If there’s one thing this book made me do, it was to wish I’d read it when it was first published, 4 years ago. I would have achieved so much more in the last 4 years had I known about the benefits of deep work before.
I think a part of me already knew that time-vampires such as Facebook and Twitter were responsible for reducing productivity which is why I’ve always had a natural inclination to avoid them. I’ve never really relished either of them, even when all the writing gurus have encouraged it in order to grow a ‘following’.
What is Deep Work?
Newport defines deep work as the ability to concentrate on cognitively demanding work with no distractions, to produce high-quality work. Deep work is challenging but helps create the type of work that is valuable and hard to replicate or replace.
By contrast, shallow work is the kind of work we do on auto-pilot; email, social media and the internet – the kind of activity that diminishes our ability to concentrate and work deeply, is easy to do and is pervasive. The book offers studies and research on these time parasites and their effects on attention, and in the second part gives remedies for shallow work such how to schedule your day in advance to focus on deep work.
In this information age where we are bombarded by news or information we struggle to identify what we should be noticing. To become practiced in our area of interest or learning we need to be able to free our headspace from this increasing cacophony.
Who is this book for?
This book is for anyone who wants to be more productive, who works in knowledge or a job where concentration and focus is vital.
It would be good if more managers and leaders could understand how shallow work – the kind you have no choice but to do in a noisy, open office – is detrimental to productivity. Perhaps it would encourage them to be more flexible when it comes to remote working and empower workers to achieve more of real value. It might also make them reconsider bothering employees with shallow administrative requests such as responding to email that has little or no real importance.
One of the most pertinent messages of this book for me was that deep work is much more important in terms of achievement than long work. By working deep one works better and working better equals working fewer hours (we only have the capacity for about 4 hours of deep work per day), with much better results.
This book is so very relevant today when so many of us spend hours on social media. What we need is a version for tweens and young people so that they can understand how they’re doing themselves a disservice by being so attached to their phones and how this might be detrimental to their future. If they don’t learn, or have the opportunity to engage in deep work now, they might forever be consigned to the mundane shallow work when they reach maturity. On the other hand, being taught the power of deep work might just give them an advantage.
There is a very compelling message from the author that if we organise deep work periods into our day, then we’re more likely to get more value from our work or learning and will achieve our goals and ambitions that much quicker. He offers examples of high-achieving individuals such as JK Rowling and Bill Gates, who used deep work to achieve their professional goals.
If you haven’t read this book already, be warned, if you’re someone who wants to push the limits of your productivity, it’ll make you wish you’d read it as soon as it was published. If you’re addicted to social media, glued to your emails or cemented to the internet you’ve probably been drowning in the quagmire of shallow work for years. So, if you want to get down and dirty with some real, quality work, then you need to quit the time vampires and go deep.
I love London social history. Simply fascinated by it ever since, in my early teens, I read of the fate of the Jack the Ripper victims in the East End in 1888. So this book jumped out at me in the bookstore as something I might enjoy. But it wasn’t like all the thousands of other books on London history out there. This one looked so much more compelling.
Indeed, it didn’t disappoint. The book looks at the social history of the Thames and the people who’ve lived beside it for centuries. All from the perspective of the findings of a mudlark, a person who scavenges in the muddy riverbeds at low tide.
Lara Maiklem, the author, discovers finds items discarded or lost in the river by Londoners over the centuries; items that give valuable insight into the social and urban history of London.
The author describes the items she has uncovered in chapters that focus on different locations along the river, taking readers on a journey through history to the Roman fortification of London. Her extensive knowledge of the geography of London over the centuries and the Thames tides, coupled with the compelling stories she tells about the item and the last human ever to touch it, makes this a compelling and highly fascinating read that never failed to hold my interest.
In the context of the life of a modern-day mudlark, Lara reveals a little of her own life, how she discovered her love of mudlarking and the thoughts and feelings she experiences with her finds, helping the reader to feel a connection to her.
I’m usually a bit of a book tart; I flit from one book to another depending on my mood. But with this book I couldn’t put it down. I read it within a couple of days; then I searched Lara on Youtube to find out a bit more about her. Throughout my reading of the book, I was ready to don my wellies and head for the city at a moment’s notice were it not for the fact that, as the author explains, the foreshore of the Thames is at many times inaccessible. This is due to the changing tide (the Thames is a tidal river) and the fact that you need a licence to be a mudlark these days.
