I'm so much better than I used to be at staying in the moment and keeping my overthinking in check, but every now and then something happens that makes me look back and dwell a bit on times gone by. I don't long for the past, I love my present and wouldn't want to change any of it, but it places me in what I can only describe as a melancholy mood.
Yesterday my eldest daughter left primary school and this has been the trigger for such a melancholy episode. It marks the end of an era and is a clear sign of passing time and I have found myself looking at old photos, remembering times when the girls were tiny and in a way, I felt some grief for the loss of all these moments that are gone, spent, never to be had again.
It can be easy for a melancholy mood to linger, to turn into sadness tinged with panic at time passing and a sense of overwhelm at so much change happening. So, it is vital to come back 'into the moment' – to return to the present and concentrate on all the great things happening now. Being in the present, being mindful, is the perfect antidote to overthinking. It calls your wandering mind back into line and stops small negative feelings snowballing into large, long-lasting negative feelings.
So, our challenge for August is to be more mindful, to be more in the moment. And I have a fun and practical way to help you start – I want you to join in a game of Mindfulness Bingo. A lot of mindfulness techniques revolve around what experts call 'grounding' – that is using something you can see, hear, touch, smell or taste to bring your senses back to what is happening in the present. It is a very simple technique which has immediate and effective results.
So, our game of Mindfulness Bingo gives you a few prompts to help you start to use 'grounding' in your every day life. The first bingo card (which you can find at the end of this post) concentrates on things you can see and hear and gives you prompts for things to look out for during your day. And like a traditional game of bingo the idea is to get a full line crossed off, followed by a full house. During the month, I will also share extra daily prompts and a new bingo card to keep you going over in the Beyond The Crumpled Paper Facebook Group (come and join us here). You can also join us there and post your bingo successes!
It's time to take charge of our overthinking, so let's play Mindfulness Bingo...
I've said this before, and I don't apologise for repeating myself – choosing to be happy doesn't mean always feeling happy. Life will still throw stuff at you that makes you tired, sad, guilty, excited, distraught, overwhelmed, giddy, forlorn, lost, apathetic (you get the idea) but by choosing to 'be happy' you retain a core of being grateful and an approach to life that remains positive. (This blog post explains this is much greater depth!)
But not everyone is ready to choose happiness, and here are 3 very good reasons why you really don't want to be happy:..
1) IT IS REALLY HARD WORK
Keeping a positive mindset and being happy isn't a case of taking a magic pill and never having to worry about anything ever again. Your life will still have as many challenges and tough times as it always has and it takes strength and determination to get through them in a positive way. Choosing to be happy and stay happy takes daily mindset work – constant positive self-talk and practices of being grateful and not taking things for granted. They'll be days when you've had enough and you need a wallow – but then it takes more mind work to kick yourself back into a more positive place.
Choosing to be happy is like enrolling on a long term course in mindset training – it's a commitment to small steps, taken every day to keep your outlook positive and your mindset a happy one. Like I said, it's hard work!
2) NOBODY REALLY CARES IF YOU'RE HAPPY
Think of all the posts you see on social media that get lots of attention, or the stories that make the newspapers and magazines. They're the ones that feature heartbreak, drama, sadness and upset. No-one reports a nice calm day, a mundane Tuesday with no drama or makes headlines with a happy marriage. People court attention with dramatic emotion – and we seem primed to react to it. So to be happy, means you will become, well a bit invisible really. No-one else will really notice.
You have to live a life that is for yourself and your own satisfaction – not one that is lived out for the entertainment or judgement of others. There is no doing or saying things to cause drama and gain attention – you have to be satisfied and happy with your lot in such a way that you don't need the approval or attention of others to make you feel worthy. You have to step away from the dramatically vague facebook statuses and instead embrace your invisibility cloak of happiness.
