It was the worst of times, it was the best of times

Please forgive me. I’ve taken a little literary licence with this blog title; a play on the opening line to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

For those who haven’t read it, it’s a novel about Dickens’ belief in the possibility of resurrection and transformation, both on a personal and on a societal level.  Timely, as Easter is known as a time of resurrection and renewal in the Christian church.

And that’s where my thoughts are right now. Easter weekend 2020. Everyone’s lives turned upside down by COVID-19.

No travel, no socialising, no camping, no family get-togethers. None of us could have imagined at Christmas this situation we now find ourselves in. Lives, jobs, businesses, families, dreams … all changed. And neither the virus nor the imposed restrictions discriminate. We are all in the same boat.

So how do we find the positives in our everyday lives? What good is going to come out of this? We are all going to be changed – forever. The world cannot go back to its former ‘normal’.

I can obviously only speak for me, and what I see in my life. What I’m noticing though is that the electronic devices and social media platforms, that for so long now have been a barrier to old-fashioned social interaction, are being used to bring people together once more.

My workplace has the majority of staff working from home. Productivity has improved and people are having to communicate better. We use Zoom to get together for Friday drinks which lowers the feeling of isolation for those who live alone.

I haven’t been able to see my 86 year-old mother in over a month. However, we talk every day, and on the weekends we FaceTime. The ability to see each other as we talk means that we really feel as if we’ve spent quality time together, and we can read the body language to pick up on how we’re both doing emotionally.

My girlfriends and I have 4 o’clock Happy Hour on a Saturday using Zoom. We take the time to put on makeup, earrings and a nice top, and have a great laugh over a couple of glasses of wine.

There are a number of us who went to school together following a friend’s virtual trip of the UK. As they couldn’t actually travel she is posting daily on Facebook where they would have been and what they would have done, complete with photos of the location. It’s a fun journey, especially as I know some of the locations so well.

I’d really love to hug my daughters right now and tell them that my generation will leave the world a better place for them. They are both productively working from home and we communicate regularly.

It does seem like the worst of times.

My heart goes out to so many right now. Those who have lost loved ones. Those who are restricted to home, when home is not a safe place for them. Politicians worldwide who look tired and drawn. Those whose businesses will never bounce back. Bushfire victims who lost everything just 3 short months ago. They all need our support and love now more than ever.

I give gratitude for our amazing medical staff, and their support services, who are treating the sick and putting their own lives on the line every day. We don’t know when we are going to come out of this, we’re all unsure, and we will be paying for the economic stimulus for many years to come.

But it could also be the best of times.

Really tuning in to what others need. Neighbours supporting each other. True connection between people. The incredible, and very rapid, improvement to worldwide air quality due to a reduction in cars on the road and planes in the air.

The crystal clear canals in Venice after only one week of shut-down. Rapidly pivoting business models. Science moving quickly to find a vaccine. Time to read a book when ‘being busy’ used to be worn like a badge of honour. Societal, economic and mathematical modelling on which to predict, plan for and eliminate another threat like this, or worse, in the future.

Let’s work together to turn this into the best of times for the future. We can do it. This is our world, we are intelligent thinking and feeling beings. We can choose to be positive, optimistic and yes, even happy, and spread that energy outwards to those who need us to uplift them.

As the Buddha said, ‘Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.’

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash 

How much time have I got?

Time.  It’s one of the greatest equalisers.  We all get the same 24 hours per day, and what we choose to do with it is largely up to us.  It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, how rich or poor you are, an hour is 60 minutes and it never changes.

There has been a shift over the last few years in how people relate to their use of time and how they communicate about it. 

For instance, there was a time when people wore their busy-ness like a badge of honour.  Too busy to socialise or get home to spend time with the family.  Too busy to take a holiday.  Too important to not be checking emails and taking phone calls when sitting in a café.  Checking the phone last thing at night, and first thing in the morning.

But the mindfulness, health and wellness movement has made us start to rethink this attitude.  And it is just that – an attitude. 

Most communications will wait.  If someone needs you urgently, they will find a way to get your attention. 

