Catriona Futter – Equip For Life Coaching Becoming your best self and living life to the full – 07713 974138

Category Archives: The Importance Of Valuing Others

What role do those nearest to you play in your life? How willing are we to listen to others, and change how we behave as a result?

Getting back into the Habit: Number 6, Synergise

Here we are into January 2018. Christmas is well and truly over, the tree and trimmings are tidied away, and normal routines resume. Not much joy in this house about the return to school. And it’s FREEZING cold.

Ho hum.

Not a very cheery start.

So let’s talk about something much more exciting: a mind expanding approach to working together with other people – including and especially those you don’t normally see eye-to-eye with – to create something that is much bigger than it’s component parts. To synergise.

Because we are resuming our mini trawl through the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People with Habit Number 6: Synergise.

To synergise is to create something that is greater than the sum of it’s individual parts. I see one solution to a problem. You see another. We could get stuck in our own entrenched views that we are each right, and the other is wrong, and therefore achieve neither solution nor resolution. Or we could listen to each other with openness, seek to understand where the other is coming from, be motivated by seeking to achieve a creative solution, and work together to come up with a third way that neither of us would have thought of on our own.

This is synergy. It is the ‘habit of creative co-operation’ to quote Dr Covey.

This is perhaps the most difficult to get one’s head round without having read the whole book. All the previous habits lead up and into this one. How would I summarise this from my own experience?

Two examples spring to mind.

I work with a spiritual director, who is also a dear and precious friend. We are very different – our characters, our styles, our paradigms, our backgrounds, our approach. This could be a problem in working together if we allowed ego, insecurities or potential narrowmindedness to get in the way. But because there is a deep well of trust, authenticity and vulnerability in our relationship, and because we are both secure in ourselves and our skills in our respective professions, we are able to co-create materials and lead and work together in a way that is inspiring, energising and exciting. We synergise. We are open to new ideas and possibilities, and combine our skills and learn from each other in a way that makes something new and better than what either of us could do alone.

And in a recent experience working with a largish team, there was a moment when the dynamic in the room shifted. You could almost feel the creative energy crackling as people stopped being limited by what they couldn’t do, and their own individual view of the problem, and started collectively seeing a much bigger solution that was not about any one individual but about the team as a whole.

For me, the key ingredients in creating synergy are these:

Get yourself out of the way

This is not about you or getting your way. There is no room for being protective, defensive, adversarial, or judgmental of the other person.

Build internal security

Know who you are, what you can do and what is most important to you. That way, it is easier and less threatening to say to someone with a very different viewpoint – help me see it from your point of view, so I can learn.

Create trust, openness and safety

Be willing to be honest, real and authentic. Don’t be afraid to be the first person to be vulnerable and open up a bit. It can take considerable courage to talk about the elephant in the room, but if done with grace and a humble spirit, often it is a very powerful way of dismantling defenses, and moving beyond polite and respectful to real, open and empathic communication. Create freedom to think out loud, no matter how daft those

Do you see a young girl or an old woman?

Do you see a young girl or an old woman?

thoughts may sound in your head.

Value differences

Do you see a young lady or an old woman? Neither are wrong. It is possible to have a very different view from someone else, but for both parties to be right. If we take a “I’m right and it’s my way or no way” approach, we risk causing division, resentment and cutting off any kind of creative solution making. When we trust the other person and have taken time to really listen to and understand where they are coming from, if they then disagree with us it is easier to say “I trust and respect you, help me understand this from your perspective and see what I am not getting.”

Don’t be afraid of not knowing the process

You may know the outcome – an new solution that currently does not exist. But you may have no idea how to get there. This can be scary, especially if you like known processes and procedures. But embrace the spirit of adventure and creativity and be open to learn, grow, have your mind expanded!

When we learn to value each other and our differences in perception,  and we learn to see that there might not be a single black and white answer, we can work together to find a third, richer and more creative solution.

I see the young woman, and really struggle to see the old lady. You help me see the old lady, and I show you where the young woman is.

And together, we see two women. We synergise.

Result!

 

To really listen is to give a precious gift

Listen with a view to understandWe are well into Christmas season now, with all that entails. Everywhere we turn, we are swamped by advertisers and marketers seeking to encourage us to buy that perfect gift to give to the one we love. Or something along those lines.