There is something wonderfully comforting about this book. I think it’s the way that the author draws you into her little world of treasure hunting, reveals the effect this has upon her and shows that, even in a bustling metropolis like London, there are moments of calm to be had if you know where to look for them. Moments whereby, with the help of Lara’s wonderful imagination, and her enthusiasm for her subject matter, so many of the past occupants of this city come to life to tell a tiny bit of their tale.
As I mentioned above, I love books about London social history, but I haven’t read one I’ve so enjoyed since reading Dr Matthew Greene’s book London, a travel guide through time. Another fascinating and compelling read about London’s history.
I often notice people, especially at the school gates, who try desperately to fit in, to be part of the clique because they want to feel as though they belong somewhere. I know a little of how they feel. I’ve always felt a little on the side-lines, a bit of an outsider, a loner, when all around me groups of friends are laughing together, safe in the knowledge that they have their ‘tribe’ around them.
When I was growing up I spent a lot of time indoors, helping to take care of my twin brothers with my mother. Her husband, my stepfather, disappeared when the twins were born so she was left, single parent to five children, I was 10 years old. Consequently, because I needed to help out at home I missed out on many of those critical friendship interactions that kids need to go through if they are to become emotionally secure, well-adjusted and comfortable around friends.
As a result, I turned into one of those people who felt slightly on the outside around groups of friends. In fact, I actually preferred to be on my own, it was easier than navigating the sometimes-hostile waters of friendship groups. But there were times when I felt that I should try to make an effort. It is, after all, our biological imperative to be part of the group. If we were still living in caves we would seek group connection for protection, for a mate, for a share of the food – for survival.
In my efforts to fit in and blend into my preferred group, I tried to be the person I felt I should be, but in doing so it felt false. I wasn’t being my authentic self and I felt more and more on the fringes. I was trying to fit in, to prove my worth. But all I was doing was suppressing my own true desires for the sake of fitting in. I felt as though just being me wasn’t enough to make people like me and invite me into their friendship.
We all want to feel as though we belong; to feel as though we have found our tribe but sometimes the price we pay, pretending to be something we’re not, or doing something we don’t want to do, is just too much and it drains our power. When we’re young, we might wear clothes that we don’t like so that we belong, or we might drink alcohol or do drugs with our friends just to feel as though we belong. We might try to project an image of ourselves that is not the real us, such as trying to appear to be outgoing, when in reality we know ourselves to be introverted.
Since those days, I’ve come to realise that fitting in or not fitting in made little difference to my life. I came to truly realise that I was happier with myself or a small select group of like-minded people that I got along well with and who accept my quirks rather than a large clique who don’t really know me at all. I have since learnt that to be true to our own nature takes strength, but it allows us to be truly happy. There is no pressure to follow the crowd or be part of a group I have no real interest in.
I’ve also learnt to be proud of being me, of my uniqueness. My strengths and weaknesses, preferences and dislike are different to other people – I appreciating these rather than trying to be like others, with their likes and dislikes. Only by being ourselves can we grow and flourish and be our true selves. Only by being comfortable in our own skin, will we get to a point where no-one can make us feel as though we’re not quite enough.
The social media culture of comparisons lead too many people to feel as though they’re not good enough, not active enough, not slim or pretty or clever or popular enough.
But if we’re being who we really are, being our true selves, and we’re fulfilling our own potential to the best of your ability, then we are enough.
If we let go of who we think we should be and just be who we really are, we’ll no longer worry about who we are and why we are not good enough to be part of this group or that group.
A friend told me that when she meets with her village friends, about once a month they tend to have a few drinks. She doesn’t usually drink so on these evenings just one glass of wine would get her a little tipsy and she would feel awful the following day. Not least because when she’d had a drink, all her inhibitions disappear, as is prone to happen, and she would say things to people that she wouldn’t normally say when sober. The next morning, she would regret drinking and promised herself that next time she would not drink. The problem was that people expected it of her now, so it was not easy to say no, without looking like she was being unsociable.
For many months, she told herself that next time she’d refuse, but when another evening out came around she would feel pressured to join in with the drinking for fear of being excluded by the group.
Eventually she made the decision to avoid alcohol altogether. And despite her fear that she would no longer fit in, her village friends accepted her decision and respected her for it. Eventually she came to realise, that had they decided she wasn’t ‘fun’ enough then she’d have known that they were not true friends anyway and not worth her time.
