As we finish off 2018, I have decided to take a break from blogging in order to concentrate on writing a training course (more on that next year!) and completing a further qualification. From now on I will be blogging as and when I am available, or if inspiration suddenly strikes, rather than on a fixed schedule. As this will be my 90th published blog post, it seems a good time to pause.
However the core of my business, my client work, is still the most important thing and I look forward to growing my practice into 2019 and beyond.
It’s easy to end up in a situation where we do things we don’t really have time for, just because we’ve got into a routine, because it’s what we’ve always done, because we think other people might have expectations or judgements of us… even when it doesn’t benefit us or anyone else any more. It’s important, to examine why we feel we “have to” keep doing something. Is it useful any more? Do we enjoy it? Do other people who depend on us need it? Are we sure, or do we just just think so without asking them? So I’m taking a break… how about you?
As we approach the end of the year, I’ve decided to look back on past blog posts. I’ve written and published 88 posts since beginning my blog in May 2015, so a review is long overdue!
The purpose of my blogging is to share what I think are interesting (and hopefully useful!) ideas and information. I’ve looked at various models of relationships, reviewed books, and given practical tips and guides. My style has changed over the past 3 and a half years, but I hope people still enjoy and get use from what I’ve written. So, here are some of my favourite posts!
I have linked to the Starfish Story previously, and it comes back to me often when I think of the ways people can make a difference to the world.
The Starfish Story tells of a child walking along a beach after a terrible storm which washed up thousands of starfish. The child is throwing starfish back into the water, when someone admonishes the child that they cannot save them all, cannot really make a difference. The child picks up another and replies, “I made a difference to that one”.
I love the Starfish Story, because it reminds me that just because an action is small doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. It reminds me that when the world’s problems seem huge and insurmountable, our efforts can mean everything to someone. It also reminds me to ignore those who say I am wasting my time, and to focus on the realistic outcome of what I am doing.
It’s really hard to be faced with the Big Problems in the world at the moment. Watching the news or hearing about bad things on social media can be quite draining, and we can end up asking ourselves what on earth we can do about any of it. It’s easy to feel powerless and overwhelmed, especially if people around us also insist there is no point because we can’t change it.
But remember the starfish. Not being able to fix everything doesn’t mean there isn’t important value in changing what you can. Maybe we can’t have everything we want, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother trying to make a difference at all. I’m not just talking about changes we make to the world outside, this applies just as well to the changes we make to ourselves and our own lives.
Small differences add up, and can inspire those around us to believe in their capacity to make a difference. Which starfish will you pick up today?
“Quiet” by Susan Cain is subtitled “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. Cain identifies as an introvert, which she defines as someone who prefers living, socialising and working in quiet environments with little sensory stimulation (e.g. noise, lights, bright colours, lots of people talking etc) and can become stressed and unproductive if those needs aren’t met. The introversion-extroversion facet of personality was first described by Carl Jung, see here for more information and descriptions. Cain writes as an American, but the ideas in this book can be applied here in the UK.
As well as reflection on her own experiences, Cain met numerous experts, introverts, extroverts, university staff, employers and psychologists. She backs up her assertions with science, providing a huge list of references. This is not a ‘fluffy’ book!
Cain believes that the world is set up for extroverts (also sometimes spelled ‘extraverts’). We are bombarded with sensory stimulation and are pushed to ‘sell ourselves’ louder and more boldly than ever before. Schools and workplaces particularly are arranged to encourage big group spaces and group work. Cain believes this is great for extroverts but a nightmare for introverts – and everyone misses out as a result. Introverts can end up overwhelmed, stressed out, and unheard.
In Cain’s opinion, introversion is often pathologised – which means that it is made out to be some kind of illness, or a sign that something is ‘wrong’ with you. This is incorrect! Introversion and extroversion are points on two ends of a spectrum of human behaviour and experience. Neither is ‘wrong’. In her book, Cain shows that introversion is associated with skills and strengths that are easy to overlook – not only by extroverts but by introverts themselves. She suggests various practical ways for introverts, and their friends/relatives/loved ones/bosses/coworkers, to make the most of these skills for the benefit of everyone.
