Stoicism

tantrumUpon arriving home last night I expressed my absolute frustration to the husband about some random work orientated things. Expressed it clearly and precisely in words of one syllable. And I might have declared that I was so irked that I felt like acting like a child by throwing myself on the floor, having a stiff bodied tantrum, and a jolly good scream and shout.

(I’d had a VERY bad day at work.)

The obstacles we face in life sometimes make us emotional. The only way to overcome them is to keep those emotions in check. If we can “keep calm and carry on” then everything will be ok, right?

The ancient Stoics had a word for this state: apatheia.

Wiki describes it as follows: Apatheia (Greek: ἀπάθεια; from a- “without” and pathos “suffering” or “passion”) in Stoic philosophy refers to a state of mind where one is not disturbed by the passions. It is best translated by the word equanimity rather than indifference. The word apatheia has a quite different meaning to the modern English apathy, which has a negative connotation. According to the Stoics, apatheia was the quality that characterized the Sage.

Whereas Aristotle had claimed that virtue was to be found in the golden mean between excess and deficiency of emotion (metriopatheia), the Stoics sought freedom from all passions (apatheia). It meant eradicating the tendency to react emotionally or egotistically to external events – the things we cannot control. For the Stoics, it was the optimum rational response to the world, for we cannot control things that are caused by the will of others or by Nature; we can only control our own will.

(Every day is a school day, huh?)

The Stoics used contempt to lay things bare and “strip away the legend that encrusts them.”

Roasted meat is a dead animal. Vintage wine is old, fermented grapes. You get the idea?

We can do this for anything that stands in our way, seeing things as they truly, actually are, not as we’ve made them in our minds.

“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” — Viktor Frankl

We choose how we look at things.

What we must do is to limit and expand our perspective based on whatever will keep us calmest and most ready for the task at hand.

“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.” — Chuck Palahniuk

It doesn’t matter whether this is the worst time to be alive or the best, whether you’re in a good job market or a bad one. What matters right now is right now. Focus on the moment, on what you can control right now. Not what may or may not be ahead.

The reality is every situation, no matter how negative, provides us with a positive, exposed benefit we can act on, if only we look for it.

Remember: Every side has a flip side. The trick is seeing through the negative, past its underside, and to its corollary: the positive bits.

Another way of looking at it: Does getting upset provide you with more options?

Sometimes it does. And in this instance? No, not really.

(FYI – I didn’t throw myself on the floor and have a tantrum. I had a beer, chatted to the husband and played cards instead. Best choice.)

 

Home is where the heart is.

d25e6eac73427212e857488080ec5267So I’m doing the rounds at the moment, trying to raise some dosh as I’m running the London Marathon to raise money for a charity. It’s a charity that is near and dear to my heart, but something has stumped me since I started shaking my virtual bucket at people: the response I get when I tell people who I am raising money for.

I am running for Crisis – the national charity for single homeless people – and it’s the word homeless that appears to be a bit of a sticking point.

Homelessness has increased over the last three consecutive years, partly because of housing shortages and cuts to benefits, with an estimated 185,000 people a year now impacted in some way across England.

Research conducted in 2013 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Crisis highlighted that almost one in 10 people experience homelessness at some point in their life, with one in 50 experiencing it in the last five years. Rough sleeping rose in 2013 by 6% in England and 13% in London. This pushes the two-year increase in the capital to over 60%.

But these are all just numbers. Think about the words for a second. Stick the word homeless in Thesaurus and you get a plethora of alternatives: destitute, forgotten, outcast, exiled, refugee, vagrant, unwelcome…

None of these are what I would call *nice* descriptive words.

Homeless people don’t bear a name badge or a special marking to identify that they are of no fixed abode.  They are, in the main, just like me and you. They are human, and they thoughts, opinions and aspirations.  And feelings too.

But even if they were identified in some way would it really matter? Why do we – or rather society in general – treat them differently?

Over the last couple of months the UK has been battered by bad weather.  Record rainfall, record winds and record levels of damage are how we will remember the end of 2013 and the start of 2014.

But never fear. The powers that be have waded in (pardon the pun) to help the victims that have been affected by the floods. Money no object. Aces.

However, for the thousands of people who sleep rough on the streets every year in the UK, help is scarce and largely dependent on whether or not you meet a strict set of criteria.