Arianna Huffington has made it her mission to get people to stop sleeping with electronic devices in the bedroom.  And she knows first-hand the consequences of trying to beat time.  Working 18 hour days to start the Huffington Post website, she passed out from exhaustion, breaking her cheekbone and cutting above her eye on her desk on the way to the floor, waking up alone in a pool of blood.

This was a wake-up call for Arianna, and she has used her influence and experience to share with the world the importance of balance, wellness and taking time for yourself.

In December Kirk Douglas (of ‘I am Sparticus!’ fame) turned 103 years old.  This is a remarkable life-span, and it got me thinking over my Christmas break.  If I live to be his age (and why shouldn’t I?) then I still have 41 years left.  That’s the same length of time since my 21st birthday, and I was really only growing up and coming of age until that time.  It seems like so long ago.

So I began to reflect on some of the things I have achieved and learned in the past 41 years.  Some stand-outs to date:

  • Traveling half way around the world to begin life in another country
  • Meeting the man I have spent the last 40 years with
  • Saving enough money to buy our first house
  • Returning to Australia with a very English husband and two babies
  • Bringing up our two girls to be strong and successful women
  • Having a number of different and interesting jobs
  • Learning to use computers, the internet, social media
  • Studying for a degree for 6 years while working full-time and bringing up children
  • Being there for my mum since my father died
  • Making and losing friends and still knowing people that I met when I was five
  • Buying and selling properties, moving many times, upsizing and now downsizing
  • Traveling to and holidaying in many interesting locations (but I’m nowhere near done yet).

So whilst I know that many people my age think that they are in their twilight years, the reflection process above has me knowing that I potentially have so much time still stretching ahead of me.  I want to use this time to continue to learn, make friends, have fun, travel, work, contribute and share my happiness.

And if I don’t have that much time, and none of us know how much we have, then I will already be living each day to the fullest.  No complaints about being too busy.  No neglecting happiness to focus on achieving.  No ignoring quiet time or important interactions to check emails.  No putting rest or relaxation on hold to do what seems urgent but not important.

I urge you to do a stocktake of some of your great achievements to date and things you still want to achieve.  Make the most of every day.  Find happiness in the little things.  Relish the time stretching ahead, but never take it for granted. 

And remember, no one ever said on their death-bed ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office’.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Goodbye 2019

It’s 31 December 2019. Last day of the year. Some are saying (most actually) that it’s the last day of the decade.

Tomorrow, 2020 rolls in. So many strategic plans are based on this milestone year that’s coming.

Often the analogy of 20/20 vision is played up. I’m going with the crowd, railing against my sensibilities, and looking at tomorrow as being the beginning of a new decade. I imagine that we’ll call it “the 20’s”.

I was working in the government technology space when we all held our breath and welcomed in the year 2000. So much money was spent expecting the worst. Nothing happened. No planes dropped out of the sky. Computers still booted up at 12.01am on 1 January 2000. The electronic world kept turning.

2010 was ushered in without any panic or fanfare. New decade? So what. It’s been an interesting 10 years and we all now have access to so much information; more social media, a variety of communication channels, immediate access to entertainment, vicariously living through other people’s insta stories.

But 2020 seems to hold so much more promise. There is a growing movement of people who are, I believe, more socially aware. There may be more media at our fingertips and the anonymity of the internet. Many of us are becoming more cognisant of the need to limit our time on it, and to hold back on the nastiness, remembering that we need to walk in another’s shoes before criticising them.

In the media there is more awareness of diversity and difference and the need to hold to strong values human decency.

We can buy more stuff, more easily. We don’t even need to leave the safety of our own home to purchase. But there is a growing movement of minimalists that are influencing many of us to think twice before buying more things. And to sort through what we already have, dividing it into what we need, what brings us joy, and what we can discard. Recycle. Upcycle. Donate. Opshop.

Houses are growing larger and many first time buyers are critiscised for wanting bigger and better. But at the same time this is balanced out by the tiny house movement. Those who have chosen to down-size their lives and their environmental footprint, and loving the freedom that it brings.

And me? I’m going into 2020 with a huge sense of gratitude for the life that I have been blessed with. The past decade has brought many ups and downs for me and my family, as it will have done for everyone.