Does that mean Cain dislikes extroverts, and wants everything set up for introverts? No, definitely not! The book is very clear that both extroverts and introverts have valuable skills that complement each other. Both can learn from the other, and balance is key. However, Cain also suggests that introverts may need to occasionally put on an extrovert ‘persona’ occasionally to get things done. She also suggests ways for extroverts to help their introverts friends, loved-ones and colleagues to shine.
I found this book very interesting, and useful. It balances helping introverts to be more accepting of themselves and less self-critical, with advice on how to get on in this world and meet goals. Cain’s advice can help introverts to achieve what they want, without becoming someone they are not.
You might have heard the term “gaslighting”, which is being talked about more and more on social media, in entertainment, and in therapeutic and support groups. Recently, it was used by Rebecca Humphries to describe the behaviour of her ex boyfriend, Seann Walsh.
What is ‘gaslighting’?
Gaslighting, first and foremost, is a form of mental/emotional abuse. Gaslighting is a type of manipulation used to cause someone to doubt their feelings, memories, and sanity. The term comes from the 1944 film Gaslight in which a husband does a number of things, including dimming and brightening the gas lamps, and convinces his wife that her perceptions and memories are faulty and that she is going mad.
Gaslighting can take many forms in modern relationships. It usually creeps in gradually, so it is hard to recognise it as it happens. It usually occurs in parallel with other forms of abuse, and is covered by coercive control laws. However, gaslighting isn’t confined to romantic relationships – it can happen in any relationship including family, work, and social organisations.
Gaslighting can involve claiming things happened that did not (or that things did not happen which did), saying the victim is imagining things, labelling the victim’s feelings as irrational/”crazy” or wrong, and false accusations. Eventually, the victim is unable to trust their own feelings, memories and judgements – and has to defer to those of the abuser. This gives the abuser a lot of power, and leaves the victim lost, confused, and unable to work out what has happened or why.
Anything which makes you question your reality can come under the banner of gaslighting.
What can you do if you think you are a victim of gaslighting?
First of all, remember that this is not your fault – but you can do something about it. You have value as a person and don’t have to live like this.
Confide in a friend or relative, someone who won’t force you to do anything until you are ready and won’t interfere. Stay safe. If you don’t know anyone you trust enough, try one of the helplines on my Useful Links and Other Sources of Help page. Talking to an organisation such as the National Centre for Domestic Violence can also be very useful if you choose to end the relationship. They can offer advice on how to do it as safely as possible.
Try to build a support network that isn’t influenced by the gaslighter. Gaslighting, as with other forms of abuse, flourishes when the victim is isolated.
Listen to your gut. Learn to trust yourself again. Do you feel on edge, confused, frightened? Ask yourself whether or not you trust your perceptions, and if not, when and why did you start feeling that way? Who convinced you not to trust yourself? Is your confusion or fear centred around a person? Ask yourself why they are ‘right’ and you are ‘wrong’ – look at the evidence. Look for patterns of undermining and manipulative behaviour.
Seek a therapist who can help you untangle what is happening. You may need help to see your feelings as valid, and learn to trust your own judgements again. Find ways to rebuild your self-esteem – you are a valuable and worthy person! A therapist or counsellor won’t tell you what you ‘have’ to do, but will help empower you to find your own way and live your own best life.
Decide whether you want to stay in the relationship with the person who is gaslighting you or not. Seek ways to draw stronger boundaries and reduce their hold on you. If you think you cannot continue to have any relationship with them at all, that is fine. We don’t have the power to change other people, or ‘make’ them see their behaviour is wrong. We can only control what we do. You can’t “win” against a gaslighter, but you need not “lose” yourself.
I saw a great online article the other day, “5 Key Ways Crafting Heals Us” which is part of the Crafting to Heal series on the PsychCentral blogs. Handicrafts have always been popular, but it’s only in recent years that I have seen talk of how crafting can be helpful for mental health and wellbeing. Knitting is even being taught in schools again, and has had benefits such as improving concentration and behaviour as well as promoting a useful skill.
The Vercillo blog linked above explains the various ways crafting is beneficial – not just in distracting and soothing the mind, but also in promoting self-belief and pride in accomplishments. There is something in small, repetitive movements that quiets the mind – and of course having something tangible to show for it at the end can boost self-esteem! Similarly, Carl Jung’s favourite way to work through confusion was by carefully arranging stones with his hands.
