This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
by David Mills
Copyright © 2006 David Mills All rights reserved. ISBN: 1-4196-5840-9 To order additional copies, please contact us. BookSurge, LLC www.booksurge.com 1-866-308-6235 firstname.lastname@example.org Interior book formatting by Rend Graphics www.rendgraphics.com
To my dear friend Derek Boyle who taught me more than he ever realised.
Dear reader, Here is my promise to you, this book could change your life, it has that potential. Whether you turn that potential to your advantage or not is entirely up to you. Every day of the next twelve months, and you can start today, whatever the date, has a thought provoking idea, question or story. Each item is based on my twenty-five years of experience as a counselor, and each of them has already made a difference in somebody’s life. If you start taking the suggested actions right now, your life will take an immediate turn for the better. If you continue to take action, a year from now your life will have improved almost beyond recognition.. I wish you all the best for the year ahead.
January 1: Changing your life.
Do you want your life to be different a year from now? I assume so, otherwise why are you looking at this book. If you don’t want to end up in twelve months time back where you are right now then the ﬁrst thing you have to do is make some different choices. There is a deﬁnition of madness that goes ‘Madness is doing the same thing as you did last time and expecting a different result’. so, make some new choices and act on them Starts today with something simple and easy, don’t set yourself up for failure. Write down now three ways in which today could be different, three changes you could make and would be sure to stick to. They could be as simple as tidying up a room, making sure you laugh three times or better, promising to make three other people laugh before you go to bed. Whatever you choose write it down now, put the list by the side of your bed and check you did what you agreed to do before you go to bed tonight. If all you did was repeat this exercise with new items every day for the next year you life would be transformed.
January 2: Do you ever create problems to draw attention to yourself?
Just look back over yesterday, last week, last month or even last year and ask yourself this question. Perhaps, you didn’t really create a problem as such, but merely highlighted one? Or, maybe, this doesn’t apply to you at all? If it does, however, you might want to spend time asking yourself whether this approach really serves your purpose. If you create a problem or make too much of one, it could help you attract attention from other people. But it would also leave you with a greater problem on your hands because of the energy you have wasted on it without being able to arrive at a solution. Your challenge today is to come up with a way that serves you better. Spend the next 24 hours without talking about your problems and see if this approach makes a difference.
January 3: An interesting quiz.
Write down the names of the following: • • • The three richest people in the world. The three most recent winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. The three most recent winners of the Oscar for Best Actress. Three friends who have helped you through a difﬁcult time. Three people you know who have inspired you. Three people who have made you feel special.
Now write down the names of the following: • • •
The people who make a difference in your life are neither the wealthiest ones nor those with the greatest number of awards. They are individuals who have touched you, those people who have made you feel good about yourself. Remember this when you are considering what is important in your life. Remember this when you have a chance to reach out to others today.
January 4: Suffering and happiness.
There is a story of a man who resolutely endured suffering all his life so as to be able to buy a single moment of pure happiness. One day, he bundled all his suffering into a large, heavy bag, slung it over his shoulder and headed to the market. When he tried to trade in his suffering, however, he was told that no exchange rate existed between suffering and happiness. For there is no way to happiness; happiness is the way. All your deferred gratiﬁcation doesn’t enhance your happiness; it merely postpones it. Plans are useful, but they should be relevant to your present, not just focused on the future. They should aim at making you happy now, not at some unspeciﬁed later date. Remember, the tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long for it to begin.
January 5: Keep a record of your victories.
It’s a good idea to maintain a record of your past successes, big or small. Now you might think “I don’t have any successes to record.” In which case, start with the following one: “I made it this far.” However traumatic your past may have been, whatever might have been the nature of the problems you faced, you wouldn’t be reading this now if you hadn’t made it this far. Indeed, the more difﬁcult your life has been in the past, the greater is your triumph in surviving it. For those who are less self-critical, I would suggest that you make a list of some of the successes you have enjoyed in life, along with the obstacles you have overcome and the occasions on which you lent others a helping hand. Dig deep and you will ﬁnd many such examples. Keep this record for tough times, when you need a reminder that life isn’t as hopeless as you’re imagining it to be. Keep this record for the moments when you feel helpless and not in control and your conﬁdence needs that extra boost. You’ll discover that it does make a difference.
January 6: Letting people grow at their own pace.
A man came upon a cocoon in which a caterpillar was slowly growing into a butterﬂy. He noticed that a small opening had appeared in the cocoon so he sat and watched the butterﬂy for several hours as it struggled to force its body out. At one point, it seemed not to be making any progress at all, as if it had gone as far as it could and could go no further. Observing the butterﬂy’s plight, the man decided to help it on its way out. Taking a pair of scissors, he snipped off what remained of the cocoon, setting the butterﬂy free. He noticed, however, that it had a swollen body and small, shrivelled wings. The man continued to watch the butterﬂy, expecting that at any moment, its wings would expand to a size appropriate for supporting its body. He also thought the body would contract in time to accommodate the increased wingspan. Neither happened. On the contrary, the butterﬂy spent the rest of its life crawling around on the ground, it never was able to ﬂy. The story illustrates a valuable lesson for us all. It’s so difﬁcult to stand back and let those we love struggle to make it and sometimes it’s right to reach out and lend a helping hand. But sometimes the struggle is what is needed so the person concerned can grow to be truly themselves and we would be unwise to get involved. There is a skill involved in knowing whether to intervene or not in a given situation and we develop that by being aware we have a choice and that it’s not always the best approach to reach out and help.
January 7: Slapped and saved.
Here’s a story that holds a lesson for us all. Two friends were walking through the desert. During the journey, they got into an argument that ended with one friend slapping the other. The one who had been slapped was deeply hurt by the other’s behaviour, but refused to protest or retaliate. Instead, he remained silent and traced the following words in the sand: “Today, my friend slapped me in the face.” Walking on further, they came to an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and would have drowned, had it not been for his friend who ran to save him. Having recovered from the experience, the survivor carved the following words on a stone: “Today, my friend saved my life.” His rescuer asked him, “When I slapped you, you wrote in the sand. Now that I have saved you from drowning, you carve your message on a stone. Can you tell me why?” His friend replied, “When someone hurts us, we should record it in sand so that it gets blown away easily and is soon forgotten. When, on the other hand, someone does us a favour, we should record it in stone, so it will never be erased either from its surface or from our memory.” How do you personally respond to such situations? Do you let go of the hurt and hold on to the memories of the favours people have done you? Do you give equal weight to the injustices done to you, along with the favours? Or do you, perhaps tend to do the reverse of what the friend in the story did. If you do, perhaps, you could change this way of reacting both now and in the future, it’s your choice. Right now you could even let go of something you have been holding on to and replace it with a memory of a past kindnesses.
January 8: Trust or distrust?
This could be a book in itself. thoughts for your consideration: But here are some
Trust: Your heart and your mind, when they are in agreement. Distrust: Those who claims that whatever they believe will work for you as well. Trust: Whatever does work for you; it’s a simple and effective test. Distrust: Those who say there is something wrong with you and they can ﬁx it. Trust: Friends who are willing to give you their support more than their advice. Distrust: All “experts” and systems that claim either to be unique or the best.
January 9: The unresolved past.
I’m not a great advocate of the habit of brooding on the past. The fact remains, however, that we each have a past and it can affect our present lives without us always being aware of it. Here’s a good test: If you ﬁnd yourself overreacting to harmless situations and easily becoming angry, defensive or frustrated, then it’s probably linked to an event in your past. There are many resources available today to help explore such problems and resolve them. Sometimes, however, mere awareness of the past association is enough to start the healing process.
January 10: Does the resolve to be positive last forever?
There’s an easy answer to this question. Positive thinking, motivation, determination and resolve don’t last forever. But then neither do eating, sleeping or washing. That’s why we need to repeat these activities every day. Good habits—as well as bad ones—need to be sustained in order to become a regular feature of your life.
January 11: A mind that is stretched.
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes So here’s a question, a challenge for you to consider: If the alternative was to walk naked down your local high street, what risk would you choose to take today (nudists, feel free to come up with an alternative example)?
January 12: Where is the grass greener?
We are all familiar with the old saying, “The grass is greener on the other side”. It means that we are attracted to what we don’t have, often at the cost of what is already ours. Here’s another way of looking at this question: “Where is the grass greener?” Answer: “Wherever you water it.” What grows is what you care for, put your energy into and nurture. The problem is that this truth applies to weeds as well as to grass and ﬂowers. If you nurture your resentment, it will ﬂourish. If your mind concentrates on forgiveness, this quality will grow and resentments will wither and die. I’m sure you can come up with many more examples, including some that are relevant for you today.
January 13: Could you be holding on to suffering simply because it is comfortably familiar?
This question may well anger and upset you. If you have endured great suffering in your life, it can seem callous and insensitive if someone suggests that you might be deliberately clinging to memories of difﬁcult experiences. I perfectly understand this might prompt many of you to answer my question with an honest and resounding “NO!” But do take a few minutes to ask yourself the following questions: • • What would you lose if you were to let go of your suffering? What would you have to face up to, if you let go of your suffering?
January 14: Changing the world.
Here are a couple of rules which can transform your life and the world as well. 1. 2. Be kind to others whenever possible. It’s always possible to be kind to others.
Kindness is not to be confused with weakness. It doesn’t mean letting people walk all over you. Kindness is a state of mind that guides your choice of action. You can’t hold on to resentment and still be kind. You can’t be angry and kind at the same time. Today you can decide to let go of your anger and resentment and respond to others from a heart full of kindness.
January 15: Today, you could...
Today, you could remind those you haven’t spoken to for a while that you love them. It’s taking a risk of course, but then, that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? Today, you could start letting go of an old hurt or pain that has festered within you and begin to feel free again. You don’t have to do it all at once. Just take your ﬁrst step in that direction. Today, you could try something new and change the direction of your life, it could even be something as simple as a new way of having fun.
January 16: Making sandwiches.
A man opens his lunch box every day and exclaims, “Not peanut butter and jam sandwiches again! I just hate them!” At the end of a week of complaining, a colleague asks him, “Why don’t you ask your wife to make you different sandwiches next week”? “Oh, I’m not married,” the man replies, “I make my own sandwiches.” Now, this is obviously more of a joke than a story, but then so is complaining about the circumstances in your life that you have created yourself. Yet most of the situations we ﬁnd ourselves in are either of our own creation or because we are not prepared to pay the price required to release ourselves from them.
January 17: What do you want in life?
Setting a goal and moving towards it is not a method that works for everyone. There are those of you who just want life to take them where it will and are happy to enjoy the journey. There are others who ﬁnd it useful to have an idea of where they want to go before they set out. Once you know what you want in life, you can ask yourself the following question: Is the activity I’m now engaged in taking me towards my current goals or away from them?
January 18: Who or what is on your LTS list?
Since our time in this world is limited, it’s worth having a Life’s Too Short (LTS) list of things and people we can very well do without. Here are some of the items you might want to put on your list. • • • Life’s too short to do things that don’t make you feel good about yourself. Life’s too short to be in places you don’t feel comfortable in. Life’s too short to be with people whose company you don’t enjoy.
Why not use these ideas to draw up a list of things and people you really don’t have time for and act on it?
January 19: The difference between purpose and learning.
I don’t subscribe to the belief that there is a purpose in everything that happens to us. Some events in our lives are so devastating that it seems heartless to suggest they have a purpose. I am convinced, however, that we can learn from everything that happens to us, no matter how catastrophic the event. It doesn’t mean it has to be part of a larger plan, just that even the bad times can teach us something. Look out for some unusual lessons you can learn from your past bad times and from your experiences today.
January 20: Why be unhappy as well?
“So your wife has left you, your business has gone bust and you think your children no longer love you. Why be unhappy as well?” — Lionel Fiﬁeld In addition to making you smile—I hope—this is a reminder that our feelings need not be entirely dictated by our circumstances. We do have some choice about how we feel and can choose to emphasise those feelings that work best for us.
January 21: Moving the book.
During my counselling practice, I would keep a diary on the table beside my chair. Sometimes, particularly when clients were talking about a row they had had, I would push my diary a few inches towards the edge of the table. I would repeat this movement a number of times until, inevitably, the diary fell off the table and landed on the ﬂoor. “So,” I would ask my client, “what caused my diary to fall on the ﬂoor?” “You pushed it,” was the usual reply. “Which push sent it down?” I would ask. The answer was usually, “The last one.” Well, it depends on how you look at it. To my mind, each push was necessary for the book to reach the edge of the table before falling off it. Yet, it might seem to a casual observer that the last push was responsible for sending the book to the ﬂoor. Here’s the lesson to be learnt from this: 1. If you concentrate only on the immediate effect, on the drama of the moment, as it were, you will miss the pattern of events that led up to the situation in the ﬁrst place. 2. Successful relationships as well as unsuccessful ones leave a trail of clues. It’s worth looking back at them to get a complete picture. 3. The relation between cause and effect is not always a simple one. If an action is immediately followed by a change in the given situation, there is a tendency to conclude that the action itself brought about the change. That may not necessarily be the case.
January 22: Emotional and physical.
Society has devised all kinds of restrictions to curb physical aggression. The law seeks, and rightly so, to protect us all, particularly children, from physical abuse. There are few laws, however, to constrain emotional violence. Yet, this kind of aggression can do just as much harm, both to ourselves and to others. Here’s an interesting challenge: Think about how you behave towards someone else, a friend, partner, parent, business associate or distant acquaintance. Now, imagine if the words you use and the feelings behind them being turned into physical action. A kind comment might assume the form of gentle touch, an unkind one that of a slap and a full-ﬂedged argument might well become a no-holds-barred ﬁst ﬁght. View today in this light:1. 2. 3. How do you feel about your interactions with the people you came across? Might you have ended up breaking the law and being arrested? Are there changes you need to make or people you need to apologize to?
January 23: What is sin?
The original word, “sin”, is a term borrowed from archery. It means to miss the centre of the target. In other words, to miss the mark. The correct response to a sin, in this context, would not be to ask for forgiveness or be self-critical, but to stand up and take another shot. When you watch a baby learning to walk, you don’t criticize it if it loses its balance and falls. You don’t interpret its inability to walk as a failure. You know that its faltering steps are just a process by which the skill of walking will eventually be acquired. I do wonder why we are not as kind and understanding when it comes to ourselves. We are all still in the process of learning, and encouragement yields more positive results than condemnation.
January 24: The man in my local market.
I learnt a great deal from the encounter I am about to describe. I was attending a training course at the time and had arrived too early for class. So, to kill time, I went to explore the local market in my area. Checking out the stalls, I saw a man ahead of me who, I thought, resembled the boxer, Mike Tyson. He was standing with his back to me. He had a huge neck, criss-cross markings on the back of his head and the build of a weight-lifter. Even while standing behind him, I could feel an aura of physical force emanating from him that was intimidating. Understandably, I gave him a wide berth. When I returned from the market and made my way to the room where the training course was being held, the same man was, of course, sitting next to me. And I had the pleasure of spending the entire day with one of the gentlest, kindest men I had ever met. When we parted, he gave me his business card. It read “Human Being” in the space people usually reserve for their job title. I like to think of myself as a person who is not particularly judgemental, but this encounter showed me how far I still had to go to be free of preconceived notions. I carry the memory of that encounter with me wherever I go, so that I can retrieve it the moment I have a hunch about someone. It prevents me from jumping to conclusions about a person’s nature simply from my perception of their appearance or from my ﬁrst impression of them.
January 25: The near collision.
He steered his motorboat upstream with the sun glinting on the water ahead of him. As his boat rounded a bend in the river, he saw another boat moving steadily towards him. Unable to see the pilot because of the glare of sunlight on the window, he sounded his horn brieﬂy to announce his presence. There was no change in direction as the other vessel moved relentlessly towards his own. He cursed the amateurs who rented boats on this stretch of the river. He gave vent to his annoyance with a long blast on his horn and a wave of his hand, but instead of swerving away from his boat, the bow of the other boat turned in his direction. It seemed bent on causing a collision. Swearing loudly at the pilot, he wrenched his steering wheel in the opposite direction to avoid the other craft and turned to make what he felt was an appropriate gesture in the circumstances to the person who had narrowly missed causing both their boats to sink. The other craft passed close by and he realized that there was no one at the helm. All this while, he’d been cursing a vessel that had slipped its moorings and was adrift on the river. Think about this story the next time you get mad at the bad weather, the late train, the lost keys and the crashed computer, among other sources of irritation. Very rarely is there a personal motive behind these situations; it just sometimes feels that way.
January 26: The greatest mistake.
The greatest mistake you can make may well be living life in the constant fear of making one. Remember, few mistakes are life-threatening. Most decisions can be reversed. Most consequences can be dealt with. Very little in life is permanent. A life lived without running risks can become a life devoid of purpose, challenge, progress and, ultimately, meaning. You don’t die by falling into the water; you drown by staying there.
January 27: Some useful ideas about finances.
These suggestions may seem obvious. They might also seem unsympathetic to your situation. If so, they may not be for you. But do check them out ﬁrst. 1. Wait for the cheque to clear. Don’t spend money you’re expecting to receive. Only money you have in your account and over which the tax man has no claim, is truly yours. Don’t borrow to fund daily expenditure. If you need to borrow money, do so to buy capital items. But always shop around for the best interest rates. Don’t spend your loan on daily requirements. There is a connection between risk and reward. Most days we get to learn from the media of ﬁnancial crooks who have ripped off members of the public by offering high rewards on lowrisk terms.
There are no such genuine investments in real life, no sure-ﬁre winners. High returns = high risk.
January 28: What would X have done about this?
We have a great ability to take the resources of people we know, people we have read about, people who are long deceased and even characters from ﬁction as advisers and use their wisdom to guide us in our lives. It is true that they can’t act on our behalf, but they may well be of help in showing us how to be most effective in choosing and taking action. If you ﬁnd yourself at an impasse at some point in your life, conjure up the memory of someone whose wisdom, energy and determination you admire. Now, ask yourself the following question: What would this person have done, if he were in my shoes? If the response you get is not of much help, try thinking of someone else whose way of dealing with the same situation could, in your opinion, have been effective. This way all the worlds experts can be at your command to guide and advise you. You can also choose to remember this is just a technique designed to bring out the best in you.
January 29: The chainsaw therapy.
I was part of the large group attending a weekend course. At one point, the course leader addressed the class and invited anyone who was feeling tired, had a headache or whose mind was elsewhere to join her in the front portion of the room where she was standing and explain very brieﬂy what was troubling them. In return, she promised to take away the feeling for a while. After each of the people who had volunteered to speak up had ﬁnished recounting their problems, the course leader vanished behind a curtain. We heard the noise of what sounded like a small engine starting up. Then she returned, brandishing a chainsaw. She moved swiftly towards the group of students gathered in the front of the room and it was only after she had got quite close to them that she stopped and switched off the chainsaw. Then she asked them, “Who is still bothered by the feelings they came up here to talk about?” There was much laughter, a lot of it stemming from a feeling of nervous relief. This incident set me thinking about how we tend to react when faced with what looks like imminent danger. The other, less important, issues in our lives get put to one side. While it’s not healthy to have a permanent threat hanging over our lives, you might consider how a serious crisis could create a context in which you feel more empowered and, therefore, more capable of handling the less signiﬁcant problems you encounter in your daily life.
January 30: The first step to change.
Whatever path you choose to follow, be it through selfexamination, therapy or spiritual discipline, the ﬁrst step in any direction has to do with increasing your level of awareness. To become more aware, it’s essential to take time out from whatever you’re engaged in and start observing what else is going on within you. You can describe this as contemplation, meditation, prayer or just being still and quiet. Whatever the name by which you choose to identify it, the process is virtually the same in each case. You can begin it here and now by sitting still, blocking out external noise and just noticing the messages your inner thoughts and feelings communicate to you. Probe beyond the usual superﬁcial stream of thought in your mind, let them ﬂow by and concentrate on your underlying feelings. They may well tell you of changes you need to make in your life and of the areas that need more attention as well as of those that need less.
January 31: An old joke.
A man not famous for his intelligence is asked by a friend to help check his car indicators to see if they are working. The friend says, “I’ll turn on the indicators and you look at them and tell me if they are working or not.” He gets into the car, switches on the indicators and his friend calls out, “They’re working … they’re not working ... they’re working ... they’re not working,” as the lights ﬂash on and off. The truth underlying this old joke is this: The question, “Is this working?”, is probably the most powerful one you can ever ask yourself. It’s a much better question than “Do others approve of this?” or “Is this what I have been taught?”
February 1: Today, you could…
Today, you could take a risk with something or someone. Who knows, your life might never be quite the same again. Today, you could talk to a stranger or give someone a gift. Who knows, their life might never be quite the same again. Today, you could show compassion and consideration in all your encounters. Who knows, the world might never be quite the same again.
February 2: If the same problem keeps turning up, it’s probably about you.
Here are some examples: If you keep feeling misunderstood, there’s a good chance that you don’t understand yourself or are not good at communicating with others. If other people keep irritating you, it’s most likely that you are easily irritated and might consider changing the situation by asking yourself why you react the way you do. If you keep getting involved in unhealthy relationships, it probably means that you keep making poor choices about the people you spend time with. If you think this just applies to other people, you’re fooling yourself. It may well apply to others, but it certainly applies to you.
February 3: There is no such thing as an insignificant contribution.
According to chaos theory, the beating of a butterﬂy’s wings in Africa can result in a tornado in Florida. In life too, a warm response can change the course of another person’s life for the better, whereas a harsh word may well do just the opposite. Live today as if everything you do has a consequence, for you will never know if it’s the big things or the little ones that have made the difference.
February 4: We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are.
Everything we experience we experience through our own unique set of ﬁlters, be it the big things like love and beauty or the more mundane such as the quality of a cup of coffee. Important insights arise from this understanding: 1. 2. 3. Our communications are, at best, approximate. Others do not see the world as we do and never will. Ideas about right and wrong are often matters of personal judgement.
Today, see in what way you can show more tolerance for the differences in others; for you are just as different as they are.
February 5: Loving being in love.
Some people just love to be in love and who can blame them? It’s a great state. Emotions run high and you feel you’re vibrantly alive. It’s worth remembering, though, that there is a difference between loving the state of being in love and actually loving the person you are supposed to be in love with. If you don’t make the distinction the chances are your relationship won’t last.
February 6: Comfort, stretch and panic zones.
It’s useful to look at how much of your life you spend in the following zones:Your comfort zone: This is where we feel most secure. It’s ﬁne to spend time in this zone, the trouble is that some people never step out of it! Your stretch zone: Here we push ourselves to excel at what we do and explore beyond the known and the familiar. This is where we learn and, therefore, grow as human beings. Your panic zone: This is where we know we have overdone it. It’s not a place to visit very often or a place to linger too long in. Now, what’s interesting is the way these zones interact with each other. If you stay in the comfort zone, the stretch zone shrinks and the panic zone expands. If you regularly spend time in the stretch zone, the comfort zone expands and the panic zone shrinks. If you regularly spend time in the panic zone, it tends to expand at the expense of the other two. For example, if you want to enhance your ﬁtness level, you might ﬁnd that a short run is a stretch. As time goes on, however, your body adapts to the exercise and running a short distance becomes a comfortable activity for you. As a result, you need longer runs to stretch yourself. If, like most people, you ﬁnd public speaking a trial that plunges you straight into a state of panic, you can devote yourself to gently stretching yourself in that area through preparation and practice, so that you get accustomed to the idea and the activity. Once you do so, your panic will at least reduce. So, right now, what can you commit yourself to do that will stretch you?
February 7: Waiting for the world to agree with you.
I once watched a television program about the workings of a well-known commune. A group had been formed to come to a decision about a logo to identify the centre. Its members had been meeting for over a year, conferring together about it and discussing it at length and yet had not reached an agreement. I noticed how differently they were all dressed. Some had chosen to wear clothes in bright colours. They were the ones who were in favour of a brightly colour logo. Others wore outﬁts in earth colours, some of them simple, others more ﬂamboyant. Each of them had chosen a logo that matched their preference for the colours they wore. I thought it was heartening that they weren’t able to agree on the logo. After all, they were individuals each with their own preferences. However this also means that if you are waiting for the entire world to become exactly like you, Christian, Muslim, vegetarian, left-wing, right-wing, football fan or whatever, you are wasting your time. It’s never going to happen. Instead, rejoice in the variety of human experience. Ask yourself what each person can teach you. You will acquire more knowledge, gain keener insights and learn to be less rigid in your views and more understanding of others. And you won’t waste your life waiting for something that isn’t going to happen.
February 8: A news fast.
News broadcasters and writers have an important job in our society. They act on our behalf as they try and ﬁnd out what is going on in the world and inform us about it. However, we should bear in mind that they are also ambitious individuals working for commercial organizations. And there is no doubt that bad news sells. It’s easy for us to overlook that all news media carries a certain bias, for the simple reason that it is controlled by the ratings game. This is something the media itself rarely talks about. Now, if you are in a positive frame of mind and feel good about yourself and the world around you, keeping yourself abreast of current events, even through mainly negative media reports, will do you no harm and poses no problems for your well-being. If, however, life has dealt you a few knocks and you are not feeling emotionally up to par, I would recommend you go on a news fast. Your being informed about the world’s problems at a time when you are struggling to deal with your own isn’t going to help either you or the world. So, take a break and switch off the TV when the news comes on. You owe it to yourself.
