Relax, Do It

Frankie Goes to Hollywood was wrong when they sang “Relax, don’t do it”, you absolutely should do it (not the thing Frankie was talking about – bad analogy really) I’m talking about the relaxing. 

Life is full of relentless demands over which we have no control: work deadlines, house cleaning, form filling, insurance arranging, meal making, nose-blowing, lawn-mowing and list-making.  If you don’t take a break from those, and find some time for yourself, the minutiae of life can over-run you and bring you down.

“Me Time” sounds like something that involves incense and candles, and maybe some gentle-yet-potentially-crippling stretching; it can, but it can alternatively involve reading a book, watching a film, taking a walk or playing a computer game.  It is anything you do that is just for you.

I heard your giant gasp from the future and yes, I did just say you should play computer games, SOMETIMES. 

In a world where we are encouraged to work “smarter” to fit more in, to “clean whilst you lean” and generally “do more with less” we are missing out on essential downtime to rejuvenate ourselves.

In the olden days, before technology filled our every waking hour by making us infinitely contactable and in touch with the world, people used to have a little thing called “thinking time”. 

Have you ever concentrated on a problem so hard you got a head-ache but not much else?  Then you give up and do something else and the solution appears as if by magic?  Well, it’s not magic it’s a direct result of you taking a break.

I agree that occasionally pressure can be a great motivator; sure, without it I’d never get any exercise.

But to get the best out of ourselves we also need a little bit of downtime to balance things out and allow our brains to recover.

Find some time for yourself, each day if you can, each week if you can’t, and stop berating yourself for times when you feel like you’ve “done nothing”.  Human beings are amazing creatures who are always doing something, even when they appear to be doing little.

Make sure that some of the time that thing you are doing is resting, re-charging your batteries, processing problems sub-consciously and, most importantly, enjoying being alive.

Be Afraid – But Not Very Afraid

It’s Halloween weekend so now seems as good a time as any to discuss fear. 

First of all, the natural wariness we have as humans is actually a helpful built-in safety feature.  If a toddler’s fearless attitude and regular A&E trips prove nothing else, without fear there would be a lot more injury and death in the world.

We need a little bit of fear to make sure we correctly judge a situation for safety.  Also, in small amounts it can even be fun, like a rollercoaster ride or a scary movie.

It can be fun to gently frighten others…

…And be frightened by them.

Being scared can be a good thing; if I’d have stuck to my own comfort-zone I would never have watched the brilliant Haunting of Hill House recently (which I thoroughly recommend  …as long as you’re not alone at the time obviously, and maybe put ALL the lights on after).

One thing that I’m less keen on is when your Dad insists we watch a scary film and then 3 seconds into it he falls fast asleep and leaves me watching it effectively alone.

The problem with wariness is that it can sometimes tip over into a more unhealthy restrictive fear, as any parent of a 7 year-old who won’t go to the toilet alone in case “Metal Sonic” gets him will tell you.

It’s not just children, sometimes grown-ups are afraid of silly stuff that isn’t perhaps as frightening as they immediately think it is.  Failure for example, a lot of grown-ups are unduly afraid of this, myself included.

Failure isn’t a barrel of laughs admittedly but outside of a health and safety setting it’s never actually killed anyone.  The great thing about failure is that it’s only a temporary state, and often it’s actually one of the necessary steps on the road to success.

As Nelson Mandela famously said

Full disclosure, if you previously read my post entitled Wildly Cautious you will already know that I am in fact a massive wuss and scared of lots of things and a big fan of the phrase “just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean I’m not being followed.”

All the same, my Halloween message to you is: it’s good to let fear of death stop you doing something stupid, but don’t let fear of failure stop you doing something you love.

 

Marriage

Ok, so there is still time for a late divorce, but your Dad and I have been together for 27 years this December.  No, no applause please – after this length of time Stockholm Syndrome would have set in sooner or later anyway.

