In this day and age, there’s a lot of talk about mindfulness and positive thinking. And to be honest it gets on my nerves. A friend recently introduced me to a ‘meditation guru’ whose classes she had been attending and within five minutes of meeting me (in a social setting), he proceeded to dole out unsolicited life advice as to how I could strive to live a ‘happier’ life and always put a positive spin on life’s disappointments. “For example,” he said. “I just heard you complaining about not getting that job you went for. Instead of complaining, you should instead say how lucky you are to be given this positive learning experience.” It was all I could do to smile back through gritted teeth and not deck him.
After my indignant rage at this guy’s arrogance and pomposity had subsided, it got me to thinking just precisely what it was about his words that had got me so riled up. Yes, it’s important to count one’s blessings and to see the positive wherever possible, but as human beings, I don’t believe a perpetual state of happiness and gratitude is obtainable nor indeed desirable. I think it’s much healthier to accept and manage our black moods and bad days and just ride them out like a patch of bad weather. Over the years I’ve learned to embrace my own ‘inner-trolls’ rather than assume a rictus grin and try and force a Pollyanna-type attitude on myself and everyone else. Sorry Mr. Meditation Guru (is what I should have said at the time…) that’s just not me. Yes I’m highly-strung and I get easily wound up, but I’m also caring, compassionate and creative and think on the whole, it’s a fair trade-off.
But on the other hand, although we’re perfectly entitled to be cheesed off every now and again, I also think we should be careful not to fall into the trap of ‘living in your head’ – as many of us tend to do, myself included. It’s an unhealthy habit – like junk food and a sedentary lifestyle – which we should try and curb if it gets out of hand. Here’s an example: during a sunny Sunday when I could be relaxing in the park, I’ll go on social media and compare myself to others who started out in the industry at the same time as me and are now hot shot editors/entrepreneurs etc (FYI, the excellent Lucy Sheridan has created a whole business based around the effects of social media on our self-esteem). Then I’ll wonder why my pitch to so-and-so got ignored, or why the waitress in the coffee shop down my road never bothers to make eye contact with me and why my housemate at university back in 2003 was so cruel, and so on, ad nauseam.
Bitterness, anger and inherited persecution complexes are somewhat endemic in my family – resulting in broken relationships, thwarted ambitions and people blaming everyone else but themselves. Living in our heads and ‘over-thinking’ people’s actions and past situations, we can drive ourselves round the bend and nothing is achieved. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and before you know it, you’re on a downward spiral of anger and negativity. Although there are always going to be those tough times when nothing seems to be going right (and professional help may be needed if things become unbearable), here are a few tips to get out of your head and live in the now.
This is the most important one for me and why I choose to exercise in the morning when those nagging negative voices are at their loudest. Jumping on a spinning bike or heading out for a run, focusing on the here and now (i.e. how I’m going to make it through the next two-minute sprint without dying of exhaustion) lulls me into a ‘happy tiredness’ which, coupled with a boost of endorphins is enough to make all of those lingering worries fade into obscurity. Yoga is also a brilliant way to de-stress – just the act of slowing down and focusing on your movements and balance forces you to live in the ‘now’ and not in your head.
Spend time around inspiring people
Certain people have a wonderful calming aura about them, while others can merely drag us down. Although we try and be there for our friends who seem to be perpetually unhappy, it’s important not to make yourself a dumping ground for others’ emotional baggage.
Take on a new project
Channeling your energies into creative and intellectual pursuits leaves little time to dwell on negativity. Whether it’s beginning the book you’ve always wanted to write, joining a reading group, taking a part-time course or starting up gardening, all are great ways to feel more in the present, and more productive.
Write a letter you’ll never send
Memories of people who have hurt you in the past, ex-partners, ex-bosses etc. can still torment us in the present. Writing a letter to them you won’t actually send, allows you to get all of your negative thoughts out into the open, it won’t change them or what happened, but it will change how you feel about the situation rather than having it playing over and over in your head like a broken record.
Perform random acts of kindness
Whether it’s giving up your seat for someone on the tube or having a chat with the person in the supermarket queue – even smiling at the arrogant lorry driver who has just cut you up – it’s amazing the positive effect being nice to strangers can have on your own well-being. It’s not about striving to be liked, but rather starting your day off on a positive note and putting yourself above, and out of reach, of the petty negativity that can ruin a day.
But if you are having a one of those tough days when none of the above works, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s not meant to be a quick-fix solution to a ‘happy life’ but it can take the edge off those tough times while you wait for the storm to pass. And it will pass – as my dear friend, entrepreneur and MBE Jessica Huie once remarked to me, “I sometimes crumble for a few days, but then I bounce back.” Or as Winston Churchill put it: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
And, before I sign off, if you have the time, this incredible little film on watching children cope with anger moved me beyond words. I hope it moves, and helps, you too.