February 9: What would I try, if I knew I could not fail?
Write down three quick answers to the above question. Then look for the clues they hold to what else you might want to do in your life apart from your usual preoccupations. Perhaps, you should take a small initial step? Or a giant leap? We all have far more potential than we actually fulﬁl. “Ships in harbour are safe… but that is not what ships were built for.” (John A Shedd)
February 10: What would the child I once was think of the adult I have become?
Take some time right now to review the opinions you had of yourself when you were a child. Perhaps, you wondered about what sort of adult you might grow up to be. Perhaps, you even debated about the sort of a parent you might turn out to be. How does the reality compare? You may be pleasantly surprised at how far you have come. On the other hand, you may realize there are still some changes you need to make.
February 11: Is this important or is it just urgent?
It’s very easy to confuse what is important with what is urgent. As a result, we end up spending more of our time dealing with things that are urgent and rarely get to attend to the things that are important. Sometimes, those close to us, important people in our lives, suffer because we are so taken up with “urgent” trivia. An alternative question we could ask ourselves is the following: What would happen if I didn’t do this thing I regard as urgent and concentrated, instead, on something I consider important? Could I live with the consequences?
February 12: What is the bigger YES?
Sometimes, it’s very difﬁcult to say “NO” to the requests others make of us. Driven by the desire to help, we are likely to feel guilty about turning someone down. At such times it could be worth asking yourself the question “If I say “NO” to this request will that enable me to do something of greater value?” If there is something of greater value that you can do, perhaps even just having time for yourself, the “NO” can become a bigger “YES”, the negative can become a positive. Today you could put this into practice, at least once.
February 13: Let go of the past or the future.
Amazingly, some people keep a mental list of the times they were let down by their friends or partners. It is a list of every slight they ever suffered. The same people have a talent for choosing items from their list to toss into situations when the moment is ripe for creating the maximum amount of damage. Of course, these are “other people” and you have never done anything like that. But just in case you are tempted down this path, do remember that it’s your choice. You either let go of the past or the future.
February 14: Love never dies a natural death.
The state of being “in love” can and usually does settle down over the years, but love itself, if nurtured, need never die. What can kill love is a diet of negativity, particularly, negative comments. Communication either builds or destroys. The choice is yours. Perhaps, today could be the time to give extra care and support for the love that is in your life?
February 15: How can you ruin a relationship and grow old quickly?
The answer: Lay down too many rules. It is said that every cigarette you smoke takes ﬁve minutes off your life. Well, there is a good chance that every rule you establish about how things should or should not be costs you many times more than that. What’s more, such rules can damage and destroy your relationships as well. Relationships, like life, need to ﬂow in order to evolve. The greater the number of blocks we put in the way, the more likely we are to prevent the ﬂow and hold back the growth. And things that don’t ﬂow not only don’t grow, they also tend to decay. Today is the day you could choose to disregard one of your unnecessary rules and see how it feels when you go to bed tonight.
February 16: Tram tracks.
In the town where I grew up, there were tram tracks we loved following as we rode our bicycles alongside just for the fun of it. When our wheels sometimes got stuck in the track, we couldn’t steer and had to stop to lift our bikes off the track before setting off for wherever we were headed in the ﬁrst place. I’ve thought a lot about that as a life metaphor as I’ve got older. Sometimes when we feel we are heading in the wrong direction we can make a course correction to get where we want to be. Sometimes we get so stuck in our circumstances that we must come to a halt before we can change direction to correct our course. Is today a time for minor adjustments? Or do you need to pause before going in for a bigger change?
February 17: A mental challenge.
Try to go for three days without entertaining a negative thought for more than ﬁve seconds. If one comes along, either let it go or replace it with something positive. If you fail to do so, the time starts again and you keep going until you have completed your three days. The worst that can happen is that you become more keenly aware of your thought processes. And the best could be a permanent change in your focus.
February 18: Who would you be without your history?
Go back to early childhood and imagine the way your life would have been had the circumstances been different. You may discover: 1. How the difﬁcult times shaped the person you are today and that you don’t wish to change them. Areas of your life that were not fully explored or expressed and realize that you can do something about them. Bottled-up feelings that have, in turn, trapped the real you and which you could now choose to release.
Who knows what may turn up? There is only one way to ﬁnd out.
February 19: Who can put you down?
Well, almost anyone actually. It’s the hazard of being human. People who have poor opinions of themselves often try to boost their fragile egos by trying to put others down. It’s wise to remember when someone tries to put you down that this kind of behaviour says far more about the person indulging in it, than about you. There’s a difference between being put down and feeling put down. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
February 20: Take me to “The University”
This was the request a visitor made to her taxi driver when she was being driven around a historic town. The driver took a route past various colleges, the church, skirted the playing ﬁelds and ended up back at the railway station. The passenger argued over the fare, because she had not seen “The University”. She had wanted one building she could visit so that she could say she had been there. Unfortunately for her, that’s not what a university is. The same is true of a relationship. A genuine relationship can’t be conﬁned to a single location, a speciﬁc feeling or a particular event. It is based on all these things and more. Above all, a relationship is an experience and your attempts to deﬁne or contain it will merely hinder all that you would have gained from it, so undermining its value. Ask yourself: “What preconceived notions about my relationship do I need to let go of in order to allow it to ﬂourish in the weeks ahead?”
February 21: A “manipulative” story.
I try to avoid stories that manipulate our emotions and milk them for all they are worth, but this one illustrates such a vital truth that it deserves inclusion. A man stopped at a ﬂorist’s to order some ﬂowers to be delivered to his mother who lived far away. As he got out of his car, he noticed a young girl sitting on the curb and sobbing. He asked her what was wrong. “I wanted to buy a red rose for my mother,” she replied, “but I only have seventy-ﬁve cents and a rose costs two dollars.” The man smiled and said, “Come on in with me. I’ll buy you a rose.” He bought the little girl her rose and ordered the ﬂowers he wanted to be sent to his mother. As they were leaving, he offered the girl a ride home. “Yes, please!” she said, accepting his offer. “You can take me to my mother.” She directed him to a cemetery, where she placed the rose on a freshly dug grave. The man returned to the ﬂower shop, cancelled the order for the ﬂowers to be delivered, picked up a bouquet and drove the hundred miles to his mother’s house. Draw your own conclusions from this story about who you need to get in touch with, whose contribution to your life you need to acknowledge and appreciate. Then act on it.
February 22: The fitted suit.
A man goes to “George”, the famous tailor, to have a suit made. After selecting the fabric and being measured for the suit, he returns for the ﬁtting. He puts the suit on and discovers that one sleeve is shorter than the other. So, George suggests he shorten his arm by raising his shoulder. This will make the sleeve ﬁt better. The change of posture, however, turns up the collar. So, the tailor advises him to tilt his head to one side. This creates a problem with the other shoulder. So, his body has to be adjusted to compensate for it and this goes on. When the man ﬁnally leaves the shop wearing the suit, he is stopped by a passer-by who says, “I know only George could have made a suit that would so perfectly ﬁt a cripple like you.” How much of your life do you live in a way that distorts your real identity in order to ﬁt the image life has made for you and which the rest of the world thinks ﬁts you perfectly? Write down the three biggest changes you want to bring about in your life and the action you can take today to help you move in that direction.
February 23: Why are you being so nice to me?
In the ﬁlm, The Breakfast Club, there is a scene where a girl from the wrong side of the tracks is being given a makeover by an upper-class girl she is sharing a Saturday detention with. The ﬁrst girl asks the second, “Why are you being so nice to me?” And the simple answer is “Because you’re letting me”. Just pause to think how difﬁcult the act of giving can be, especially when there is resistance from the receiver. People are sometimes embarrassed about accepting anything from others. It makes them feel obligated, beholden, even vulnerable. The process of giving is rarely simple. Now, ask yourself how good a receiver you are. How easy do you ﬁnd it to accept what others offer? Could it be possible that even as you’re resenting the fact that people don’t do anything for you, you resist accepting what they are keen to offer? Phrases such as “It’s easier if I do it myself” or “Others don’t do things the way I like them to” could serve as clues to discovering if this applies to you. If you’re not sure, ask someone close to you for their views. Today, you could try accepting what people want to offer you. It could be a fulﬁlling experience for both parties.
February 24: What are you waiting for?
Allow yourself to focus on this question for a while. Be receptive to the message it conveys to you and you alone. Okay, you might be waiting either for a TV program to begin or for someone’s arrival, so that the two of you can go out together, but beyond the immediate context, what are the many things you are expecting to happen and for which you have put your life on hold? Now ask yourself the following question: Is there an alternative to waiting? Even if something important is supposed to happen tomorrow, you still have the chance to enjoy today to the full, don’t you? Why waste the whole of today simply in anticipation of what is due to take place tomorrow? If you ﬁnd yourself waiting for the “right” person or people to turn up in your life, you might want to check out whether you are enjoying the company of those who are already there. If you are waiting either to start a job, go on holiday or merely for the sun to rise, don’t ignore the opportunities the period of waiting offers you. As a minimum your wait will be all the more pleasant for it.
February 25: You don’t find the light by studying the dark.
Counselling and therapy have their uses and have been of great beneﬁt to many. If trying to resolve a certain problem on your own or with the help of friends isn’t getting you the desired results, these are options you might want to give serious thought to. However, the purpose of such work must be geared to resolve your issues as quickly as possible. You should examine your past only to the extent that it helps you to release its grip on your present. Repeated analysis of the difﬁcult times you have lived through runs the risk of becoming a self-defeating exercise. If you are committed to improving your situation, your main focus should be on how you want things to be rather than on how they were before.
February 26: Others may travel along the same path but you are unique.
Reassure yourself with the thought that whatever you are facing is no different from what many others have faced before you. Most of them have survived the experience and even matured through it. Their experience and the manner in which they have come through it can be uplifting and inspirational for you. The situation has its ﬂip side, however. The triumphs of others can also become the stick we beat ourselves with as we ask ourselves repeatedly: They managed to do it. Why can’t I? This is the moment for you to remind yourself of your uniqueness as an individual. Just as your own ﬁngerprints cannot match those of others, the problems faced by others while similar to your own, are never identical. So, don’t be harsh on yourself because of your inability to handle problems in quite the same way as others have before you. Rather, allow the way in which they have dealt with their issues to become an inspiration for you. Be as kind to yourself as you would be with others. Always remember: They are not you, you are not them.
February 27: It’s not the size of problem that’s important, but the state of the person dealing with it.
I’m sure you will agree that it would be silly to try and run a marathon without being in peak condition, insane to start conducting an orchestra without learning to read music and stupid to dive into the deep end of a pool without learning to swim. Yet, we think nothing of trying to deal with major problems in our lives when we are least ﬁt to do so and are surprised when things don’t work out. Devote time to yourself and your needs, even if it’s for a short while, before you spend time on your problems. The better you feel physically and emotionally, the more resources you will have when you attend to your problems. As a result, they will seem less acute and the solutions you ﬁnd for them will be more creative. Here are three pointers: 1. 2. Get enough sleep. Almost everything seems worse than it actually is when you are tired. Check you are in a positive frame of mind. How you approach a problem determines how difﬁcult it will be to solve. Enlist the support of others. Few things need to be faced alone and most people love to be of help.
February 28: Who could help me with this? (1)
People are often reluctant to ask others for help and use phrases like “I don’t want to take up their time” or “They already have enough to do without having to do this for me as well” to justify their stand. Yet, the same people, if asked to help someone else, will say, “I’m so glad they asked me to do this for them” or “Pleased I could be of assistance.” Why not treat yourself with as much consideration as you would treat others? Why not ask for help today? If it’s not a leap year, you could even look at the item for the 29th February today.
February 29: Who could help me with this? (2)
If you could conjure up the image of anyone—living or dead, real or ﬁctional—to help you, who would that person be and what kind of help would he or she offer? Pay careful attention to the new insights the memory of that person brings you, acknowledge them as your own and follow the direction in which they lead. Why not ask for and accept help today?
March 1: Today, you could...
Today, you could use your past mistakes for new learning and deeper understanding. This won’t make those mistakes disappear, but it could make them useful. Today, you could ignore all outside distractions and move towards the important goals in your life. You could always deal with the detail tomorrow. Today, you could expect the best of yourself and end up exceeding your expectations. At worst, you will have taken a signiﬁcant step forward.
March 2: Possibilities in a relationship.
There are only three possibilities for the future of any relationship: 1. 2. 3. Stay as you are. Change how you are. Split up.
That’s it; there are no other options. So, if you can’t bear the way it is and you don’t want to give up on the relationship, your only option is change. And to quote the oldest idea in therapy, “You can’t change others; you can only change yourself.” If you can’t both agree on change, then the onus is on you. Yes, that may seem unfair. You may be in the right, but that won’t make any difference to the way things are. How will this change your approach to your relationship today?
March 3: How to get a 200 per cent return?
This, by the way, has nothing to do with ﬁnance. I don’t believe such returns are possible with ﬁnancial investments, unless you are prepared to take unacceptable risks. It’s not about sport either, as in ‘He gave 200 per cent effort. But there is a way of getting a 200 per cent return: By turning a negative into a positive. Think about an unpleasant experience in your life. Instead of brooding about how it has hurt or damaged you ask yourself the following question: What have I gained from this experience? It won’t make the experience any different from what it was when it happened, but it may help you have a more balanced perspective on it. Our hard times help us to mature. There may not be a purpose to our negative experiences, but we can help ourselves to move on by gaining positive insights from difﬁcult situations.
March 4: If your thoughts were food.
If the thoughts that usually ﬁll your mind were transformed into food and constituted your daily diet, how would you be feeling right now? If negative thoughts about the past became food that was past its sell-by date… If angry thoughts were transformed into unbearably hot and spicy food… If hasty decisions were, in reality, a hurried meal gulped down... If positive thoughts were the equivalent of fresh fruit and vegetables… …how would your body be feeling today? You might think this is just a metaphor, but in practice, what we put into our minds can affect us and have as important a bearing on our well-being as what we put into our bodies.
March 5: The magic rose geranium.
This is an old children’s tale. A lonely, despondent woman receives a gift from a friend. The latter tells her that the magic rose geranium she has given her is a special ﬂower that will transform her life. Although the lady admits it’s a lovely ﬂower, she doubts whether it will have much effect on her life. Later in the day, she notices how the ﬂower is making her table look old and shabby. So, for the ﬁrst time that year, she spends the evening cleaning it. The next morning, she decides to clean the chairs that go with the newly scrubbed table, so that they won’t look out of place. And she carries on with her cleaning spree until she has covered the entire house. In a week’s time, not only has the house in which she has been living been transformed, but her feelings too have undergone a signiﬁcant change. This is a wonderful story, but what lesson does it hold for us? Take your pick: 1. 2. 3. When you let love to enter one area of your life, it spreads to other areas. Make one change for the better and other things start to change as well. Giving appropriate gifts to others and to ourselves can change lives.
March 6: Will this matter a year from now?
This is a great question and one way to approach it is to try and remember what was on your mind a year ago. What caused you worries as far as relationships, health, family, friends, work, ﬁnances and politics were concerned? Now, which of these are still issues for you today? Chances are that most of the problems that troubled you a year ago do not cause you concern now or, at least, cause you far less concern today. And, yes, some of them may still be issues for you. But you probably either have plans in place for dealing with them or will do so by the time you go to bed tonight. So, start with the assumption that the next twelve months will bring you similar results. Most of the things that trouble you as you read this, will be over and done with in a year’s time. You might, therefore, stop to consider whether you should allow them to bother you quite as much as they do right now. Of course, there might be certain problems you suspect will linger until this time next year. If they are the same ones that caused you worry this time last year you need to seriously consider taking steps either to solve them or to minimize the impact of the consequences they are likely to have on your life.
March 7: Good news versus bad news.
Here’s the good news: Whatever troubles you now will almost certainly pass, either completely or to the extent that you will be able to deal with it more effectively. Here’s the bad news: New problems and issues will continue to crop up and preoccupy your thoughts in much the same way as the old ones did. Problems are a sign that you are alive. If you are waiting for the moment when all your problems will be over, you had better start drawing up the guest list for your funeral, because the moment you are looking forward to won’t arrive before you die. However, a point may come in the time ahead, when you’ll have become so good at dealing with life’s problems you’ll be able to meet them with a smile of recognition and the knowledge that it’s only a matter of time before you put them behind you, leaving space for something new to come along. Today you could start to feel that way.
March 8: To have what you want, you need to know what it is.
This seems like a very obvious statement. So, here are a few questions that might help you to understand whether it applies to you or not. 1. Are your goals stated in a positive way? For instance, “I want to stop feeling so despondent” isn’t speciﬁc enough. “I want to go to bed tonight feeling my day has been worthwhile” is a lot better. Can what you want be measured? For example, “I want to earn a speciﬁc” sum is better than “I want to have more money”. Have you established a time frame for achieving what you want? For instance, “Someday, I want to write a book” is not as good as “I will complete the ﬁrst chapter a month from now”. Is what you want within your area of control? For example, “I want my partner to be more loving than they are” you can’t control, “I will be more loving”, you can.
The clearer you are about what it is the more likely you will be to get what you want.
March 9: Are we compatible?
This is a question couples and friends often ask each other. It’s an important one, because compatibility in a relationship makes life a lot easier. The most compatible people aren’t, however, identical in the way they think or feel. In fact, an element of difference is what makes our relationships exciting and stimulating and a stimulating relationship, you will agree, is almost always better than a boring one. So, while a crucial test of a relationship is how compatible you are, just as important is the manner in which you deal with your differences. They do exist, even in the best of relationships, and it’s a healthy sign if you can discuss them with each other and have strategies in place to deal with them whenever they come up. Here are some thoughts that might help: 1. Have respect for each other’s differences. It’s not a matter of who’s right or who’s wrong, it’s usually a matter of perception. Keep aside some time to discuss areas of difference, particularly when emotions are not running high, and seek out points of agreement on how such differences can be dealt with in a positive way. Look for areas of agreement that transcend your differences. At some level you are likely to discover that you want the same things in life.
March 10: When you die, your “to do” list won’t be complete.
Life is a process of development rather than a string of events to be completed. However far you go, however hard you work and however much you achieve, you will never be free of “things that need to be done”. To imagine that it’s possible is about as sensible as thinking there is one perfect meal and that if you prepare it, you need never eat again. So, accept the fact that your “in” basket will never be empty for long and don’t put your life on hold until everything gets done. Start to enjoying both the process and the current moment. Ask yourself: What could I decide, right now, that would make my experience of today a better one?
March 11: Do my internal thoughts and question support me?
The thoughts you entertain, the questions you ask yourself, are almost always the outcome of the choices you make. No one tells you what to think. No one decides what questions you should ask yourself. If that is the case, it’s reasonable to ask if you are making the kind of choices that work for you. Examine the hour that has gone by. How empowering have your thoughts been during this period? How helpful were the questions you silently asked yourself? See what changes you can make in the hours ahead. You deserve to treat yourself as well as possible.
March 12: The brothers’ choices.
Two brothers grow up in difﬁcult circumstances and drift apart. Later, one gets in touch with the other and wants to know how he is. “Well I’ve been on drugs and in and out of clinics for most of the last ten years,” replies the other sibling. “I guess with both our parents being drug addicts, it’s not surprising. And how about you?” His brother replies, “Well with both our parents being drug addicts, it only seemed right that I should work in a drugrehabilitation centre and that’s where I’m calling you from.” Whether this is a true story or not is irrelevant. What it does illustrate is the degree to which the life you lead depends on the kind of choices you make. There are turning points in your life, times when the decisions you make will determine its future course. Those are the moments when you need to assume full responsibility for yourself and your future. The good news is that even if you have made some poor decisions in the past, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make better ones today.
March 13: The one-word answer to rejection.
If you live fully, participate in the activities of your community, have family, allow relationships into your life, are employed or run a business, you are going to have plenty of opportunities to experience rejection. It hurts to face rejection, certainly, if you see it as a personal slight or failure. And it’s true that while rejection is usually more about the person who is responsible for it than about the one at the receiving end, it rarely feels that way. You also live in a world of amazing opportunities. There are several billion people in this world. And there are certainly a few hundred thousand who would beneﬁt from being with you, as you would gain from being with them. The same principle applies to jobs, manuscripts, designs and so on. Anything that is liable to be rejected also has alternative sources of acceptance. So, the one-word answer to rejection is: Next!
March 14: Changing the “future past”
Most people look back with regret at something they have done or failed to do. It’s a natural, if unproductive human trait, because it makes no difference to what happened or did not happen. However, you can change what I call your “future past”, because while you can’t alter what happened a year ago, in twelve months’ time, today will have receded a year into the past and you can certainly change what you choose to do today. So, here’s a challenge: How do you propose to live today so that this time, next year, you will be able to look back with pride and pleasure at the outcome?
March 15: Today, you could...
Today, you could open your heart to the love and joy that surrounds you. All you need to do is change your focus. Today, you could see it as a privilege to experience everything that comes your way. Even the difﬁcult times can become a source of inner strength. Today, you could look at the blessings that come from just being alive. Particularly, when you consider the alternative.
March 16: It’s not where you come from; it’s where you are going that counts.
If history determined the direction of our lives, everyone with a similar history would end up in the same place. We all know that’s not what happens. The past most certainly does not equal the future. So, what makes the difference? If it’s not where you have come from that determines the course your life will take, it must be where you are going that decides it. And that’s something over which you have a choice. Your past is a given. You can’t change it. Whatever problems, failures or difﬁculties you have experienced before are behind you. You may still be dealing with their consequences, but the events themselves are over. From now on, it’s your own direction that counts. You are more than the sum of your past experiences. You are also your potential, the promise you have within you. Today, you can realize your possibilities instead of repeating your history.
March 17: A lifted weight.
Consider the question: What can you do today that would result in your going to bed tonight feeling a weight had been lifted off your shoulders? Interestingly, the answer may not involve a major decision or gesture. It could be a small thing that has been allowed to build up because it has been put off for so long. It could be a decision that you need to be communicated to other people or simply one you need to make in your own mind. Today just hold onto the idea of a weight being lifted off your shoulders and aim for the feeling to be realised by the end of your day.
March 18: Is this one big problem or a series of little ones?
Many so-called big problems can be seen as a series of small issues clubbed together. Breaking the cluster down into individual issues can make the situation far easier to deal with. Some people have trouble making distinctions between major and minor issues. So, here are some leads: 1. 2. 3. Loss of a loved one is almost certainly a big problem. Dealing with weight gain is a series of small problems. A health issue could fall into either category.
Write down three problems you are facing right now and ask yourself which category each one falls into. It will help you to decide how to deal with the issues confronting you.
March 19: Life isn’t an emergency.
Life isn’t an emergency, but we often seem to treat it as such. As a result, we become ﬁre-ﬁghters rather than planners and apply ﬁrst aid to symptoms instead of taking steps to deal with the causes. The most important distinction you can make here is between what is important and what is urgent. Then, using the categories developed by Stephen Covey, you can look at life in four quadrants: 1. 2. 3. 4. Important and urgent: Usually, crisis issues. Important, not urgent: prevention and planning. Preparation,
Urgent, but not important: Interruptions, pressing details. Not urgent and not important: Trivia, timewasting pursuits.
The quality of your life can improve by increasing the time you spend in area 2 rather than in areas 1, 3 and 4, which is where most people end up spending their time. You could choose to spend signiﬁcant time today in this important area.
March 20: Do people really change?
There is no bigger question in the world of therapy and this isn’t going to be a deﬁnitive answer. But it might well be a useful one and a good stance to adopt in viewing yourself and other people in your life. We all have some characteristics that, while undergoing occasional changes as our lives progress, so deﬁne our character that it will not change fundamentally. They are the personality equivalents of say, our height or the colour of our eyes. There are also aspects of our personality that can evolve substantially. A timid person, for example, can become a conﬁdent one. An individual who is reticent about expressing his love for another might learn to do so. These changes are less likely to take place as we grow older, but the possibility of them occurring is always there. What is more likely is that we learn to express our characteristics in more positive ways. Our personality remains the same, but its expression changes. From the point of view of an observer, it might seem as if we had undergone a more fundamental change. But we remain who we always were. We are just working things out in a different way.
March 21: What holds you back from doing what you want to do?
Before you do anything else, take a piece of paper and write down three things that you have wanted to do or even wanted to stop doing, but have yet to see this process through to the end. They are likely to be important things in your life, but they don’t necessarily have to be. Next, write down the main reasons why you have not made more progress on each item. Look for patterns: What do each of these reasons for the lack of progress have in common? Now, examine these reasons to decide what changes you need to bring about in your life. Oh, and one more suggestion, start taking action to make your goal come closer—today.
March 22: Behind every action is a positive intention.