To me it seems that we attach innocence to one group, and culpability to another.

One could say that culpability could easily be attached to the person that chose to live on a flood plain than to a soldier who, having served his country, has ended up incapable of dealing with the practicalities of life, alcoholic and homeless.

This would be ridiculous right? We cannot know the circumstances that led that person to live on that flood plain. So why do we make assumptions about what led that person to sleeping rough.

I don’t think we should prioritise one group above the other, I believe that we should be helping them both with equal understanding and energy.

http://www.justgiving.com/melbucks

Promises, promises…

second chance quotes“But they broke their promise.”

Words muttered at me by a friend. 

We all make promises. Give our word. State categorically that this will happen without fail.

We make promises with the best of intentions, on behalf of future selves that we believe will fulfill them.

And sometimes we break our promises.

Whether we deem a broken promise as something that is forgivable or as re-affirmation that nobody can ever be trusted will be determined by our past. In the moment many of us pay no heed to the minutiae of a specific situation, we simply apply hard and fast rules to the world, everyone around us, and how we believe people should behave.  One size doesn’t always fit all.

“How could they do that to me?”

Anyone who thinks that keeping a promise is simply doing what you said you would and nothing more is confusing it with a contract. The bare fact is that people often make unrealistic promises, based on wishful thinking, rather than carefully thinking a scenario through. Or they act impulsively.  Should they really be castigated for all time?

“How can I forgive them?”

Dealing with a broken promise, like most things in life, requires flexibility. We should think of promises not so much as binding contracts, but as acts of commitment and trust. When we promise to love, honour and obey, till death us do part etc. etc., we aren’t focused on the small print of the Marriage Act of 1949, but on communicating our intent to our loved one to do all we can to ensure that what we promise will come to pass.

Pragmatically, a promise shouldn’t be made unless there’s good reason to think it will be possible to keep it. But we are all human and therefore we are all fallible, so if with hindsight it becomes apparent that a promise couldn’t have been kept, then maybe we should accept that it doesn’t have to be forgiven?

We all deserve a second chance.

Keeping it real.

François-Guillaume Menageot.It seems to me as if we’ve changed our definition of what is real to accommodate an economy based on the currency of sharing. It’s an economy that seems to me to measure an event’s value by the number of likes and retweets it gets. An economy that changes the way we make decisions because we start to seek out the things that have the highest “share value”, while we shun the quiet, everyday activities that make up life.

As I graze through my Facebook feed at night, I munch on the extraordinary and exciting lives of others. A night on the tiles with the girls. A hike through the wilderness. A business meeting that came good. A birthday celebration. A funny thing someone’s kid said. And of course, the photos. The endless, happy photos of dancing, smiles, mountains, wine, travels, more wine, and lots and lots of babies. Everyone is having an amazing time in an amazing world.

Twitter shows me something slightly different. I see people bestowed with bucket loads of ambition and success, and I can’t help but envy them. Through Twitter I can see just how blinking smart everyone else is. And as inspirational as that is most of the time, I sometimes look at how high the bar seems to be set and then I just want to sit down and take some deep breaths for a while.

But everyone knows that’s not the whole story, of course. No one says “I’m lonely” on Twitter. No one uses Facebook to post their inner most thoughts on the state of their marriage or parenting issues or trouble at work or the future or the past. We all know it’s not real but we have to keep up the facade. If one of us were to break down, we would all lose the ability to believe we are who we pretend to be, and that’s not something we’re prepared to do.

So maybe it’s time for a change. Maybe it’s time to stop consuming so much of other people’s perfectly manicured public lives, and start living our own just that little bit more. I wonder what would happen if I measured the value of an activity not by how great the photo opportunity is, but by how much value it adds to who I’m with — my friends, family and loved ones.

I think I’m just worrying a bit that if I keep looking at my life through other people’s eyes, I might go blind to the things that really matter.

Mistakes. I’ve made a few…

mistakes

Back when I was a wee person, my parents warned me about this terrible thing called “making mistakes”. They talked about this a lot. They filled my head with all kinds of horror stories. They believed that as long as I did things with caution and care, and learned from other people’s blunders and faux pas, there was no need for mistakes to be made.