I’ve met many adults who admire knitted, crocheted or sewn items, who say they cannot knit/crochet/sew and wish they could. Taking up a new craft can be a daunting prospect, so here’s my top tip – get a children’s starter set. Honestly! In my experience, adult kits can assume a level of knowledge and ability you might not feel ready for, and often steps are missing or taken for granted. Children’s kits are more likely to be simple and offer more detailed descriptions, clearer diagrams and more complete instructions.
Once you’ve mastered that, and you might be surprised at how quickly you do, move on. You need not spend a great deal of money – there are lots of free videos and tutorials online, and charity shops and small stationers often have good value materials. Online discussion boards can also be a good and easy way to ask for help and share your successes.
Many libraries and community centres run crafting and art groups, often at very low or nominal cost. Some children’s centres also offer groups for both children and their parents. This would also give you an opportunity to meet new people and build your confidence.
The biggest hurdle is likely to be your self-belief. You might have spent many years saying, “I’m no good” or “I’ll never learn that”. Try adding the word “yet” and see how that could change. I’ll leave you with a quotation by Ira Glass to think on:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
I enjoyed Dean Burnett’s first book, The Idiot Brain, which I reviewed here, so I was very pleased when The Happy Brain was announced.
I loved it. This second book is, I think, even better than the first.
The Happy Brain is the result of Dean Burnett’s attempts to discover exactly what makes us happy. Is there a ‘secret’ to happiness, and what is it? Many people claim to know the ultimate key to being happy (and it’s always something different). So what can a neuroscientist tell us?
What Burnett discovered is that the things which make us happy vary hugely person to person. Some of the reasons are evolutionary, some are social, and a lot of it is still unclear. The key point to come away with is that brains are incredibly complicated – it just isn’t realistic to simplify it down to one action or item that is guaranteed to bring us happiness. In some ways this might seem frustrating or dispiriting – after all, we all want to be happy and ideally as easily as possible. On the other hand, it is reassuring to realise that your brain is doing amazing things every day and there’s no need to rely on other people to tell you what you ‘have’ to do to be happy.
Burnett carefully explains the various structures and parts of the brain, what we know about them and how we think they work. The descriptions are clear and helpful, linking brain activity to thoughts and actions we all experience. He also talked to various people about their happiness (or lack of it), and reflected on his own work and experiences. I found myself nodding along to so much of what he said, noting how many experiences are universal.
Much like his previous book, The Happy Brain has a lovely chatty style. I laughed out loud at several points – Burnett’s style is breezy and fun, classically self-deprecating and enjoyable.
This isn’t a self help book. It won’t give you all the answers, and Burnett explains why. What it will do is ask a lot of questions, and get you thinking. The main point I came away with is that our happiness depends primarily on other people – our interactions, our relationships, our internal model of how the world works. Sartre may have said “hell is other people”, but perhaps heaven is too?
I’ve written quite a bit about self care and self esteem. Now I want to look at self reflection.
First of all, what is self reflection and why is it a good idea? Self reflection is, in its simplest terms, looking at ourselves and our behaviours closely and with a sense of acceptance. It means looking at who we are and what we have done, warts and all, without shying away from the difficult bits. It’s a serious exercise that helps us learn more about ourselves and how we interact with the world. By having this knowledge and understanding, we can work out whether or not we are doing what is best for ourselves and the people around us. As with any journey, the first step to going anywhere is working out where you are starting from!
Self reflection can help us to learn what our strengths and weaknesses are. We can identify patterns of thought and behaviour which are helping us or hindering us. We can reflect on how other people see us, and work out whether what they see is accurate and how we wish to be seen.
It’s important to retain balance – don’t overlook the things you are unhappy with, but don’t beat yourself up either! We all have good and bad sides, helpful behaviours and harmful behaviours. We all make mistakes, but the biggest mistake would be failing to learn from one.
So how do you self reflect? It’s up to you! Here are some ideas:
In my recent post Picking up paintbrushes, and other things, I discussed the thoughts and feelings that might be holding you back from expressing yourself creatively. So… say you’ve now done your creative work. What then?