Interestingly, there has also been something of a backlash to the crazy, totally-over-the-top commercialism and consumerism of this time of year, starting in part as a reaction to the Black Friday sales of last month. Why do we need so much stuff? When we live in a part of the world where we have so much, and other areas of the world have so very very little, and yet there is enough to go around – something is wrong somewhere.

Last week we were talking about the habit of win/win – living with an abundance mentality that says, there is enough for all, and my actions can be for our mutual benefit and enrichment, and not simply for my own self-focused gain.

Well, here’s a thought – how about during this Christmas season you give a gift that is incredibly precious, won’t contribute to climate change in any way, does not involve struggling round the shops being overpowered by cheesy Christmas tunes, and won’t cost you anything – at least in financial terms.

And it will give worth, value, and a depth of care and empathy to the recipient that has the potential to open up greater riches in your relationship.

Let me introduce the habit that I believe carries the greatest power and impact:

To listen with a view to understand.

Imagine something with me for a moment.

You have something on your mind and heart that is really bothering you. Someone you know asks you how you are, and you decide to be vulnerable, so you open up and start to talk about the issue in question. But the person to whom you are speaking jumps in before you have got to the root of the issue with an anecdote of their own about a situation they were in, moves swiftly to advice about what they would do in your situation, and then is distracted by a text coming in on their phone. The overall effect is to leave you feeling shut down, raw in your vulnerability, unsupported, frustrated, and worse than when you started.

Ever experienced this?

Or – swift look inside of yourself – maybe you have behaved in this way towards someone who was wanting to talk to you?

How often do we, as humans, listen to each other because we want to be understood, rather than because we are seeking to understand?

When we listen from our own perspective, we tend to evaluate what the other person is saying whilst they are still speaking, and we interpret what they are saying from our own reference point. We then form opinions and judgments based on an incomplete picture and a lack of understanding of what was really being said – all this is usually subconscious and happens all the time.

The communication exchange becomes all about us and not about the person who is actually doing the talking. We are listening with a view to responding – with our own opinions, advice, judgments, assumptions.

Imagine instead we seek to listen with a view to understanding.

As we listen, we seek to get under the person’s skin and see things from their point of view – to not only hear their words, but hear the emotions behind the words. We pay attention to their body language and give them space to express how they really feel.

The person being listened to feels heard, understood and therefore valued and of worth. And as they are given time and space to explore the issue or problem on their mind and the emotions behind it, and talk it through without any assumptions, judgement, advice being offered, it is then that the speaker often will untangle the issue for themselves and gain greater clarity as to possible solutions.

Think about some of the situations you are in just now – with your work colleagues, friends, your partner, your family. Consider any problems within any of those relationships. How many of those problems are caused by misunderstandings? And therefore, how many of those problems could be resolved or prevented if we took time to really listen to and understand each other, to learn where the other person was coming from? What is the potential then for how much more rewarding and fulfilling those relationships and situations could therefore be?

Habit 7 in full is to seek first to understand then to be understood.

To be understood is about influence.

We all want to be heard, to be respected, to be valued. We all want to have influence – to make a difference and feel that we matter and have worth.

We tend to think that influence is about putting our argument across well, about presenting ourselves convincingly.

But influence is less about speaking and more about listening.

Listening to someone so that they feel heard and understood creates more openness, deeper communication and mutual trust and respect. This is the basis of influence.

This is the basis of influence and greater interpersonal communication.

This is the gift that really does keep on giving. Perhaps in this Advent season as we approach Christmas, we can choose to listen with a view to really understanding each other and in so doing, bring greater depth, openness and connection to all our relationships.

Habit Number 4: Think win/win

Think win/win - enough for all.

Think win/win – enough for all.

Would you do something for me? Take a wee minute and have a good scout around inside your soul. Poke into the dark and dusty corners into which you would prefer others not to venture. Ask yourself this question, and be really honest with yourself about your motives:

How often do I go into a situation/relationship looking for what I can get out of it?”

If you are human – and I am guessing that you are if you are taking time to read this – you will recognise that that response is indeed sometimes the case. It is a very human tendency to look to what we can get out of a situation – be it a bargain or a cheap/better deal, kudos or recognition, our emotional needs met. Or, put it more bluntly, we look to win.

Equally, you might ask yourself this:

How often do I go into a situation seeking to be helpful or make the peace, but end up feeling that I have been walked over?”