Whenever I did screw up – which face it, happens a lot when you’re a dustbin lid – I was chastised for not being vigilant, for not thinking things through, or for simply not listening when I was told (lectured) about the other people’s cock ups.

It goes without saying that I grew into an anxiety-ridden teenager, afraid of making even the tiniest mistake, and strove for perfection at every turn.

As they years whizzed past I came to realize two things. Firstly that I couldn’t keep clinging onto this really rather daft ideal. For one thing, I am not, never have been and damn well never will be perfect. No one is. It is a foolish mission. I am me. Perfectly imperfect. To go all-out for perfection at every turn will only guarantee failure.

And the other thing? Simples. Trying to avoid making mistakes is limiting. In order to avoid them I was also dodging trying new and different things.

My desire for perfection stemmed from my fear of being criticized, first by my parents, then by people in general. I associated making mistakes with being judged, rejected, and ridiculed, and carried that association with me as my own personal piece of luggage.

I believed that a mistake would lead to a major cats-after- me (catastrophe). If I chose poorly in terms of whom I befriended, surely that was indicative of my downward spiral into becoming a bad person. If I failed a test, surely that meant I would not do well at school and would ultimately end up destitute and on the streets.

That’s daft, right? Illogical beliefs are exactly that. Not logical. But that is the nature of the fear that drives perfectionism.

Time proved my beliefs wrong. I have had my share of questionable friends, and I have failed more than one test in my lifetime. The world did not end. I did not end up destitute, And I don’t live on the streets.

The fear of making mistakes develops and grows as we perceive other people’s reactions to our screw-ups. When my parents responded badly to me making a mistake I automatically frog marched myself to the conclusion that mistakes were a B_A_D thing.

But now I know that making mistakes can be a good thing. How else will you learn without screwing up?

Think about when you learned to walk. You were most probably really terrible at it, as was I, as was everyone in the world. Even after we tried walking for the twentieth time, we were still not very good at it. But babies haven’t learned negative associations with making mistakes. Can you imagine if babies were afraid of making mistakes? No one would ever learn to walk. No one would ever learn to tie shoelaces. No one would ever learn to read or write. Making mistakes is a learning experience. It’s how we grow and expand our horizons. It’s how we develop as people. Making mistakes is also part of the human condition. To be imperfect is to be human, and we can’t expect any more than that. 

So I make mistakes now. Some days I make more than others. I learn from them. And I’ve also got past the tendency to beat myself up after I’ve goofed. Gone are the days when I’d tell myself that I was an idiot, that I’d convince yourself that I’d let my friends and family down, torture myself with guilt, and think over and over again about how I’d screwed up.

Nowadays I interrupt that process by reminding myself that I’ve just had an ideal opportunity to learn something plonked in my lap. I work out what I’ve learned. I work out how I can apply it in the future. I remind myself that I’m human. That I am perfectly imperfect. Then I pat myself on the back for learning a new skill. Bravo Bucks!

Learn from my mistakes. They can be a good thing. Get past the fear. Do something new. It’s exciting. It’ll grasp you firmly by the seat of your pants. Promise :)

Going with the flow…

flowI kind of wrote this post to myself the other day (mentalist, I know) as I was getting annoyed by something. It was something that I desperately wanted to control but knew that I couldn’t…

It is futile to fight inevitability. Life is change; if we stop changing, we stop growing. Be pragmatic for a second: life is never going to go exactly the way that you want it to. Something is always waiting to crawl out of nowhere and nibble on your left buttock when you least expect it. The more that you attempt to make life go exactly your way, the more it will do its level best to do the opposite. Fact. 

I’m not saying you should quit making decisions and go whither the wind blows. We all have to make decisions, every single day. Much as we might hate to. But when we come up against something we have no control over, that we really really really don’t like, what should we do? We need to make a decision based on the change and our level of control. If it’s major and you have zero control, then be mindful that the more that you fight the worse it will become.

The only thing that you will gain from heaving your head repeatedly against a stone wall is a headache. The chance of you breaking down the wall is absolutely zero. Fact.

Continual resistance to a change that you cannot control will have a negative effect; on your health, your emotions and the people around you. Mark my words Bucks it will become the new obsession du jour. None of these reactions is going to alter what’s at the crux of the matter. 

It is better to recognise what you can change and what you cannot. If something has manifested in your life that you cannot change, then you must change instead. Be flexible. Learn to go with the flow, instead of always trying to swim upstream.