This thought isn’t meant to be a deﬁnitive truth, but a useful way of looking at the world. It’s not intended to suggest that people shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions. It does indicate, however, that it would be a good idea to probe beyond the accepted concept of good and bad and explore what underlies our notion of evil, so that we can identify an intention we all recognize within ourselves, even if its expression is abhorrent to us. Now, if you have been hurt, betrayed or injured, it would be a real ordeal to ask yourself what the positive intention could possibly have been behind the deed. In fact, in situations where a great deal of pain, emotional or physical, lingers, it would be an unwise approach. But for those not directly affected by the trauma or in cases where its devastating impact has lessened over time, it can help to bring peace and understanding to a fractious and divided world. You might want to spend some time thinking this one over. It challenges the conventional ways of looking at the world to such an extent that it could take a while for its implications to be clearly and fully grasped.
March 23: What happens to your negative thoughts when your house catches fire?
Indeed, what happens to any thoughts at all, positive or negative, to your headache, your fatigue, your apprehensions about future events, when a catastrophe befalls you? When you are focused on saving your life and that of your loved ones, along with your precious possessions, nothing else exists for you at that moment, because you are forced by circumstances to live in the present, in the here and now. In the present, past experiences and future concerns cease to be a part of your consciousness so completely that they don’t seem to exist at all. So, if you want to put past and future issues aside, don’t set ﬁre to your house; just start living entirely in the moment.
March 24: How to be a ballet dancer.
There are two ways to become a ballet dancer. The ﬁrst is to sign up for lessons, buy the appropriate gear, devote yourself to the requisite practice and audition for jobs available in the ﬁeld. The second way is to decide that you are a ballet dancer, to tell yourself that this is who you are. Then sign up for training sessions, buy the appropriate gear and so on. Perhaps, the difference between the two ways doesn’t even seem all that important to you. Spend today the way you would if you were already the person you wanted to be. Assume that you have already brought about the change you were hoping for in your life. And observe, when you go to bed, whether this approach has made any difference to your life.
March 25: Who do you spend your time with?
Before you read any further, write down the names of three people outside your immediate family that you regularly spend time with. Now, write down the names of three family members you feel or have felt closest to. They could also be parents who are no longer alive. Now ask yourself this question: Would I be happy to have the three people I love associate with the three people I regularly spend time with? If your answer is yes, take some time to rejoice in the friendships you forged in your life. If the answer is no, ask yourself if you need to value your time and friendship more than you do.
March 26: A bull’s-eye every time.
This is a lovely little story about a national archery competition in which contestants were asked to send in a record of how many times they had scored a bull’s-eye. The person with the highest self-assessed score was invited to the city to meet the mayor. Everyone was surprised when this eight-year-old girl turned up, having claimed a score of 100 per cent. “How could you have achieved such a high level of accuracy at your age?” they asked her. “Well,” she replied, “I take my arrow and draw it back very tight in the bow. Then I point it very, very straight and release it. Wherever it lands, I draw a bull’s eye.” When was the last time you were satisﬁed with something you had tried your best in? I’m not advocating lowering of standards, but sometimes, perhaps, today, it would be a good idea to give yourself top marks, to draw your bull’s eye wherever your arrow lands.
March 27: Do you need a plan?
Do you need a plan to get where you want to go? Selfimprovement books seem to repeat the mantra, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” but I’m not so sure. It’s certainly true for some people, but not for everyone. Ask yourself: Is my current way of approaching life working for me? Is it getting me close to where I want to be? Am I enjoying the journey? If you can give a positive answer to those questions without a formal or written-down plan to back it up, ignore the idea of setting a goal for yourself. If what you are doing now isn’t effective in getting you closer to your objective, then having a plan or, at least, a better plan than the one you have already devised, would probably be a smart move.
March 28: The road well travelled.
There’s a famous book called The Road Less Travelled, based on a poem by Robert Frost. Here, I’d like to think about the well-travelled road that is, to my mind, of equal importance. Some people seem to thrive on forging their own path, a path different from that undertaken by others, and it works for them. But there’s nothing wrong either in following the course chosen by other people. There’s nothing to be gained from being different just for the sake of it. When others have trodden the path to a positive goal, it might well be the right one for you too, and worth following. The wheel already exists; you don’t have to go to the bother of reinventing it, do you? When you have a problem you need to deal with, it’s useful to see who has been down the same road before and ﬁnd out what worked for them.
March 29: When do you feel most connected? When do you feel least connected?
Spend a few minutes right now writing down three situations or experiences or even the names of three people that have contributed more than others to making you feel most alive, fulﬁlled and connected to the world. Now write down three situations, experiences or name three people that have been responsible for creating feelings in you that are quite the reverse of those. Perhaps, they have made you feel ill at ease or even made you feel alienated. Spend a little time studying the two lists you have just made and ask yourself if your life is well balanced and geared for your general well-being. Are you spending the overwhelming majority of your time on things and people that make you feel connected and the minimum possible time in situations that make you feel quite the opposite? If not, mightn’t some adjustment be called for to correct the balance?
March 30: A half-full glass or a half-empty one.
This very familiar metaphor is supposed to reveal whether people have a positive disposition or a negative one. It’s certainly a good starting point. Here are some points you might want to ponder over: To some extent, how you see the glass—and life— involves a choice. If you focus on its positive aspects, you will be able to enjoy them. If, on the other hand, you concentrate exclusively on the negative elements that is what you will end up experiencing. There is, of course, the very real danger of overly optimistic people failing to see the glass as anything other than completely full. They remain oblivious to the negative possibilities in a situation. In such cases, a reality check is essential and should include a willingness to acknowledge the negative aspects in a given context. Suppose, for example, that you are in a relationship where you, the optimistic half of the couple, are incapable of recognizing the negative elements in a situation. You may well leave your partner with no option but to express or highlight only those elements to the exclusion of all else. The question you should then ask yourself is this: In regarding the glass as half-full, am I deliberately avoiding a reality that is unpleasant or unacceptable to me?
March 31: What do you really want?
You probably have many answers to this question. Perhaps, you’re looking forward to a better relationship, improved health, weight loss, more money, promotion at work or a more peaceful world. Now, ask yourself what all this will give you when you achieve it. Somewhere in your answer will be the phrase, “I will feel better because...,” and it is likely to be followed by something event or change that lies outside your immediate sphere of inﬂuence and control. What you really want is to feel differently, that is, better than you are feeling at present, right? And in all probability, you’ve attached a condition to the circumstances that you think is necessary for you to have this feeling. Now, suppose you had control over how you feel. Then you could create the desired feeling without relying on external circumstances over which you had no inﬂuence. Now, ask yourself: Is it possible to feel the way I want to feel without achieving the targets I have listed? If you can give a positive answer to this question you may ﬁnd your life easier and more fulﬁlling.
April 1: Today, you could...
Today is the day you could treat everyone you meet with warmth and kindness. Then notice how these feelings often come back to you. Today could be ﬁlled with the most amazing possibilities. All you need to do is change your focus so that you are aware of them. Today you could start living the life you have always dreamed of. Remember, even the longest journey starts with the ﬁrst step.
April 2: Do your beliefs support you?
If there was such a thing as truth we would all agree on it and since we don’t all agree what is true for you may not be true for others. We need to treat such differences with respect but since you have chosen your beliefs you can ask if they are supporting your progress through life, and if they are not, chose different ones. Here are a couple of typical disempowering beliefs:Life’s a pain and then you die. Other people will let you down. Here are a couple of better ones:Problems are a sign of life. Most people are doing their best. What beliefs do you want to adopt and live by today?
April 3: If you knew you were going to die today, what changes would you make in your life?
This is a very tough question and it would be unhealthy to spend too much time thinking about your early death. But it is worth ﬁve minutes of your time, just to see what kind of thoughts it throws up. 1. 2. 3. Perhaps, you will look at some issues about relationships that you need to resolve. Perhaps, you will have thoughts about taking time off for yourself. Perhaps, you will consider dealing with something you have been putting off.
Whatever does come up, it’s worth making a note of and considering what action you can take today. It would be good to reﬂect on the progress you have made when you go, safely, to your bed tonight.
April 4: The benefits of an impoverished childhood.
The businessman was discussing with his tax consultant how best to arrange his ﬁnancial affairs, so that after he and his wife died their his children would bear a reduced tax burden. In the course of the conversation, he expressed his concern over his offspring’s attitude to money. He felt he had grown up respecting the value of money and had never squandered it on triﬂes. His children, on the other hand, did not seem to share his attitude. The consultant smiled at him and remarked, “You can never give your children the beneﬁt of a ﬁnancially impoverished childhood.” The anecdote illustrates that it’s the difﬁcult times we go through that contribute to our growth and maturity and the challenges we face and overcome are usually our greatest source of learning. Write down three problems you have faced and overcome in your life and ask yourself how you have beneﬁted from having dealt with them.
April 5: The farmer and the corn.
This is a story about a farmer who was being interviewed by a journalist because he had grown award-winning corn. “The secret,” said the farmer “is that I share my corn with my neighbours.” “How can you afford to share your best seed?” the reporter asked him. “Well,” said the farmer, “the wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and scatters it over ﬁeld after ﬁeld. If my neighbours grew inferior corn, cross-pollination would steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbours to grow it too.” Those who choose to be at peace must help their neighbours to be at peace too. Those who choose to live well must also help others to live well. Those who choose to be happy must help others to ﬁnd happiness as well. The value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. The good in each one of us is bound up in the good of us all.
April 6: What would happen if you did nothing?
A decision to do nothing is still a decision and in a world obsessed with activity not taking action can, sometimes, be a viable option. Not every problem needs to be solved. Indeed, not every problem can be solved. Certain things just have to be tolerated or lived with, while others are best left alone. The skill lies in learning to distinguish between those situations where action is appropriate and those where it’s best not to try and change things. It can be the best thing, once in a while, to say to yourself, “Don’t just do something; sit there.” Often, people who have been rushed to hospital because of a medical emergency, come out days or even weeks later, to discover that all the urgent things they needed to do have either already been done by someone else, no longer need attention or have turned out to be not so very urgent after all. You don’t really need to wait for an emergency to bring about a similar situation in your own life. It would be interesting today to take something that’s been on your mind, decide just to let it be and observe what happens.
April 7: The bank.
What would you do if an amount of £1,440 were deposited in your bank account every day on the condition that you spent it all by the end of the day, failing which the balance would revert to zero? My guess is that you would try and spend the money each day in a manner guaranteed to ensure that it would be of maximum beneﬁt to you on that particular day. The sum involved may well be familiar, it’s the number of minutes in each day and the truth is what you fail to spend to your beneﬁt day does not get carried forward. The balance is wiped clean. Each day is a new account, you can’t borrow, you can’t save. Make the most of today, it’s the only time you’re going to experience it.
April 8: Keeping a journal.
“If your life’s worth living,” said Anthony Robbins, “it’s worth recording.” Maintaining a journal is much more than simply recording your life. I know of no better or more important tool for becoming the person you want to be. It’s a place where you can record your best and deepest thoughts, jot down your aims in life, plot its future course, hold yourself to the high standards you have set yourself and explore any past issues that are currently affecting you. A journal can help you to know yourself as you would an intimate friend. It can act as your adviser and be a source of inspiration and guidance for you. By all means, write down the events and incidents that make up your life, but the opportunities presented by a journal are far wider than that. Perhaps, you could start a lifetime habit today by maintaining a journal?
April 9: Gossip.
“There’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.” — Oscar Wilde That might be sound very witty, but I’m far from sure it’s true, particularly, when I observe the harm caused by malicious gossip. I don’t mean the kind of talk targeting celebrities who often wash their dirty linen in public and open their personal lives to scrutiny and comment, though I concede they have feelings like everyone else. I’m referring to the kind of remarks made when socalled friends get together to talk about mutual acquaintances behind their back. I’m sure you must have noticed how often the information exchanged during these sessions is negative and damaging. Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself: How would this person feel if he or she were in the room with you? How would you feel if similarly comments were being made about you? What’s your responsibility, even if you are just listening to others?
April 10: You can’t possess another person, but you can nurture a relationship.
If you see a beautiful ﬂower in a garden and pluck it to take home with you, it may give you some pleasure for a few days, but will eventually die. If you leave it in its own soil, water it and nurture it, it will give you pleasure for many seasons. Wanting security, particularly in a relationship, is a natural human instinct. But grasping at something instead of nurturing it is a short-term strategy unlikely to yield long-lasting dividends.
April 11: The knight and the wolf.
A knight returned home from battle and went directly to the nursery to see his infant son. When he entered the nursery, he found blood everywhere and the family dog lying in the corner. Overcome with grief and anger, he took out his sword and slew the dog, assuming that it had fatally mauled his baby. On closer inspection, however, he noticed a dead wolf lying on top of his infant son. When he lifted the carcass of the animal off his son’s body, he discovered that the baby was alive. Realization dawned at last that his dog had killed the wolf in order to save the baby’s life and that he had killed the very animal that had saved his son. Just spend a few moments thinking of an unfair judgement you might have recently made about the words or actions of another person. Could you have been partly or even completely wrong in your assessment?
April 12: Now that you know better, do better!
Understanding that is not translated into action is futile; indeed, one might say it isn’t any kind of understanding at all. Unless what we have learnt is grounded in what we do, that knowledge is of little beneﬁt to ourselves and of no use at all to those around us. It’s worth taking a few minutes off from your usual activities today to check if what you now know is being expressed in what you do.
April 13: What would you do, if no one knew who you were?
Imagine a situation in which you suddenly ﬁnd yourself living in another country. Everyone speaks your language, but no one knows your history. And while you were being transported to this new place, you also lost, along with your luggage, all your former convictions and preferences. So, you are safe and secure, but unknown. What would you choose to do for a living? What sort of people would you seek out as your friends? What would you prefer to believe? What would you do for fun and entertainment? Now, check your answers to these questions and see whether they differ from the life you are actually leading right now. Then ask yourself one last question: Do I need to start making changes in my life?
April 14: You are more powerful than you imagine.
Mark was walking home from school, when he saw the boy ahead of him trip and drop a big pile of books he was carrying. Mark knelt down and helped him pick up the scattered books. Since they were going the same way, he helped carry part of the load. As they walked along together, Mark discovered that the boy’s name was Bill and that he loved video games, baseball and history. He came to know, however, that Bill had a lot of trouble with other subjects and that he had just broken up with his girlfriend. They continued to see each other around school and became good friends. Six years later, after high-school graduation, when they were going to college in different towns, Bill asked Mark, “Did you ever wonder why I was carrying so many things the day we ﬁrst met? You see, I had just cleaned out my locker, because I did not want to leave a mess for anyone else. I had saved some sleeping pills from my mother’s stock and was going to commit suicide. But after we spent some time together, talking and laughing, I realized that if I had killed myself, I would have missed those happy moments with you and so many others that might follow. When you helped me, you did not only pick up my books. You saved my life.” Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture, you could change a person’s life, for better or for worse.
April 15: Today, you could...
Today, you could try and respond with new energy and determination to the challenge of life. You could keep pushing, until the door opens for you. Today, you could be just one step away from a real breakthrough. And the only way to ﬁnd out if, indeed, you are, is to take that step. Today, you could suspend your judgement of others and look at them with new eyes. You might be pleasantly surprised at the discoveries you make or feel the need to protect yourself more.
April 16: Three things that went well.
This is a well-researched approach to creating, improving and maintaining a positive mindset. Each day, write down in your journal three things that have gone well for you. Add your views on what you believe are the reasons for this. The original experiment that was carried out along these lines suggested keeping up this practice for a week. The results in terms of a mood change for the better and an increasingly positive approach were very impressive. It was also clear that the longer the participants continued with the exercise, the more marked were the results. Why not start this exercise right now? Review the last few days and write down the ﬁrst three things that have gone well for you.
April 17: Aeroplanes are rarely on course.
Ask any pilot and they will conﬁrm this. Although they know their destination and plan their route in advance, they must spend a large part of the journey making corrections as external factors force them to move off course. Sometimes, they have to make major adjustments to avoid storms and turbulence. On other occasions, minor ones are necessary to allow for wind changes. But they still arrive safely at their chosen destination. It’s interesting, how some people feel they should be able to go straight to their objectives without encountering a single hindrance, sometimes even giving up if they are blown off course. What’s important is the following: You should know where you are going and also be aware if adjustments need to be made along the way. Don’t give up on your dreams. Just be prepared for the occasional detour.
April 18: If you want something, try asking for it.
It sounds very simple. But a great deal of research has shown that people are reluctant to actually ask for what they want either out of a misplaced sense of courtesy or fear of rejection or of social embarrassment. There are also people who make this request in so tactless manner that it doesn’t encourage a positive response. Here are some useful guidelines to help you ask for what you want so that your request is heeded: Approach someone who you know can supply what you need; otherwise, there’s little point in making the request. Be speciﬁc; make it clear what you want and when you want it. Ensure that your request is expressed with courtesy. Don’t demand, threaten or plead. Be prepared for the eventuality of a refusal. Sounds easy? Why not ﬁnd out? Experiment by asking for something you want today.
April 19: If you wrote yourself a letter, would you be upset to receive it?
I guess this sounds like a silly question. If you already know what you wrote, why would reading it upset you? But then, consider the following: Have you ever brooded over something and ended up feeling upset as a result? Have your thoughts ever lingered on a past slight and caused you to become tense and unhappy? Have you ever recalled a bad time you’ve been through and experienced the pain all over again? Remember: Your thoughts are not created by events. They aren’t created by other people either. They are created by you alone. And they are the letters you write to yourself.
April 20: What did you enjoy as a child that you would enjoy doing now?
A simple question and worth a few minutes of your time today. Just write down ﬁve things you enjoyed when you were young. It could be kicking leaves as you strolled along a street, being read to or whatever is relevant for you. If you can’t come up with ﬁve such experiences, write down things you think you would have enjoyed had you been given the opportunity. Now, next to each one of these items, write down a related experience you could enjoy here and now as an adult. Then try out a few to see how they feel. Here are some examples: Being read to: Listening to books on a cd or your MP3 player. Kicking leaves: Kicking leaves, it’s still fun.. Being hugged: Hugging someone. It’s amazing how many fond childhood experiences are still available to us as adults.
April 21: Footprints in the snow.
If you look at a trail of footprints in the snow, you might think you know in which direction the person making them is headed. But you might well be mistaken in your assumption. All you can actually tell is where the person who made the footprints came from and where he has been. The footprints are a record of the past, not the future. At any time, the person could change direction or even set off to cover a different terrain. This can be a metaphor for you life if you want to make it so. Your past does not equal your future. Others may think they know the direction in which you are heading, whether it’s in the long term or the short term, but you can, at any moment, change direction and go somewhere new, thereby surprising people, even those who know you well. Your history does not direct your path. It might be a burden you have to carry for a while, but it does not decide where you will go. Only you can do that.
April 22: It’s difficult to forgive people we have harmed.
This, perhaps, needs to be read a few times before its real meaning can sink in, because it’s counter-intuitive. Logically speaking, if we have harmed someone, it’s they who should be doing the forgiving. Despite that being true the offender also ﬁnds it hard to forgive. Look back to situations where, rightly or wrongly, you have ended up feeling guilty. Ask yourself whether you haven’t sometimes reacted with anger, particularly, when you yourself were at fault. So, when your reaction to someone is negative, it’s worth asking yourself a couple of questions: 1. 2. Have I wronged this person in some way? Does he have a trait or habit that reminds me of something in me I don’t like?
Of course, there are occasions when we have a negative attitude to people simply because they are not very nice to be with. Sometimes, we need to take things at face value, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But it’s always worth exploring such situations to ﬁnd out the root cause of our reactions. Conversely, when someone is unreasonably angry with you, it’s worth asking the same questions about them. You may well gain some new insights into their character.
April 23: Is it ever too late to have a happy childhood?
Despite the obvious appeal of this piece of bumper-sticker philosophy, I regret to say that the answer is: Yes, it is. 1. I don’t mean it’s too late to introduce some childlike fun into your adult life. Indeed, the fact of growing older seems to offer more opportunities for doing so. I don’t mean either that you can’t take the initiative, perhaps, with the help of others, to deal with and resolve some negative aspects of your past life. And I don’t mean that you can’t acquire a more positive perspective on difﬁcult memories.
What I do mean is that at some point in your life, you have to come to terms with your past, however difﬁcult it might have been, and that all the support and solace in the world won’t change what happened to you. It might well prepare and empower you to deal with the issues you ﬁnd so difﬁcult. But the fact remains, that a time will come when you must decide to move forward instead of looking back. Therapy which does not focus on the objective of looking at the present and the future instead of obsessing about the past is unlikely to offer a solution that will be both realistic and sustainable.
April 24: The precision of numbers.
There’s a beautifully poignant episode in the Woody Allen-Diane Keaton ﬁlm, Annie Hall, where a split screen shows the two of them in therapy, complaining about their poor sex life. “He wants it all the time, three or four times a week,” she declares. “She never seems to want it, at best two or three times a week,” is his grouse. The viewer realizes that three times a week might not be a bad average for both of them. Often, what seems like a wide gap can be considerably narrowed down, if it is seen in terms of numbers. If nothing else, the process lends a given situation greater clarity and paves the way for a compromise. Try deﬁning some issues over which you disagree by using say, a 1-10 scale. The difference of opinion that separates you might be a lot less than you think.
April 25: It’s difficult to be yourself when you’re trying to please others.
Almost everybody likes to be liked; it’s a normal human instinct. It’s also a mark of maturity to be able to accept that people being so different from one another, not everyone is going to like you or approve of what you say or do. The same word or deed may be appreciated by one person and criticized by another. Pleasing everyone is just not a practical proposition. The price you end up paying for your efforts to achieve the impossible is that you lose touch with who you are by trying to be a different person to win the approval of each person you meet. It’s just not worth the effort. It’s far better to concentrate your energies on overcoming your eagerness to please. It’s nice to be pleasant. That’s something you can control. But pleasing others is dependent on their reactions and beyond your immediate sphere of inﬂuence. By trying to adapt yourself to how they react, you risk ending up losing yourself.
April 26: What music can you make?
The violinist, Itzhak Perlman, was stricken with polio as a child. He wears braces on both legs and walks with the help of a pair of crutches. To watch him make his slow and painful way across the stage, one step at a time, is not an experience one can easily forget. There is a certain majesty in his laborious progress towards his chair. Then he sits down slowly, places his crutches on the ﬂoor, undoes the clasps of the braces on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward. Bending down, he picks up the violin, positions it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play. By now, the audience is used to this ritual. For every performance of his, they sit quietly, while he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They remain reverently silent as he undoes the clasps of the braces on his legs. They wait patiently until he is ready to play. But on one occasion, something went wrong. In the middle of the performance, one of the strings on his violin snapped. You could hear the sound like a gunﬁre shot across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. People who were there that night thought to themselves: “We ﬁgured that he would have to put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches, rise from his chair and limp his way off-stage—to either ﬁnd another violin or else another string for this one.” But Perlman didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes, then signalled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra began and the violinist played from where he had left off. And he played with the kind of passion, power and purity they had never heard before. Of course, everyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. I know that and so do you, but that night, Perlman refused to acknowledge it. When the performance drew to a close, there was an awesome silence in the room. And then people rose and cheered. Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow and raised his bow, asking for silence. Then he said, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, almost reverential tone, “You know, sometimes, it is the artist’s task to ﬁnd out how much music you can still make with what you have left.” Some stories need no further comment.
April 27: What is the best use of my time right now?
There is no more effective question to ask yourself on a daily or even hourly basis. After all your planning and all your thinking, all your wishes and all your anxieties, you, like everyone else in the world only have here and only have now in which you can take action. This moment will not return, time doesn’t care if you spend it well or badly, it just goes on passing. That doesn’t mean you should be in a rush, that’s rarely an effective use of this limited resource. What this question does is ask you to stop, reﬂect, decide and then move forward in a direction you can own as yours and with a plan you have created.
April 28: The more you celebrate in life, the more there is in life to celebrate.
Celebration is a habit to be cultivated. Often, areas of our life that work well can pass unnoticed, while the difﬁcult issues tend to engage more of our attention. As a result, we risk losing our perspective on life and lend our problems greater magnitude than they rightfully deserve. So, write down today three reasons to give thanks, to celebrate. Add another one to your list tomorrow and carry on in this manner until next week, so that a week from now, you will have ten such reasons on your list. Keep the list with you and read it every day, adding to it as and when other such reasons come to mind. Next time you are passing through a difﬁcult phase in your life, take a few minutes to read this list before you look for solutions to any problems you might be facing. It won’t change the nature of the problem, but it will certainly put you in a better state to deal with it.
April 29: Meditation.
Rarely has such a simple subject been made so complicated by various belief systems, experts, gurus and adherents. Meditation is not necessarily a support to everyone. Nothing, in fact, is universally applicable to all and sundry. Meditation can be a spiritual practice, but doesn’t automatically have to be. It’s always simple, but can often be difﬁcult as well. Will it work for you? Here’s how to ﬁnd out: Sit in an upright position, either on a chair or on the floor. Close you eyes or just look downwards. Concentrate on your breathing. Count 1 as you inhale and 2 as you exhale. Carry on until you reach 10. Then start counting again. Practice for ﬁve minutes, preferably at the same time every day, and build up to ﬁfteen minutes. That’s it. Do this for a month and if it makes you feel more relaxed about your life, you might want to explore more sophisticated techniques which are nothing but more reﬁned versions of what I have just described. If you don’t feel any difference even after a month of practice, meditation is probably not for you.