People pleasers, appeasers, those coming from a place of feeling the victim, those struggling with low self confidence and self worth – again, very human tendencies that we will all recognise. Allowing others to dominate, bulldoze all over us, take advantage of us and our insecurities can be an all-too-common outcome of a situation or relationship. In other words, to lose.

This is what is at the basis of Habit Number 4 – Think Win/Win. This one can be hard to get your head round, beyond it sounding really aggressively competitive and sport-related. And my opening comments this week might seem especially harsh and polarising. After all, life isn’t as black and white as this is it – you can’t divide life into winners and losers.

But to ‘win’ in the context of the Think Win/Win paradigm is NOT about selfish triumphalism or personal, individualistic gain.

Far from it.

This is about living life from a starting point that there is plenty for everyone. Having an abundance mentality, a generosity of character and spirit.

This is the idea that one person’s success does not need to be achieved at the expense or exclusion of anyone else.

I don’t have to trample over you to get what I want. Nor do I have to let you trample over me. There is enough for us both, and we can work together to allow us both to flourish.

This fits perfectly coming after Thanksgiving. Now I am Scottish through and through (and a wee bit Danish) but have some American friends, and I love the tradition of Thanksgiving. To take some time with your nearest-and-dearest, with friends old and new, and express thanks for the abundance of the harvest. And to share that abundance, even as you express individual thanks for what the year has brought you.

For me, this is the spirit of Habit 4. When we can see what we have and what we can do, and live from a place of thankfulness, we can truly seek Win/Win, which is mutual benefit and satisfaction in all our encounters.

This of course is all about character.

To constantly seek mutual benefit and mutual satisfaction in any relationship or situation takes

security in who we are, integrity in our behaviour, and a clear understanding of our own values.

It also takes maturity. In Dr Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he quotes a Harvard professor from 1955:

emotional maturity is the ability to express one’s own feelings and convictions balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others.”

This is about being secure in who you are, and at the same time valuing the other person and seeking to understand where they are coming from. This fits so well with team coaching – having a shared goal that all parties are working together toward rather than each seeking individual gain.

How might win/win work out in practice?

This is extending from Dr Covey’s work slightly, but for me, these are some of the outworkings of living with an abundance mentality where there is plenty for everyone:

  • replace “I have to….” with “I get to…” in your thinking and see how that shifts your perspective. What does that prompt you to be thankful for? What does that allow you to see about your circumstances and strengths that enable you to give with your best rather than perhaps begrudgingly?
  • do you live more with a spirit of entitlement or generosity? Pay attention to that little mind worm of ‘what do I get out of this’ and replace with ‘what can I give here?’
  • what can you do, and what do you have and how secure are you in that, as you go into encounters with people that require some kind of resolution?

A win/win abundance mentality of mutual benefit for all is not a bad way to start Advent.

How you made them feel – growing the character of the Habits.

Think back over this past week with me for a minute. What encounters have you had with people? Think about one really positive encounter, and one really difficult one. What stands out as you remember those exchanges? It may well be that there are specific words or phrases that stick in your mind. Perhaps words of affirmation and appreciation that really meant a lot and hit the spot most needing nurtured. Or equally, harsh words that seemed to pierce straight through your defenses and stab you with criticism or judgement. But I will bet a fair bit that what stays with you the most when you consider both of those encounters are the emotions you were left with.

It was Maya Angelou who famously and insightfully observed:
How you made them feel

For me, this is at the heart of the transition between the internal Habits 1-3 and the external Habits 4-6 in Stephen Covey‘s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that we are currently exploring.

(Habit Number 7 stands on it’s own, and you will have to wait for the New Year for that one! It is very close to my heart, for many of the reasons that I have explored in writing in this blog over the past couple of years, and in part refers back to my training and experience as a physiotherapist. So I’d love you to stay tuned…..)

Anyway.

I am aware that in summarising the Habits, and bringing my own perspective on them, I am seeking to condense the considerable thinking and wisdom in the original book. As such, there is much I will miss, and I commend the book itself to you to read as it really is a life-changing gem.

What is interesting is the emphasis on character. I mentioned this at the start of this series, that the Seven Habits book is much more a book on character and inner personal development than it is a management or systems book. As we move into the second half of the book, there is a transition piece that looks at key issues of character and the foundational importance of developing the first three habits before seeking to implement Habits 4, 5 and 6.