I lost a job that I loved and thought I would have until retirement. I’ve moved house (and subsequently downsized) 3 times. I lost my dad and had to help my mum move and get used to life on her own, finding her own unique form of independence. I’ve lost friends and supported people through their own heartaches.

But on the upside, I’ve some great people in my life. I’ve had amazing trips both overseas and within Australia, and the life-changing experiences that travel brings.

I’ve watched my daughters blossom into strong, independent and talented women.

I’ve forged a new career in the private sector and had some big wins.

I’ve met new and interesting people who have taught me great lessons.

I started this blog and my website Achieving Happiness last year because I realised that we try to teach life lessons like leadership and mindfulness, but sometimes people just want some pointers on how to be happier, everyday. I’ve found new authors, bloggers and influencers who inspire me.

And I am basically happier and healthier than I have ever been in my life.

I see 2020 as the doorway into a new decade full of promise. There is so much to be thankful for, and whilst I am aware of some of the weighty issues that we currently face worldwide, I believe that if there is a tsunami of positive energy, we can turn the tide.

Happiness is more than just slapping a smile on your face and pretending that everything is okay.

It is a core belief that the optimistic and positive thoughts of the many can overcome the negativity of those who will just ride the wave of the attitudes of the pessimists.

Be thoughtful and be kind. It will come back to you.

I hope you have had a good year and a good decade and that you are also going into 2020 feeling positive about your future. Happy New Year!

Credit: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Happiness Advent Calendar

I want to put this disclaimer up front because I know that Christmas is a Christian holiday, and not everyone celebrates it.  But this is not about Christmas per se, it’s about daily things that you can do from the first to the twenty-fifth of December.

It’s the end of the year and all around me people are just hanging out for the Christmas break, or end of year holidays, to rest and recharge before starting 2020.  But there is still more than three weeks to go as businesses knuckle down to get work done before the break, and people start the preparations for that one day that some of us celebrate as Christmas.

So I thought it might help to keep your happiness levels up if for the month of December I give you a list of things to do for yourself on a daily basis, sort of like the chocolates that children are opening out of Advent Calendars. 

Start on the first of December and my sincere hope is that this will take you through to Christmas Day, uplifted and optimistic for the year ahead.

1. You have to be number ONE in your world and look after yourself so that you have the strength and resilience to care for others.  Take time today to do something just for you.  Write it down in the morning and check it off tonight.

2. Reach out to two people in your world today with a phone call, email or hand-written letter.  Make it about them, not about you.

3. Write down three things that you are grateful for today.

4. Do four minutes of stretching exercises – calves, stretch and reach for the ceiling, bend forward aiming for the floor (or your knees, or your toes). 

5. Take five minutes today in the silence to close your eyes and focus on your breath.  Don’t force the thoughts out of your head.  You are human so they will keep coming.  Just gently guide your thoughts back to focusing on your breath – in and out.

6. Read six pages of a book – either fiction or non-fiction.  Try to make sure it is uplifting, or that it will capture your imagination to think outside of your normal life.

7. Take time at the end of today to focus on one really good thing that has happened today.  Journal about it. 

8. Aim to get eight hours of sleep tonight.

9. If you have a sedentary job, or life, make sure you get up and walk around at least once an hour today.

10. Drink at least two litres of water today.

11. Now that you have taken time to do the last 10 days, take the time today to write down what difference this discipline has made in your day.

12. Eat whatever foods you want today, but only eat until you are 75% full.

13. Go through the entire day today without complaining about anything.  Look to see the good in every situation.

14. Carve out just thirty minutes today to go for a walk.  Look around you.  Take in the scenery as if you are seeing it for the first time.

15. Practice the Ritz-Carlton 10/5 Rule today.  If you are within 10 feet of someone, make eye contact and smile at them.  If you are within 5 feet, smile and say hello.

16. Declutter something in your life – your office, your bedroom, a cupboard, your magazine rack.  Get rid of what you don’t want or need.  It is holding you back.

17. Donate some money to a charity of your choice today.  December is a really tough month for this industry.  You can do it online.

18. Perform a random act of kindness today.  You do not need to know the receiver.  Just do something nice for someone.  It doesn’t have to cost money.

19, Actively stay off, or minimise your use of, social media and electronic devices today. Don’t touch devices for two hours before you go to bed, and do not sleep with them in your room.