April 30: “Another King rose over Egypt who did not know Joseph”
I’m not normally one to quote religious texts, but this is the favourite quote of a dear friend and intended as a warning against putting too much faith in an individual in a position of power or inﬂuence. I remembered it when we chose a school for our son, based on a charismatic speech by the head teacher who laid out in detail the exciting plans he had in mind—then left at the end of the term. In any decision involving others, be it in relation to a job, education, location and so on, it’s worth ﬁnding out whether our choice can stand on its own without the prop or inﬂuence of a particular person who might currently be a determining factor in our calculations. It’s worth asking yourself the following question: “If they weren’t there, would I be?” It might not change you decision, but you would, at least, be making a better-informed one.
May 1: Today, you could...
Today, you could enjoy every step of the journey that is life. Don’t wait till you get to your destination to experience the pleasure. Today, you could make a small adjustment in the direction you have chosen. And this time next month, you will ﬁnd that the difference between where you had expected to arrive and where you have, in fact, arrived, will be signiﬁcant. Today, you could cherish your dreams. However unrealistic they may seem now, they represent something important about you.
May 2: What if your feelings were just decisions you made?
Would you choose to have the feelings you are experiencing right now? If not, how would they be different? I’m not suggesting that all our feelings are completely within our control; that seems to me an unrealistic position to take. But we can exercise our inﬂuence over most of our feelings to some degree. So, if the discrepancy in your life between how you feel and how you want to feel is fairly wide, take a risk. Start behaving as if you could just decide to feel differently about things. It might not do away with the gap altogether, but it may well minimize it. For that alone, it is worth making the effort.
May 3: Right now, there are people in this world who believe they would be happy if they had what you have.
I’ve never taken much comfort from the there’s-alwayssomeone-worse-off-than-me approach to life. It seems to suggest that the suffering of others should, somehow, make you feel better. However, the idea that other people actually believe they would be happy if they had what you have, might make you pause to consider how many of your concerns and worries arise from how you have chosen to think about them. You could spend today appreciating how lucky you are.
May 4: Do you tell your story to let go of it or to hang on to it?
It can be therapeutic to tell your story to others, to explain the difﬁculties you have experienced. You need to ask yourself, however, whether by doing so, you are relinquishing your negative feelings about the past, clinging onto them or even allowing them to build up. The clue to the answer lies in examining the effect the process has on you. As you talk about them, are your negative feelings subsiding, staying the same or increasing? If the process of talking does not reduce your feelings, you may need to modify your approach, perhaps, even stop sharing your experiences with others.
May 5: You can’t save time; you can only spend it—wisely or foolishly.
All you have at your disposal is the present. You have no choice at all as to whether you should spend it or not. If you do not appreciate the moment before you, including this one, and fail to use it to your best advantage, it will have spent itself and be gone, never to return. Where you do have a choice is in the manner in which you decide to spend the present. Time spent either brooding over the past or speculating about the future is deﬁnitely not an intelligent use of the limited resource that is the present. Of course, it makes sense to invest some time now in an activity that will yield beneﬁts in the future. This might include planning a holiday or learning a skill, among other things. The trick is not to regard the anticipated beneﬁt as just in the future, but to ﬁnd ways of enjoying the process here and now, today.
May 6: Who’s in charge if you’re not?
It’s so easy to blame others, be they parents, partners, big business, unions or government. But the result is that they are the ones in charge of your life. However powerless you may feel at times, it is best to act as if you were in charge. By doing so, you increase your chances of getting what you want.
May 7: What if you won first prize in a competition?
And were allowed to choose one—but only one—of the following: 1. 2. 3. To have a secure income, allowing you to live in comfort for life. To have an extra seven years of additional healthy living. To have invented something signiﬁcant, but without any personal credit.
Which of the above would you choose and what does the choice say about you as an individual?
May 8: What do you fear most and how are you working to overcome it?
You’ve probably heard the expression, “You have nothing to fear but fear itself”. Well, it certainly contains elements of truth, though it rarely feels like it. What is important here is to recognize what you fear and identify it by giving it a name. So, right now, write down three of your greatest fears. When you’ve done that, you have already taken the ﬁrst and, possibly, the biggest step forward in trying to conquer your fear. What we name and, thereby, give concrete shape to, we can deal with. What remains formless and unarticulated grows to assume unmanageable proportions. Next, against each of the fears you have listed, write down one action—not necessarily a major one—that you can take in the next forty-eight hours to overcome it. If you take this action and repeat the process over the next thirty days, you will notice that a month from now, your fears are going to be signiﬁcantly less.
May 9: Choice is not the same as freedom.
Choice usually operates within a framework. For example, we have a choice of careers to pick from or a choice of ﬁlms to see. True freedom involves stepping beyond all frameworks and creating a world entirely of our own making. It may still resemble the one we are already living in, but we can claim it as entirely our own.
May 10: Today, you could...
Today, you could undertake a mission to make people smile. Keep score. Try and reach double-digit ﬁgures, then add one, because you won’t make it without smiling yourself. Today, you could observe children, on TV, playing in the park etc. A child has this unique ability to enjoy himself thoroughly. Remember you used to be one yourself sometime ago. Today, you could acknowledge that there are no ordinary moments in life. Every one of them is full of possibilities, options and choices. Ordinary life, you will discover, has extraordinary potential.
May 11: If you are good with a hammer, you are likely to treat everything as if it were a nail.
We tend to rely on and, therefore, conﬁne ourselves to what we are good at. Yet, sometimes, that is not the best approach to a situation. We need to venture into other areas too, where we might be less competent. There are many ﬁrstrate business people, for instance, who ﬁnd that their business skills earn little appreciation from their family. Many profound thinkers are unable to cope with situations where speedy decisions are imperative, pondering over a problem for so long, that when they are eventually ready to take a decision, it is too late. Many a good dinner-party host has lost a great deal of money when trying to run a restaurant. Sometimes, your best skill is not the most appropriate one for a particular situation. It would be a good idea to examine this issue today.
May 12: Acting as if…
An interesting experiment and a possible way to bring about change in yourself and in others is to act as if life were already just the way you wanted it to be. Since the only thing you can hope to exercise control over is your own response to a situation (and some of us have great difﬁculty even doing that), its worth testing this out for a day or two to see if it makes a real difference.
May 13: What could you throw away?
When you spring-clean your home, you sort through old clothes you don’t need and possessions you have no use for anymore and either give them away or throw them out. Though it can be a satisfying process, it’s surprisingly difﬁcult to let go of what we know we don’t need. How about doing the same in other areas of your life? What grudges or resentments could you let go of? Which ideas no longer serve you? Are there any thought-patterns you have no use for now? Try throwing them away as well. You may have to do this kind of internal spring-cleaning more than once, because old grudges and resentments, along with behaviour patterns that are of little beneﬁt to you have a habit of returning. But it’s worth the effort. You will end up, as in the external world of material possessions, with space for things that serve you better.
May 14: You can be right or you can be free.
Sometimes, that’s the choice you have to deal with. Do you cling to your past beliefs, long after they have ceased to be of use to you, or do you recognize that life is a process and that your beliefs can be as subject to change as everything else? If you hold on to your views just to prove that you’re right, you may end up being enslaved by them. This can be as true of minor opinions that may involve, for instance, your feelings about an injustice that was supposedly done to you, as of your convictions about life in general. Always remember that neither will events change nor others behave differently to accommodate your views about them. Work towards bringing about a change in yourself. If you are forever trapped by your demand that external factors, over which you have no control, should change to suit your convenience, you cannot describe yourself or your situation as free.
May 15: Is the music still in you?
It’s a fascinating idea that we are all born with a purpose, that we have been sent to this world to attain a particular goal. Even if that’s not how you see the world, you could spend a few minutes asking yourself what that purpose, if there was one, could be for you. This statement then becomes a very important one: Don’t die with the music still in you. May 16: What do you bring to your relationship that is unhelpful? People are usually capable of drawing up a long list in answer to this question, for their partners, but the question here is about you. Write down three times: “What I bring to this relationship that is unhelpful is” and complete the sentence with three different answers. Then decide if you are willing to make changes to improve the situation.
May 17: Who rescued Mozart?
Mozart was a great composer, and in the opinion of many people, the greatest there ever was. The music that ﬂowed through him seemed to be a God-given gift. As a child, he wrote music that was the envy of adults. At one point in his life, he was surrounded by admirers. The world lay at his feet. He died virtually alone, ignored and penniless. If no one saved Mozart from his sad fate, who do you expect will rescue you? Perhaps, today would be an appropriate time to start working towards being your own rescuer; your waiting for someone else to turn up might just waste your life.
May 18: The wake does not drive the boat.
If you stand on the top of a cliff and look down at the sea where a fast boat is cutting across the waters, you will notice the wake spreading out like a fan behind it. If you didn’t know better, you might assume that the wake itself was driving the boat. But you do know better. You are aware that the boat has an engine and a set of controls operated by a driver. The wake is just the trail left behind by the boat as it moves forward. Substitute your life history for the boat’s wake to complete the metaphor. Our past does not control or propel our life; it only seems that way sometimes. As far as your life is concerned, you are the driver sitting at the controls. You can start the engine and choose the speed at which you want to progress and the direction you prefer to move in. You can follow a path that is based on your history. Or you can choose to do otherwise. Your history is the trail you leave behind.
May 19: What assumptions am I making about a given situation?
We usually need to make a lot of assumptions in order to feel upset about something. It seems as if a part of human nature is programmed to take everything personally. But it’s certainly not the best guide to clue us into a given situation. We often assume that when other people behave in a certain manner, the reasons for their conduct are the same as those that would have motivated us, had we chosen to behave in the same way. Perhaps, the most important thing to remember when challenging the assumptions on which our response to a given situation is based is the following: It’s hardly ever about you personally. So, here’s a question to ask when someone or something pushes your buttons: If I assume it’s not about me, then what could it be about? The answer could spare you a lot of suffering.
May 20: Today, you could...
Today, you could make up your mind to improve something. It doesn’t matter what. Just decide something speciﬁc that will be better by the time you go to bed. Today, you could be creative. You can come up with unusual options to ensure that life is closer to the way you wanted it. Today, you could be ﬁrm in your resolve. You could decide on something, ensure that you remain focused about it and keep going in the direction of your goal.
May 21: It is better to experience love than to be in the right.
Sometimes, that is the only choice you have. Facts rarely change the nature of a relationship. Being in the right rarely changes feelings. So, if you want to experience more love, both in giving and receiving it, forget who is right and concentrate on being loving. What could you give up today to enhance your relationships?
May 22: The secret areas in your life you keep hidden from others.
The following is one of my favourite counselling questions and I invite you to ask it of yourself and write down the answer: “What would someone have to know about me to understand me in a way most people don’t?” We all want to be understood. At the same time, we want to avoid feeling vulnerable. There’s a conﬂict here. To be fully understood, we have to let our guard down and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. If you remain aloof and allow no one to get close to you, you are unlikely to be understood either. So, ﬁrst answer this question, then decide to what extent you are prepared to open yourself to those close to you. You don’t have to disclose all at once, but it would be useful for you to understand what that “all” is, on your own terms, and make a start.
May 23: Description can create past experience.
How we describe what happens to us creates some of our experience of it. If we refer to something as “terrible”, we will not feel the same about it as if we label it “inconvenient”. You can examine your life and ﬁnd your own examples. I’m not suggesting you lie to yourself, or to others, but given a choice lighten your description and so lighten your experience.
May 24: What else could this mean?
A good question to ask, when you are feeling upset over something. We are often quick to lend a negative meaning to something and voicing our opinion of the “true” meaning gives it strength. Stop and ask the question above. There is no right answer, but you could choose an interpretation that makes you feel more at ease with an event or a comment. Very often, things that are done or said to us by someone are not about us at all. Rather, they say more about the situation in which the other person ﬁnds themselves. To quote the title of a popular book: “What you think of me is none of my business.”
May 25: Who has the answer?
The answer, more often than most of us think, is the following: You do! We live in a world where “experts” are easily available to offer advice on almost every conceivable problem. Much of what they have to offer is positive and of some use. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. You are unique. It means that while you can beneﬁt from the views and insights of others, the ﬁnal decision about what works for you is yours. Don’t give away your power to decide for yourself. Here are some thoughts from other people on this issue: “If someone throws you a ball, you don’t have to catch it.” — Richard Carlson “Vote with your feet; it’s best to avoid people and situations you know drive you crazy.” — Stuart Wilde “If you want the world to be kinder, then be more kind.” — Dan Millman
May 26: You can’t stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop it from building a nest.
I have had counselling clients who would get annoyed with themselves when a negative or adversely critical thought strayed into their mind. In fact, they sometimes became so angry about it, that they would infuse enough energy into that particular thought to stay around for quite a while. There are disciplines that can help control the thoughts that spring up in our minds. But it is usually enough for us to restrict the space we give such thoughts in our daily lives. We have a choice not to dwell on negative things. If action is needed, we can act. Otherwise, we can ﬁll our minds with what is positive and life-enhancing.
May 27: Am I asking the right question?
Asking questions can yield the answer to many issues, but they need to be the right questions. There’s a big difference between: How can this be solved? and How can this be lived with? Why did this happen to me? and What can I do about this? Does my life have a meaning? and What meaning can I give my life? Why do people hurt me? and How can I be less affected by others hurting me Try and see if you can come up with a question today that seeks to empower you instead of making you feel vulnerable and helpless. It will make a difference.
May 28: The other side of simplicity.
In the conventional sense of the term, simplicity, as opposed to complexity, implies the facile, bumper-sticker type of understanding that is easy to come by and just as easily lost. It usually doesn’t demand effort and is often not even grounded in experience. It does not go deep. The other kind of simplicity may be identiﬁed by the same name, but involves a different experience altogether. It’s often the outcome of enduring and dealing with hardships and indicates the position we arrive at after we have reﬂected and worked on our perspective on life and on ourselves. Here is part of a T. S. Elliot poem that says it far better than I can: “And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the ﬁrst time.”
May 29: What gets remembered?
In the long term, few people are going to remember what you did. Still fewer people will remember what you said. Everyone will remember how you made them feel. So, in a world of plans and objectives, competitive education and ﬁnancial and business achievements, in fact, in whatever world you inhabit, be sure to observe how people feel in your presence. That’s your real legacy.
May 30: Who is responsible for this relationship?
No, the answer is not: “You are”, this is a relationship. The answer is: You both are. But does that make the relationship a 50:50 equation? The best way to make a relationship thrive is for both of you to take 100 per cent responsibility for it. It means that you can’t hold back, even if your partner is giving less to the relationship than you are, because you regard yourself as fully responsible for making it work. This isn’t good math. It may not even be fair. But it does seem to work.
May 31: How would X deal with this?
Our imagination is a wonderful gift and with it we can summon anyone we want to help us. It takes a little practice to get ﬂuent at this, here is what to do:Sit quietly for a few minutes and then create a picture of yourself in a favourite location. Imagine being joined by the person from whom you want help and advice. Tell them, quietly in your mind, what your situation is and ask for their thoughts. Then sit still until your imagination lets them speak and listen to what they have to say. They can be real or ﬁctional, experts or friends, family or famous. It’s OK to have fun with this.
June 1: Today, you could...
Today, you could give to someone, perhaps anonymously. You could give to someone who can’t give back. See how you end up feeling Today, you could learn to say, “Oh, ---- it!” And come up with a word you are comfortable with to replace the blanks. Say the word with a big smile and an exaggerated shrug of the shoulders. Today, you could look for the funny things in your life. And just start laughing, even if the world doesn’t laugh with you, you will still have fun.
June 2: Whose voice is that?
It’s sadly common for adults to take on the negative voices of their childhood. If you’ve ever said to yourself, “How could I be so silly?” it’s time to stop and ask whose voice that is? Here are some other phrases that might be familiar:I’m not good at this. It’s bound to end in tears. That’s typical of me. Some people have had a more positive upbringing and it could be worthwhile using the messages they received when talking to yourself. They are still challenging but positively so. You can do it if you try hard enough. You’ve got the talent, now use it. You can do better than that.
June 3: You can’t cross a chasm in two small steps.
Sometimes a bit by bit approach can get you where you want to be, such as weight loss, saving money, learning a language. Other times change requires a leap of faith, such as major career move, resolving a broken relationship. It’s would be a ﬁne life skill to be aware of which approach is most appropriate. Starvation diets rarely lead to consistent weight loss and those who edge towards marriage can ﬁnd later they feel they never made a proper decision. Is there something you need to decide today? Is it a step by step decision or a leap of faith?
June 4: The greatest love.
The greatest love you can show others may sometimes be to leave them alone. This can be the most difﬁcult thing to do when those we care about are involved, particularly when they are going through difﬁcult times. Of course, it’s not always the right approach. It’s particularly difﬁcult to maintain this hands-off approach with children when they seem troubled. But sometimes, the best way to help people is simply by doing nothing. Think about a situation where you might have become over-involved and ask yourself if those you care about would beneﬁt from your letting them be for a while.
June 5: What would you do if you couldn’t be criticized?
It’s sad, but true, that while growing up, most children hear far more negative comments about themselves than positive ones. And since we were all children once, the kind of things we head inﬂuences the way we think about ourselves as adults. We have all been told at one time or another, that something was being done “for your own good”. The fact is, it usually wasn’t. Most of us have heard the phrase, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” It is almost certainly not true. You will all have your own examples of such situations. So, part of the challenge inherent in this question is to overcome the way you were conditioned in your childhood to respond to adverse criticism. The other part has to do with ensuring that you don’t pass on to your own children or those of others, the legacy of negativity that might have been handed down to you in childhood.
June 6: The feeling of joy at sudden disappointment.
This is a fascinating idea. If one of the purposes of our life is to resolve our inner conﬂicts so that our internal and external lives are properly aligned, an unexpected spurt of negative feeling can be welcomed as a sign that we need to work more on ourselves and on our perspective on life. For most of us, it is difﬁcult to imagine ourselves feeling positive about a disappointment. But it is a constructive step towards self-awareness. Now might be the time to look at situations where you know you tend to overreact and ask yourself what lessons you need to learn from them.
June 7: I’ve dealt with that.
There’s an old story about an employee at her annual performance review. She’d had a very good year and almost every comment about her was positive. As the session was about to end, her boss expressed concern that she tended to set unrealistic targets for herself. She seemed incapable of tolerating failure. She said she would take this on board. Meeting her boss a week later, she remarked that she had pondered over what had been said at her performance evaluation and had introduced some modiﬁcations in her approach. “So now,” she concluded, “I must be perfect.” This may well be an apocryphal tale. But the fact is, I have met many people who are intent on becoming perfect. I’ve found most of them to be tense and uptight and I’ve never managed to relax in their company. A better goal to set yourself would probably involve a combination of growth and acceptance. It’s a version of the serenity prayer—accepting the things you cannot change and having the courage to change what you can.
June 8: Change is not painful.
It’s resistance to change that hurts the most. Even though you create your own experience of the world, there are certain changes you can’t prevent. For example, your children will grow older—and so will you. When change is inevitable, it might be better to come to terms with it, just as it would be easier to ride a horse in the direction in which it is going. What can you accept today that is going to happen anyway but so far you have been resisting?
June 9: Snapshots and video.
We have all seen photographs of ourselves that fail to do us justice. Usually, these are the ones we throw away. We don’t see them as being “us”. On the other hand, a video is likely to give a more accurate impression of who we are, since it is a recording that covers a certain period of time. Why then do people so often hang on to the snapshot of the careless comment from others, the unintended insult and the harsh word later taken back? So throw these away along with the bad photos. If the words do not ﬁt the usual attitude of the other person then discard them, don’t keep the worst, keep the best..
June 10: The Mad Wal-Mart Experiment.
I received a lovely e-mail from a friend in the United States of America. She wrote about approaching a “rather ferocious back-combed, blonde assistant” at Wal-Mart where she had gone to get a new watch battery ﬁtted. My friend was determined to make the experience a pleasant one for both the assistant and herself. By maintaining her pleasant manner, smiling often and expressing her gratitude for a job well done, she succeeded in brightening up the day for both of them. Now, I happened to know the shop assistant and understood why she had looked a bit formidable that morning. Her house had been burgled the previous evening. Given her state of mind, her concentration had wavered while she was driving to work, causing her to have an accident. After meeting my friend, the shop assistant had felt a lot better about her situation, remembered that she was insured for both events and went home to enjoy a light-hearted evening with her friends and family who also beneﬁted from her cheerful company. I know what my friend wrote about was true. I have no idea if there is any truth to the second paragraph but there could be and that very possibility makes the whole watch-battery transaction still more worthwhile. Why the “MAD” Wal-Mart experiment? It stands for “Making A Difference”, which is precisely what my friend did. You will all have a chance to do the same today, tomorrow and for the rest of your life.
June 11: You cannot “not communicate”
There is a big difference between talking and communicating. You can certainly choose not to talk, but that’s also a form of communication. You can smile, frown, opt out, opt in, be neutral, betray prejudice, not return a call, avert your face—they are all communications of one kind or another. Not communicating isn’t an option.. Since you are going to communicate anyway, whether you want to or not, why not take charge of the process and assume responsibility for all your communications? Express yourself today, verbally or non-verbally, to the best effect and do so in the best interests of everyone concerned, particularly, yourself.
June 12: No matter how thin you slice it.
No matter how thin you slice it, there are always two sides. It’s a sound test of the depth of your understanding to try and explain the position of someone with whom you disagree and ask him to conﬁrm whether you are, indeed, right about how he feels. Try out the experiment today and ask the other person to coach you until you get it right. Understanding is not the same as agreement. But it is a big step towards resolving differences.
June 13: Everything in life.
“Everything in life should be as simple as possible …but not more simple.” — Albert Einstein There is a certain elegance in true simplicity, be it a solution to a problem or the design of a building. When things are simpler than they should be, there is often a sense of something missing. How simple can you make today without omitting something vital?
June 14: Doing more of the same.
If you have a problem in your relationship there is little point in doing more of what has not worked in the past. More of the same action almost always produces more of the same result. A deﬁnition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It’s time to try something different, change creates change. Notice what tends to make things better and do more of it. Notice what tends to make things worse and do less of it. Simple advice but over time it can transform a relationship, and a life.
June 15: Today, you could...
Today, you could challenge your beliefs. It’s worthwhile to ask yourself if a belief contributes to your well-being; and it’s ﬁne to change your mind about it, if it doesn’t. Today, you could decide to set your own pace for the next twenty-four hours. Then slow down or speed up to meet the day’s demands. Today, you could enjoy silence. Just be quiet and still for ﬁve minutes and see if it makes a difference.
June 16: How heavy is this glass of water? (1)
A lecturer raised a glass of water in his hand, extended his arm and asked, “How heavy is this?” The answers ranged from 300 gm to 500 gm. The lecturer replied, “The actual weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I try and hold the glass. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, my arm will start aching. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case, the actual weight remains the same. But the longer I hold the glass, the heavier it becomes.” So, where does this apply in life? 1. To an unkind comment someone may have made about you once.
2.. To a time in your life when you didn’t behave as well as you could have. 3. 4. To a disappointment you experienced when an expectation was not met. To a difﬁcult childhood, a divorce, a job loss … you can ﬁll in the rest. The burden gets heavier, the longer you carry it. You either say goodbye to the past or you say goodbye to the future.
June 17: How heavy is this glass of water? (2)
A lecturer raised a glass of water in his hand, extended his arm and asked “How heavy is this?” The answers ranged from 300 gm to 500 gm. The lecturer then observed, “The actual weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I try and hold the glass. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, my arm will start aching. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case, the actual weight remains the same. But the longer I hold the glass, the heavier it becomes. So, where does this apply in life? Same story; different commentary. This also contains a message about how to handle stress. It recommends taking time off while you put down the burdens you shoulder, so that you can gather the strength to pick them up and carry them again without collapsing. It’s amazing what human beings can deal with when they have to. We often hear stories of others who have handled their problems with courage and feel, “I doubt I could cope as well as they did.” Your ability to cope with stress, like your ability to hold a glass of water at arm’s length, is greatly increased, if you take regular time out. And as with the glass of water, it doesn’t have to be for long. Here are some examples: A ﬁve-minute period of quiet contemplation can transform a morning or even the whole day. Sitting in the car and leaving behind the day you have just spent can enhance the quality of your evening. A physical stretch lasting a few minutes can create a surge of positive energy. A couple of minutes spent writing down a list of the things you should be grateful for could improve your mood. A short run can help you cope more effectively with a long day. 176
June 18: Limit your relationships.