The latter Habits all talk about Doing. The first Habits are about Being, and being always comes before doing if we want to do what we do with any integrity and self respect.

Dr Covey himself observes –

The most important ingredient we put into any relationship is not what we say or what we do, but what we are.”

Which is another way to express Maya Angelou’s comment. Because when people remember how you made them feel, what they are picking up on is who you are, your character. And our character can change. Or, to be more accurate, we can choose proactively to grow and develop our character to be more of the person we want to be.

What does this mean in practice?

  • Taking time to understand the other person – to speak their love language not your own – and not to project on to them what we think we would want in their situation. What does it mean to really get into their skin and understand where they are coming from, and to then choose to behave towards them in terms of that understanding?
  • Linked to this, not making assumptions and taking time to clarify expectations – how often do we get ourselves into real bother with our colleague, boss, partner, family member because we each have different expectations of the situation and have not clarified them? It takes time, courage and honesty to ensure that expectations on both sides are clear and explicit. It is easier to assume that our expectations will be self-evident, but how often does this lead to confusion, misunderstanding and resentment?
  • This of course is about integrity – being true to yourself and also true to what you say. Keep commitments, especially small ones. (And especially with children; they really notice broken commitments, and quickly learn not to trust those involved – a very damaging life lesson). Be true to who you are and be consistent in what you say and do, whether to people’s faces or behind their backs. Not easy but central to good character.
  • Notice and attend to little things. It is often the accumulation of myriad little things that create the biggest impression in relationships, both for good and bad. My wise old grandfather would often say – “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people.” Actually, sometimes it does, but the price is worth it in terms of personal integrity and character.
  • Apologise quickly and sincerely when we get it wrong. Having the courage to say, “I got it wrong” and be specific about how we did so goes a long way to building integrity in relationships and strengthening character

How do you make people feel? Quite an inflammatory question I know, but worthy of some inner musings this week.

Choosing not to be too proud.

Choosing not to be too proudImagine a young child learning to walk.

They fall over repeatedly, but choose to get up again and have another shot. Just imagine now if instead, their reaction was – this is too hard, I am failing too often, never going to get the hang of this, too humiliating to be failing constantly in front of all these people. I’m too proud to keep getting this wrong. I’ll give this walking lark a miss and stick with crawling. Imagine the impact on the human race. Now of course this is a ludicrous scenario (although given how fast our younger child could bum-shuffle about, it’s a wonder that she ever bothered with walking at all).

But the point is a clear one – if we give up the first time we make a mistake because we are too proud to admit we got it wrong, we will get absolutely nowhere in life.

Now this seems to fly in the face of what I was talking about last week, about making the choice to commit to something rather than taking the on-the-fence option of saying, I’ll try.

When the context for trying is something new and uncertain that we are learning, then the choice here is not being too proud to keep trying when we get it wrong.

When we repeatedly try and fail at something, if we choose not to be too proud, there is scope to learn and grow character and maturity. Choosing not to be too proud means we can enlist the help of others, rather than being too self-reliant. That also takes bravery and vulnerability, but opens the way for mutual support, and the opportunity to value and affirm the helper in their helping.

But for me, the choosing not to be too proud is more related to that answer of “I’ll try” in response to a request. What is going on there?

To not be too proud to say:

No, I am sorry I can’t do that”

– to acknowledge that as a human being I have finite resources and simply can’t do everything.

For a long time, I have been quite heavily invested in being a high-energy, can-do, hold-it-all-together sort of person. Capable, competent, organised, efficient, independent. And sometimes, if I am honest, I can come across as intimidating, exhausting, over bearing.

People might well want to offer to help in a certain situation, but without even a chink of vulnerability or human frailty in my seeming ability to get-things-done, why would they?

Choosing not to be too proud can be about saying,

I can’t do it all. I need help. I am frail, weak, human and I don’t have unlimited resources.

It can be about acknowledging that our way of doing something might not be the only way, or the best way. It might involve surrendering some control and allowing others in, and that might get messy.

When we are motivated by trying to help everyone around us and meet all the needs that come our way, sometimes deep down inside there is a pride in that – our identity is tied to our ability to meet the needs of others, and if we weren’t able to do this, who would that make us?