3) YOU CAN'T BLAME ANYONE (OR ANYTHING) ELSE ANYMORE
Now this is a big one. Choosing to be happy means taking full responsibility for ALL your emotions and how you use them! It means accepting that you have no power over how anyone else behaves or indeed over a lot of what happens to you but you do have full control over how you behave and how you feel – and that means you can't shift responsibility for your feelings anywhere else.
You can't blame your childhood for holding you back, or your bitchy friend for making you feel sad. A bad boss, an aggressive driver, the bank manager, your selfish partner or the woman on the till at Aldi – none of them have any responsibility for your happiness (or lack of it). Only you do. I repeat. Only you do. By all means react to any of these people or events in a natural and emotional way – but then you decide to stay in that negative space or move your way back to a happier one.
And this involves the hefty stuff too. Big trauma, past tragic events, life changing moments. To be happy, you have to call a truce with them. And I don't say that glibly – doing this can be huge and involve help and professional support if needed (I did say in number 1 that being happy is hard work!) but blaming other people and life events for how we feel is again handing responsibility for our emotions to someone or something else – but we need to grab hold of all our emotions ourselves. Only when we own them, completely and utterly, can we take control of them and make choices over how we use them. And this won't happen overnight – in fact, it could take years – but it starts in an instant with the choice to take responsibility and the decision to choose happiness.
So as you can see there are some very good reasons why you really don't want to be happy. It's hard, it takes effort to get there and stay there and you have to actually take responsibility for yourself to do it (which is by far the hardest part). But you know what, if you do chose to be happy, and take the necessary steps to get there, my word, it'll change your life.
One of the most important factors in building - and keeping - a positive mindset is the influences that help mould it. To make sure we keep a healthy mind we need to make sure it is fed on a carefully controlled diet. In fact, a huge part of the entire journey towards becoming a happier and more confident person is keeping a very close eye on what we 'feed' ourselves every single day.
And I am not talking about food.
Every person we spend time with, the things we browse on social media, the things we read and the programmes we watch all form a continuous stream of nutrition for our mental appetite which, whether we are aware of it or not, helps form our opinions and beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.
The voice in our head is the product of all our influences, often moulded more by the negative things we have seen and heard and often quick to remind us of our limitations and fill us with self-doubt. Our beliefs about our own abilities and strengths are often formed by things we have heard from others, rather than the absolute proof of what we see we can achieve and our version of the world is shaped by news bulletins, Facebook posts and newspaper headlines.
The more we become aware of how our influences feed our mental map of everything, the more we can adjust the balance of it. The more positive the flow, the more positive the product. What we think, we become – so if we are fed with a constant stream of messages about what we can't do and how we are failing at life, we will continue on a downward path as this belief becomes truth. If we are surrounded by people who build us up, celebrate our victories (however tiny) and remind us that we can do great things, well, we really can do great things.
So, from this moment, watch your diet. Feed yourself with things that build you up, grow your confidence and remind you of all the things to be grateful for and limit your access to negative influences as much as you can. And here are 5 ways you can start doing it right now:
1) Pick your friends wisely! Just because we grow up, doesn't mean we suddenly have lots of confidence in who we are and what we do – in fact, the opposite is often true! And just as children often need reassurance, thrive with praise and sometimes need a little encouragement to take a big leap into something new – so do we! We need to be surrounded by people who are on our side, who can support us when we need it and remind us of all the wonderful things we can do when we lose faith in ourselves.
Life is far too short to spend time with people who want to belittle us or bring us down. 'Friends' like this, who compete and behave with jealousy, can be really damaging to our own happiness. So, walk away from them and invest your energy in friends who are loyal, honest and on your side.
The people we spend most of our time with have a huge impact on our own inner voice and our own opinion of ourselves, possibly more than anything else, so make sure it's a positive one!
2) Remind yourself that social media isn't real life! A quick look through your many social media feeds will no doubt fill you with glamourous pictures of friends (and famous people and people you vaguely know!) working out at the gym, enjoying an exotic holiday, demonstrating some impressive parenting feat or polishing their new car in the drive of their new house. It can become a barage of things you haven't got or haven't done.