Limit your relationships to what you have in common. No relationship, however strong, can provide each person involved in it with all that they need. Most relationships require new inputs from outside experiences and these do not, necessarily, have to be shared. In stretching a relationship to include everything that is of interest to each partner individually, both of them end up doing things that either one or the other doesn’t enjoy. This can be the breeding ground for resentment, a major relationship killer. Examine your relationship today for what it can provide and determine what you should look for elsewhere.
June 19: Nelson Mandela.
Shortly after his release from imprisonment, Nelson Mandela received a phone call from then US President Bill Clinton who congratulated him on securing his freedom. In the course of the conversation, Clinton asked him, “Surely, after such an experience of incarceration, you must still feel some anger towards those who kept you in captivity?” Mandela replied, “No, I realized if I didn’t let go of my anger, those who imprisoned me would still be in control of a part of my life.” Holding on to negative feelings from the past implies that we have given away our power over our mental well-being. Such feelings curb our freedom by allowing external forces to control us. I’m sure there are good moral reasons to forgive our enemies, to let go of anger and hurt. Purely on the basis of self-interest, however, of keeping control of our lives and enhancing our sense of freedom, it’s an afﬁrmative, if difﬁcult step to take. What negativity can you let go of today to enhance your personal freedom?
June 20: Experience is not what happens to you.
It’s how you react to it. If it were not so, everyone would experience the same event in the same way. And we’re well aware that does not happen. So, do you have a choice in how you respond to events? All I can say is your life will work better, if you act as though you do have a choice.
June 21: The miracle question.
If you were to wake up tomorrow morning and ﬁnd that your relationship was exactly the way you wanted it to be, what would be different? What would you be feeling? How would you act? How would others react to you? It’s useful to know what is tied up in our problems and one way of ﬁnding out is to imagine our life without them. Sometimes, our problems constrain us from leading our lives freely. Often, however, they protect us from going overboard and indulging in excesses. See where the answer to the miracle question takes you today.
June 22: The “scar face” experiment.
Participants in this experiment were ﬁtted with a fake facial scar and informed that they were to be interviewed to ﬁnd out how their deformity inﬂuenced the way they were treated. Just before the interview, the scars were put through last-minute touch-ups. In actual fact, however, and unbeknown to the participants, the scars were removed entirely. Right after the interview and in almost every case, the participants offered all kinds of examples of how their “deformity” had invited a negative response from the interviewer. Amazingly, in some cases, this conviction could not be shaken, even after they were shown on video that their scars had been removed before the interview. According to a familiar quote, “We don’t see the world as it is; we see the world as we are.” What this experiment proves is the power of our selfimage and the way we ﬁnd evidence of how we are being treated, even where none exists. It’s a very good rule of thumb that when someone behaves badly towards you, it’s much more about them than it is about you. But if you’re convinced people are reacting badly to you because of some failing of yours, you will ﬁnd the evidence to support your view, even if it’s not there.
June 23: Turning towards difficulty.
It’s a very human trait to turn away from our problems, to avoid facing tricky situations. For some people, confrontation is a real challenge; for others, trying not to regard everything in life as a confrontation can be a problem. What would your life be like, if you decided to face situations you found hard to deal with and even welcomed them as a learning experience? In the short term, your life might become more difﬁcult. But in the long term, you could ﬁnd your resources enriched and strengthened and your sense of freedom greatly heightened.
June 24: How to have a bad relationship.
Try giving lectures and advice, especially, to your partner to whom you justify them as being “for your own good”. Say: “Why don’t you just try to...?” Try: Loaded hints, pleading and begging. Use: Long, resentful silences, as in “Just see how you have made me feel!” Try: A sentence that starts with any of the following: “If you really loved me…” “After all I have done for you…” “Anyone with any sense…” Put: Your life on hold, waiting for your partner to change. Best of all: Compare your relationship with that of another couple.
June 25: Not in a shadow.
During a television interview, the son of author Maya Angelou was asked, “What was it like growing up in your mother’s shadow?” He replied, “That’s funny. I always thought I was growing up in her light.” It’s said the Chinese use the same symbol for “problem” as they do for “opportunity”. And it’s certainly true that the context we create for the “facts” of our life largely dictates our experience. Take one area of your life that you have difﬁculty with and ask yourself this: If I interpreted this in a positive light, how would it change my daily experience? Observe the kind of answers that come up for you and see if you think it’s worth making the change.
June 26: You can have anything you want.
But not everything you want; there just isn’t enough time. Your life involves choices. Letting go of dreams can be painful, but sometimes, you have to do so to enable other dreams to thrive. Since there is not enough time to do everything you desire in life, it is crucial for you to let go of the trivial, so as to be able to concentrate on what has the potential to make a difference. Today, there is no point in majoring in minor things.
June 27: If you face a problem in your relationship, it does not mean that your relationship is the problem.
No one comes to a relationship without a history. While that history may not belong to the relationship, it usually affects it. When two histories meet each other head-on, the problems that arise can get complicated. If you ﬁnd yourself facing the same problem in a number of your relationships, you can be fairly certain that the problem is you and not the relationship. So, work on yourself and leave the relationship alone to sort itself out later.
June 28: Relationships can’t provide you with everything.
It must be fantastic to have a relationship that satisﬁes all your wants and needs, everything you require, in fact, in one warm, secure, permanent liaison. It must be like having a home that gives you all you desire, so much so that you never need to leave it! Relationships can give us great joy and satisfaction, but they can’t fulﬁll all our needs. Ultimately, the responsibility for your happiness lies with you, not with your relationship. A relationship also needs the stimulation of new experiences from outside sources to keep it alive. Or it will atrophy and decay.
June 29: I’m not a carer.
An elderly taxi driver is seeing a therapist to help ease the stress of looking after his ailing wife. His story unfolds and he talks about his alcoholic mother and how he had to protect his younger brother from her rages. When he got married, he and his wife had to bring up a severely disabled child whom he has been looking after. And now, his wife has Alzheimer’s disease. The therapist says, “If you pause to think about it, you’ve been a carer all your life.” The taxi driver replies, “‘Carer’ is a modern word. What I’ve been is a son, a brother, a father and a husband.” I ﬁnd this a very moving statement indeed. It reveals a dignity and a set of values we might be in danger of losing in our “blame and claim” society. Some of the pain we experience can be eased. Some of it has to be endured as best we can.
June 30: What you think of me is none of my business!
It’s largely outside your control how people see you and react to you. Your own response to them is a reliable measure of your personal freedom. If you are over-anxious about being liked, you are choosing to be trapped in a world made by others. Very few people will see you as you want to be seen. The difference between the way you are and the way they see you reveals more about them than about you. Your job is to be you and allow others to deal with being themselves, which includes their opinions about you.
July 1: Today, you could...
Today, you could decide to be miserable. Make up your mind to be down on yourself, to pick out the worst in everything. You can do it. And, if you don’t fancy that, you could do just the opposite. Today, you could recognize the truth about people without problems. The truth is, they are dead, and if you had a choice, you wouldn’t want to swap places with them. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this. Today, you could choose to decide on the attitude you will adopt towards everything. Stop allowing the world and other people to decide how you should live. You deserve better.
July 2: The frog in water.
It is said that if you put a frog in cold water and gradually apply heat, the frog will stay in the container and be boiled to death. If you put a frog into hot water, it will jump out at once. The reason given is that the frog cannot detect the slow change in the temperature (I’ve never tested this for myself). If you take a few minutes right now to look at some aspects of your life—your relationships, your health and your ﬁnances—would you ﬁnd situations that have taken you over so gradually, that you haven’t noticed the process? If you suddenly arrived in the life you now live instead of growing into it gradually: What might be the situations you would welcome? What might be the ones you would shy away from?
July 3: Just because someone asks you a question, doesn’t mean you have to answer it.
I guess we all know that is true, but how often do we act as though we do? Here are some other examples: Just because someone asks you to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it. Just because someone asks you to contribute doesn’t mean you have to. Just because someone wants to borrow from you doesn’t mean you have to lend. Who will run your life today—you or the rest of the world?
July 4: Sometimes, the worst thing.
Sometimes, the worst thing you can do for those you love is what they could or should do for themselves. This is only true sometimes, because it’s great to be able to offer others help. It makes us feel good about ourselves when we have been supportive of those we love. But it’s a thin line between being supportive and undermining others, however well-intentioned our efforts may be. Today you could choose to be aware of this distinction.
July 5: Making a difference.
In the late 1960’s, my wife was walking along Ladbroke Grove in Notting Hill, London, dressed in an outﬁt that was not unusual for that time, but which could best be described as very colourful. An old lady stopped her and said, “My dear, I just wanted to tell you how lovely you look; you are brightening up the street.” My wife still remembers that compliment paid to her almost forty years ago. This just demonstrates the kind of power our words can have. Think back to an early compliment you were paid and remember how you felt. Then recall an occasion when you were unfairly criticized and the effect that had on you. You could say something to someone today that will turn out to be a positive memory for them forty years hence. Why not take the slight risk and do it?
July 6: No one on his deathbed ever said...
The usual quote is: “No one on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the ofﬁce’.” And that’s certainly something many of us need to remember. We can each add our own ending to the sentence, using aspects of our lives to which we devote more time than they deserve. Today, try to add a few of those that are relevant to your life, because it’s useful to identify them while you still have time to make changes. Here are some suggestions: No one on his deathbed ever said: I wish I’d spent more time watching television. I wish I’d spent more time arguing with friends and family. I wish I’d spent more time worrying about things.
July 7: Don’t try to be perfect.
There are two good reasons for this: 1. 2. If you get there, it leaves you nowhere to go next. You will make those around you feel inadequate. Make self-improvement a journey without a destination.
July 8: Notice what works best for you and do more of it.
Take a few moments to review your relationship or your life and observe what works best for you. How is what works any different from what does not? Suppose nothing works? Try doing something different from the usual and notice if it improves matters or makes them worse. If you notice an improvement, repeat it; if not, move onto something else.
July 9: Leaving the village.
This is a story that occupies a place in many cultures. But I think it’s time to change the gender of the main character. A young woman decides to explore beyond the village in which she has spent all her childhood. Many wise people counsel her against this venture, but some do encourage her in her quest. So, she sets off along the mountain trail, pausing at the top of the path for one last look back at her home a place full of those she loves. She has many adventures during her journey and after some years, decides it is time to return to the village and share all she has learnt with its residents. Although she is welcomed back, some of the villagers regard her and the new ideas she has brought back with suspicion. As time goes by, she has to resist reverting to her old life in the village and to hold on with great determination to the insights she had gained while she was away. Her life, along with that of the whole village, is enhanced by the new learning she has brought with her. There are many ways of responding to this story and you should allow it to mean whatever feels right for you. I will ask just one question: If the whole world followed you, would you be pleased with where you took it?
July 10: Loving someone can be a decision you make.
In the early years, love can be a heady mixture of passion and desire. It’s exciting, stimulating and for some people, this can last for a lifetime. For others such intensity can become too dominating. It’s just as valid, particularly later in a relationship, to make a decision to love someone as it is to be head over heels ‘in love’. Perhaps, today is the right day to reafﬁrm your decision to love someone.
July 11: The two wolves.
Following the 9/11 attack, a man said to his son, “I feel like I have two wolves ﬁghting inside me. One is angry and simmering with feelings of revenge. The other is still determined to be gentle and loving.” “Which one will win?” asked his son. “Whichever one I choose to feed,” his father replied. Feelings, good or bad, don’t survive without being nurtured. It’s up to us which ones we feed when a conﬂict rages within us. In the end, the negative feelings tend to feed on us, but the positive ones nourish us. Today, you can make a choice about which feelings you wish to feed.
July 12: You can’t plough a field by turning it over in your mind.
Our internal world is important. How we observe and describe things creates our experience. Yet, if we stop there, we stop too early. Action not only brings about change in the external world, it also initiates change in our inner world. If we love others, but refrain from telling them that we do, the process remains incomplete. If we want to make a difference, but don’t take action we sell ourselves short. If we want to be ﬁt, but refuse to exercise, we will be no nearer our goal. What area of your life can you take action on today?
July 13: You can only say “yes” if you can also say “no”
It’s a choice in the true sense of the term, only if you have the freedom to choose the alternative. Just consider a situation where you have said yes, and ask yourself if you could have said no, not hypothetically, but in practice. If you could, indeed, have said no, you made a genuine choice. If not, you didn’t.
July 14: Strike when the iron is cold.
When is the worst time to deal with anger? When you’re angry. The same is true of jealousy and other such emotions. The trouble is, when we don’t experience a particular emotion, we don’t feel the need to deal with it either. Yet, when we are actually in the grip of the same emotion, we have the least resources at our disposal to handle it effectively. To be able to return to problem areas when our most intense feelings have dissipated is a skill we should master. Today, look at or discuss with someone how such difﬁculties might be dealt with if they arise in the future. It’s by no means an easy task, but it’s less difﬁcult than trying to deal with anger when you are angry.
July 15: Today, you could...
Today, you could replace judgement with understanding. Imagine how you would feel, if those close to you tried to understand you rather than judge you. Then be that way with them. Today, you could decide to start forgiving. Forgive the world for not being the way you wanted it to be. Forgive others for the wrong they did you in the past. And forgive yourself for every mistake you have ever made. Today, you could refuse to participate in situations of conﬂict. If you opt out of conﬂict it probably can’t take place and certainly can’t involve you.
July 16: An old man reviews his life.
An old man sat reviewing his life. He had lived too long. One didn’t expect to attend the funerals of one’s children but he had been to all three of his. Ill health had exhausted his savings. He was dependent on others for almost everything. In his despondency, he felt he had wasted his time here on earth. No one who had beneﬁted from his being alive was around any longer. A few thousand miles away, a middle-aged woman was telling her grandchild about a magical experience she’d had when she was young. She had been lost and was deeply upset. A middle-aged man had sat down with her, comforted her and told her he would help her ﬁnd her parents and that the feeling of sadness would pass. He said to her, “You know, in the end, everything passes. Nothing goes on for ever.” Those words and the kindness with which they had been spoken had changed her life. They went on to change the life of her granddaughter as well. That middle-aged man who had comforted the woman in her childhood was the same one who felt he had not contributed in any way to the life of others. You just never know the effect you have on others. So, live today as though it’s an important date.
July 17: There are no justified resentments.
At the simplest level, resentment damages the person who harbours it more than the person towards whom it is directed. It’s obviously not a smart move to cling to it. A Chinese proverb says: “If you’re going to pursue revenge, you’d better dig two graves.” Perhaps, for the sake of your own health, today would be a good time to let go of an old resentment.
July 18: Relationships are a mirror.
Relationships can reﬂect back to us aspects of ourselves we don’t much care for and it seems easy to blame our partner for how we end up feeling. The image, however distorted, is still ours. You don’t have to stay in a relationship that distorts who you are, but it can be worth spending time checking that image to see how much of it is a true reﬂection of yourself. If being with someone—a relative, friend or partner— often makes you feel bad about yourself and that doesn’t happen when you’re with other people, you may want to ask yourself if this is a relationship you should let go of.
July 19: What is courage?
Many “people of courage” say the same thing: It’s not the heroic deed itself, the risk-taking act in an emergency situation that deﬁnes true courage, although it should be given its due. True courage involves the day-to-day confrontation with difﬁcult problems and the feelings of despair they engender while getting on with life in spite of it all. So, if you keep going today despite feelings that might be weighing you down, you belong to the ranks of true heroes. “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather, the judgement that something else is more important than fear.” — Ambrose Redmoon
July 20: No one owes you anything.
The Buddha said, “Never take anything that has not been freely given.” To ask from others what they are unwilling to give helps neither the one who asks nor the one who refuses. Others don’t owe you anything. Of course, you don’t owe them anything either. The acts of giving and receiving can express the very best sentiments of humanity. If your heart and your head tell you today that’s the way to go, then go there and enjoy the experience to the full.
July 21: Learn to play Mastermind.
This is a game where one player sets out coloured pegs behind a screen and the other player tries to reproduce the colour and the order in which the pegs have been placed, ﬁrst, by guessing, then by taking his cue from the clues available to him: White pegs for the correct colour in the wrong place, black pegs for the correct colour in the right place. Without the clues, the player would just go on guessing and the game could take a lifetime to be over. Look for clues in your relationships by studying the response to things which work and to things that don’t. If you notice the clues, you are more likely to get the result you seek; if you don’t, it could take a lifetime for you to do so. Look out for clues today; they will be there.
July 22: What is the smallest step you can take now?
We all like to take big steps and move rapidly towards our goal, it’s exhilarating and exciting. Sometimes, however, the way you feel will not help you make any major progress. But that does not mean you cannot move forward at all. Perhaps, the smallest task is all you can manage today, but it’s still worth carrying out. It could be any of the following: 1. 2. 3. 4. A ﬁfteen-minute walk or a good stretch to further a ﬁtness goal. Not buying something you can do without to achieve a ﬁnancial goal. An offer to help despite not feeling like it to further a relationship. Leaving some food on your plate to help you move towards a weight goal.
July 23: Don’t worry about the world.
It will overwhelm you and prevent you from being effective in areas where you can make a difference. You can’t do everything; there just isn’t time. But there is a lot you can do. So, get on and do it and let go of the worry about the big things that you aren’t directly responsible for. Today, resolve to be effective in areas where that’s a real possibility and let go, at least for the moment, of the bigger issues over which you have no inﬂuence.
July 24: The search for the secret of life.
He awoke one morning, convinced that this was the day he would discover the secret that would change his life. For several months, he had been feeling it was close and now was the time to take action. He set off on his quest with a few possessions, pausing to look back at his home and wondering how long it would be before he saw his own front door again. He kept to a straight path despite many obstacles. Several months went by, and he faced and dealt with many dangers, his mind focused, all the while, on his quest. After two years, he arrived, tired and dusty, at a plot of land that ﬁtted the image in his mind. With the strength his travels had helped him to develop he began to dig up the ground. And there, a few feet below, was the treasure he had sought for so long. He lifted it up and straightened up before prising it open. It was then that he realized he was in his own back garden. His trip around the world had brought him back almost to the point from which he had started. This is a very old story and you probably guessed the ending before you got to it. I think there are two questions we can ask ourselves: 1 If the back garden represents our inner life, could it be that we already have the answers within us? Could our hero have just gone out his back door and found the secret? Or was the journey away and back essential to the process of discovery? What would be your answers to these questions? Does this affect how you will spend today?
July 25: Dangerous animal.
A sign at the zoo read: “This animal is dangerous; it defends itself if attacked.” There’s usually a reason for the aggression other people display. It’s useful to ask the question: Why do they/ I feel attacked in this situation? There are insights here for us to gain and we can choose to modify either our behaviour or our reactions.
July 26: Does this free me or restrict me?
Personal freedom is not important to some people, but for those who give it high priority, this is an important question to ask, particularly about relationships and possessions. Most things offer freedom, but demand something in return. For example, a vehicle offers freedom, but also demands ﬁnancial resources and maintenance. So, perhaps, the relevant question is: Does this give more than it demands? It’s particularly applicable to the relationships in your life, be they existing ones or those you are anticipating. Today, make a list of ﬁve people and ﬁve possessions in your life and ask yourself if the equation in each case is balanced enough to work for you.
July 27: Simple and easy.
Sometimes, people presume that the answers to their problems cannot be simple, because life itself is far more easy. But “simple” and “easy” are very different words. Answers can be “simple”, in other words, straightforward. But acting on a simple solution can be very difﬁcult indeed. It’s an important distinction to make. Otherwise, we may end up discounting the simple answers. Today, look for the simple answers, even if they turn out not to be easy.
July 28: Relationship exercise.
This won’t work for every couple, but setting up a 1-10 scale can be of help in enhancing relationships. You can either take your relationship as a whole or just one aspect of it, like communication or love life etc. Think about your current level of satisfaction on the 1-10 scale with 1 as the lowest possible score. Let’s say your result for your chosen area is a 5/10. The question to be asked is not “Why have I not obtained 10/10?”, but “What would a 6/10 look like?” A maximum score might not be available right now, but that doesn’t mean improvement is not a possibility today.
July 29: How does this person make me feel about myself?
Given that our relationships with others easily become complicated, as their history and emotions collide and combine with ours, asking yourself this question can offer important insights into what is going on. As in all things, the head and the heart work best together. The answers you obtain may help them to do that. Here are a few examples: Someone you spend time with makes you laugh at his jokes. You enjoy his charisma and strength. Yet, after he has left, you feel depleted, diminished, tired. Perhaps, you even have a headache. These are important warning signs, and you may decide to withdraw from this relationship to preserve your own energy. Someone you spend time with is rather quiet, not the life and soul of the party. But after she leaves, you feel rather content with life and ﬁnd yourself smiling at something the two of you shared. You might want to reach out and explore the possibilities of this relationship. Someone you spend time with is sad and depressed and you end up feeling the same way. Watch out. They may unconsciously be using your energy to boost themselves rather than engaging with you. Someone you spend time with is sad and depressed and you end up feeling you have helped them. This is a positive experience worth repeating. Chances are this person will end up feeling supported and be prepared to change. Here is another way of asking the same question: Which way is the energy ﬂowing?
July 30: A short poem by Robert Burns.
A man convinced against his will Is of the same opinion still. Reason and logic have their uses. They are great for planning and can be the basis of sound decisions. They are, however, of limited use when it comes to dealing with feelings, particularly, when you are being logical and someone else has the feelings!
July 31: The job I might have enjoyed.
A therapist drove to his ofﬁce on a Monday morning, feeling the burden of his work weighing heavily on him. The previous week had been particularly exhausting and he knew his diary was full for today and for the early part of the week ahead. With a heavy heart, he stopped to buy petrol and as he went to pay, the attendant gave him a cheery smile and wished him a good day. He drove on, reﬂecting that in that one simple gesture, the man at the garage might have made as much difference to his frame of mind as he did to his clients’ in an hour of therapy. Suddenly, a simple job involving routine but friendly contact with people seemed very appealing. He arrived at his ofﬁce, thinking about the lack of purpose in his life, to ﬁnd that his ﬁrst appointment was with a new client who had arrived for his ﬁrst session. To the therapist’s standard opening question of “How can I help?”, came the reply, “Well, I think I’m wasting my life. I serve people at a garage and I can’t stand the monotony of my work and the lack of human contact.” The lives of others are rarely as they seem to us on the outside. “Most people lead lives of quiet desperation,” Thoreau observed. Today, keep that in mind when making judgements and feeling dissatisﬁed with your lot.
August 1: Today, you could...
Today, you could refuse to look at the negatives. They will still be there tomorrow, if you want to pick them up. Today, you could decide what is worth worrying about. By deﬁnition, you will also decide to let go of the rest. Today, you could go to bed tired. Because you have given of your best and are all used up.
August 2: What is the simplest thing that could possibly work?
“Everything in life should be as simple as possible, but not more simple,” Einstein had observed. He had also stated, “For every problem, there is a solution which is simple, obvious and wrong.” This is not an easy area and not every simple solution is the correct one. Here are three elements that could be important when you need to solve a problem: 1. 2. 3. Resonance: Something that feels right, in accord with your feelings and values. Elegance: A solution that appears to ﬂow. No part of it feels forced. Simplicity: A feeling that there isn’t anything missing or unnecessary.
If a solution meets two or three of these criteria, it’s almost certainly worth taking further. If it meets none of them, you could spend today creating alternatives.
August 3: The enemy of truth is not lies, but convictions.
The disadvantage with being certain about our beliefs is that it makes us inﬂexible. Why should the ideas that served you a year ago still be the most appropriate ones for your present circumstances? When you were a child, you constantly asked questions. That’s how you found out about things. It’s a useful skill to carry with you into adulthood. Today, you should question everything and, in particular, the things you feel most certain about.
August 4: Relationship exercise.
For couples who ﬁnd conversation difﬁcult and often end up arguing with each other, here’s a way to help break the pattern. Agree on a length of time for this exercise. If you can’t agree, make it thirty minutes. Toss a coin to see who goes ﬁrst. That person can hold the coin and speak for as long as he wishes, free to say whatever is on his mind. He can pause to reﬂect, but the other person is not allowed to intervene or comment until the coin is passed to him. The process is repeated until the thirty minutes or whatever period of time has been agreed on, is up. Immediately afterwards, it’s wise for both to spend ﬁfteen minutes apart.
August 5: Lighting the candle.
Hundreds of us were in the air-conditioned but windowless room. When the lights were switched off, the darkness seemed absolute. On stage, the course leader struck a match and lit a small candle. It was surprising how much light it cast. He used his candle to light those held by a couple of people in the front row. They, in turn, lit the candles of those sitting behind them. Seemingly without any hurry, every candle in the room was lit within a few minutes as we each contributed to the powerful light that now ﬁlled the whole room. What struck me most was that nothing needed to be said by way of explanation.
August 6: Mid-life is not about what you do; it’s about who you are.
And that’s true of many other times in our lives. We are human beings, not human “doings”. Yet, so much of our energy goes into planning the future and so little into enjoying the moment. Today, you could make it different; live who you are, rather than what you do.
August 7: What is the biggest priority in your life? How are you living it?