Perhaps, our identity is tied to being competent and strong, and there is pride in not showing any sign of weakness or vulnerability.

Don’t be too proud to say, I can’t do it all. I have limited resources.

Don’t be too proud to say, I got it wrong, can you help me or be patient while I try again?

Don’t be too proud to say, I have needs too.

Choosing not to be too proud – where would some honest reflection on that question take you?

Dr Seuss inspired thoughts Part 2

Think and wonder, wonder and think.What I love about Dr Seuss is his ability to encapsulate huge concepts in only a few words.

And to do so in beautiful, succinct and often very funny rhyme and rhythm.

This is such a small phrase, and such simple concept.

And yet, in this multimedia, technological world, how much more important to take time to switch off, unplug, and create physical and mental space to think and wonder.

Everyone around us has an opinion. And the extraordinary assault on our minds that is social media ensures that those opinions are entering our lives and homes and minds all the time. But we have a choice – a familiar refrain here. And that choice is to switch off sometimes from the opinions and views of others, and instead choose to wonder and think our own thoughts. Not necessarily that we might then share those thoughts on those very same social media platforms. But that we might simply again stop in wonder like small children at the extraordinary natural world around us. At the enormity of our own capacity to think original thoughts and wonder our own original wonderings.  And that fits well with –

You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.”

What did you miss last week because you had your eyes shut, metaphorically speaking?

We can keep our eyes shut to what is around us by being glued to technology – smart phone engaging part of our brain, half listening or half paying attention with the other part.

By being focused with tunnel vision on what is The Next Thing we need to do, driven by our to-do lists.

By being emotionally absent because we are trapped somewhere else in our minds due to negative self-belief or self-talk, worry or anxiety, our own selfish agenda.

What would it mean to open our eyes instead, that we might really see what is around us – to see and notice the wonders of the world in the small, everyday moments?

To not miss the body language in conversation that indicates more is below the surface if we would only draw it out?

To see the emotion behind the words and be present in that, entering into that space we might otherwise miss?

To receive the compliment as it was intended, and not bat it away with our own negativity? All this can be learned and it starts with keeping our eyes open. And sometimes, when we keep our eyes open and don’t miss what is actually going on, we might find ourselves opening up to new opportunities or perspectives:

If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too.”

If we are honest, perhaps that is what we are afraid of….that our own agenda and carefully crafted and controlled plan for our day/week/life will be derailed in a direction over which we seem to have no control.

Maybe that is just me……

…..but I am learning to sometimes let go of my own agenda, and get myself out of the way.

To practice opening my eyes to what is most important in that moment, and in so doing, to catch the emotional connection, or conversation opening, or spark of silliness that I would otherwise have missed, that I might not initially have thought there was space for.

Sometimes I need to recognise that my need to control often clouds or blocks entirely opportunities that make my life richer and allow me to learn more about myself and others, and take myself less seriously.

And surely Dr Seuss would approve of that!

Olympics inspired swimming pool thoughts….

Olympics thoughts from the swimming pool

Olympics thoughts from the swimming pool

We have been discussing tiredness of body and soul here a fair bit of late. And this week I confess to being very tired. But burnout or over-busyness are not the cause. Ah no, my fatigue is a result of sleep deprivation….

The Olympics.

Along with many others, I have been sitting up too late at night hooked on any number of astonishing sporting events the demonstrate the extraordinary abilities of the human body and mind.

Rowing, swimming, diving and gymnastics have been favourites. An unexpected and delightful discovery has been trampolining, which has caused the most anxious breath holding on my part from the safety of my sofa. What a teary delight to watch the young British girl Bryony Page win silver. How do you make your body do that? And land in the right place the right way up without having vomited? Mesmerising.

My greatest addiction however has been the cycling. This is in part because team GB have done so stunningly well and there are so many outstanding competitors to watch. But also because of how curious some of the events seem to the ignorant couchee like me – following a wee moped round the track for a bit then going hell-for-leather for the line; wobbling slowly round psyching each other out then breaking into a mad sprint; an elimination race that reminds me of musical chairs without the chairs or the music and much more crazy….just brilliant to watch and so absorbing.

A few musings were sloshing about my head this morning as I was swimming up and down my local pool in a style that bore no resemblance to the Olympics…

There is much talk about athletes providing inspiration for others. Who do you want to inspire? What legacy of inspiration would you want to leave behind? How can you move more towards being that person?