I believe that we all spend far too much time on social media for our own good, and although I think there are a lot of positive things about it, I do think limiting our time on it in favour of more 'real life' influences is a massive step towards more positive mental health. We miss so many moments of 'ordinary joy' because we are looking at the world as presented on a phone screen – and it is these small moments that we keep missing that can remind us that the life we are in, at this very moment, has so much to be grateful for and shows us so many things we should be proud of. Yeah, we might want a bigger house, a nicer car, an exotic holiday somewhere – but rather than reminding ourselves constantly what we haven't got, let's spend a bit of time appreciating what we have got.
So, enjoy social media and all the good stuff it brings whilst always reminding yourself that real life happens right in front of us, not on a timeline, or in an app, and that if we stop competing and comparing we often become instantly more happy and satisfied with our lot.
3) Skip, block or turn off! Now this step is an important one – especially for my fellow overthinkers! Overthinkers are often very empathetic and can often tie themselves in knots working through how a given scenerio is going to make everyone else feel and then exhausting themselves trying to make it better for everyone! Empathy is wonderful gift to have, but it can be overwhelming when faced with a seemingly never-ending stream of sad, worrying or tragic stories and events.
The amount of information we are bombarded with on a daily basis, an hourly basis even, is just huge – too huge. Between news reports, front page headlines and posts popping up on every form of social media we see war, abuse, child cruelty, animal cruelty, illness, trauma, homelessness, suicide, missing people and countless other negative stories every hour of every day. And each time we see one, we will feel the pain, feel the guilt or feel the responsibility to solve it.
We really can end up with the weight of the world on our shoulders.
So edit that stream. I hate seeing nasty pictures on Facebook, especially if they involve animals or children, so I scroll on by. I don't look, I don't read. I haven't read a newspaper for a very long time and I rarely watch the news. I stick to lists on Twitter that focus on friends and people I am particularly interested in rather than being swamped by the full feed.
And does this mean that I don't care? No, maybe the opposite. Sometimes I care too much and it is too much to cope with. When I see these stories, I feel the panic a mum might feel, I feel the loss that a wife might feel and I feel an almighty sadness when I think what some people are going through. To live like that every hour of every day would be suffocating, and I fear for some, is suffocating.
So we need to stop carrying the world around with us. We need to care, be kind and do what we can within our own world, our own life and within our own limits. That is where our responsibility lies and where we can have the biggest impact.
4) Read some good stuff! One of the great things about the internet is that we now have at our fingertips an abundance of helpful and inspiring stuff to read. In between the funny cat pictures, amusing memes and the google answer for everything there is a huge resource of inspiring blogs, informative articles and downloadable books – many of them free. You can find new skills, learn about starting a small business or be motivated to feel more confident.
Use a bit of your social media time to browse some of this more inspiring content instead. Even if it is just for a few minutes a day it can have a massive impact on the positive diet we are trying to create – especially if that blog post replaces ten minutes you would have spent feeling inadequate browsing mansions over on pinterest!
Building and retaining this positive diet is about finding a stream of influences which all carry a positive message, and introducing a small amount of reading (of the right stuff!) into your daily feed is an incredibly effective way of doing it.
5) Tell yourself that you're doing ok! We are often experts at telling ourselves we have done something wrong, or beating ourselves up for saying something daft or talking ourselves out of doing something because we're not good enough. Well, we need to build up the habit of reminding ourselves that we're doing ok. Every day.
You got through the day at work without punching anyone – you're doing ok! You fed the kids today – you're doing ok! You got out of bed today – you're doing ok!
Sometimes, just getting through the day is a massive achievement. Other days we can take on the world. But every day, you must remind yourself – you really are doing ok.
During June 2019, I am challenging you to 'change your diet' - to take control of every influence which feeds into your mental appetite and to take steps to make it as positive and fulfilling as you can. Join us over in the Beyond The Crumpled Paper Facebook group where, during the month, I will be sharing more exercises, prompts and tips to help you do this...