The end of January is approaching. How’s the new year treating you?
Endings and beginnings are seductive and the start of a new year is particularly so. Even if we don’t believe in resolutions, we like to imagine that things will be somehow different in the coming year; we’ll get fit, watch what we eat, buy fewer shoes (or is that just me?), quit our job, try for a baby, start a new course or ‘be more…..’ – you fill in the gap.
And by now, a few weeks in, most of us have reverted back to the old way of being, the automatic way we move through our life. The busyness of our lives, the demands on our time. And we might feel disappointed in ourselves, that our hopes for the new year have evaporated.
I think there are two ways to approach this:
If we want our lives to be different, we need to identify how
we want them to be different and create an achievable action plan. This might seem obvious, but a new year brings on a kind of magical thinking for most of us. We somehow think that the calendar ticking over will produce a change, without us having to do anything much about it.
Any plan for change has to be simple, measurable, achievable, realistic and be allocated a time for completion. For example –‘ I will go to yoga twice per week’ rather than’ I’ll get fit’. And we need to identify the barriers, the things that will get in our way.
I think a more useful way to think about change is to identify your values. What gives your life vitality and meaning? How do you want to spend your limited time on the planet?
Values are different to goals. Values point you in a direction; goals are something you can tick off. A goal might be to get married. Tick. The day after your wedding, the goal has been achieved. But a value around relationships, maybe something about being a loving and honest partner, is something that you can never tick off, it is something you show up to every day, even when things might get tough.
And a value is something that can keep you on track when you inevitably stray from your goal – because we will all stray at some time or another. When you realise you haven’t been to yoga for 3 weeks, reminding yourself of your values in relation to health and well being, and asking “what am I committed to?” provides an access point to getting you back to yoga class. Like a return to the breath in a mindfulness practice.
And if we can be gentle
with ourselves when we have strayed from our values and return to what matters to us with kindness
, we are more likely to stick to the changes we make in our lives.
You can read more about goal setting here
You can complete and exercise on identifying your values here.
How many hours of sleep are you getting per night? 7 hours? 5 hours? Very few of us get 8 hours per night and while most of us would agree that we would like a little more, we probably don't think it effects us in a significant way.It looks like we are pretty wrong. A recent study, reported in The New York Times, has shown that
after just two weeks of getting 6 hours sleep per night, participants were as cognitively impaired as those who had been sleep deprived for 24 hours straight. Which means that most of us, are not thinking as clearly as we could be.Sleep shortages can depend on our life situation; becoming a new parent, just starting a new job, falling in love, can all effect our sleep. But if our sleep shortage is chronic, there are a few things we can do to help.
- Make sure you wind down an hour before bed (that means no screens!), have a shower, read a book, listen to calming music, develop a routine that suits you.
- Empty your bedroom of technology - no flashing lights, dim lights, unexpected beeping noises. You want your bedroom to be as dark as possible.
- No caffeine before bed - no coffee, no tea, chocolate - and no alcohol.
- Make sure your room is cool. Overheating can lead to difficulty falling asleep.
- Leave your bed for sleeping and sex. No TV. No Candy Crush.
- Instead of setting an alarm to wake up, set an alarm to start your wind down routine.
- Try to wake up at the same time every day. And keep to a regular bed time.
- If you're tossing and turning, get up after 30 minutes, get a glass of water and return to bed.
For those of us who struggle with sleep, use the time to simply rest. Rest the body, rest the mind by focussing on your breath. Telling ourselves to fall asleep now! or checking the clock, only makes us anxious. Some people benefit from sleeping in two halves, with an hour or two gentle activity in the middle. Allowing yourself this time, rather than struggling to make sleep conform to a certain way, may reduce the stress of having to go to sleep.
A dear friend of mine was in the market to buy a scooter. She really did her homework: she researched various models online, read consumer satisfaction blogs, spoke with a handful of scooter sellers and test drove half a dozen at a specialist scooter show.
After weeks of research, she narrowed it down to just two.
And then she came unstuck, because she could not decide between them.
Making a decision can be really tricky. Particularly if we evaluate the consequences of 'making a wrong decision' to be unpleasant. But this is where our mind can get us into trouble.
My friend had sensibly done all of the hard work, she knew what she was looking for and both of the final scooters ticked the boxes. One was clearly not better than the other, just different.
Our minds will naturally draw to the opposite. Have you ever stood in front of the ice cream counter trying to make a decision? You only get one scoop - chocolate or vanilla?
"I'll have the vanilla. No, wait, maybe I'll have chocolate. No, no, definitely vanilla."
And while you're eating, what happens? "I really should have asked for the chocolate."
So here is what we can do when it comes to choosing:
Be on the lookout - notice that once you have chosen, your mind will tell you all of the reasons why this choice is the wrong one, why the other choice would have been better. Thank your mind for this very helpful suggestion.
Recommit to the original choice - remind yourself that you have chosen this.
Be mindful - enjoy your choice. Explore it, revel in it, and choose it again and again.
The 'right choice' can only be evaluated as such in hindsight and even then it is a poor assessment, because we don't get to play out the alternative.
And often there is no best choice. Just a different one.
So.....chocolate or vanilla?
I was in a workshop once, filled with about 100 therapists, psychologists and the like, run by a colleague Kelly Wilson
. He asked us to raise our hands if we thought that deep down, there was something intrinsically wrong with us, something that we felt was not quite right, something that we tried really hard to hide or compensate for or fix. Something that we'd known about for a long time.Every single person in that room raised their hand.I often see people who think they are the
only ones who struggle with 'x' (you can fill in the gap here - anxiety, depression, feeling ugly, boring, stupid, unlovable, not good enough.....you get the picture). I mean, intellectually
, they know that other people struggle. But when they look around them and compare themselves to their mates or people in the media or friends on Facebook, they don't really see much evidence for it.Or if they do know people who struggle, they're quick to come up with a very valid sounding reason as to why their own particular difficulty points to deep and terrible emotional damage. Any good stuff that happens to them is luck and the bad stuff is all them.Does this sound familiar?There is a good reason why our minds get caught up in this comparison. Our primitive ancestors needed to make sure that we were safely ensconced in the tribe at all times, because getting chucked out meant you had a really good chance of being eaten. So we compare ourselves to others to make sure we're still fitting in.We compare our inner-selves with the outer-selves of others. And those people you're comparing yourself to? They are fretting and trying to 'fix' themselves and wondering what others think of them, just like you.
And most of the time, we don't talk about this to anyone. We just assume that we are the only ones, that others are somehow more 'whole' and we feel even more damaged and isolated by our pain.Holding in our minds the fact that others suffer too, doesn't necessarily reduce our own suffering, but it can help us feel more connected to what it is to be human, to feel less alone.
We all struggle. And just like that REM song, "Everybody hurts......sometimes."