These athletes are passionate, committed, very hard working, and devote most of their time to training. Their motivation comes from wanting to be the best – could those around you tell what you are passionate about and motivated to do by how you use your time?

Laura Trott, the British cycling gold medal winner, thanked “those in the background” and listed some of the team around her that rarely, if ever I would suppose, get much of a mention. Good for her – we all have a role to play, each one of us has something to offer be it in the limelight or more behind the scenes. The challenge is to find what makes us tick, what we are passionate about, and to be that person and do that thing to the full. As the astonishing human beings that we are, I believe we need each other to be at our best – to encourage, inspire, challenge, support, hold accountable, laugh and cry with.

What roles do you have in whatever you would consider your team?

This week of the Olympics, I encourage you fulfil those roles to the best of your ability….embrace your uniqueness and purpose….don’t compare yourself negatively with others in perhaps a more glamorous role….accept and enjoy who you are and grow more and more into the best version of you, who inspires others.

 

 

Being the best version of ourselves

So now that your soul has caught up, now what?

The best version of ourselves

The best version of ourselves

Allowing that time can feel costly when we are busy and over committed, and how do we know it is worth that cost? But I would beg to ask, what is the cost of running too far in front of our souls all the time?

When our souls become dried up and wizened through lack of nourishment, we cease to enjoy life and we no longer are enjoyable to be around.

Soul catch-up time causes us to slow, to be recharged and move more towards being the best version of ourselves. This is not a selfish end in itself, although it is important to care appropriately for yourself. This is about good boundaries – knowing what you are seeking to protect and why – and about preventing burnout. But that is not the whole story, just the opening chapter.

Imagine with me that you are more of your best self to all those around you – your nearest and dearest; your family and friends; your work colleagues and co-workers; those casual acquaintances and people you meet in the street every day – the lollipop lady, the shop keeper, the ticket man at the station.

Try a little exercise with me:

  • think through your average week day or working day
  • List in your head or on paper all the people you routinely engage with, no matter how significant or seemingly insignificant those interactions
  • Think about the most recent encounters with those folk. Did they meet with the best version of you, the one whose soul is sustained and nourished inside of you? Or was it the you with your soul trailing behind, tired and frazzled, that they came into contact with?

Lay down the guilt and the self-flagellation stick and instead take up the challenge:

regular short chunks of soul care allows us to be closer to the best version of ourselves,

and this brings benefit to all our relationships.

As you read this, I am on holiday – the ideal time to let my soul catch up and overdose on soul-restorative activities. I know on my return home that the challenge is incorporating some of that into my week.

But I want to be my best self in all of my relationships and encounters with fellow humans, and that is my desire for you too. Incorporating a little rest, modest chunks of time for soul care each week will go a long way to enabling us to be the best version of ourselves.

 

Lessons from Depression Part 4: People are worth fighting for.

These past weeks have been an interesting process of stopping to explore lessons learned from depression, and living alongside our Black Dog. To step back, look under the surface and hunt for the treasure in the bleakness.

Often we hurtle through life at crazy speeds, living a never-ending-to-do-list.

We risk getting to the end of our lives and looking back with regret at the dreaPeople are worth fighting forms unfulfilled, the people unvalued, the opportunities not taken. I have written here about this a lot, as I believe passionately that

life is for living abundantly and joyfully.

Being aware of who we are and what we can do, and celebrating that we have so much now: we can choose to live today making the most of that.

But often we live on-hold, waiting for the time when we have more….more peace, more time, more freedom, more money, more success, more love…you name it, we live thinking that we need it.  Depression can make you feel that life is on hold – numb, cheated of hope or any sense of enjoyment, wasted years. And that is one of the devastating consequences of this awful mental illness. But it brings me to lesson from depression No 3:

People are worth fighting for

It can be all too easy for any of us to look at our lives and think – this is as good as it is going to get, to give in to compromise that pleases no one, to shut down to hopes and dreams and lose sight of that part of yourself.

But stop and ask yourself – is this the life I really want to be living?

For us, the Black Dog eventually prompted us to:

  •  take stock
  • talk about the illness and let others in
  • get help
  • learn to communicate better
  • grow to understand our own needs
  • and seek to change ourselves rather than each other.