It’s interesting how often there is a difference between what we think we stand for and how we behave in our everyday lives. People often claim qualities such as honesty, loyalty and reliability as priorities in their lives then choose to be oblivious to the fact that they don’t demonstrate these qualities in everyday situations. People often claim that their ﬁrst priority is their partner, their children or their friends. Yet, if they placed their lives under scrutiny, they would realize that the way they spent their time did not reﬂect this. Of course, this might not apply to you. But it’s still worth spending a few minutes examining your answers to the question.
August 8: The secret lives of others.
If we were aware of the secret lives of those we sometimes want to punish and knew about their heartaches and troubles, we would certainly not wish to add to the burdens they are already carrying. Live today with this in mind and see how you end up feeling when you go to bed tonight.
August 9: What is the purpose of my life? (1)
Here is a simple answer: The purpose of my life is to enjoy the experience of being alive. Live this out today and then look at the item for tomorrow.
August 10: What is the purpose of my life? (2)
Write down your three best qualities; for example, intelligence, compassion and determination. Write down your three best skills; for instance, organization, writing and typing. Write down three ways you want the world to be; for example, loving, friendly and peaceful. Now write the following: “The purpose of my life is to use my (three qualities) and my (three skills) to help create a world which is (three ways).” You may want to reﬁne your purpose and add detail, but now you do have a starting point for what you want your life to be about.
August 11: A simple religion.
The Dalai Lama once said, “My religion is simple; my religion is kindness.” Now, we each have to work out our own beliefs about life. But I think this is a great standard against which to check both our convictions and our conduct. The one person who always beneﬁts when you practice “random acts of kindness” is yourself. That’s not why you practice them, but it is the outcome. Check it out. Reach out to someone else today in a way that is unexpected. Then observe how you end up feeling.
August 12: Who owes you?
The answer is simple. No one owes you anything, neither friendship, nor love, nor respect, nor happiness. And you don’t owe them anything either. When someone does something for you or you do something for another person, it’s because of the choice each of you has made. The reasons may be complicated. But ultimately, we all act in ways that serve us. When you realize this, you can start becoming free from expectations and resentments. This attitude is not for everyone. Today, you could see if it’s for you.
August 13: Today you could...
Today you could play to your strengths. And then spend time working on your weaknesses. Today you could turn complaints onto action. Notice when you complain and ask yourself what action you could take. Today you could acknowledge your achievements. And decide if you want to move on to achieve more.
August 14: Being the eagle.
The farmer was excited when an eagle nested in his property, then devastated, when he discovered that the eagle had been shot. He climbed the tree to look at the nest and saw that it contained a single egg. He carried it carefully down from the tree, took it back to his barn and slipped it under a brooding hen. The eaglet eventually hatched along with the other eggs that were laid under the hen. He was raised with the chickens and thought himself to be nothing but an unusual chicken. He spent his time scratching the ground for seeds, searching for worms and clucking senselessly. One day, a dark, ominous shadow fell across the barnyard. In terror, the eagle ﬂed for shelter with his companions. Looking up, the eagle saw the outstretched wings of a huge bird effortlessly moving in graceful circles as it glided on currents of warm air. Entranced by the majesty of such a powerful bird, he turned to the chicken beside him and asked, “What’s that?” “That,” replied his companion “is the king of birds. Its realm is the sky. It controls the air. It is called an eagle. We are chickens. We belong on the ground.” The eagle looked up at the bird and saw the similarities he shared with it. He looked at the chickens and, for the ﬁrst time, saw how different he was from them. The eagle now had a choice. He could live and die as a chicken in the backyard coop or he could spread his wings and soar into the air with the majesty, skill and power of the bird above. And so it is with each of us. Do you have a destiny, a life far beyond your current way of living? The choice is yours.
August 15: Today, you could...
Today, you could complete something you have been putting off. The energy spent in not doing it i probably more than it would take to complete the task. Today, you could mark your minor successes. See how they have built up and contributed to real changes in your life. Today, you could write down one of your best qualities. And see how you can use it in an interesting and varied way as your day progresses.
August 16: Having it all.
He had ﬁnally achieved all his goals. It was not surprising, as he had devoted almost all his time to them. He had the job and the income he wanted, the level of ﬁtness he desired. He had an apartment in the best part of town. It had all been worthwhile, the personal sacriﬁces, the postponement of pleasure. At last, he could look forward to enjoying life. He was so busy looking forward, he did not see the truck that hit him from behind. It’s not forever. By all means, have plans and objectives, but enjoy the present moment. You may never have another.
August 17: A good brain working with a good heart.
The more perspectives you have on any situation, the better the solutions you devise to your problems are likely to be. The two essential tests any action or decision needs to pass are that it should make sense when you analyze it objectively and feel right in your heart. You need to be very careful about acting on just one of those tests. You have been given these two skills so they can complement each other. If both tests are passed, then take action, today.
August 18: Relationship exercise.
This is a very challenging exercise. Just try it and you’ll understand why. It’s certainly not for everyone. Sit opposite each other with knees almost touching for an agreed period of time, beginning with, perhaps, no more than ﬁve minutes. Make eye contact and hold it without talking or moving. Just concentrate on the experience of being together. Observe what thoughts and feelings arise. Try not to dwell on them. Let them ﬂow past to see what follows. Take ﬁfteen minutes apart before discussing what you have experienced or, perhaps, agree not to discuss it at all. If you don’t have a partner or don’t want to carry out this experiment with him or her, do so on your own in front of a mirror.
August 19: The setting sun.
Two friends on a safari holiday are watching the African sunset. One is lost in the experience—the birdsong, the changing colors of the sky, the gentle breeze. The other is reviewing the day and thinking of the transport that was late, the substandard lunch that was served and the plans for tomorrow. When the sun completely sinks below the horizon, who do you think will have made the best use of the moment? At the end of today, how many experiences will you have fully appreciated and how much time will you have spent reviewing the past and planning the future?
August 20: Rejoice in diversity.
It’s the differences that make life interesting. We evolve most not through our interactions with people who agree with us, but through those with individuals who challenge us. Contact with different cultures, opinions and lifestyles all help us to grow. So, welcome today what is different. It’s there to teach you something of worth.
August 21: Relationships don’t solve personal problems.
Although they can do a very good job of helping people avoid looking at them. The solution to whatever issues are troubling you is your own responsibility, not that of your friends, family or partner. You can adversely affect your relationships with them by expecting them to sort out problems that are not their concern. There’s a simple question you should ask yourself: Did I feel like this before I went into this relationship? The answer will help you to distinguish between personal problems and relationship problems.
August 22: The past and future do combine
To be the thief of present time. I don’t know where this couplet comes from, but I do think it contains the most important piece of advice available. There is only the present at your disposal. To squander the present by reviewing the past or planning obsessively for the future is to waste life itself. If you want to enjoy the experience of feeling fully alive, you must focus on the moment.
August 23: Don’t give up being you in order to be with someone else.
Do you look in the mirror and no longer recognize the person you see looking back? Do you ﬁnd you’ve given up on your friends, your interests and your beliefs in order to stay in a relationship? Then it’s time to either introduce signiﬁcant changes in that relationship or give serious thought to the possibility of getting out of it.
August 24: What do you say to yourself?
Everyone talks to himself or herself. If you did it out loud and in the presence of others, you would certainly invite strange looks. No one can know, however, what you are silently saying to yourself. What sort of things do you say to yourself? Are they critical or encouraging? What tone of voice do you use? Gentle or harsh? Now, how do you talk to children, perhaps, your own? If the way you talk to yourself is harsher and more critical than the way you talk to children, you need to change your habits, because inside each one of us is a child, often a frightened one, who hears our voice more than any other.
August 25: Most activity is a choice.
I’m sure it doesn’t feel like that if you are busy right now, but just pause to reﬂect. You are the one who has the choice to make your life more complicated than it need be. There are, of course, some things you need to do, but a lot of your activity is a choice. It’s ﬁne to take things on, to feel stretched to the limits. It’s also perfectly all right to turn things down, to say no, when that best serves you. If you are going to be busy today, make sure it’s because that’s what you choose to be.
August 26: What do you want on your tombstone?
Everyone will have his own answer. We all have our dreams and we may want an inscription mentioning our role as a good partner, parent, employee, boss, artist and contributor to society, among others. Here is one tombstone inscription you might consider, whatever it is you might want to achieve before you die: Best before ... , followed by the date of your death.
August 27: Forget the potential.
Here’s a good relationship question: If I knew my partner or proposed partner was never going to change, would I be happy to spend the rest of my life with him/ her? If the honest answer, warts and all, is YES, go ahead and have fun. If the answer is NO, you owe it to yourself to ask if this person is right for you.
August 28: Today, you could...
Today, you could decide to have fun. Whatever happens, look for opportunities to make it more enjoyable. Today, you could practice being a cheerful receiver. The world is short of people who can graciously accept gifts and compliments. Today, you could acknowledge that wherever you go, there you are. Accept yourself as you are, warts and all. Acceptance can be the ﬁrst step towards improvement.
August 29: The squeaky wheel.
It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. It may seem unfair that those who get on with their lives without a fuss are not offered the support available to less able people. Fair or not, it’s a fact. So, those who appear to be dealing with life well, even if they aren’t, need to know how to ask for help. Otherwise, it won’t occur to others to offer it. If it applies to you, ask for what you need and make an effort to ﬁnd out what others need as well.
August 30: Commitment and compatibility.
Both these elements are important in a successful relationship; it’s not an “either-or” situation. The greatest commitment will not be enough to overcome a basic lack of compatibility and a relationship without this element can lead to a lifetime of unhappiness for both partners. However, just because someone is compatible does not necessarily mean that he or she is committed or even capable of commitment. The following might serve as a useful analogy: The pig and the hen are both compatible in the sense they provide bacon and eggs respectively. But while the hen is involved, only the pig is committed.
August 31: How do you treat your friends?
My guess is you are kind to them, offer to help them when you can, give them moral support when they are troubled, celebrate good news with them, forgive them when they are less than perfect and enjoy their company. Now, how do you treat yourself? The same, worse or better? Most people, if they are honest, will admit that they treat themselves worse than they treat their friends, particularly when it comes to the matter of forgiveness. Today, why not start to treat yourself as well as you treat those you love?
September 1: Today, you could...
Today, you could think of three ways in which your life could be worse. And take some time during the day to rejoice that it’s not so. Today, you could get something wrong. Do it deliberately, make a mistake. You might make someone else feel better. Today, you could listen to your heart. And ask your brain to comment on what your heart tells you. If they agree, go ahead.
September 2: Does this problem need to be solved?
There are some problems in life you just have to deal with. Either you can’t live with them or things will take a turn for the worse if you ignore them. There are also times when arriving at solutions takes more time and energy than accepting the problem and living with it. The world is never going to be perfect. It’s wise to distinguish between the two situations, so you can get on and enjoy the experience of being alive.
September 3: Sometimes, we create our own experience.
Try telling a naked man who is standing in a strong wind at - 20° C that he creates his own experience. He might not agree with you. But you could tell yourself the same thing, when you get upset over something someone has said to you, an anniversary your partner forgot, a promotion for which you were passed over, holiday plans that went awry, a scratch on your car or a rainy day... The list is endless. Today, you could take responsibility for what you create.
September 4: Change can either be an event or a process.
Sometimes, change occurs in an instant; a major event or a sudden occurrence. But often, the change has been in progress for quite sometime without being noticed. It is the realization of the change that is sudden. More often, change is a process. We may not be aware of it except in retrospect. In the context of losing weight, a pound a month is inconsequential. But over a year, it amounts to almost a stone. So, look back a year or ﬁve and take stock. See what has changed and ask yourself if you like the direction in which your life is going. If not, it’s time to make changes so that this time next year, it will all seem very different.
September 5: Do you always look as if you’re coping, even when you’re not?
What was your reaction when you read this question? If you responded to it with a start of recognition, what comes next was written for you. If not, consider if it might apply to someone you feel close to. Here are some predictions: You feel you always have to cope, either because of childhood experiences you endured or because of current demands on you. Unlike other people, you don’t have a choice. Underlying your response is probably a fear that if you don’t keep on coping, a part of your world will collapse and things will go wrong and become chaotic. But consider the following: Just because you have to cope with everything most of the time, does not mean you have to cope with everything all the time. If you’ve always been someone who dealt with problems, that part of you will still be active even when you take a short break. Your taking some “time out” may allow others to become more capable and result in them feeling better about themselves. If the above made sense to you: Tell those close to you that on certain occasions, at least, you’re not waving, but drowning. Trust them to take over for a while.
September 6: Not all problems can be solved.
But that doesn’t mean things can’t be improved. One of the signs of a ﬂexible approach to life is a willingness to accept partial solutions to problems that can’t be solved in their entirety. When you’re faced with something you feel you have to come to terms with, don’t stop looking for areas where you can still make improvements. Today, you could move things forward.
September 7: Some things have to be…
Some things have to be understood. It can help to have reasons, even if nothing changes. Inquiry and exploration are useful tools for understanding what is not yet clear. Some things have to be accepted. They are just not going to change and it’s better to recognize this and stop wasting your life waiting for something that won’t happen. It may be useful to understand the situation and let go. Some things have to be forgiven. It may not be enough just to understand or to accept. You may have to forgive in order to move on. Not so much for the sake of anyone else involved, but for your own peace of mind.
September 8: What was your life like when you were that age?
This is a question mostly for parents, but also for those who have any contact with children. Bringing up children can be one of the most difﬁcult and rewarding challenges in life. We make it that much more difﬁcult when we have expectations that don’t match the reality of our children’s lives. Societies, peer pressure and consumerism all change so much and so quickly, that the lives of the next generation are often very different from ours, both from the social and ﬁnancial point of view. What is much more likely to be shared with our offspring is the experience we ourselves went through at the same age. That’s when it’s worth asking the question in the heading. If you are in doubt about the answers and your parents are still alive, check with them. They will enjoy reminding you about the problems they had understanding you. When you ﬁnd the tantrums of your ﬁve-year-old trying, ask how your parents felt when you were ﬁve. When you are confused by your offspring’s refusal to engage with you or share his or her experiences at puberty, remind yourself of how unwilling you were to talk to your mum and dad when your own body was changing. When you feel ignored by your ﬁfteen-year-old, it’s worth reﬂecting on how you treated your parents when you yourself were ﬁfteen. How sensitive were you to their feelings? The experience of being human does not seem to change that much over the generations.
September 9: A week of making a difference.
Every day of the week to come, make one gesture beyond your normal routine that will beneﬁt someone else in a way he doesn’t expect. Pay someone a sincere compliment about something you would not usually mention. Give someone a small gift for no particular reason, other than your feeling that they deserve it. Reach out with a reassuring touch or even a hug a person when he or she is having a difﬁcult time. Most important, at the end of each day, write down what you did and the response your evoked. After seven days, take some time to reﬂect on and review your list. Think about the difference you have made to others and how it has left you feeling. This is an exercise that’s meant to be fun. If it feels like a burden, don’t try it.
September 10: Can you be free if you are still trying to control other people?
Every attempt to control and change someone else involves surrendering a little of your own freedom. Since, in practice, you have no control over the responses of others, by attempting to acquire it, you are allowing your life to be controlled by them. Of course, if you are involved in bringing up children, you will realize that this loss of freedom is inevitable. It goes with the territory of being a parent. But it’s interesting how we still give away our power when we are in an adult-to-adult situation. For some reason, we believe that people should be different from how they are and invest time and energy in vain, trying to bring about a change in them that will make them acceptable to us. Today, it would be a good idea to accept people as they are. If that doesn’t beneﬁt you, move on.
September 11: Every relationship is unique.
Wherever you read about relationships or are told about them—and that certainly applies to the ideas in this book— please remember it may not apply to you. If you think about your complexity as an individual, then add another party to the equation, the possibilities are beyond calculation. Don’t try and ﬁt your relationship into someone else’s understanding of it. Ask the simple question: Does this apply to me? If it doesn’t, move on.
September 12: The perfect childhood.
They were determined that their only child should have a perfect upbringing. He grew up protected from all harm. When he looked as if he might fall, they were there to catch him. When he cried, the tissue they produced caught the tears almost before they started. They tried to project their relationship as a perfect one for his sake. All disagreements were kept private and they never criticized each other in his presence. Of course, they also took pains never to criticize him. When he started school and someone said something unkind to him, he had no idea how to cope with it. Life can be good, but it won’t be perfect. If it were, we wouldn’t grow. It’s how you cope when things go wrong that’s the mark of your worth as a human being.
September 13: We teach people how to treat us.
Other people can be so unfair, judgemental or critical and it’s easy to attribute to others all responsibility for this kind of response and ignore our own role in the matter. If we see ourselves as teachers and other people as our students to whom we are offering lessons on how to treat us, we may get a very different view about our relationships and friendships. We may also begin to change our teaching method, our behaviour, so that we get results that are better suited to our needs. If you want people to improve their behaviour towards you, you need to improve the way you teach them.
September 14: Is this an external problem or an internal one?
We live in a world that encourages us to seek external solutions to internal problems. When we feel miserable inside, we turn to food, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, money, tears, children and arguments, among other diversions. Ultimately, internal problems need internal solutions, which is mostly what this book is about, since it advocates modifying attitudes and thereby being better equipped to take decisions that will be appropriate for given situations. The external sources not only fail to offer permanent relief, but merely contribute to frittering away precious time and sometimes end up destroying our lives in the bargain. Certain external problems, on the other hand, need external solutions. If your water pipe springs a leak, for example, don’t spend time thinking about it. If you’re in a violent or vicious relationship, with little prospect of matters improving, your immediate solution would be an external one, that is, the decision to make a quick exit instead of brooding on how you got there in the ﬁrst place. So, the answer that comes up spontaneously to the question, “Is this an external or an internal problem?” would be your best indicator as to what needs to be addressed and rectiﬁed.
September 15: Today, you could...
Today, you could look for a bigger challenge. Seek greater stimulation, a larger problem to address and bring out the best in yourself. Today, you could exceed your expectations. Live beyond what you have previously held to be your limits, surprise yourself and, perhaps, shock other people. Today, you could start making different choices. Think about where your past choices have taken you and if you’re not happy with where you are, choose differently in the future.
September 16: And is there honey?
A woman is woken up by her partner who has brought her a breakfast of coffee and croissants in bed. She says, “There’s nothing better than honey on my croissants in the morning. There are so many different kinds of honey. Each has its own character. Honey is deﬁnitely my favourite breakfast spread.” Then she says, “But honey is so unhealthy. All those little insects manufacturing it in unhygienic conditions … and it can be bad for your blood sugar. On second thoughts, I loathe honey.” Her bemused partner replies, “You can’t have it both ways. You need to make up your mind.” “I quite agree,” she replies, “and I will make up my mind as to which opinion I want to hold, once I know if we have any honey in the kitchen.” It’s easier to ride a horse in the direction in which it’s going.
September 17: An attitude of gratitude.
This is a phrase you have probably heard before, but its familiarity should not blind you to its inherent truth. Here is an exercise you could engage in to see if this idea works for you. Write down one thing you suppose you could feel grateful for, even if you don’t feel it right now. If you can’t think of anything worth mentioning, write down the fact that you have the power of vision and can see. There are many people who can’t. Spend a minute thinking about this item. Add another tomorrow and spend a minute on it too, along with another minute on the previous one. Do this every day for a total of ﬁve days, so that you spend a total of ﬁve minutes reﬂecting on ﬁve items. If you ﬁnd this makes a difference, add items as they occur to you. If it doesn’t work for you, ﬁle away the list. It will be there when you need it.
September 18: Would you live with yourself?
It’s a tough question: Would you live with yourself? It’s not meant as a “beat-yourself-up” question, but as a way of honestly looking at your role in relationships. Here are some possible answers: Yes, I’d be very happy to live with myself. Be grateful that you are able to answer this way and consider what those around you contribute to your life. Yes, I’d live with myself, but I would ﬁnd a few things difﬁcult to bear. Examine your relationships to ﬁnd out whether anything you bring to it has the potential of undermining it. Then decide if you want to make changes. No, I would not want to live with myself. What changes would you have to make to come up with a different answer (including not being too harsh on yourself)? Are these changes you can make on your own? Are you willing to seek help from others? “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” —Leo Tolstoy
September 19: Does the longest journey start with the first step?
I’m not a fan of bumper-sticker philosophy. I don’t take to easy solutions and I ﬁnd it annoying when problems are dismissed with a phrase like “The longest journey starts with the ﬁrst step.” What’s even more annoying with this one is that despite it being simplistic and failing to tell the full story, it’s accurate and even insightful, however you choose to look at it. Whatever it is you want to achieve—fulﬁlment in a relationship, ﬁnancial success or health targets—you won’t get there until you start taking action. Your ﬁrst action might well involve planning and preparation, modifying your attitude and making a decision, but until it’s implemented in the outside world, it won’t feel real. Here’s a challenge for today: Take any objective you have in mind and take the ﬁrst step right now towards its achievement. You may undertake either a short journey or a long one, but it’s unlikely to become easier if you delay starting it.
September 20: Rome wasn’t built in a day... but parts of it were.
The ﬁrst part of the sentence is an expression parents use when their children clamour for instant gratiﬁcation. It’s supposed to hold the moral that if something is worth having, it takes time to achieve. Some people interpret this to mean that all they have to do is wait. And so they do, wallowing in inactivity and impatient for their goals to be realized without any contribution on their part. Although “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, parts of it were. In other words, it’s best to look at the small steps you can take towards your eventual goal. Many good things in life are the result of a number of small deeds, carried out often on a daily basis. An education cannot be acquired in a day, but new learning certainly can. A weight-loss target is unlikely to be achieved in a day, but a daily weight reduction might be a feasible objective. Financial success is usually not achieved in a day, but you can open a savings account to start off with. A damaged relationship cannot be mended in a day, but a signiﬁcant start can be made in that direction. This book wasn’t written in a day, but this part of it certainly was! What do you want to start building today?
September 21: There are worse things in life than having a relationship end.
And here are some of them: Wasting your life, waiting for someone else to change. Living with violence or emotional abuse. Watching your children being damaged. Losing your own identity, friends or interests. It’s not easy to move on, but sometimes it’s what life asks of you. “You gain strength, courage and conﬁdence by every experience in which you really stopped to look fear in the face.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
September 22: The old coin.
An unemployed father of four was walking in the direction of the nearest town from home in search of work, as he had done every day for the past few months. Bills were piling up and his wife was getting depressed. His toes came into contact with something and, bending down, he picked up an old coin. Arriving at the town, he took it to a coin collector who paid him £30 for his ﬁnd. Passing a hardware store, he saw some wood and decided he would build his wife the shelves she had been asking for. On the journey home, he was stopped by a furniture maker who offered him £100 for the wood as well as a new cupboard for his kitchen. While carrying the cupboard home, he passed a house which was being renovated and its owner offered him £150 for the cupboard which he accepted. Pleased with his fortune, he stood at the gate of his house counting the cash, when a man with a knife accosted him, took the cash and ran off. Observing the incident from the kitchen window, his wife rushed out. “Are you all right?” she asked anxiously. “What did he take?” The man shrugged his shoulders and said, “Oh it was just a battered old coin I stumbled across this morning.” Sometimes, it pays to devise the best possible explanation for things over which we have no control.
September 23: The 80/20 principle.
Put simply, this idea states that 80 per cent of the results you achieve come from a mere 20 per cent of the actions you take. Now, I have my doubts as to the degree of precision of any formula applied to a human situation. I do, however, see that when we act at the right time and in the right way, we obtain results that far exceed the energy involved. It’s certainly an excellent idea to concentrate your energies on things that make a difference instead of squandering your resources to no great effect in another area. Too much activity can be a curse. It stops you from looking too deeply at issues in your life. Well-timed and effective action can free you to contemplate the direction you are taking. How can you act more effectively today?
September 24: What you resist persists.
We are all guilty of repeating unhelpful patterns in our lives, not just in relationships, but in the way we deal with our ﬁnances, our eating habits and so on. Each time we make up our minds that the next time, it’s going to be different. However, when the next time comes, nothing has changed. When that’s the pattern you keep following, chances are that there is something you are resisting, some underlying cause you are refusing to examine or some deeper reason you are avoiding looking at. You can’t change things you don’t own up to, so here’s something you can do right now: Take an issue where you tend to repeat a pattern despite your best efforts not to do so and ask yourself what it is you are resisting. Ask yourself this question two or three times and write down the answers. If nothing comes up, ask yourself what you would write down if you were going to write something. Then write that down. This doesn’t solve the problem, but it might well tell you where to start looking for a solution.
September 25: A month to live.
The woman was driving home from the hospital in a daze. “You probably have only one month to live,” the new doctor had told her after reviewing her test results. As her mind cleared during the long journey, she started to plan the month ahead. She thought of the letters and e-mails she needed to write, the calls she wanted to make, the apologies she wanted to express for past mistakes, the declarations of love she wanted to make to those close to her. She realized that there were experiences she had always postponed which she could still cram into this month. Above all, she wanted to spend her last weeks feeling fully alive. She arrived home, keen to start doing the things she had been thinking about. The phone was ringing as she opened the door and she took the call. It was from the hospital. There had been a terrible mix up. Her tests were clear. There was no problem with her health at all. If this were you, would you still take the action you had planned on your journey home?