20. Start to think about your Ikigai (see Lesson 3) by asking yourself today, and writing it down, these four things – What do I love?  What am I good at?  What can I be paid for?  What does the world need?

21. Do not watch, listen to or read any news today.  It has been proven that people consuming just three minutes of news in the morning are 27% more likely to report a bad day at work, 6 to 8 hours later in the evening. 

22. Take the time to reflect on your past week, and set some goals around how you want to see this week unfold.  Write these thoughts down.

23. Go to one of those shops with gift trees for children who will get nothing on Christmas day.  Buy a gift to leave under the tree.

24. Work on your personal discipline by doing something different today.  If you don’t normally make your bed – make it.  If you eat the same every day – choose something healthy or vegan or drink tea instead of coffee.  Discipline is like a muscle that will strengthen by putting it under stress.

25. Celebrate today by you having had the discipline to follow through on this list for the past 24 days.  You have done well. 

I hope that you have found some things that you will continue to do into the New Year. 

It is my wish that you have a wonderful day, no matter what you are doing, and that you are kind to yourself.  You deserve it.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

To Read or Not to Read…that is the question

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

I am a consummate reader.

I come from a family of readers. My husband comes from a family of readers. Our children had their own library cards long before they were even enrolled in school. It must run in the family.

My brother and I went to the local library (in our pyjamas I’m ashamed to admit) with Dad every Monday night when he came home from work, while Mum was making the dinner. Once we had chosen our books we went and played on the swings until Dad had enough to get him and Mum through the week.

Now I have another confession. I currently have five books on the go. Four are hard copies and one is electronic. And not one of them is a murder mystery, a Russian classic, a biography or one of Oprah’s bookclub short-list, which are genres that I love. I generally keep these for holidays or over my Christmas break.

Some of the authors in the first two favourite genres are David Baldacci, Lynda La Plante, Clive Cussler, Tolstoy, Doestoevsky (don’t you love how the classical writers only need a surname). But frankly, I’ll read anything.

As a child, when the cereal were on the breakfast table, I would have read every word on the back of the box. Before smart phones, if I was stuck in the car waiting for something, I’d pull the car manual out of the glove box and read that.

I love the quote credited to Mark Twain in “Thoughts on the Business of Life” section of Forbes magazine in 1948,

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them”.

But is my retention top notch? I have to say no. We’ve just been watching the Netflix docuseries “Inside Bill’s Brain: Bill Gates Decoded” and Bill has a satchel with 24 books in it at all times, which he carts around with him. He reads 50 books a year, and he puts me to shame with a whopping 90% retention rate.

Now I fail to understand why Bill (excuse my familiarity but I feel like I know him so much better now) carts the actual books around with him when he could have one device with thousands of books at his fingertips. These days I have books on my iPhone and my iPad, just in case I’m waiting for someone or something and I want to read.

I also have a Kindle Paperwhite, which I love. If I can’t sleep I can read without having to turn a light on, and without the further disruption to sleep that comes from regular electronic devices. I don’t know what it is that Kindle did, but there is no further sleep deprivation when using a Paperwhite.

The downside for a booklover? It takes approximately five seconds to search on a new book title, and less than one second to hit the purchase button. Then voila! New book to read in less time than it takes to say the word ‘download’.

What I am currently reading? Here’s the current five and there is a reason for all of them, which is more what I wanted to share.

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle. [paperback]
Gifted to me at Christmas and recommended to me by a couple of people, the contents are important to what I am trying to achieve in my job.
[on Kindle]

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. [paperback]
We just did the 24 lessons of Masterclass with Malcolm. He was in our lounge for many evenings and he now feels like a friend. He is one of the most fascinating and intelligent people I’ve come across, and I just love the way he thinks and expresses himself. I’m listening to his podcast, Revisionist History, in the car. I’ve listened to him interviewed by Oprah and Russel Brand. Obsessed? Perhaps a little.
[on Kindle]

Before Happiness by Shawn Achor. [paperback]
It was Shawn who got me started on my Achieving Happiness journey, and his books are always going to have a place on my bed-side table.
[on Kindle]

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. [paperback]
This is the one I’m reading on my Kindle and I love Brené’s work. I have read many of her books, (five #1 New York Times bestsellers) but this one distils much of her research into actionable steps, ones that I want to get good at. It is about how you cultivate braver, more daring leaders and how to embed the value of courage in an organisation’s culture.
[on Kindle]

The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling. [paperback]
This book only arrived last week and I am like a junkie trying to resist the strongest urge. I have read the back cover, the testimonials and the Foreword. I absolutely know that this book is just what I have been looking for to solve a complex problem that I have. I know that 4DX is going to be part of my vocabulary. It promises to teach me how to achieve superb results. How could I resist!