Following the recent royal wedding now seems like a good time (from a marketing perspective at least) to impart some tips for a successful (or at any rate, lengthy) marriage, so here goes nothing. 

Firstly, never take each other for granted.  Life as a couple involves a certain amount of shared work and admin; renewing the car insurance, mowing the lawn, pretending to like each other’s friends.  Remember to thank the other person for all that they do.

Secondly, there’s an old saying “compromise means neither side getting what they want” and there is nowhere that applies more than marriage.  However when any two people live together, whether they be room-mates or the love of each other’s lives, compromise has to be involved, otherwise you end up with a relationship like Grandad’s.

Constant compromise doesn’t work either, you can’t go through life painting everything magnolia because you can’t agree on a colour – although we do paint every thing magnolia but that’s because we both like magnolia, and anyway it’s called Antique Cream so shut up.

To avoid the resentment that can build up from day-to-day compromises, make sure you both regularly get your own way over something.  Even if that’s just by eating a whole Toblerone to yourself, whatever floats your boat.

Thirdly, communicate, don’t point score.  You are team mates, not opponents.  Discuss everything, listen, find out details and talk towards resolution of any disputes.  If you find your discussions contain phrases like “Yes, in your face!” or “told you so” then you’re off track. 

If your discussions contain gossip, and irrelevant tangents, it’s probably a good sign that you are friends first, right?  Right?!  Friends with ADHD yeah, but still friends. 

For more detail on communicating see my earlier post Tell Them.

Lastly, and most importantly, ignore everything I just said because there is no magic formula to relationships.  Perfect people don’t exist, it’s how they fit together that counts. 

ALL people will drive each other crazy sometimes, and in their own unique, special, individually awful ways.  You know you’ve found the right one when you realise you can both put up with all that crap, in exchange for keeping the other one around.

 

Other People’s Thoughts?

Should you care what other people think about you?  I mean, have you met other people?!   

Let me tell you a little something about other people.  Other people like that TV show you think is stupid.  They like that popular book that you think is dull.  Other people think specifically is pronounced “pacifically”. 

Ok, yes, SOME other people, but if you extrapolate those results to include all the other nonsense in the world that you disagree with, like say fruit teas, I still think it’s safe to say that other people’s opinions, en masse, are no useful measure of anything.

Ok, so we’ve established that you SHOULDN’T care what other people think about you, but to be honest you already knew that didn’t you?  No one is sat around wishing that they cared more about what other people think.

Nobody likes the idea that someone else might think badly of them; it’s not a fun feeling.  As humans we are hard-wired to care what other people think, it’s a survival tool left over from times where you could be murdered on a whim.

Everyone cares at least a little about what other people think, but it is still better for your mental health if you can learn to care a little less. What you’re aiming for is to take the caring well below the red line of obsession, whilst still keeping it well above the blue line of psychopathy.

There are two things that have helped me to stop caring what other people think about me quite so much, and I’ll share those with you here.

Firstly, the realisation that other people seldom think about you, and when they do, it is short-lived.  I can promise you other people spend most of their awake-time thinking about their own lives, not yours. 

Secondly, people who really know you won’t judge you unfairly, and people who don’t know you, aren’t in a position to judge you.

It really is mind over matter, or as Dr Seuss so brilliantly put it:

I once had a “friend” who told unpleasant lies about me, in whispers, to our social group.  When I found out I was devastated and embarrassed initially, until I realised that anyone who really knew me had known immediately that the lies were untrue as they found me and told me so.   

This one incident in my life, which seemed so small and petty at the time, completely freed me from caring about what other people think.  It really hammered home the point for me because a couple of people did believe the lies and I discovered for myself that I honestly didn’t care, because I realised that they didn’t know me at all.

It is SO much fun to be yourself, don’t let people who don’t matter take that away from you.  Please resolve today to not let what other people MIGHT think stop you from being you. Instead, do what you choose, say what you feel and be YOU.