“Don’t change so people will like you; be yourself and the right people will love you.” ~Unknown
The need to fit in comes from our fear of being rejected. Because of this we might be a little too needy and will perhaps care a little too much about what others think of us. We will see their approval of us as a measure of our self-worth. But, our inauthenticity convinces no one and drains us of personal power in the process. A sense of belonging may feel comforting and safe but to sacrifice our true selves for the sake of it is not healthy.
To be true to our own nature takes strength, but only by doing so can we be truly happy.
Image courtesy of Pixabay
Irritation swarmed through me as I listened to her, shouting at me down the phone. “Get your bloody head out of the sand and realise that your son is a bully” she shouted, almost perforating my eardrum, I moved the handset away from my head. I could feel the venom in her voice.
She got louder. “I don’t want my son spending the next two years afraid of school,” she screeched, being overdramatic, as ever. Should I put the phone down? Was I enjoying her rant? Was I getting a perverse thrill out of the fact that she was losing her shit?
I think so.
Her anger was unjustified. Absolutely unjustified. My son was not a bully, he was merely sticking up for himself, and she didn’t like that. But the fact that I wasn’t rising to meet her anger with my own, stung her even more.
“There is no more stupefying thing than anger, nothing more bent on its own strength. If successful, none more arrogant, if foiled, none more insane—since it’s not driven back by weariness even in defeat, when fortune removes its adversary it turns its teeth on itself.” Seneca
In Seneca’s essay On Anger, he speaks about anger as being ‘hideous’ and ‘wild’. I would agree with him. She was certainly hideous and wild on that phone call. To lose one’s temper is never a good thing and almost always leads to problems. I haven’t spoken to her since, nor will I. Loose canon. As my Nan used to say.
The news is frequently dominated with stories of people who have done things because of their anger – particularly around Brexit. These people should act as reminders to us all that anger leads us to do things that we wouldn’t normally do. In fact, it makes things worse, in some cases, so much worse. Consider Ivan the Terrible, who killed his own son out of anger.
When we lose our temper, we lose other stuff too
But we all do it. Everyone gets angry sometimes. We might take offence to something someone says to us, we see red and then we let rip. The trouble is that, when we’re angry we lose so much more than our temper. Our dignity for one. As Seneca wrote. “Anger squanders things and rarely comes without cost.” Anger can lead to lost friendships, lost business, and lost relationships. And it can overcome us at any time – even during those times when you’d think we were least likely to get angry – on a family holiday when the person in front puts his airplane seat back; or, when a sibling says something that reminds you why you hated him in your teens.
When we are angry we are not in control. She wasn’t in control when she lost it, to me, on the phone. We need to recognise what is at jeopardy if we continue to indulge this volatile emotion. Our friendship, in this case – she’d overstepped the mark.
Accept what you cannot control
We also need to accept that we cannot control the world around us. To believe we can is very egotistic. To think that everything will go our way is foolish. Her son was provoking and harassing, my son was retaliating. Her sense of entitlement led her to believe that her son’s behaviour was acceptable.
The world is mostly outside of our control. And bad stuff happens to us all. Someone in another car may cut us up, or someone walking in front of us may let the door close in our face, someone may have betrayed us – we have no control over any of that. What we do have control over is how we react to these events. We can respond in a certain way that doesn’t demean us or give our power away.
If we accept that there are people and events that are going to happen that will annoy or anger us, then we are one step closer to controlling our responses. If we expect everyone to behave impeccably around us, won’t try to hurt us or annoy us, then we’ll be sorely disappointed. This is how our anger escapes – through thwarted expectations.
Why does anger feel so good?
Anger can feel good, it can be cathartic, it can be energising and make you feel as though you are standing up for yourself, that you won’t be walked over.
Sometimes it can be really hard to resist. It was so tempting to fight and argue with her. But that would have been easy, that’s what she wanted. I chose to hold my tongue. When we lash out at someone we feel has done us wrong, it rarely ends well. It takes an immense amount of power to waft them off and walk away.
Social media and anger
This is why social media is so very toxic – the me-first attitude of so many users has bred a society of ego-maniacs who troll and flaunt their daily-life minutiae; what their kids had for breakfast; other trivia that is part of everyday life. These are the people who are quick to bite if they see something they don’t like. With social media, there are too many ways to complain, to get upset about a post, to get upset if one’s own post doesn’t get ‘likes’ or ‘loves’ or ‘shares’ any other positive response. There is too much blame, too much revenge and too much spite. It has been shown that despite the number of ‘likes’ flying around on social media, it is anger that spreads more virally.