For many of us, life is a constant movement upward – searching for the next achievement, the next promotion, the next ‘level’. When was the last time you stopped, looking around and really enjoyed the satisfaction of your achievements? How long was it before you were pushing yourself to the next thing?
What holds you back from taking a moment to feel good? What stops you sharing your joy with others? Do you worry they won’t approve, or that your achievement doesn’t match up to something they have done? Is expressing pride “unseemly”? Do you temper your achievements by focussing on the bits that went badly? Are you able to take a compliment, or accept congratulations, without coming up with excuses as to why it didn’t really ‘count’?
There are all sorts of reasons why we don’t take time to pause and feel a bit of pride. Partly this might be due to the way we were brought up, or by the way our educational and corporate systems can push this kind of thinking. Partly it might be because being modest and self-deprecating is typically British!
I’m not saying to stop entirely and never go for the next thing, if you want. Equally, it’s okay to find a level you are comfortable at and stay there. It is worth reflecting on why you are making the choices you are, who you are trying to please, and whether it’s all actually making you the happiest and best ‘you’ that you can be.
At the end of it all, what will you regret more – not pushing on and on and on, or not allowing yourself to really feel the joy in achieving what you have? Enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. Give someone the gift of accepting a compliment without batting it away.
Bullet journalling has been around for a few years and is getting ever-more popular. I don’t intend to give step-by-step instructions here, as there are already so many good “how to” guides on the internet (I have linked to some below). Instead, I’m going to explain why I like the bullet journal (“BuJo”) system and why I think it can be helpful for busy or stressed people.
I have been bullet journalling for a year. It started when I realised I was using a rolling To Do list app on my phone which usually had about 30 items on it and most of those repeated regularly. I had already checked which things were really necessary, as discussed in a previous post The Tyranny of ‘To Do’s, and they (almost) all were. As I ticked each item off, they simply shifted to the bottom of the list ready to be done again the next day/week/month. It meant I wasn’t feeling like I was actually achieving much. It also meant that each time I looked at the app I felt both slightly overwhelmed by all the items on it and frustrated that so many items were sitting there but could not be tackled yet.
I needed a new system. Enter bullet journalling.
Bullet journalling appealed to me because it was simple, flexible, and I could use my pretty stationery. The idea with bullet journalling is that you lay out your calendars, lists, to dos etc in a way that feels most helpful for you. The indexing system means you end up with no blank pages, but you can always find what you are looking for immediately. How many times have you picked up half a dozen diaries or planners in a shop, but rejected them because they didn’t have quite what you needed or you couldn’t get on with the layout? Bullet journalling enables you to make up your own.
Even better, you only need any notebook and pen. Many companies sell beautiful notebooks and will insist that you “need” dots/lines/certain paper/certain pens but you don’t. Please don’t feel you must have specific (and expensive) supplies before you can begin.
Nor do you just use it as a diary. You can use bullet journalling to track your habits (such as exercise), plan financially (keeping track of your spending or saving), event planning (such as a big party you need to organise), list ideas (such as knitting projects)… A bullet journal can be anything you need or want it to be.
Bullet journalling is creative. Not just in how you choose to create your system, but in any art you add to it. You can find many examples online of people who produce artistic spreads if you’re looking for inspiration. There are also plenty of bullet journalling discussion groups on social media if you need help or advice.
This system can be useful for busy people because it encourages planning out and getting through things efficiently and productively with the “rapid logging” system. While you are free to spend lots of time making your bullet journal pretty, you don’t have to. Setting up a monthly spread does take some time, but saves time and trouble later. This is because you have already made decisions about how and when certain things will be done. You can tackle each day’s list without worrying about other things that will be happening later. This can also be really helpful if you are using pacing techniques to manage chronic illness.
The act of writing things down with pen and paper makes you more likely to really think about them. You are less likely to do that when it is so quick and automatic to type something into an app. Considering carefully what you are committing to is an act of self care.
You can use your bullet journal for anything you need to. While I have decided to keep mine just for my personal things, you can use yours for work as well.
The important thing is doing what helps you the most. It might take you a while, and you might go through a few different systems before settling to one. That’s okay, there is no absolute right or wrong. As the creator of the bullet journal, Ryder Carroll, said, “Forget about what you see online. It’s not about how it looks, it’s about how it feels and most importantly, how it works for you.”