Brave People

Personally, I’m not that brave, I’m really more of a filter-less complainer.  If I have something wrong with me EVERYONE gets to hear about it.

I do know a few brave people though and they really are wonderful.  In fact there is only one thing they are bad at and that is asking for help when they need it.

Some people choose careers where they need bravery every day.  Those people amaze me and I’m so thankful they exist, because I am NOT that guy.

Even so, people in careers where bravery is compulsory, still sometimes end up witnessing something that they can’t un-see or un-hear and therefore struggle with.  Being in office-work myself this is less likely to happen to me, unless gross crimes of personal hygiene count.

What I’m trying to say is, sometimes bravery is a reaction to bad stuff that happens to you, stuff you can’t control.  I have friends who are in pain every day, sometimes physical, sometimes mental, sometimes both and their bravery amazes me.

The only thing that amazes me more is how they beat themselves up for not being brave enough sometimes, or being the “wrong kind of brave”.  For the record there is no wrong kind, there is only dealing with what has happened in the best way you can, by any definition that is bravery.

If you ever have to be brave about something, please know that being brave doesn’t look like Bruce Willis in Die Hard (although that is a great look).  Real-life bravery can sometimes involve a wider range of emotion (no offence to Bruce).

I know that brave people often don’t expect, or ask for, help but that doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes NEED help.  Where possible don’t be brave on your own.  Let people who care about you know that you are struggling – they won’t always be able to do anything about the problem but at least they’ll be by your side.

Where’s E.T.?

Grandad almost always buys you fabulous gifts, partly because he loves you, and partly because he wants to OWN your happiness (for further details on his behaviour with gifts please see my previous post “How to Respond to Gifts“).

Despite all this, occasionally Grandad gets it very wrong.  This is usually because the bargain-hunter part of his brain has wrestled the controls from the mafia-boss.

Recently, knowing your love of Sci-Fi, Grandad bought a second-hand, multi-stained, homemade, E.T. toy for you from his local car-boot sale – I can only assume located somewhere in the ninth circle of hell. 

I know what you’re thinking; what child wouldn’t want a misshapen corduroy alien smeared with mysterious brown stains, smelling of mould?  

As Grandad attempted to hand you this sack of botulism, I physically stepped between you looking so horrified that even he realised the gift wasn’t entirely appropriate.

I didn’t actually say this last bit out loud (unless saying it with my face counts?)

Gratitude

You’re right, the above does sound a bit ungrateful as Grandad’s intentions were good (if you ignore the part where he wants to own your happiness anyway). 

When someone gives you a gift that’s not something you really need or want, you should thank the giver politely.  When someone gives you a gift from a car-boot sale that smells, drips, and is covered in miscellaneous stains, it’s ok not to look too impressed.

Please note, in both situations, ALWAYS wait until they leave to burn the gift.

Tell Them

“To communicate effectively, first you need to listen.”  Yeahhhh…   I mean, sure listening is important, but only if one of you is already speaking.  It seems to me that maybe listening should logically be the second thing; first SOMEONE needs to speak.

Of course I’m mostly being deliberately obtuse, I know the point being made, is you need to know how the other person feels, to know how best to communicate with them.  True, but my point still stands; someone has to start that off.

Forever Hold It

I know a couple who moan ABOUT each other constantly but never actually say a word TO the other.  

Whilst they are both silent, they are silent in very different ways. 

If you are mad at someone for something, you have to TELL THEM.  If you don’t tell them, then you have to accept that they might not know what you’re mad at them for.

I blame old films and television; they are full of role models for high-maintenance women, and stoic, taciturn men.

Psychic Powers

There is no good time to expect someone else to be psychic.  If we have learned nothing else from TV psychics, psychic powers can’t be utilised at will (also, that an 18-month waiting list to get on a show will improve them no end…)

But How Do I Know If I’ve Already Told Them?

  • Simply thinking about what makes you mad every day is not the same as having told them. 
  • Mentioning in passing that you don’t like the thing that annoys you, without specifying that they do it, isn’t telling them.
  • Telling everyone else you know except them, isn’t telling them.