Do you have the same issues as me?

What are you currently reading?

I must sign off now, as I can hear too many authors calling my name.

When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus.

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Appreciate Your Good Health

Photo by Rachel Barkdoll on Unsplash

I’ve spent some time this week reflecting on whether you can be happy when your body is not in the best of health. Logically it seemed to me that you can’t be.

Most of us are miserable when we have a cold or flu, and I’ve always claimed that if I’d had morning sickness with my first child then the second would never have been conceived.

However, the evidence does not support my initial thoughts.

There is a lot of evidence to show that terminally ill people can be happy and contented. Think of photos of children who have lost their hair to the brutal treatment for cancer, who are smiling in photos and show kindness to each other, their families and the staff who care for them.

There are adults who battle through enormous illness, focussing instead on the good days, the people in their lives and the gifts that they have been blessed with.

I shared a house for two years with an amazing woman with cystic fibrosis.

She spent a lot of time in the first year in and out of hospital and in the second year was waiting for a lung transplant. During that year she was away for many months when a set of donor lungs that were a match for her finally became available.

Never once did she complain, bitch or whinge. I never saw her sad or annoyed – even after one false alarm where she was fully prepped for surgery and they decided she was not a match. Not when she was unable to work for months, play sport (competition softball) or go for a walk. She never complained. She was always happy.

I only found out 18 months later that they had given her only weeks to live when the transplant finally took place.

This week she was part of the softball team that won the Queensland Cup. She played 8 games over 3 days. She said that the game is not the best part for her, it’s the memories of friendship and fun that she loves the most. She is one special person.

I give thanks constantly for my better than optimal health. I see a GP less than my regular check-ups at the dentist, ophthalmologist and for skin cancer. I do not take this for granted. I take no medication and I embrace gentle exercise and healthy eating.

The regular check-ups are invaluable in making sure everything is in tip top working order, and it amazes me that for 61 years my heart has kept up a regular beat and my lungs keep pulling in the oxygen I need.

This week I had my ego and confidence tested when I had 2 skin cancers removed – one from the top of my chest and one from my temple. Both pretty visible, and both (right now at least) pretty ugly. I was also proudly sporting a new, spring hairdo when I went and I wasn’t even phased when the surgeon took his clippers my hairline.

Not at all phased. Not disappointed. Not sad. Not negative. Not hiding away. (Personally I feel sorry for the people who have to look at me currently, but no one has complained!)

I am totally grateful for our fantastic health system that allows me to deal with issues when they arise. I am grateful for the fantastic surgeon who should get awards for the incredible stitch-work he does when he operates, knowing that in a year there will be no sign of the scarring.

I give thanks for everything that has been made available to me up to now, so that I feel good about the process and the healing.

But I do want leave you with this. Go and get regular health checks. Be proactive with your health. And most importantly, have your skin checked and never ignore even the smallest signs that something is out of whack with your body. Arresting something early can be a life-saver.

Letter To My 21 Year-Old Self

photo by Erwan Hesry

Forty years ago this month I was preparing to go off on what I thought at the time was the biggest adventure of my life. 

As milestones often do, this has prompted me to reflect on what I would tell my younger self if I could write myself a letter and mail it back in time, given the benefit of hindsight.

Born in England to parents who migrated to Australia when I was five, I grew up in this beautiful country without grandparents to visit on the weekend, or cousins, aunts or uncles to share Christmas with. 

Plenty of my school friends had these relatives, so I knew what I was missing.  The result was that even before I hit my teenage years I had a longing to connect with my country of birth and the many relatives that I knew about from my parent’s stories, letters exchanged and ‘important day’ phone calls shared.

