally take it all out of you, making huge demands of your physiology as it causes your systems to work overtime producing all the hormones associated with stress, and it's really not surprising that you need time to recover once things return to being on an even keel.

The learning? It's so important to listen to your body, and to look for clues such as mid-morning yawns and general lethargy. Obviously, if there's no clear explanation for this, it's sensible to seek expert advice and help, but if it's simply that you've been having a tough time (which you're thankfully now beyond) it may be a straightforward case of allowing nature to work its wonders, getting you fixed in a day or two. There's a big connection between what you do and how you feel.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Total absorption.

Did you hear about the good old country boy nuclear physicist whose hobbies were huntin', shootin' and fission? Although I've never been an angler myself, I've always admired a dedicated fisherman's ability to become completely absorbed in the process of sitting on a riverbank watching a float. It's not really my thing, but what definitely is, is the glorious sensation of doing something which demands your complete and utter concentration for an extended period. You lose track of time. You forget everything else. You pack up your troubles in your old kitbag.

The splendidly named psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this state of mind 'flow', and there's a huge amount to be said for it. So when were you last similarly absorbed? What were you doing at the time? And most importantly, when can you schedule some more of it?

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Get yourself connected.

It's worth remembering that connectedness is a pretty crucial contributor to your wellbeing. Being around others can give your mood a seriously healthy boost: a kind of peach and mango smoothie for the soul. But it can be easy to forget this, especially if you wake up feeling tired, lethargic, or a little low. It can also be easy to forget that you generally start your day with more choice than you might believe about what will or won't happen.

Today is a good day - a great day - to go out of your way to connect with others. Face to face is best, but a phone call can be great too. Why not make today a connecting one? A peach and mango smoothie one too, if you like.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Onwards and upwards.

My friend Gerald is a wise man, who also happens to be Caroline's father. When we chatted the other day, he reminded me of something I tend to forget, and maybe you do too. Although Gerald was mainly talking about business, his reflections apply to a lot of other of life's aspects. Success, he said, isn't about brilliance - it's much more to do with tenacity and resilience: the ability to keep to your path single-mindedly when distractions are all about you, and the power to spring back after things become bent out of shape.

It's all too easy to give up when things go wrong, but where does this get you? Tenacity and resilience can help you overcome whatever life throws at you, and I like to think that mental resilience is a strength you can develop in much the same way that you would physical resilience. Start small by choosing the way you'll feel when you're faced with a moderate amount of adversity, then build from there. Is today a good one to work on your resilience?

Friday, 19 April 2013

You matter.

As kids, it's drummed into us that to be selfish is wrong. Share your toys. Share your food. Share the airtime in conversations. Of course this is sensible guidance, since living with others in relative harmony means not keeping it all to yourself. The theory is that if you share with others, then they'll share with you too. However, being unselfish isn't the same as believing that it's somehow wrong to care for yourself, and to look after No. 1 at times.

When you travel by air, the safety demonstration tells you to put on your own oxygen mask before tending to the needs of others, and this clearly makes sense. If you're going to be of help to those around you, you must be strong yourself, so ensuring that you're well-rested, well-fed and well-adjusted isn't selfish. It's right and proper.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Fill her up.

If your car runs out of petrol/gas, either you've been negligent by not filling its tank, or you're on one of those unfeasibly long, straight Arizona roads you generally only see in movies. As I say, in general, the only one to blame when your car runs out of fuel is you. But when this is so self-evident, why do we expect our bodies to keep on running at full speed, and our minds to keep making sensible decisions, when we've not kept ourselves properly fed and watered? Why do we work through lunch without stopping to eat? Worse still, why do we do so, then submit to a bar of chocolate a couple of hours later - promising that it's deserved because it's simply a meal replacement?

Eating properly, healthily and regularly is vital. Yet when you're busy, stressed or down, it can be one of the first things to get forgotten. You don't need me to tell you what's good for you and what isn't, just as you don't need me to tell you when to eat and when not to. So do the right thing today, and make sure your tank's filled appropriately. Running dry on one of those lonely Arizona roads isn't a comfortable experience.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Chance cards.