Life can be busy and frantic, and memories are not always what they should be.  If you are not sure whether you have told someone why you’re mad at them, give them the benefit of the doubt, tell them again.

P.s.  If they’re under 18. You probably did tell them already.  Several times…

P.p.s.  If you’re thinking of telling someone that they drive you crazy in some way today, maybe also think about communicating all the reasons that you love them too – a spoonful of sugar and all that.

Just Say No

Enthusiastic volunteering is a wonderful force for good, but indiscriminate rampant volunteering is bad for your mental health.  One person can change the world, but no ONE person can solve ALL of the world’s problems.

People do appreciate a volunteer.  Your Dad for example is always jumping in to help someone else out (despite the long list of jobs I already have planned for him) and he is widely loved for this.

Grandma is also an avid volunteer.  She’s spent a lifetime sacrificing her own time to help others.  Sometimes against their will, but she’s from the olden days; a time when no-one let a little thing like consent stop them.

We’ve all done it in our younger, more enthusiastic, days.  Sat in a meeting at work, the Boss asks for a volunteer for some God-forsaken task that no-one in their right-mind wants to do, and as the tense silence becomes just too loud you hear your own voice thunder in slow-motion:-

I’ll do it

The three most regularly regretted words in the English language.  You regret those words before they are all the way out of your mouth, and even more when you’re sat in a room full of straw wondering how the hell you’re supposed to spin it all into gold.

The worst reason in the world to volunteer is because no-one else wanted to do it.  With volunteering, the clue is in the name, it should be voluntary, not obligatory. 

I’m not saying don’t help people, and I’m certainly not saying don’t try to change the world, but what I am saying is, not everything is within your remit.  YOU don’t have to do everything.

It can be hard not to volunteer against your will when no-one else is putting their hand up, especially if you care about things getting done.  A good way to achieve this is to make a conscious note of what is within your remit, and what is not.

My Remit

I bloody love spreadsheets and pivot tables.  Yes, I am slight odd, thanks for asking.  If anyone needs a spreadsheet sorting out, and I have time, I’ll happily give them a hand. 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I also love talking and interfering in other people’s lives so I’m always happy to provide bossy advice, even if often, it’s unsolicited and under-researched…

I don’t enjoy getting in the middle of fights, but I am actually a good mediator so even though I don’t enjoy it, if the opportunity arises to calm some waters I will step in.  Unless I don’t like the people involved, then I’ll probably pull up a chair and grab some popcorn.

We only get one life (unless you’re Buddhist or a cat).  Your life and your time are precious, and they belong to you.  If you want to give away your gold and platinum time, that is a fabulous gift to give, but don’t throw such an amazing commodity away on people and tasks that don’t deserve you.

You don’t have to do a thing because no-one else wants to, or is capable.  You are not John McLean in Die Hard, you are NOT THAT GUY.  Sometimes there is no guy.

Even if you feel you ARE that guy, by all means save an office building from hostile terrorists, but if your team leader Sheila needs someone (but not her) to thin out files on a Saturday, then frankly, Sheila can do it herself.  …or reinvent a little something called PAID overtime.    

Normal Human

I spend quite a lot of time joking that you need to behave like a normal human.  I say joking, I do of course mean screaming.  The reason I get so upset by your unruly behaviour is because you have inherited it almost exclusively from me.

Don’t get me wrong, your Dad is also a weirdo, but ultimately he’s a much more normal weirdo than me.  However, I’m kind of lying because, and here’s the thing, EVERYONE is a total weirdo.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as a normal human.  Social convention dictates that in public we should behave a certain way, and some of us (specifically us) are slower to learn or take notice of those social edicts than others.

But in truth, we are all different and all break social rules sometimes.  Those who break them less often and less obviously might be considered more “normal” but they’re not, they’re just better at hiding the weird.