This absence of relatives and longing for England does not mean that I had an unhappy childhood.  Far from it.  But I think what it did was it gave me a goal.  A life goal.  I knew that when I was old enough to travel I would go, and I had a sense of independence that I would go on my terms, not as part of a family holiday.

Fast forward to my 21st year, when I had not only the ticket to go but also a best friend to travel with.  However, the circumstances at that time were not perfect. 

Firstly there were some serious problems in my family that threatened to block my plans to leave home.  Then, with six months to go and savings to bolster, the company I worked for closed down. I had no foreseeable prospects for work and a gaping hole in my planned budget.

Looking back, I don’t ever remember wallowing in self-pity. I was positive that this trip was going to transpire.  I do remember my determination to get another job and to honour both the ticket that I had and the goal that was burning inside of me. 

The prospect of the dream I had carried in my heart for so many years was too strong for any negativity to steal it away.  I did get another job for the six months.  I did save money.  My family did support my strong desire to leave. 

Even a serious car accident coming home from my last day at work, only days before departure, did nothing to get in the way of my goal. 

So what would I write to my 21 year old self today about what she thought was the most exciting adventure of her life? Here is a list of just some of my thoughts.

1. Life itself is a great adventure.  Enjoy each day as if it is the greatest gift you have ever been given.

2. Do not let anyone or any set back destroy your dreams, goals or visions for your life.

3. Just because you have achieved this goal, do not rest on your laurels thinking everything you set out to do will work out how you expect.  Sometimes the universe has a different plan for you.

4. Experiences are worth so much more than possessions, gold, money and ‘stuff’.

5. People and relationships are precious – treat them as such.  But if they are not supporting you, your happiness or your well-being, you may have to love them and let them go.

6. The journey of 12,000 miles will take you to meet the love of your life and the best friend ever that you could share that life with.  Keep your eyes peeled for that person.

7. Life is not always going to be smooth sailing.  You will not move forward if there is no wind in your sails.  You have to be prepared to dance when times are great, and hunker down and look for the lessons when they are not.

8. Learn from your mistakes.  They are part of the school of life.   Do not punish yourself.

9. If you don’t learn some lessons the first time around, they will keep coming and knocking at your door.

10. Focus on the positive more than the negative.

11. Be grateful for the blessings in your life.  If you’re not sure what they are, start to write them down.

12 . If you live in the moment and you are optimistic about your plans for the future, then you will live a long and happy life.

As I flew off in 1979 for a 12 month working holiday, who would have ever guessed it would take me 8 years to return with a husband and two beautiful daughters, and that I would have the platform through which to tell that story today?

What is Habit Stacking?

We all have habits built up over our lifetime. How many do you have? 

Don’t immediately go to the bad ones because we all have habits in our daily lives, both good and bad.  You know what the bad ones are, and yours will be different to mine.  But what about the good ones? 

Those things that you do every day without even thinking about it.  Cleaning your teeth, making the bed, setting an alarm, showering.  You’ve done these things for so long that you no longer have to think about them, you just do them.

This week I was reading Arianna Huffington’s blog in Thrive Global on gratitude, a subject very dear to my heart (as is Arianna I have to tell you).  She and I share a habit that I would encourage anyone to introduce into their lives, and that is to journal the things that you are grateful for in your life. 

Gratitude shares the same Latin root – gratus – as the word ‘grace’.  So I would suggest that if you want to live a life of grace, then being aware on a daily basis of what you are grateful for, and journaling it so that the emotion is captured as you write it down, is a good place to start. 

Being grateful for what you have, what you see and what you experience are relatively easy though.  Being grateful for what you would like in your life before you have it, or for the little things rather than the grandiose, or for the lessons being learned in the stressful times, is a much more difficult exercise.  But it is a habit that can reap great benefits.

Gratitude researchers Dr Robert Emmons and Dr Michael McCullough, in their book The Psychology of Gratitude, share their findings of studying two groups of people over the course of several weeks. 

Group One wrote down things they were grateful for and Group Two recorded the things that annoyed them on a daily basis.  At the end of the study the findings were recorded through weeks of surveying both groups. 