Anger is trying to tell you something
Anger is not all bad. By learning to listen to our anger we can learn something of ourselves. Our values, our allegiances, our sore spots and our loves can be revealed when we get angry. Listen to what the anger is telling you – what has that other person said that has got you so wound up? Why do you perceive it as a threat? Don’t try to suppress it. If we try to force it back inside of ourselves, it will come out in other ways, to people who don’t deserve it. If we keep all the tension from our suppressed anger deep inside it will eventually erupt like a volcano. Running, swimming or another physical activity will release all that emotion without disruption.
How to respond to feelings of anger
Everyone has people that irritate and annoy – colleagues, family members, school gate acquaintances and it’s not always easy to hold our tongue, especially these days when anger and frustration surrounds us. But it’s not the event that make us angry, but our judgment and opinions about it. The way we think about a situation or event affects the way we feel, which affects what we do in response.
I went for a long walk after the telephone call. That’s how I dealt with my anger, by doing something constructive, something that helps get it out of my system. I didn’t lose my temper or my dignity, I maintained my control. I also realized that her anger was a response to fear or sadness. This made me feel sorry for her. She was unable to take a deep breath and deal with her anger more constructively.
“The person who does wrong, does wrong to themselves. The unjust person is unjust to themselves — making themselves evil.” Marcus Aurelius
Image courtesy of Pixabay
Something on your mind? Have you done or said something that you are highly embarrassed about, but you just cannot forget? Perhaps something has happened that you can’t stop thinking about.
There are many occasions when I’ve done or said something foolish (particularly after a few glasses of wine) that I deeply regretted and worried about for days. Recently, I put something on social media that I immediately regretted. I stressed about it and talked incessantly about it to anyone who’d listen. In the end, guess what happened? – absolutely nothing. Everyone soon forgot about it and it went into the recesses of my memory to become just another blip.
Whatever we focus on grows. I focused for hours on my social media faux pas and then laughed at myself the following week. In fact, I was more cross that I wasted so much time worrying about it. So, if we focus on things that do not really matter we are wasting our time and our focus. These worries are not likely to even exist in a month’s time. We need to bring our attention back to what matters.
I’m fascinated by the human condition and particularly when writers articulate so well an understanding of the world. Baltasar Gracian was writing over 300 years ago, yet he still managed to capture the folly of human nature still relevant to us even today. In his The Art of Worldly Wisdom; A Pocket Oracle, Gracian suggests we leave these trivial worries well alone;
Some take nothing into account, and others want to account for everything. They are always talking importance, always taking things too seriously, turning them into debate and mystery. Few bothersome things are important enough to bother with. It is folly to take to heart what you should turn your back on. Many things that were something are nothing if left alone, and others that were nothing turn into much because we pay attention to them. In the beginning it is easy to put an end to problems, but not later. Sometimes the cure causes the disease. Not the least of life’s rules is to leave well enough alone.
Making a big deal out of something small will turn it into something bigger than it is, and chances are that it’s just not worth worrying about in the first place.
We all do, say or experience something that upsets us, or causes us to worry. But if we leave things for a while, don’t dwell on it and don’t stir things up, whatever it is will just disintegrate and blow away into the ether.
One of my favourite quotes is by Mark Twain. “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Image credit Pixabay
Ellie works as a shop assistant, she’s been with the company for many years. She is always the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. She feels that she has accrued enough experience to be made supervisor, yet Ellie lacks the courage to ask for what she wants and her employers are happy to keep her where she is. If Ellie were to work on increasing her power then she could challenge management and ask for some recognition.
There is probably not a human alive who does not wish they had more power in their life. They might want power in their job or employment situation, perhaps a little more freedom in their marriage or family to make decisions. Perhaps they want a little relief from the relentlessness of young children. There is, and there will always be something else we would like more power over, but at this very moment a lack of resources, the authority or the confidence to achieve that power is lacking.
Power over whom?
If I were to ask you why you wanted more power, you would possibly tell me that you’d like more influence over your own life, that you’d like to have the power to make choices, and that you’d like a little more autonomy.
In the movies, characters want power for one reason only – to control others. Yet, for the majority of us, we don’t want to control others, we simply want to have more control over the direction our own life is taking, rather than it being under the influence of our spouse/employers/parents. One study supports this – that most of us wish to have power only over our own circumstances, rather than to be under the control of others. The authors of the study write;
“Power as autonomy is a form of power that allows one person to ignore and resist the influence of others and this to shape one’s own destiny.”