In my life I have experienced a certain amount of difficulty through not immediately conforming to behaviour that is expected of me, and because of that I try to get you to moderate your behaviour so you can avoid that same difficulty.  For example, I would not recommend going to school dressed as the Australian flag, just because you already made the outfit and you felt like it.

That doesn’t mean I think you should always conform to social convention – see my Be Yourself post for more thoughts on that.  What I’m trying to say in this post is, don’t feel weird because you’re different, everyone is unique, but don’t expect a round of applause when you break with social convention.

Every single person out there is a bit odd.  Different, unique, special, crazy, whatever you want to call it, we are all that, because there is no such thing as a “normal human”.  It’s a big myth, more so than Bigfoot, because there haven’t even ever been any reported sightings of one.

At this point someone will usually say or think “I see people who seem normal all the time?”  To those people I say, search your gut-feelings, they aren’t normal are they?  Somewhere deep-down we all know that the people that seem most normal are the least normal of all. 

Anyone can pretend to be a normal human, that’s why I ask you to try to do it so often.  Never think you know everything about someone because you know something about them.  People do actually purposefully try to present a different façade to how they feel inside.

Grandad for example, in my lifetime at least 3 people have told me what an all-round regular guy he is!?!   I can only assume they’ve not yet spent the requisite length of time with him for him to lose it and call them the C-word for little or no reason.  Certainly I would venture that he’s never dangled THEM over a castle wall to cure their fear of heights.

A colleague of mine, who used to be a colleague of his, once told me that I’d probably got a very one-sided view of him because my parents were divorced.  She’d spent a couple of years working in the same building as him, whereas I’d only been his actual daughter for 44 years, so of course she had every right to think she knew him better.

Never berate yourself for being or feeling different, but that still doesn’t mean that you should clean your teeth whilst doing a headstand.  A great many social conventions exist for a reason, in this case to stop toothpaste dripping into your eyes.

Also, a super-market trip is far quicker and less eventful if you don’t launch into your full Nickelback repertoire whilst using the trolley as a scooter.

Have Fun

The word “fun” can be problematic because it is often used to unintentionally flag up a distinct lack of fun; for example fun-runs, fun-size, and any activity that begins with someone using the phrase “come on, it’ll be FUN” but fun is actually quite important. 

Used correctly, the word actually means enjoyment or light-hearted pleasure; not (as the above activities would indicate) disappointment, pain and / or boredom. 

Hypocrite

Yes, of course I’m a MASSIVE hypocrite.  I spend at least 50% of each day screaming at you both that you need to have less fun and be more bloody responsible.   

In my defence, adults spend their whole lives trying to fit in tonnes of necessary and important things each day, and this inadvertently trains us to live without the “fun”.  We even end up prioritising things we enjoy behind things we feel obliged to do.

Some of us need to re-learn how to have fun.  Once we’ve learned how to successfully be grown-ups, we need to re-learn how not to be.  I think C.S.Lewis said it best:-

Some adults can’t remember how much fun it is to sit and colour something in, or make a collage, or a working volcano.  They just lurch from box-set to box-set vicariously experiencing the same kinds of ups and downs they already have in real life (though some of us do also find this fun).

Now would be a good time to point out that no-one else gets to define “fun” for you, only you know what you find “fun”.  Otherwise we’re back in “come on it’ll be fun” territory. 

Personally, I like writing, sewing and watching lots of lovely telly.  Grandma likes walking, gardening and lying to small children (or “extolling the virtues of literature” as she likes to call it).  Daddy likes photography, horror films and writing lists of jobs for Mummy to do. 

You can’t count as fun anything you feel a responsibility to do.  If you enjoy going to the gym then that is fun.  If you “mostly have fun once I’m there and think it’s good for me anyway” it is NOT FUN.

“Fun” is different for everybody.  Find what you enjoy pottering about at, then potter away.

…Potter!  That’s the word I should have used to start with, not fun – see post on Family Memory for further details.