Not only were Group One participants more optimistic about their lives, their interpersonal relationships improved and they recorded fewer visits to the doctor. 

To me this supports the saying that you become what you think about all day long.  If you are thinking graciously about your life, giving thanks for your circumstances and the people in it, then you will see and experience good. 

Even better, if you show gratitude to someone else, then you are doubling the blessing.  But if you are focussed on aggravations and grievances, then I believe you are going to keep drawing more of those to you.

But what does all this have to do with the title of today’s blog? 

It’s quite simple really.  Those habits that I reminded you about in the opening, the things that you have learned to do over the course of your lifetime that you now take for granted.  The more you do them, the better you become at them as a result of your brain building strong networks of neurones to support the behaviour.  Habit-stacking just takes advantage of those connections, building new habits into your life by attaching them to existing habits.

So, here is a way to start adding gratitude into your life. 

Each night or morning while you are cleaning your teeth (existing habit) name in your head three things that you are grateful for (desired habit).  Do it for three weeks.  Then reflect on how your general well-being, health, emotional reactions and optimism have improved through habit-stacking.

I challenge you after three weeks, if you do this every day, you will be feeling happier and grateful for the experience.  And remember, after 21 days this should have become a habit in itself. 

After that, start to write down those three things that you are grateful for and see the exponential improvements in your well-being.

Robert Emmons, Ph.D., and Michael McCullough, Ph.D., The Psychology of Gratitude

Steve Scott  Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve your Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Your Reason for Being

Death is one of the only certainties in life (and they say taxes are the other). How long each of us has before we eventually are taken by this certainty is one of the greatest mysteries we face.

In these two things we are all equal; no matter our birthright, how much money we have amassed or to what higher being we pray to.

Where we are not all equal is how we choose to live the life we have been given. Are you living your life with purpose? Do you know what your reason for being is?

The Japanese have a word for this ‘reason for being’ – Ikigai. ‘Iki’ = life and ‘gai’ = purpose or value.

Specifically in Okinawa the people refer to it as their reason to get up in the morning, which Dan Buettner suggests in his book “Blue Zones” to be the reason why they live long lives of purpose. They do not have a desire to retire and they work well into old age in jobs that bring them pleasure.

As the diagram shows, Ikigai is the nexus of you doing what you are good at, what you love, what the world needs and what you can be paid for. If you think about these four objectives and you believe that you can tick each box, then surely you will feel happy about your lot in life.

The ease of doing what you love and being able to pay your bills with some disposable income is surely the desire of many.
I’ve always been fascinated about the choices people make about the fields in which to study, forge a career or commit to a job. How is it that one person decides to be a dentist, whilst another loves numbers and goes into finance?

Then there are those who make our lives so much easier by being happy to earn a living cleaning, collecting garbage, driving large delivery trucks, upholding the law, putting their lives on the line to fight fires.

We are also blessed with gifted people who bring beauty and art into our lives through fashion, dance, music, art and sculpture. How magical is a world where all the things that need to be done are covered off by people who chose a path in life, forge new entrepreneurial endeavours or randomly fall into a profession?

But what fascinates and delights me the most is the attitude that individuals take into their work, no matter what that work may be. I’ve met people earning minimum wage who take their happy attitude to work with them every day, and share their enthusiastic demeanour with all those whose lives they touch. And on the flip side, I’ve met many earning more money than they can spend who are unhappy, dissatisfied, anxious and depressed.

On a podcast I was listening to recently Oprah Winfrey was relating a story of her early days in television in Chicago. On her drive into work one morning she saw someone walking toward the studio wearing the uniform of the janitorial crew.

She stopped and offered the older gentleman a lift as she was going in the same direction. He gladly accepted, and as they drove they got talking. He explained that he had worked on the cleaning crew for the studio for many years, so Oprah asked him how he enjoyed his job. “Oh, I love working in television” he told her.

What an attitude! What a delightful way to view a job that many people would consider themselves too good for. How many professionals, finding themselves made redundant or facing a downturn in their industry, would consider working in retail, driving a cab, serving in hospitality, or cleaning someone else’s premises?

Do you carry your attitude into the workplace with you? If you do then I hope it is a good one, because the world is relying on all of us to uplift each other.