September 26: Fixing process or outcome.
As a general rule, you can’t ﬁx both the process and the outcome of an action, but a lot of people waste much of their life trying to do so. If you want to ﬁx the outcome, be it an athletic achievement, the purchase of a house or fulﬁlment in a relationship, you will usually have to develop ﬂexibility in your approach in order to get where you want to be. If you want to ﬁx a process, for instance, the way you respond to people or a set approach to business, you can expect to obtain a variable outcome to each situation. There is no “right answer” here, just a need to select an appropriate process or outcome for a proposed action and not waste time trying to force the way things are into a mould of your own making.
September 27: Avoiding arguments.
It’s almost impossible to argue with someone who is not concerned about being right. An argument is a process that relies on those involved being attached to different outcomes. If either one of the parties involved is happy to enjoy an exploration of the given issue without attachment to the outcome, no argument can take place. Sometimes, it’s good to stand ﬁrm and live with the disagreement. Sometimes, it’s ﬁne to give way. Sometimes, it’s time to respect differences and move on to other areas.
September 28: My English teacher.
When I was twelve years old, there was a boy in my class known for his unruly behaviour. One day, after the English lesson had been disrupted several times by him, our much-respected teacher astounded the rest of the class by losing his temper sufﬁciently to slap the boy a number of times before sending him to the headmaster to be caned (this was, of course, in an era when it was a normal disciplinary procedure). We talked of little else that day. The next day, our English teacher came to class and publicly apologized both to the boy and to the rest of the class for losing his temper and resorting to hitting him. We talked of little else that week. This is one of the most useful lessons I have gleaned from my life. Our English teacher taught me many valuable things but, unbeknownst to him, this was his best lesson. 1. When you are in the wrong, you need to acknowledge it and apologize for your error. You can grow in the eyes of others by the manner in which you handle your failures. You never know what it is you do that will make all the difference.
September 29: You’re supposed to make me happy.
There used to be a cartoon in my counselling room which showed a couple pointing at each other. The speech bubble suspended over both of them read : “You’re supposed to make me happy.” It might just be the biggest myth about relationships that if you are not happy already, having a relationship will change everything. A better approach is to take responsibility for your own happiness and be willing to share it with your partner.
September 30: The rope of time.
A twelve-year-old wishes to become a teenager because “teenagers have more fun”. In response to his wish, a wizard gives him a rope which, when he pulls it, will make him older. One tug and he’s a teenager. But sadly, he ﬁnds that he also has spots on his face. Wanting to avoid being teased by his peers, he pulls the rope again, but a bit too hard, and discovers that he is now in his early twenties, married and with a child. They are struggling to make ends meet, but he knows better times are ahead and pulls again. In his late twenties, he gets a promotion, but is not happy with his new job. So, another pull takes him to the post of Manager. It’s a fulﬁlling phase in his career and his ﬁnancial situation is more stable. The problems of two teenage children, their friends and their loud late-night music are a trial for him and he looks forward to the day he and his wife can enjoy the peace of their home together. Another tug on the rope and he ﬁnds himself struggling now to hold onto his job and looks forward to his retirement. He pulls the rope again and ﬁnds he has retired but is now facing major heart surgery. Anxious to ﬁnd out what will happen next, he pulls the rope once more and ﬁnds himself in the dark and surrounded by a wooden box. Enjoy each stage of your life as it comes; it’s over quickly enough.
October 1: Today, you could...
Today, you could heal a hurt. For yourself or someone you are close to. Today, you could be less comfortable and take a risk. Reach out; get used to stretching yourself. Today, you could seek out rejection. It’s useful to practice dealing with a rejection you have chosen. It will give you the experience to deal with rejections in situations where they are not your choice.
October 2: The old man.
The old man lived a quiet, simple life, until one day, his village was taken over by Nazi occupation forces. A storm trooper dragged him into the street and said, “From now on, you will let me live in your house, and every day, you will serve my meals, make my bed, and shine my boots. Otherwise, I will kill you. Will you do as you’re told?” The old man did not answer. For two years, he served meals, shined shoes, made beds and obeyed every order. But he would not say a word. Then one day, the Allied armies liberated the village. As they dragged the soldier from the cottage, the old man took a deep breath and ﬁnally answered the question with a “No!” There’s a part of you that remains free despite your external circumstances. It’s the part that allows you to choose when and how you react. It’s what makes you human and it’s not for others to control.
October 3: Your life will end before the world stops being interesting.
You’d better face it: Whatever your interests, there are more opportunities available to you than you will ever have time to explore. And, of course, the more interests you have, the worse it gets. Take entertainment, as a small example: Every day, at least one book you will enjoy reading is published, a CD you would enjoy listening to is released, a ﬁlm or TV program you would love to see is produced, a play that would interest you opens and a concert that you would be keen to attend is staged. Take travel: Assuming you don’t work in the travel industry, if you add up all the places you want to go to and the holidays you have at your disposal, you’re just not going to be able to cram it all in. And I haven’t mentioned your career, relationships, sports, writing, learning and so on. The message is about choice. Today, you don’t have time for the second-best, the second-rate. You don’t have enough time to enjoy all the ﬁrst-rate pleasures at your disposal. So, never settle for less.
October 4: The benefit of small, consistent changes over a long period.
It’s a shared human failing: We want it perfect and yet we want it now. It’s interesting how that urgency can prevent us from achieving our dreams. It’s true of many things in life, but particularly true of relationships. They rarely change overnight. It probably took you a long time to end up where you are now. So, what makes you believe any change will be instant? You may not be able to change your destination immediately, but you can change your direction right now. A small change, sustained for a long time, will ensure that you end up in the future in a place very different from the one from which you started out. You will almost certainly overestimate what you can achieve in a month. But at the same time, you will underestimate what you can accomplish in a year. So, today, look for small, positive changes in your relationship or in any other area of your choice and work to expand them, concentrating on what does work and make more of it instead of obsessing about the problems.
October 5: Remember the colour.
“Look around the room,” said the therapist, “and try to remember everything that is green in colour.” She even helped by pointing out things that might have been missed—an ornament, a part of a picture. “Now shut your eyes,” she said, “ and name everything in this room that is coloured blue.” We remember what we focus on. Describe your day so far, in terms of what has gone right for you. Now, describe your day in terms of what has gone wrong and it will feel very different. You need to be aware of the difﬁculties in life. But they don’t need to be what you focus on all the time. Today, you have a choice.
October 6: Silence is as important as noise.
Music consists of sounds and silences. Without the intervals of silence to set off the sounds, there wouldn’t be a tune. Yet, the life we live today consists, so often, of constant noise— the noise of activity, of television, of our interactions with each other—and of our thoughts. To make more sense of life, to hear the song we are here to sing, we need to create silence, a quiet time for reﬂection, an occasional oasis of calm, in which we can review where we have been, where we are now and where we are going. It is said that much of man’s unhappiness arises from his inability to sit in a room on his own. Silence merely means being at one with yourself. To some, the situation can seem rather threatening. But staying with the silence, say, for ﬁve minutes, starting, perhaps, right now, can help you develop the skill. Let your quiet times become a regular part of your daily life.
October 7: Carnegie Hall.
“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” the tourist asks the New York cab driver. “Practice, baby, practice” he replies. (It’s a very old joke). You know you have to practice when you learn to speak a foreign language or to dance well. But what about learning to be conﬁdent, to be more loving? The answer is often the same: Practice, baby, practice.
October 8: Things to avoid in relationships.
Here are some things it’s best to avoid: Relationships with people who don’t make you feel good after a few encounters; the situation is not likely to change. Relationships where, most of the time, you feel like the parent and the other person like your child; it’s not healthy for either of you. Relationships where you feel you have to rescue the other person all the time; it doesn’t breed respect on either side. Relationships with people who have fatal ﬂaws they are not doing anything to rectify such as affairs, drugs or alcohol. Fatal ﬂaws are usually just that—fatal.
October 9: The stuck bus.
A bus gets stuck under a low bridge after the driver makes a mistake and takes the wrong turning. No one is hurt, but the efforts of the ﬁre-ﬁghters to pull the bus out are in vain. It just won’t budge. Using greater force could end up damaging the bridge. A young girl rides up on her bike to watch the proceedings and says quietly to the Fire Chief: “Why don’t you just let the tyres down?” There are two ways to use this story. Sometimes, solutions to your problems are far simpler than you think, if you keep your mind open to all possibilities. Sometimes, what you need to do is let the air out of a situation. Occasionally, all you have to do to achieve this is breathe out.
October 10: “There is a crack in everything”
This is a line from a Leonard Cohen song: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” Cohen is a poet. So, what he writes is open to a number of interpretations. For me, however, this quote is about how we deal with the problems and difﬁculties we face in life. I don’t subscribe to the belief that everything has a purpose, a meaning. But I do believe that all experiences, good or bad, have the potential to contribute to our growth and knowledge. I do believe that when things get disrupted or impaired—our relationships, our jobs or our health—along with the sense of loss and sadness that ensues, there is the possibility of fresh light illuminating the very core of our being.
October 11: Ten things to know about sex.
The ﬁrst thing to know about sex: It was meant to be fun. If it’s not, then you need to do something about it. The second thing to know about sex: It doesn’t have to be a big part of your relationship. However, it’s perfectly all right if it is. The third thing to know about sex: Long-term relationships don’t last simply because of a great sex life. It’s not enough. The fourth thing to know about sex: There are no external norms or methods to conform to. If what you do works for both of you, that’s just ﬁne. The ﬁfth thing to know about sex: It’s just as important to please yourself, as it is to please your partner. The sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth things to know about sex: It was meant to be fun. Don’t make it too serious.
October 12: The special occasion.
A brother and sister are sorting through the possessions of their recently deceased mother. They come across the expensive dress she had bought, years ago, for a special occasion and realize it is still in the store wrapping. In all her life, she had never found an occasion special enough to wear it. You may feel this is not about you, but think about the things you intend to do “when the time is right.” There is nothing wrong in looking forward to things. But it’s a big waste to die, waiting for a reason to celebrate. What can you celebrate today?
October 13: Don’t smother each other.
Relationships are very, very important. A great relationship is one of the best experiences life has to offer. But it’s not the only experience and relationships beneﬁt from each partner bringing in something new from time to time. If your relationship feels a bit dead, it might be time to get out more and not always together. Most things don’t grow so well in the shade. So, give your relationship the importance it deserves, but don’t let it consume your life. If you do, it just might die from lack of nourishment.
October 14: Stopping the ripples.
“Throw a pebble into the pond,” instructed the teacher. “Now try and stop the ripples.” Of course, every move the student made to stop the water moving caused new ripples to form and so it went. “The only way to control the ripples,” the teacher ﬁnally suggested, “is not to throw the stone in the ﬁrst place.” Once you take action on something, you lose control over the effect it has. So, when it comes to adopting a negative attitude to yourself or to others and acting on it, it’s best if you just don’t start.
October 15: Today, you could...
Today, you could work to change what you can. Having done so, look for the best in what you can’t change. Today, you could do only what works for you. If you aren’t getting to where you want to be, try doing something different. Today, you could delay dealing with the urgent. And spend time on what is important. It’s interesting how the “urgent” tends to get sorted out.
October 16: Only one way to be right.
A father is talking to his daughter who is a bit upset because her desk is untidy. “What makes it untidy?” he asks her. “Well, if things kept on it are moved about,” she replies. “So, if I move this pen a bit, does that make it untidy?” “Yes, it does,” she answers, “the pen has to be right there, on that spot.” “Well, the problem,” says her father, “is there are a lot of ways you can see your desk as untidy, but only one way you can see it as tidy!” —Gregory Bateson Too many rules can spoil your life and your relationships. If you can have at your disposal a number of ways to enjoy success, you are far more likely to enjoy it than if you conﬁne yourself to one. Don’t make your life harder than it need be.
October 17: The lessons keep appearing until the learning takes place.
Take a few minutes to look back at your life and see if you can identify some of the patterns that occur in the area of your relationships, career or health. It’s worth writing down a few sentences to capture elements that repeat themselves. Then ask yourself the following questions: If these situations were trying to teach me something, what would it be? What would my future be like if I had learnt the lessons that are being offered? If you don’t come up with anything, move on. This may not be for you. If you do see a lesson to be learnt, go back over some past events and think about how they might have turned out differently if you had already absorbed what you need to know.
October 18: Cheating at drawing.
At school, he was not very good at drawing and had never had his work displayed in the classroom. One day, having taken two sheets of paper instead of the usual single sheet by mistake, he completed a drawing. He noticed an outline of the drawing on the second sheet. This gave him an idea and he took a sheet of paper home and traced over a drawing he liked, so that an outline of it was left on the sheet underneath. This he then took to school. During the lesson, he traced the outline with his pencil and submitted the work as his own. After a couple of failed attempts, he had his work selected for display on the classroom wall. And so it continued for a whole term. But then he started to feel guilty and decided he would stop cheating. The following term, he drew a picture without following a previously traced outline and found, to his surprise, that with all the practice, his drawing skills had improved considerably. And after a few weeks he had a piece of work selected for display. —David Gordon Sometimes, you have to practice in an artiﬁcially created situation in order to learn how to deal with something. “Fake it till you make it”. Pretend anger in order to learn how to stop being angry. Demonstrate feelings of love, even when you don’t feel loving. The skill will develop gradually and what you had to simulate in order to practice will become truly your own.
October 19: Every unkind act is a cry for help.
I’m not sure this is true every time, and it certainly doesn’t feel like it when I’m at the receiving end. But when I stop to think about the times I have been unkind to others, I realize that it was because I had been feeling bad about myself. So, unkindness to others is, perhaps, a cry for help from the person who is responsible for it. What I do know is that my relationships work better when I assume this to be true. I am less likely to get upset and more likely to meet the needs of the person or persons with whom I am interacting. As a result, I end up having a better time with them. Could this be true for you as well?
October 20: The fisherman and the businessman.
A man is sitting ﬁshing for his supper when he is approached by a visiting businessman who tells him, “If you had a boat and employed people, you could catch more ﬁsh and sell them at a proﬁt. And you’d soon be rich.” “And what would I do then?” asked the ﬁsherman. “Anything you want,” said the businessman. “I’m doing that now,” replied the angler. It’s a very well-known and insightful story. Make sure you recognize what you have now and enjoy it to the full. There is no greater waste than trying hard to get what is already yours.
October 21: Connected or disconnected?
This is a good one to check out by asking yourself ‘When do I feel most connected to life, when do I feel most disconnected to life’ Try to stand back from the habits you have formed, make sure you are not selecting something just because it’s familiar and then examine how you spend most of your time. Is it in ways that make you feel connected or are you wasting your time in activity you feel you have to undertake even though it doesn’t serve you are your objectives, even though you end up feeling remote from the process. Change is sometimes very difﬁcult with hard wired habits and ways of going about things but it is possible, if you are willing to pay the price. And if you decide you are not willing then at least it’s something you can feel you have made a conscious decision about.
October 22: If I had a gun to my head.
A well-known newspaper owner faced the prospect of bankruptcy when his loan application was turned down. “If someone put a gun to my head, I would ﬁnd a way out of this,” he said. And he did. It’s a violent metaphor, but it does remind us that, given sufﬁcient reason, we can overcome almost anything. Choose a problem you are facing. Tell yourself that the alternative to solving it is your worst nightmare. What action would you take?
October 23: Work can be easier than relationships.
Work—and here I mean any activity, like your job, gardening or keeping ﬁt—while beneﬁcial in itself can be a great way of distracting you from the crucial issues in your life. Nowhere is this truer than in your relationships. When you are “too busy” to be with someone you care about, just stop and ask yourself this: If I were using this work as a way of avoiding something, what might that something be? You may conclude that the work pressure is genuine. Often, that’s true, but at least check it out. And don’t automatically accept the ﬁrst answer that comes up for you.
October 24: The mustard seed.
A woman came to the Buddha and pleaded with him to bring her dead child back to life. “If you can bring me a mustard seed from any household which has not known death, your child will live again,” he promised her. She searched for days for such a household, but to no avail. When she returned from her unsuccessful quest, she said, “I understand now. Death visits every household and catches up, eventually, with each of us.” It is a story full of sadness that also depicts an undeniable reality. As you read it, you might realize that if you don’t have a sound reason for grieving, you could be rejoicing.
October 25: We are all the same : We are all different.
An ability to deal with paradox, with ideas that are both true and yet seem to contradict each other, is the mark of a mature and intelligent approach to life. It’s useful to acknowledge what we all have in common. It prevents us from building up prejudice against others, because we are able to put ourselves in another person’s shoes occasionally and to see things from their perspective. It teaches us empathy, understanding and kindness. We all bleed when we are cut, emotionally as well as physically, even if some people can conceal it more effectively than others. But it’s also important to recognize just how different people are. As far as our background, beliefs, experiences and personalities are concerned, we are all different, one from another. We will never all see the world the same way. Mankind will never agree on a belief system, religious or political. So, let’s not waste our time trying to achieve this end. Today, you can celebrate what we do have in common and rejoice, at the same time, in our diversity.
October 26: Why do we choose to live with suffering?
At ﬁrst sight, it seems a strange idea that we would choose to live with suffering, particularly in our relationships. One of the attractions of being in a relationship with someone can be the sense of security it gives us, even if many of our experiences with that person are not necessarily pleasant ones. There are many people who, despite being in a poor relationship contributing little to their well-being, prefer to endure the kind of suffering with which they are familiar rather than confront their fear of the unknown. Becoming aware of this and facing the fear involved in moving on can be the start of important changes.
October 27: Advanced civilizations.
There is a theory that there are other civilizations out there that are far more advanced than ours. They began tens of thousands of years before ours did and have, therefore, had more time to evolve. The truth is, they started no more than ﬁfteen minutes before and the reason they are so much more advanced is because they never had to rush to appointments. — Woody Allen I can remember being advised to take time to read carefully through exam question papers before starting to write the answers. I recall how difﬁcult I found this, because the urge to make “progress” was so great. And yet, it is excellent advice in a world where we live as if ﬁfteen minutes would make all the difference. So, why not take that time now to sit and think about the rest of your day and the difference it could make if you decided not to rush? Some things might not get done, but that’s perfectly all right. The world and those close to you will survive.
October 28: Assumptions are like termites.
Assumptions are like termites. Unchallenged, they can erode your foundations. Think for a moment about the mistaken assumptions other people make about you. Here are a couple of examples: “You always seem so calm.” (Like a duck; I’m paddling furiously below the surface of the water.) “You don’t contribute.” (Actually, I do, but you just don’t notice.) Now, turn this around and list some assumptions you make about other people, particularly, those close to you. Turn the assumptions into questions and check them out with the person involved: “Do you always feel as calm as you seem on the outside?” “Do you feel your contributions are acknowledged and appreciated?” It’s interesting how easy it is to feel misunderstood and how it’s more difﬁcult to accept that we might be misunderstanding others.
October 29: You are more than the drama.
You are more than the drama in your life and you are certainly more than the drama in your relationships. There is a place within you, where you can stand back, regard unfolding events with detachment and simply observe what is happening without actively participating in it. It is from this place that patterns can be recognized and reactions—your own and those of others—more fully understood. It is from this place that changes can be planned and resources gathered. Sometimes, it’s wise to replay the past in your mind from the point of view of an observer and allow the insights to arise spontaneously without the need for a strong reaction.
October 30: Flipping a coin.
Sigmund Freud was asked for advice on how to make difﬁcult decisions. “Spin a coin,” he said. When challenged about the idea of leaving important choices to chance, he explained, “When the coin comes down, you will have some clue as to how you really feel about the decision.” Sometimes, you need to pretend you have made a decision in order to discover your deeper feelings about the issue. You can live with those feelings for a few days before spending another few days assuming you have made the opposite decision. To help make a decision, you need to notice what feelings come up for you.
October 31: Relationships, like life, don’t last forever.
There’s many a person whose life is ﬁlled with regret at the things he wished he had said to someone who is no longer with him. They are rarely words of criticism, hardly ever words spoken in anger. They are the things we tend to say in the heat of the moment. But for some reason that is common to so many people, particularly in Western society, it’s the expressions of love, the words of congratulations and support that we hold back and, when it is too late, regret not voicing. Today, you could change that.
November 1: Today, you could...
Today, you could just notice your feelings; see how they come and go. Allow yourself to acknowledge that you are more than your feelings. Today, you could name your fears. Notice how naming them makes them easier to deal with. Today, you could notice something new. Something makes you smile. Tell someone else about it and watch them smile.
November 2: The ritual cat.
When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such a racket that it distracted them. So, the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening meditation practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation sessions. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up during the evening sessions. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious signiﬁcance of tying up a cat for meditation practice. “Old habits die hard,” our parents used to say. They certainly do, if we don’t make ourselves aware of them. Take a pen and write down three things you do now that served you once, but are no longer applicable. Today, you could initiate much-needed changes.
November 3: What can this problem teach you?
Suppose some of your problems are teachers in disguise, and that until you have learned the lesson, you will have to go on taking the test. It’s not true of every problem, but when the same issue keeps coming up, often in different guises, chances are you need to learn something. Understanding the lesson may turn out to be a part of the solution.
November 4: What is the point of highest agreement?
Almost every area of dispute, be it between individuals or nations, has a point of agreement, when the highest principles of each party are explored. Most disagreements are about practice, not principle. Let me illustrate this with some examples. Parents may differ in their attitude to disciplining children, but are unlikely to disagree over wanting the best for their children. Politicians disagree over the use of imprisonment as a deterrent to crime, but are always unanimous in their wish to create a safe society. Nations disagree over territorial boundaries, but underlying that dispute is a shared belief that a nation has a right to know the extent of its boundaries. Often, when we disagree about things, trivial or crucial, it feels as though the differences between the parties cannot be bridged at all. To seek and ﬁnd the point on which we can agree seems, however, like a good start in the process of resolving the conﬂict. Test this out today.
November 5: The cellar door.
A child is warned to keep clear of the cellar door and, above all, never to open it, because what lies behind it is frightening and dangerous. When she is a bit older and her parents are elsewhere, she decides to open the door and ﬁnd out for herself if what she has been told is true. She is scared, but determined to be brave and as the door opens, she sees ... green ﬁelds, other children playing and the sun shining down on them. — Based on an Emo Phillips joke We all spend some time trapped either in cellars which others have made for us or, sometimes, in dark places of our own making. Today, try opening the door to peep out and have a look. Your courage may well be rewarded and what lies on the other side may turn out to be less of a fright and more of a delight.
November 6: Looking forward to living in the present.
It’s surprisingly easy to read this heading without recognizing the inherent contradiction. The fact is, if you’re looking forward to being able to live in the present, you’ve missed the point. The present is here and now. Being fully able to experience the moment is, for many people, a skill they have to practice, because so much of their life is spent either reviewing the past or planning the future. Often, when something dramatic happens—and it can be either positive or negative—we don’t have time to review or plan. We just have to live through that moment. These can be times when we feel fully alive, fully in the present. Wouldn’t it be great to have such feelings as part of your regular life, to not need a dramatic development in order to fully appreciate the moment?
November 7: When you disagree about the present, don’t bring up the past.
This could be Rule No. 1 in the book of How to Have a Constructive Argument. It applies to disagreements with your partner, spouse, friend, parent and child, among others. We all know the phrase, “Forgive and forget”. While there’s a lot to be said for forgiveness, forgetting is more problematic. So, you may not be able to forget past differences with others. But that does not mean you should keep reminding yourself or them about those differences. Not every argument can be resolved to the satisfaction of each of the individuals concerned, but throwing up the bitter residue of past events merely reduces the likelihood of arriving at a solution. Now, you don’t have any control over how the other person involved in the argument behaves. You could, however, control your own responses to the situation. You don’t have to play the game of dredging up the past if you don’t want to.
November 8: Heaven and Hell.
A tour has been arranged of Heaven and Hell. In Hell, people are seated at a long table loaded with food. But the spoons laid out are longer than their arms. They are starving, because they cannot get food into their mouths. In Heaven, people are seated at a long table loaded with food. But the spoons laid out are longer than their arms. They are satisfying their hunger, because they are feeding each other. You can see this as an irritatingly simplistic view of life. On the other hand, it can make a difference in how you respond to the next person you interact with.
November 9: Trying to make the world different can be a lifelong battle.
Some lifelong battles, against poverty or injustice, for example, suit certain people. It seems they were born to be campaigners. The role ﬁts them like a glove and they take them up to pursue the changes they believe in. These people often contribute to the world in a big way. If you’re not one of these people, your position is just as valid and you might end up having a more enjoyable life. Having a “cause” can be all-consuming. It can damage personal relationships while seeking a better world for all. Living a simple, decent life, without doing anyone harm, can be just as important a contribution to the world and be of greater beneﬁt to those close to you.
November 10: Today, you could...