Have you ever stopped to think how easy it is to get yourself into a rut? To do the same things, in the same way, day in, day out? And to automatically snap back at a reflection like mine that, darn it, that's how life is. A long list of things to do, places to be, routines to be followed. Is that how life is? Well, yes, to some extent. But, no, it needn't always.

The other week my friend Tim and I compared notes about our coming evenings, and we were both going off the beaten track. Not wildly, but enough to have something to look forward to. In Tim's case, a friend was coming over, bringing a meal. He'd no idea what it would be. In mine, I was off to a Film Club evening, to watch whatever happened to be showing. For both of us there was a lot to be got out of leaving things to chance. (Tim got duck รก l'orange. I got 'The Wildest Dream', about the British mountaineer George Mallory.)

At times, life can feel predictable and boring, so is there something you can plan this week to inject a spot of the unexpected? Count to ten as you walk round a library or bookstore, then stop to pick up the first book you set your eyes on. Open your address book at random, and call whoever's name you happen to see. At the supermarket find two unusual items for dinner, whose names start with your initials. Life can be better when some things are left to chance. (By the way, if you attempt the supermarket challenge above, please do yourself a favour and steer clear of the cleaning items aisle.)

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Reasons to be tearful?

How do you react when things don't go your way? I'm afraid it's ever so easy to become unrealistic in the way you reason. You lose out in a competition, for instance, and you declare that you never win anything. The train doesn't turn up when it should, leading you to grumble that they're always late. You temporarily fall out with a friend, and then moan that nobody loves you. You and I know that it's rarely the case that things are permanently up the creek, yet when you're feeling rough, you may be liable to slip into this unfortunate way of thinking. I know I certainly can.

A good counsellor might challenge your assumptions. She would ask you if it's genuinely the case that you've won nothing whatsoever in your whole life, and you'd probably begrudgingly admit that, well, you did once come first in an egg and spoon race. Unrealistic reasoning isn't helpful, and it's invariably helpful to interrogate yourself if you ever find yourself ruminating in this kind of way. Almost certainly you've won something at some time. You've experienced punctual trains. And someone somewhere loves you. Betcha.

Monday, 15 April 2013

No distractions.

You know that thing where you're supposed to pat your head while simultaneously rubbing your stomach? I'm not good at it. That's possibly because I'm a 'one thing at a time' kind of guy or - as I'm sure the majority of women would say - a man. Some of us are able to multi-task, while others operate best when they're fully focused on a single objective. But my point today is that when you need to do some proper thinking, it's hard to concentrate with too many distractions around you.

On the train the other day, thanks to two phone conversations going on next to me, I found myself reading the same sentence over and over again, so in the end I got up and found a quieter carriage. Sometimes we all need a little peace, a little solitude, a little quiet time. When you've tracked down a space like this, it's surprising how much it will add to your clarity of thought. Often you'll have to actively seek it out, but it's worth the effort, even if it's not always easy to find.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Nice legs.

I'm reliably informed that back in 2006 Mariah Carey's legs were insured for a knee-trembling billion dollars. Over the years, a procession of celebs have had eye-popping policies covering various body parts (often, I suspect, largely for PR purposes). However, it may make you wonder why such a chasm should exist between those who take care of their bodies (I'm assuming that if you have billion-dollar legs, someone somewhere is going to be keeping a very close eye on your pins' wellbeing) - and those who don't.

I reckon there's a tendency for many of us to assume that our bodies will simply look after themselves, even when we treat them carelessly. But that's not always so, and it's easy to slip into bad ways. Not surprisingly your mental wellbeing is pretty closely dependent on your physical health, and this in turn is clearly affected by the degree to which you look after yourself. Unless you know something I don't, you've only got the one body. Does it therefore not make sense to look after it?

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Different perspectives.


Some time ago, Caroline's family and I were lucky enough to get a very different view of London. We were up on the 34th floor of the BT (formerly British Telecom) Tower, sadly no longer open to the public, and much to Caroline's sons' excitement, the man in charge turned the key to set the whole floor revolving. It takes twenty-two minutes to do a complete circuit, so you can be lazy and take in a 360-degree view of London without moving a muscle.