Is it something that you can learn to live with? How much does it actually impact your life? Can you adapt?

Don’t make things worse by being inflexible and angry.

We can only change ourselves. Other people are perfectly capable of making their own choice about whether or not they want to change themselves. And when. And how. Much as it may pain you, you cannot force someone else to change. Rather than experiencing that pain, wouldn’t it be better to let it go? Your pain is caused by your wish that things would be different. If they aren’t going to be, then you need to adapt.

Your life is as easy or as difficult as you decide to make it. And sometimes it is better to just go with the flow…

Push the button.

button

Something happened the other day – a throw away comment landed in my inbox – I thought about it for all of five minutes. And then wound myself up some more. And then a bit more. And then I decided that I was mad as wasps about the whole thing, and the only option was for me to take umbrage with said individual. Severe umbrage.

And it got me thinking about how best to deal with my ire. And the umbrage. Natch.

I’m no different to anyone else. There are certain situations and behaviours that really push my buttons. And we all have that *special* someone who seems to know exactly what to do or say to turn our calm demeanour into that of a raging lunatic on the inside, and sometimes even on the outside too. And I’m sure that I’m no different to anyone else in that I’ve tried different ways of dealing with those pushers of buttons – I’ve got angry. I’ve got resentful. I’ve had a word. I’ve kept quiet. And in some instances I’ve simply ignored them.

And, in the moment, some of these tactics work. However some of these strategies have made me hang onto my feelings of self-righteousness, and kept me stuck in full on mad as wasp’s mode.  Not one of them has provided any long-term feeling of satisfaction. Most important of all, none of these options stopped the other person’s behaviour, led to better communication or stronger relationships with the aforementioned pushers of buttons.

We all know the adage that if someone does something that makes you feel irritated, sad, frustrated, angry, victimised, or discounted, it is because you have handed them your emotions on a plate to do with as they see fit. The same principle applies when someone says or does something that makes us feel loved, cossetted, happy, appreciated, excited or content.

Think about it for a second – we don’t really object too much when someone says something that makes us feel good. Well I definitely don’t. Regardless of the outcome, the fact remains that in both situations we have handed control of our emotions to someone else.

When someone twangs your emotions and we react badly it is because you’ve handed over the control to that person and based the way you respond on your own personal thoughts and beliefs.

Scenario: (the names have been removed to protect the innocent etc.) You feel that someone is treating you badly as they’ve been ignoring you all week. You are suitably miffed. What have you done?! You haven’t done anything. The bare cheek! “How dare they treat me like that?!” you rant and rail at anyone that will listen. Indignation reigns supreme. Harrumph becomes the word of the day. You decide to ignore said individual – they are sent on the fast train to Coventry – after all they don’t deserve your energy / time etc. You find out later that they’ve got something going on in their personal life and they are dead stressed. They are so stressed that they can’t actually string a meaningful sentence together. Let alone think about interacting with anyone. Let alone interacting with you. And all of a sudden you come to the shuddering realisation – it’s not about you at all. It is however, totally about how you can construct something in your imagination based on your thoughts and beliefs.

It’s a daft scenario, but it does the trick. It brings it to life. If that were you, then you know that your emotions would have changed during that process. You’d realise that you were wrong. You’d blown things out of all proportion. You made it into something it wasn’t purely based on your own thoughts and beliefs. Nothing has changed about the other person’s behaviour.  Basically, the situation was still the same.  The only thing that changed was the way you thought about or perceived the other person’s behaviour.  Bet your emotions did an about turn PDQ didn’t they?

The obvious answer is to try and disconnect the buttons. Identify when the emotion is beginning to bubble up. Recognise that your initial thought – “Good grief, I’m being ignored” – will spawn other thoughts, and with that your emotions will automatically escalate. Go back to your first thought and recognise it for what it is – a thought. It’s not a fact. As a thought, it has no power and it cannot harm you.  The thought has no meaning unless you assign a meaning to it.  And remember that you don’t have to react to every random thought that pops into your head. Over time you’ll notice that whilst you cannot control which thoughts come into your head, you can decide which thoughts deserve your attention and which thoughts can be dismissed.

Buttons are there to be pressed – for sure – but there’s a choice involved as to whether we allow them to be pressed.