Today, you could stop comparing. Particularly, stop comparing yourself with other people. Today, you could stop keeping score. Life is not a balance sheet to be kept; it’s a resource to be enjoyed. Today, you could stop complaining. Complaining rarely changes things; taking action often does.
November 11: Falling in a hole.
A woman is out for a walk, when she falls into a deep hole from which there appears to be no way out. She cries out for help and a passing academic leans over and offers her advice on how to avoid such holes in future. Later, a religious leader hears her cries and suggests she reﬂect on the true meaning of her predicament. He also tells her that there is a being somewhere who cares about her. Subsequently, a therapist responds with an offer to help her explore how she allowed herself to get into this situation. Various other professionals offer advice, as the woman sinks into deeper despair. Finally, a friend comes by, realizes what has happened and jumps into the hole with her. The woman is pleased to have her company, but also wonders why her friend has put herself in the same situation. The friend’s explanation is as follows: “I have been in this hole before. I know the way out.” I am not suggesting that professionals cannot be friends too, but often, they are not. True empathy can involve more than listening or dispensing advice. Friendship requires someone who is prepared to start from where you are rather than from where they are and is willing and able to travel down the same road with you. Today, you can both be a friend and accept friendship.
November 12: Just because this is the best time of my life…
“Just because this is the best time of my life, doesn’t mean I know how to enjoy it,” wrote Carrie Fisher. It’s an interesting thought. An ability to enjoy life doesn’t automatically follow from life being enjoyable. But then, feeling sad doesn’t always follow from receiving bad news. Events and your reactions to them are not as directly linked as you assume. Where you have a choice about how you feel, it’s good to exercise it in your favor. It would be silly to go to bed tonight thinking what a great day you have had, only to realize you didn’t remember to enjoy it while it was happening..
November 13: Don’t let a small disagreement ruin a big relationship.
For that matter, don’t let a small disagreement ruin a small relationship either. It’s so easy to attach emotional energy to a minor dispute. Our egos get involved and what, in the greater scheme of things, is of no consequence becomes a matter where our very identity is put on the line. Does this seem an exaggeration? Well, sit in a car with an angry driver when someone cuts him (or her) off. Perhaps you have even been that driver. It’s good to stand back and ask yourself this question: If I were observing this happening to someone else, would I think they were overreacting?
November 14: The lost keys.
It’s dusk and a man is on his knees, searching under a streetlight for the keys he has dropped. He is joined by his neighbour who helps him search for them and asks, “Where exactly did you drop them?” “Oh, I dropped them in my back garden,” replies the man, “but I am looking for them here, because the light is so much better.” This seems just a very silly story, until I remember all the times I have tidied up my desk rather than face a difﬁcult issue. Some people spend money or have a drink to make themselves feel better. That’s about as sensible as looking for your keys where the light is best rather than where you actually dropped them.
November 15: Using “and” or “but”
This isn’t an English lesson, but a simple way to improve communication and change experience. “But” shows an exception to a rule, as in “I love vegetables, but I don’t like beetroot.” Beetroot is the exception to my love of vegetables. “And” shows two things can be true at the same time. For instance, “I enjoy running and, sometimes, I like to stay in bed a bit longer.” My preference for a lie-in does not make me enjoy running less. Lesson over. Here’s where it gets interesting: “I love you, but sometimes, you make me angry.” “I love you and sometimes, you make me angry.” The ﬁrst suggests, perhaps unconsciously, that when I’m angry, I don’t love you. The second suggests that although you sometimes make me angry, I still love you and always will. Today, pay careful attention to each word you use and check if it’s appropriate. If you do, the change might make a difference.
November 16: Burning communications.
While it’s true that honesty is important in a relationship, it’s also true that some things are best left unsaid. When your own problems generate strong feelings within you and sharing them with someone close to you is the equivalent of dumping the fallout on them, it’s best to be silent. But you are still left with the feelings. Here’s a technique that can work for times like this: Write your feelings down on a piece of paper. It’s better to write rather than to type, but, of course, that’s up to you. Make a ceremony of setting ﬁre to what you have written and while you watch the paper burn, let your feelings be released and rise with the smoke. You may need to do this more than once. The technique improves with practice. It can also be used for: 1. 2. 3. Letting go of feelings towards people who are no longer around. Letting go of damaging experiences in the past that are holding you back. Letting go of your failures, your disappointments, and your setbacks.
November 17: Tree of sorrows.
This is the story of a village where, once a year, all the inhabitants write down the sorrows, problems and difﬁculties they have experienced over the past twelve months. Then they pin their list on a special tree called the Tree of Sorrows for a day, so that all the villagers can read them. At the end of the day, each person has a choice: They can either take home their experiences of the past year or opt for those endured by another villager. As the story goes, they all choose to take back their own experiences, as these seem easier to bear than any of the others they have read about. You have little idea of the problems faced by most people, particularly, those who seem to be sailing through life. Suspend your judgements; to know all is to forgive all. Events in life are here to teach you. When you have learnt what you need to, you can move on. Others have their own path and their own struggles and may, sometimes, need a helping hand from you when you feel least able to reach out.
November 18: Is there an alternative to getting older?
There is. But, unfortunately, it’s death. There are ways to keep your body in shape, your attitudes ﬂexible, your mind sharp. But while you do all that, time just keeps passing. Much as you might wish that you didn’t have to get older, you might consider that it’s better than the alternative. Your job is to experience the moment; it’s all you have.
November 19: The pursuit of happiness.
When the English comedienne, Joyce Grenfell, ﬁrst went to the USA, she was asked by reporters what she thought about the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. She replied, “I’m not so interested in the pursuit of happiness as in the discovery of joy.” What a great distinction! Happiness often seems to be something you have to work hard to achieve. The discovery of joy suggests something that is already there; you only have to notice it. Make today a day of joy.
November 20: Today, you could...
Today, you could accept that there will always be disagreements. And learn to move on, to leave them behind. Today, you could try doing less. Or even doing nothing and just see what turns up. Today, you could show your appreciation. First, for what you have achieved, then, for what others have contributed to you.
November 21: The meaning of life.
The gods met to decide where to hide the meaning of life so that humankind would have to struggle to ﬁnd it. They considered and rejected a number of locations, before one of them suggested, “Let’s hide it inside each human being; they will never think to look there.” And they were right. Most people look outside themselves, to their careers, relationships, possessions and success, among other things, for the meaning of life. All of these can be important, but when it comes to ﬁnding life’s true meaning, the answers usually lie within you. Once you connect with this, it is natural to seek an external expression of who you are. But it is important to get the direction right—inside to outside, not outside to inside.
November 22: What do you value most in life and in what ways are you betraying it?
This is not meant to be a “beat-yourself-up” type of question, but one that leads you—gently, I hope—to a higher standard of values by which to operate. How can you live today, keeping more in line with your values?
November 23: Don’t do it then.
A woman goes to see the doctor, lifts up her right arm and says, “Every time I do that, it hurts.” The doctor replies, “So, don’t do it then.” — Tommy Cooper Old joke, bad medical advice, but consider the following: Every time I drink too much, I feel terrible the next morning. So, don’t do it then. Whenever I think about my divorce, I get very upset and break down in tears. So, don’t do it then. Each time we talk about your mother, it ends in a row. So, don’t do it then. Fill in your own examples. Not all of life’s problems can be solved this way, but some can. It can be that simple sometimes.
November 24: If you only had one hour to live and one call to make, who would you phone, what would you say and why are you waiting?
None of us lives forever. Nor can we know when our time will come. So, if there is something that needs to be said, particularly, if it is loving and supportive, say it. NOW! The partner, parent, child, brother or sister, for whom you harbor loving feelings you haven’t expressed in a while: Just tell them how you feel about them… Why are you waiting?
November 25: Affirmations.
Afﬁrmations are positive statements you repeat to yourself silently on a regular basis—a strange idea to some people. But consider the statements you do make to yourself silently during an average day: How many of them are positive, like “I’m doing well at this” and how many, like “I’ve screwed up again”, are negative? Now, if most of yours are positive, I suggest you skip this item. It’s not for you. But if most of them diminish you, such as negative phrases from childhood that you tend to repeat to yourself or thoughts that run you down all the time, this is a chance to take action to counter these inﬂuences. Here is the theory behind it: Your experience is inﬂuenced by your thinking. Change your thinking and you will succeed in changing your experience. Afﬁrmations help you to change your thinking. So, choose a statement, perhaps, from the list below, and resolve to repeat it with feeling and, preferably, out loud, twenty times a day in two sessions of ten times each. Give each repetition as much emphasis as possible. Make yourself sound convincing. If it hasn’t made a difference a month from now, try something else. But you won’t need to, because this will work. I love and accept myself and this allows me to grow. I have the right to feel the way I do, and I can choose to feel differently. I have the qualities I need to deal with any problems I face.
November 26: God and the devil.
God and the devil are walking down a street, when God suddenly bends down to pick something up. “What’s that?” asks the devil. “It’s Truth,” replies God. “Let me have it,” says the devil, “I’ll organize it for you” Be on your guard when dealing with organizations, however well-intended they may appear to be. They can develop a life and energy of their own, sometimes with scant regard for the attitudes of their members.
November 27: How can I enjoy this or learn from it?
Our experience of a situation, however difﬁcult, is largely determined by our perception of it and is, therefore, something over which we can exercise a measure of control. This is a question that challenges you to ﬁnd the best in everything and everybody. It can lead to fairly unexpected answers.
November 28: The big rocks.
At a lecture on time management, the teacher takes a large bucket and ﬁlls it to the brim with rocks. Then she asks her students, “Is there room for more?” Thinking she means more rocks, the students reply, “No, it’s full.” The lecturer then takes some gravel to ﬁll in the gaps and repeats her question. She receives the same answer. The process is repeated, as she adds sand and lastly, water. Then she asks, “What is the lesson here?” The students come up with various answers which run along the following lines of you always have more time than you think. “The lesson,” says the lecturer “is that it only works if you put the big rocks in ﬁrst.” It’s not for anyone else to tell you what your “big rocks” are or should be. You need to decide that. But it is fair to ask if they get the priority they deserve. Amazingly, the routine of life always seems to get done or of it doesn’t it never really seems to matter as much as we thought it would. A week and, in some cases, a lifetime, can easily pass without time being given to things that are important.
November 29: What would I say if I did know?
This is a question you can ask of yourself or of others, if the ﬁrst reply is, “I don’t know.” For example, the following questions often lead to a “I don’t know” reply: Do I want to do this? Am I in love? Is this the right action for me? Asking the question, “What would I say if I did know?”, can, at times, reveal deeper feelings and understanding. The worst that can happen is to receive the reply, “I still don’t know.”
November 30: The travelling monks.
While travelling across the land, two monks came across a young woman standing by the bank of a river. Wary of the strong current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up, carried her across the water and put her down on the opposite bank. She thanked him and departed. As the monks continued on their way, one seemed preoccupied. Unable to remain silent, he ﬁnally spoke out. “Brother,” he said, “our spiritual training teaches us to avoid contact with women. But you picked that one up on your shoulder and carried her!” “Brother,” the second monk replied, “I set her down on the other side long ago, while you are still carrying her.” You probably know this story. It’s an oft-repeated tale and a very old one at that. The trouble with familiar things is that we react to the familiarity and tend to miss the learning. If you could stop holding on to negative thoughts and feelings, you might transform your life and, perhaps, the life of someone you love.
December 1: Today, you could...
Today, you could tell the truth and nothing else. First to yourself, then to others. This could be the most difﬁcult thing you try to do all year. Today, you could make a greater effort. Walk the extra mile, work towards your desired goal without a pause. Tomorrow, you can take it easy, if you still want to. Today, you could look for the strongest reason why. If you have a big enough WHY, you will ﬁnd the HOW you need.
December 2: Making a difference.
From a distance, a woman can be seen walking along a beach and bending down at regular intervals to pick something up and throw it into the sea. As she comes closer, a passer-by realizes that she is throwing stranded starﬁsh back into the water. “That’s pointless,” he tells her. “There are so many starﬁsh stranded on this beach. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The woman bends down and throws another one into the sea. “Made a difference to that one,” she says. Sometimes, the problems of the world, along with our own, more immediate, issues, can seem so overwhelming that we just don’t think we can make a difference to anything. But a kind word to a friend or stranger, a smile at the supermarket checkout, does make a difference. Can you remember when someone paid you a casual, sincere, but unexpected compliment? Well, others remember what you say, just as you remember what they say and you do make a difference and can do so today.
December 3: What comes after understanding?
It can be of great help to look at the past, particularly, the important events of our childhood, and to arrive at an understanding of how we got to be the person we have become. However, if you stop there, your journey is incomplete. The purpose of looking back is not to understand, but to change, and this requires action in the here and now. You may need the understanding to make the plan, but without taking action, it’s like buying a train ticket and staying on the platform. What action do you need to take today?
December 4: The meaning of a communication is the response you get.
Most people think the meaning of a communication is deﬁned by what they want to say. But consider this sentence: “I’ve explained it to you a dozen times, but you still don’t get it”. What’s important here? Is it the explanation or the fact that the other person doesn’t seem to have understood? If your wish is to communicate something, then it might be more helpful to see the meaning as being deﬁned by the response to what you say, rather than by what you actually do say. “I realize I haven’t done a good job of explaining this yet” might be a better response than the one cited above. This is particularly true when talking to children and others who are close to you. If they don’t get it, you need to explain it again and differently until they do. The bad news is that saying the same thing again, and saying it louder, rarely works. The good news is that you almost always get a second chance, and a third.
December 5: Living in the present.
A man is captured by enemies and thrown into prison. That night, he is unable to sleep, because he fears that the next day, he will be interrogated, tortured and executed. Then, the words of his teacher come to him: “Tomorrow is not real. It is an illusion. The only reality is now.” Heeding these words, he calms down and falls asleep. Your ﬁrst reaction might be: “Nice idea; completely impractical.” But you could start to think about the small steps you might take towards living in the present, rather than agonize over the past or worry about the future. I doubt that many people will ever get to the position of the person in the story, but you can do better.
December 6: How would you live, if you were going to live for a thousand years? What would you do, if you were going to die tonight?
These are two very different perspectives on life. Both can be useful in creating the balance you might need between the immediate and the long term. Consider the following idea: Something which threatens your life is a problem; everything else is an inconvenience.
December 7: The farmer and the horse.
A woman farmer owns a horse which is admired by all and sundry. One day, it escapes and her friends express their regret over her loss. “Things happen,” is her response to the situation, and within a few days, the horse returns with a number of horses in tow. Her friends express their pleasure at this new turn of events. “Things happen,” says the farmer, and a few days later, her son breaks his leg trying to tame one of the new horses. Again, her response to this mishap is, “Things happen.” A few days after that, when the recruiting army comes to the village, her son is spared enlistment because of his injury... And so it goes on. You may never know the true meaning of an event, favourable or unfavourable, until long after it has taken place. Looking back, I suspect some of your greatest problems have given you your best lessons and what you initially thought was good news may have turned out to be a mixed blessing.
December 8: Could you look forward to looking back on all this?
This is one for the difﬁcult times in life, when you feel the world is closing in and the future looks bleak. The truth is, most things pass. Over a period of time, most things look and feel different. Look back on a problem that threatened to consume your life some time ago and see where you are in relation to it now. It may lend a different perspective altogether to your current situation. So, if you believe things may well improve in the future, why wait? Look forward to looking back.
December 9: Sharpening the saw.
A workman is trying hard to cut a large log in two with a saw that a passer-by notices is obviously blunt. “Why not stop for a while and sharpen your saw?” she suggests. “I don’t have the time,” is the reply, “I have to get this ﬁnished as soon as possible.” How many of your tasks in life would be completed more quickly and, perhaps, with less effort, if you broached them in a positive frame of mind? However, this can take time to achieve and, sometimes, you just have to plough ahead and get things done because of time constraints. More often than you think, you can take the time to care for yourselves ﬁrst, to spend more time in planning a task so that you’ll need to spend less time on its execution.
December 10: Today, you could...
Today, you could take full responsibility—for everything that happens to you. See how taking responsibility changes the way you feel. Today, you could notice what disappoints you. It’s a clue to what you still need to take action on to feel fulﬁlled. Today, you could explore in depth your ﬂeeting wishes. They are clues to what you really want.
December 11: The Sunday tube train.
I was taking the tube one Sunday morning and reading my newspaper. At the ﬁrst stop, a man and his three young children entered our carriage, but the children were so badly behaved that I found it impossible to read or enjoy the journey. A little annoyed, I asked the father if he couldn’t try and control his children better. He replied, “Oh, I am sorry they disturbed you. You see, we have come from the hospital where their mother, my wife, has just died.” My mood changed immediately from one of irritation to: “How can I help?” — Stephen Covey You can never fully know what others are going through or why they act the way they do, but you could try assuming that people have a reason for it. If you were aware of that reason, it would change your negative response to them to a positive one. Today it would be good to recognise most people are ﬁghting a hard battle and react with kindness to whatever happens.
December 12: What action can you take today that in six months time you will be pleased you took?
It could be a decision you make and start acting on, a person you call, something you let go of or someone you sever ties with. It could be a book you order or a holiday you book. It could be planning a theatre trip or a social event. The important thing is to take the action now, even though the beneﬁts may not be apparent for some months. It’s great to live in the here and now, but it’s also true that some things demand long-term planning. Getting the balance right is one of the most important skills in life.
December 13: What is commitment?
We have all been through the experience of promising something in the heat of the moment. New Year resolutions are a good example, but that’s not commitment. Here’s a good deﬁnition for it: “Commitment is still doing something long after the emotion which caused you to start has faded.” With this deﬁnition in mind, what commitment can you make today?
December 14: Am I willing to pay the price?
You can have most of the things you want, if you are prepared to pay the price and usually the cost is not ﬁnancial. You have the right to ask in any situation: Is this what I want for myself? If it is not, you don’t have to put up with it. You just have to pay the price to change it. Sometimes, the price will be too high. That’s ﬁne. At least, you know you had a choice.
December 15: Children and parents.
A lady in her nineties was asked once, “Do you ever stop worrying about your children?” She replied, “Well, I worried less about my son once I got him into an old people’s home.” Not everyone is a parent, but everyone has been a child. Most people will have parents who are still alive. Whatever situation you are in, it’s important to remember that parents never stop worrying about their children, even if they tell you that’s not the case. The bond is just too strong. So, the message to parents is that these feelings are a part of life. Don’t wait for them to go away. The message for offspring, regardless of their age, is that parents are usually more concerned for them than they let on. Perhaps, you could reach out today to offer them some reassurance and express your gratitude for all they’ve been to you.
December 16: Freedom is what you do with what has been done to you.
Often, you can’t control what happens to you, but you can exercise some inﬂuence over your reactions to them. It’s not an easy area to operate in, where you need to react positively in a world that is often negative, but it’s a signiﬁcant area of personal freedom.
December 17: Disappointment takes adequate planning.
When you invest too much of the future with your detailed plans and expectations, you reduce the chance of joyful surprise overtaking you. When you take things as they come, you just have your reactions, positive or negative, to the current events, not the burden of your past investment. If you suffer before you need to, you suffer more than you need to.
December 18: Most problems aren’t caused by relationships.
Most problems aren’t solved by relationships. If each partner in a relationship came without a past, without an emotional history, then the above would not be true. But they don’t, so it is. Our problems often surface in our relationships, but declaring that our difﬁculties are expressed in a relationship is not quite the same as claiming that the relationship itself caused the problems. A reliable guide is a situation where an old problem crops up in a new relationship or emerges in more than one relationship at the same time. You can, in such cases, be reasonably sure that it’s about you, not other people. The good news is that relationships can offer ample scope for healing, affording both partners the opportunity to nurture each other and grow. To bring this about, however, you can’t blame your partner for anything that isn’t working out. You have to take direct responsibility for the problems in your life.
December 19: Carrying the raft.
A traveller comes across a swollen river he needs to cross, but the current is too strong for swimming. He builds a raft that carries him safely over. On his arrival at the far bank, he picks up the raft and carries it on his back for the rest of his life, just in case he has to cross another swollen river. Take a look to see if there are things you are still doing, or things you still own that served you once but which are no longer appropriate and yet you hang on to “just in case”. For example examine the way you dealt with a childhood fear, a strategy you have made a habit of and still haven’t left behind you, although the fear—and your childhood—are long gone. Consider the attitude you had when you were poor, one that you no longer need, now that you are more ﬁnancially comfortable, or, perhaps, the reverse, where you were well off once and had adopted an attitude to ﬁt your circumstances and which you must modify now you have met harder times.
December 20: Today, you could...
Today, you could focus on gratitude and appreciation. And notice, by the time you go to bed tonight, how much richer your life feels. Today, you could let go of anger and resentment. And notice how this allows more space for love and joy. Today, you could be a friend... to yourself. And start treating yourself as well as you treat your friends.
December 21: Do you want to know what happens next?
Probably not, if you’re watching a ﬁlm or a sporting event. The information would detract from your enjoyment of the experience that depends, to an extent, on the unpredictability of its outcome, on not knowing in advance what happens next. And yet, when it comes to life, some people go to great pains to avoid surprises and the uncertainty they imply. This may mean that they don’t have to deal with disappointment they hadn’t anticipated, but it also means that they miss out on unexpected delights. Life is uncertain. Enjoy the fact that you can’t read the future. Life will always be too short, however long you live.
December 22: What do you want? : How can I help?
The ﬁrst question is about clarity, both for ourselves and for others. Once we are clear in our minds about what we want, our chances of getting it are greatly enhanced. Yet, at times, it is very hard to be speciﬁc about our goals. We are usually more certain about what we don’t want. Or we ﬁnd ourselves merely wanting to feel differently about something or somebody. It is useful to recognize that this is a part of your state of mind. It logically follows, that it would make more sense to seek to bring about internal change than to expect external factors to change. The second question is a great one to ask others. It neither makes any suggestions nor offers solutions, but simply states our willingness to be there and to be of assistance. It is not an offer to be made lightly and sometimes, the very fact that you have made it is enough in itself.
December 23: If there were nothing wrong in the world, there wouldn’t be anything for you to do.
Problems are a sign of life. Your journey will always involve dealing with problems and, yes, death is the only destination. Don’t waste your life dreaming of a time when all your problems will be behind you. Take action on the ones you encounter, but also accept that this will only create space for more. Work towards making your problems more manageable instead of trying to create a life without any.
December 24: What else is going on here?
There is a tendency among counsellors and therapists to discuss the situations their clients present by urging them to “look at what’s really going on here”. That seems to me both to undermine the client’s version of the experience and to create a power imbalance. I am far keener to accept and honour the experience of clients just as they describe it. If, in the course of the exploration, additional insights arise that’s a bonus and can be of great help. They don’t, however, negate the client’s original presentation. They merely enhance it.
December 25: What makes you proud?
It’s worth drawing up a list of what you have achieved, of what there is in your life that makes you proud. If you can’t think of anything, it’s because you’re not looking hard enough. Read the list out to yourself every morning for a week. It may just change how you see life.
December 26: What is a good objective?
It’s great to have clear objectives. Here are some criteria they probably should meet: 1. They should lay emphasis on the positive, as in “I want to be ﬁt and healthy,” rather than “I want to stop being so lazy.” They should be measurable, as in “I want to weigh 60kg” rather than “I want to lose some weight.” They should be time-bound, as in “I want to have this a month from today,” rather than “I want this sometime soon.” They should be within your control, as in “I want to react positively to what my partner says,” rather than “I want my partner to stop being critical.”
December 27: What’s different about the good times?
Here is a stimulating exercise: Write down ﬁve happy experiences in your life (or ﬁve relatively happy ones for those of you who don’t yet view life in positive terms) and examine them to ﬁnd out what, if anything, they have in common. For the future, you might consider trying to experience more of what shows up from this exercise.
December 28: Everything is part of the journey.
Life is a dance. During a dance, your aim is not to get to a particular point on the ﬂoor, but to enjoy the experience of dancing. Objectives are important, but the process is just as signiﬁcant. If you think everything is going to be ﬁne when you have “arrived”, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. As long as you are alive, there is always another part of the journey to be undertaken. There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.
December 29: Have you ever tried to push the river?
Some things you can and should ﬁght against, like social injustice. Some things you can and should ﬂee from, like a physically abusive relationship. Some things you have to let ﬂow and stop trying to speed up or slow down the river.
December 30: Nothing works for everyone.
Be certain only for yourself, not or others. Yes, the world would probably be a better place, if everyone shared your beliefs. It is not, however, what you believe or do not believe that causes all the suffering, but the conﬂict between different beliefs. Don’t contribute to that suffering by believing things on behalf of others.
December 31: On a scale of 1 – 10, how have you felt during the past year?
This is not a question to ponder over at length. Just decide what number best sums up the last twelve months. Then ask yourself the following three questions: 1. 2. 3. What needs to change to enable me to choose a higher ﬁgure in a year’s time? What decisions do I need to make right now to support this process? What action must I take today to start moving in that direction?
It’s almost certain you will arrive at a particular point twelve months from now. How you will feel during the journey and on your arrival is up to you. I wish you well; it’s been a pleasure to have walked this part of the road with you.