London looks very different from above. Although I know my way round town pretty well, it's still a bit of a rabbit warren. From the thirty-fourth floor, however, it was possible to see a lot of order to the streets' layout. You're also aware of how much open space there is. You may have noticed a similar phenomenon as you've been coming in to land when travelling by air.

At times, life can feel complicated. Often you can't see what's just round the corner for the wall-to-wall stuff that's going on. But maybe there's a way to get a different view of things? It could be that by switching off the TV once in a while, and sitting with a pen and piece of paper to jot down your thoughts (for some reason I think better when I'm making notes) will give you a different perspective. A short walk might achieve it too. What's life like for you? It really does depend on how you look at it.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Moving music.

Coronado Island in Southern California is where 'Some Like It Hot' was filmed in 1959. Part of the County of San Diego, it's connected to the city by a jaw-dropping, vertigo-inducing, bridge that arcs over the bay, and the other day I was instantly transported back there (sadly only in my mind) by nothing more than a song on the radio. If you're not familiar with it, 'Only Human' by The Killers sounds as if it might be a heavy metal blast, but it definitely isn't. I'd certainly include it on my Feelgood List, in fact, and whenever I hear it I'm reminded of it playing on the car stereo as I crossed the bridge a year or two ago. The music plays, and I see what I saw when I was there.

The thing is, music has immense power to take you somewhere other than your current location, and often to move you emotionally just when you weren't expecting it. Most of us have music in the form of CDs (tapes and records even, if you've still a way to play them) knocking around our homes, which we've forgotten all about. Nowadays just about any song you can imagine is on YouTube, too, so you've no excuse. Just like reaching for an aspirin when you've a headache, why not trawl your memories for a tune you associate with good times, and treat yourself to a listen today? A little boogie wouldn't go amiss, either, even if you dance like me.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

What you can change.

Can you change the colour of your skin? Tanning booths aside, nope.

Can you add six inches to your height? Not really, no.

Could you lose a few pounds? Possibly, but not overnight.

There are things about our physical selves that we accept. They're who we are, and how we look. So why then do some of us (including me) wish we could be different in other ways? We may pray that one day we'll wake up permanently happy, or less anxious, or more sure of ourselves.

The thing is, that's generally not going to happen.

Sure, you can work on your mind in the same way that you can on your body, but on the whole you're probably who you are, you know: you're probably not going to change that much.

Years of mood-tracking has shown me that I'll always have rougher times alongside my better ones. Knowing this and accepting it were two different things, though. However, it helps hugely - it really does - to be able to declare that you are who you are: there's a lot to be said for this.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Thinking too hard?

Do you wonder if sometimes you might think too hard? If so, you're not alone. Many of us pass too much time thinking, and not enough time doing. It's an easy trap to fall into, especially if your mood is low and you've ended up spending a lot of the day inactive and alone. I know, I've been there. You don't feel great, so you stay at home. You don't feel like doing much, so you slump in front of the TV, or don't get out of bed. And then the over-thinking starts. The excessive worrying. The rumination.

There's a neat way to trick your brain into thinking less, though, which is to completely immerse yourself in something that takes over all your cognitive capacity, drowning out the destructive thinking with something else altogether. It happened for me a few days ago when I spent an afternoon and evening with a friend's sons. As kids do, they demanded my full attention, which I was happy to give. We played in the garden, made a chocolate cake, cooked dinner, did their homework.

The point is, a whole slice of time went by during which it was impossible for me to fill my head with the usual stuff. Was this simply avoiding the issues? Well, I don't think so. When I returned to the normal routine the following day, I found I'd much greater clarity of thought. When you catch yourself thinking too hard, it's not always easy to tell yourself to stop. It can be more practical to crowd out the negative thinking with something else altogether.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Emotional ambush.

Funny, emotions can creep up and surprise you at times. David the psychologist and I recently watched a dismal England football match in the pub. After it was it over, a little lad of about seven wearing an England shirt held out his hands to his dad as if to say 'what was that all about?' Out of nowhere, it actually got me a bit teary-eyed. Not a good look when you're surrounded by football supporters, but I think it was to do with me identifying that he was disappointed, and wishing he didn't have to be.