And at the root of it all, to realise that being our best selves, together and individually, was worth fighting for. I have learned to say no to the temptation to accept the this-is-as-good-as-it-is-going-to-get resignation for the rest of my life (to be honest, sometimes this would be a lot less hard work and tiring).

Instead, to grab hold of the Black Dog and it’s companions of frustration, compromise, anger, hurt, negativity, and grapple and wrestle with them.

I want more from my life.

People matter – you matter.

Each of us is a unique individual who is worth celebrating and fighting for.

Each of us can choose how we respond to life each day.

Life can be brutally hard, lonely, painful and shocking sometimes. We don’t often have control of external events. But we do have choice in how we respond, and how we support and value each other.

Having people in our lives with whom we can be free to be ourselves, who challenge us to be the best version of ourselves, and embrace our efforts to grow in character and maturity with all our mistakes along the way – for me, there is little that is more important than this. Whether it is with MB or with friends who inspire me and celebrate life with me.

Living alongside depression has taught me to be real, honest and vulnerable. To narrow the gap between the person people see on the outside and the real me on the inside. And in doing so, being willing to celebrate what I am good at and what is important to me, and learning to accept responsibility for less palatable aspects of my character and seeking to change and grow.

We can’t change others – I couldn’t change MB, not by sheer effort, force of will, love or anger.

But I could take responsibility for changing myself, and my approach to him. And of course we can only start to change ourselves when we fully understand ourselves.

If that idea sounds appealing – gaining more self-awareness and understanding – but you don’t know where to start, then The 10 Things Challenge is for you.

If you know someone who is suffering from depression, take time to watch this very helpful video. Give them time, space and consistent support.

If you know someone whose partner or close friend is suffering from depression take time to ask them how they are. Listen to and affirm them in their often lonely role, and provide opportunities for distraction, fun and simple enjoyment where they can be themselves without any expectations.

If you are living with someone who is suffering from depression, YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB! Hang in there, talk about how you are and make sure that you have trusted people around you with whom you can very definitely be ‘not fine’.

Take time to understand your own needs, and make time to care for yourself. People are worth fighting for – that includes you.

Learning to stop, notice, and value friends

So after last week’s little humpluck in the duvet of life, normal services resume this week. Christmas seems to be hurtling towards us faster than ever before. My senses were assaulted this week at a large garden centre by a singing reindeer complete with winter wonderland entourage, and an overwhelming scent of cinnamon from the barrage of candles that greeting me. Some of you reading this will know exactly where I have been!

And so to what is exercising my mind this week. I am planning a big launch in January of a coaching tool that I have written, and want to share some of the backstory that led me to write it. It will be very personal, and will need to be approved by my beloved before I publish it, as it is very personal to him too. Our story has had it’s complications, but nothing is wasted, and I never stop learning.

But that is just a wee teaser for you….Advent will see me writing simple short reflections on keeping focused on what matters most at Christmas (a theme never far away for me!). And between now and then?

Learning to apply my own medicine seemed to really strike a chord with folk. The concept of boundaries and limits that we have been exploring has really made me stop and think about how I choose to live, and what I need more and less of in my weeks to not overstep my own limits.

Valuing friends

Valuing friends

Friendship is very high up that list and realising that making time for friends is crucial to my mental, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

When I better understand my limits, I am less likely to become overstretched and miss out on time with friends. The other side of that equation is about prioritising friends because they are important (and probably much more important than many of the things I am tempted to become preoccupied with when in hyper-controlling-mode) and therefore protecting time with them with good boundaries.

Some observations about friends over the last few weeks:

  • the support network aka protection squad of friends around elder daughter at a potentially nerve-wracking social event in her honour
  • having friends listen to and reassure me about my own anxieties concerning same event
  • being asked to help a couple of different friends in dire straits (and having time to do so)
  • support for younger daughter as she learns to deal with her twin braces
  • at the Good Food Show, inspired by chef/TV chap James Martin emphatically affirming his own friends – “If you want to get anywhere in life, you need to have good friends around you”. A humble, honest and very down to earth guy.

None of these examples are life shattering, and again are simply my own recent reflections. But as I start to look out for that which is most important, and prioritise it, my perspective shifts. Celebrating my friends, and seeking to be a good friend, are aspects of life that are well worth protecting.

 

 

 

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