What is your Ikigai? I hope that you find it.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

If you can’t make a commitment to yourself…

Who can you make one to?

Have you worn out your willpower trying to make changes in your life that just never seem to stick? Do you find old, destructive habits hard to break and have difficulty forming positive habits? If so, you just need a new strategy.

Once you find what it is, I am convinced that you can be more optimistic about your life.

I’m really fortunate that I am a born finisher.  It’s not something that I’ve worked on – it must just be part of my DNA.  If I start something you can pretty much bet on the fact that I will stay with it until either I know it’s time to let it go, it doesn’t work for me anymore, or it’s done and finished.

So, you might ask, how do I know when it’s time?  Well, finished is finite.  It either is or it isn’t.  But the other two above need a decision that is often hard to make, and I do wrestle with guilt and feelings of failure.  I’ll give you two examples of this. 

The first is that since childhood I have wanted to play the piano.  My father was an excellent, part-time musician when I was growing up, and he played until he was well into his seventies.  My mother was a trained soprano singer.  I do not have a musical bone in my body. I have owned 2 pianos and have had lessons at a number of different times in my adult life.  I have practiced diligently.  I can play Fur Elise.

But I have given up trying as I know that the piano and I are never going to be comfortable with each other.

The second thing I have wanted to do is speak French.  I learned in school for a year.  I did two years daily with Duolingo, an online app. I’ve done two semesters of lessons and I have been to France and tried my best on multiple occasions.  I love France so much that I will never give up trying, but I have resigned myself to the fact that I am not linguistically gifted.  I am also convinced that talent in music and languages are related.

What I am getting at here is that I do not want for willpower.  I have it in spades.  I have done all the diets there is to do and had good use out of gym memberships.  But once I get to my goal I see it as finished, and we all know that good eating and exercise is a lifestyle choice that is never finished.

I find it easy to make a commitment to myself, but I know that this is hard for some people  Maybe they are the ones fluent in multiple languages who, after a tough day at work, pour themselves a scotch and sit and play Chopin to relax.

I wanted to share with you a concept that I used years ago to get up in the morning and go for a walk, but had no idea someone decades later would name it. 

So that I could not talk myself into staying in bed in the morning because I couldn’t be bothered finding my exercise gear, I used to put it with my joggers right down beside my bed at night so that in the morning I had to actually step over them and put them away again if I didn’t use them.  It was just easier, and did not waste the effort of getting them out, to actually go for a walk.

Enter the 20-Second Rule. Shawn Achor in his book “The Happiness Advantage” has listed this as a principal to help people become happier and more successful by eliminating bad habits and forming new, productive ones. 

For me, the 20 seconds of effort it would take to get my exercise clothes out in a morning was eliminated, and the 20 seconds it would take to guiltily return them to their drawers if unworn was too much to bear. 

Shawn’s example was playing the guitar.  He knew that he would get good at it if he just practiced, but that meant removing it from a cupboard.  So he decided to stand it in the corner of the room – 20 seconds saved and a new habit forming.

There are many things you can do to change your life by changing your habits.  A quote often attributed to Aristotle is

“To be excellent we cannot just think or feel excellent, we must act excellently.”

Action is the key, but action is often hard.  So the 20-Second Rule can assist in helping you to make a commitment to yourself to act to change your habits.  Here are some suggestions:

  • If you are working on a computer and don’t want distractions – turn off notifications.
  • Want to be more active?  Remove the batteries from the TV remote and force yourself to get up to change the channel.
  • Want to lift weights to get good-looking, summer-ready arms?  Put the weights where you can trip over them.
  • Want to save money by not buying lunch every day? Make up 5 to-go lunch packs on a Sunday.  Also, healthy eating choices are easier if you only shop for healthy food.
  • Always late for work because you can’t decide what to wear in the morning? Lay out your clothes the night before.
  • Can’t get out of bed and go to the gym? You’re going to love this one – sleep in your exercise clothes.
  • Too many choices?  What to wear, what to eat, which exercise to do?  Streamline – eliminate the choices – pick one and act.

It’s like riding a bike, tying your shoelaces, learning to walk.  You couldn’t do it until you tried, failed, tried and then tried again.