Then synchronicity struck, when one of the blogs I follow mentioned author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia, who once judged a contest whose purpose was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old whose next-door neighbour was an elderly man who'd recently lost his wife. Seeing him cry, the little boy went into the old man's garden, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there.

When his mother asked what he'd said to the neighbour, the little boy said, 'Nothing. I just helped him cry.' Sometimes it can good to shed a tear.

Monday, 8 April 2013

The movie in your mind.

I guess it's human nature that we should tend to dwell on those things which went wrong, often failing to recall those which were successful, happy and exciting. Sometimes it seems as though we believe that constantly replaying the sadder, badder stuff might make it all go away, whereas it often just becomes increasingly visible, usually far more than its significance deserves.

If you're anything like me, you've probably got good at chewing over negative events, seeing the pictures in your mind just as clearly as they were when whatever it was first happened. Often, however, a kind of distorting filter gets placed in front of the lens, so the pictures you see are a misinterpretation of what really took place. It may be difficult, but there's a lot to be said for thinking like a detective when these nasties show up in your head. Was it truly as awful as you apparently recall? Was everything about it as bleak as you remember? And most important of all, is there honestly any value in playing it back as often as you do?

So here's a thought. If you've become an expert at creating these remembered images, why not put your skills to better use now and again by re-running memories of an especially good and happy event instead? Visualise the sights and sounds, and concentrate hard on re-imagining thoughts you could have experienced at the time. You may be surprised how well this can work, and how swiftly it could bring a small smile to your lips.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Horses and donkeys.

Oh how we love to classify things, organising our world into neat little boxes, but then along comes the mule. There were those zoologists, secure in the knowledge that they'd classified horses and donkeys as separate species, then they turned their backs for a minute and – what do you know? – a male donkey gets jiggy with a female horse and around a year later out pops an in-betweeny, a mule. Now, I've clearly led a sheltered life, as while researching this, I learnt that the opposite, er, coming together of a female donkey and a male horse (you are keeping up, aren't you?) can lead to a rarer offspring, known as a 'hinny'.

The thing is, our neat classification systems often break down, and insisting that everything has a box, and that everything must be in its box, can mislead us at times. I thought of this last week during a fascinating exchange with some people who supposedly have the same bipolar disorder as me. Although our experiences had much in common, there were whole chunks which were completely different from each other.

When you face your own challenges with mood, it's tempting to believe that someone else who's gone through similar times will know exactly how you feel. But very likely they won't, and can't. That's why it's so so important to use your best efforts to make sense of your own feelings. Others can definitely help, but when it comes to true understanding, there's only one real expert, and that's you.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

How are you looking?

Some time ago, I chatted to an eighteen-year-old student about her project on depression. Having heard about Moodscope, she'd asked if we could meet, and after hearing about my experience with the mental health system she was, to use the vernacular, gob-smacked to learn that I'd been seen by two different psychiatrists at the beginning and end of a three month period during which I'd been asked to keep some sort of record of my mood.

At times you need to see a story through someone else's eyes in order to properly realise its meaning. This intelligent young woman immediately recognised that two different psychiatrists means two fairly subjective evaluations. How could the second one have known whether there'd been a difference in me since my appointment with the first? He couldn't. Now, you might not be a psychiatrist yourself (and if you are, you've been keeping that one quiet) but I'm sure you have a natural instinct to pick up on small signals when you come across friends you've not seen for a while. I bet you know pretty quickly, often within seconds, if something's not quite right – or alternatively that they're better than they were the last time you met.

Please trust those instincts. If someone looks and sounds flat, they're almost certainly low. It could be a temporary thing of course, but it's sensible to take note of the warning signs. Also, if you're fortunate enough to have a friend who's sufficiently honest to tell you that you're not looking yourself, doesn't it also make sense to treat this as helpful intelligence, rather than damaging criticism? Sometimes others see things which we cannot.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Planning time off.

I'm among the world's worst when it comes to taking time out. I wish I wasn't, but something inside me seems to stop me stopping. I know I'm not alone: I'm sure you'll have gone through this yourself from time to time or (I do hope not) as unreasonably and unceasingly as I'm inclined to. But the thing is, when I do slow right down and take time off, the clarity of my thinking improves to an enormous extent. Problems that seemed insurmountable appear much more manageable with the perspective afforded by a rested mind and a brain that's no longer frazzled.

Often it's not good enough just to hope that an chance to rest will pop up by accident. It needs to be planned, and put in your diary in indelible pen – just as if it was a vital appointment or crucial meeting. Don't wait too long to do this for yourself. I spoke to the wife of a retired clergyman the other day who said that when she got home from the shops, her husband told her that he'd booked them a fortnight's holiday. Now that's the way to do it.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Where are you going?

I love maps. I came across dozens when I sorted through some stuff recently, and opening one instantly transported me to a completely different place. On a map, everything's so organised. If you want to get from A to B, it's generally pretty easy to see how you should go about it. You can see where places are, relative to others. And of course you can carry your map with you, to help in case you get lost.

I can't help thinking how helpful it would be to have a special map that would do for living what a conventional one does for travelling, but life's twists and turns are usually pretty unpredictable. Maybe this is unfortunate, or perhaps it's good. It certainly keeps you on your toes. However, even if there's no piece of printed paper to help you navigate through today, I think it does help to have a broad idea of where you're headed.

Not always easy, I know. I've always liked these lines from Alice in Wonderland, though:

'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'

'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.

'I don't much care where,' said Alice.

'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.

Where are you going to go today?

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Shall I compare thee to a Brussels sprout?

I'm afraid it's a fact of life that, just as not everyone likes Brussels sprouts, things won't always go your way. In fact there may be days when it all goes any which way but yours. While it may seem as if an existence with no problems would be an utter blessing, (a) sorry, it's not going to happen, and (b) there's the distinct possibility that a totally predictable life could soon get boring anyway.

When a Brussels sprout seed is sown, it needs water, sunlight and nutrients from the soil if it's to thrive. Somewhat surprisingly, however, gardeners and cooks agree that the flavour of a sprout improves no end after the plant has endured a frost. It's as if it needs to come through adversity in order to reach its full potential.

Brussels sprouts sometimes get such bad press (completely unfairly in my view, but there you go) that it would seem the height of rudeness to compare you to one. But perhaps it really is the case that when we overcome our problems, difficulties and challenges, we truly do become a better brassica.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Thinking about thanking.

As children we were all taught to say please and thank you, and there's little doubt that a little civility goes a long way in life. Although I try my best to do my bit in this respect, I still sometimes forget the powerful reinforcement that can be added to a simple thank you when it's coupled with some words of explanation.

For instance I could simply say to you, 'Thanks for reading this post.' But mightn't it be better to go a little further? How about, 'Thanks for reading this post, and for taking time out of your busy day to think about it. Knowing you've done this gives me a warm feeling that my work here has all been in a good cause.'? It's better when it's more spelt out, isn't it? Giving to someone else is an excellent fast-track way to feel good yourself, and of course there are plenty of different ways to give. Saying thank you is a nice easy one. Expressing gratitude and putting it in context can go even further. So what do you think? Is today a good one to give thanks?

Monday, 1 April 2013

Someone to listen.

Things don't always go as you'd wish. Life's like that. But when they don't, it can help to talk about them. The very act of speaking about your feelings can help you process them. It can help you rationalise your situation and solve your problems.

Generally we know this. Unfortunately, who you talk to plays a big part in the outcome of this process. Tell the right person and you'll walk away from the conversation with shoulders raised and spirits lifted. Tell the wrong person, however, and you could feel worse than you did before you began.

One key to success is to identify someone with that pretty rare combination of patience, good listening skills, and the ability to be relatively non-judgemental (yet, of course, not so bland that they have none of their own opinions). Few have these talents, all too many will instead be eager to dictate what you should do. Ask them, and they'll tell you in no uncertain terms. Better perhaps to hold your breath until you're with that special person who lets you talk, while they simply listen. You know who they are, so cherish them, and hang onto them because they're worth their weight in gold.