The study goes on to show that when some people achieve a certain level of power they no longer feel the need for it and they stop wanting it. Because at that stage they have a satisfactory level of autonomy. We think we want power over others, but chances are that what we actually want is autonomy over our own lives.
Power gets us places
We need power so that people will give us what we want or need, whether it be a job, a promotion, respect or recognition – with the result that we will have the kind of life that we aspire to. But it is not power over others that gets us the job that we want, it is power over ourselves that enables us to do what is necessary to get the job we want.
To get power we could go down the coercion route, using underhand tactics, manipulating and treading on others to get there, but that’s not true power. True personal power is achieving the life we want without treading on others. There is a sense of right that comes with having achieved a position of power through our own hard work, that enables us to control our destiny. No one can take that power away. Yet, an empire of power over others is unsecure and can easily come tumbling down.
Having power is having the freedom to control our lives and our destiny, which above everything else will help us achieve happiness, longevity and health. Having limited power in our lives is stressful because it induces feelings of helplessness. With little power we have little or no control; we simply let life happen to us.
Image credit: Capture Queen – Power
“Mum, I want to be an ice skater when I grow up” I said, in the dark, as she kissed me goodnight. “You can be whatever you want to be my darling, if you wish for it hard enough” My mother’s wise and encouraging words to me as a child, but a series of mini experiments revealed that this was not exactly true. I wished to be an only child, I wished to be best friend and trusted confidant of the most popular girl in school, and I wished to be good at drawing. My faith in my mum’s words dissipated with my childhood freckles. But it turns out that my mum was not far off the mark.
Are you the person you want to be?
At the beginning of each year, we attempt to make changes to our lives because we’re not completely happy with who we are. We cast our nets wide to see which resolution sticks. By the middle of January, these resolutions are all but dead in the water.
Most people are living the life they set out for themselves many, many years ago. The person you believed you were back then is the person you are now. But what if you don’t want to be that person anymore? What if you want to be a non-smoker rather than addicted to nicotine? or slim rather that flabby? or a successful business person rather than a loser? an ice skater rather than a pizza delivery person? Why can’t you be the person you want to be?
We act in line with who we think we are
“The strongest force in nature is the need to stay consistent with who we think we are”, says Tony Robbins in his New Year 2017 talk
Simply put, your brain makes you the person you define yourself to be. So, if you define yourself as a non-smoker, then your brain will seek ways to make that true through your thoughts, actions, feelings, beliefs, values, goals and dreams. This happens regardless of the level of your conscious awareness.
If you define yourself as an ice skater, then your brain will seek out ways via your Reticular Activating System (RAS) – that piece of the brain that lets us notice all the blue minis, or the reverse-bob hairdos, or anything else we’ve decided to focus on – to move you towards being an ice skater. This will happen by making you notice and do anything ice-skating related and eventually the vague and fuzzy vision of yourself as an ice skater will come within the grasp of your reality. The RAS takes instructions from your conscious mind, and passes them on to your subconscious mind. If you define yourself as intelligent, bright and articulate enough to be a successful writer then you will subconsciously work to fulfil that image of yourself, through reading, studying and seeking advice from other writers until that definition is true.
I’m a big fan of self-help books. I’ve used them most of my adult life to help me create a vision of who I wanted to become. Everything I’ve achieved in my life – from my First Degree to being a parent, I’ve done through setting my intent and believing I could and would be successful. I spent years visualising myself as a successful writer, with my own business. I’ve acted as if I were that person, to myself, my friends and potential clients, and I’ve worked hard to get over my imposter syndrome. There were many hiccups and false starts along the way but ever since my identity became entwined with the writer person I knew I wanted to be, I’ve made a good living as a writer. And this definition of myself gets stronger every day.
Define yourself as someone who can run their own business or be a successful freelancer, and your brain will work hard to fulfil that vision, through habits, rituals and seeking ways to move you forward, until the vision becomes your reality.
In an ocean of advice about how to keep to New Year resolutions, this is the only boat you need to cling to, all the rest will have you drowning in failure by the 15th January (the cut off for failed resolutions). Make sure you’re on that boat. If you set your intent and believe you will be who you aspire to be, and you continue to believe it, then eventually it will be your reality.
The film was utter rubbish but my friends all loved it. I couldn’t understand why. But the most concerning thing was that, as they tried to convince me just how good it was, I started to believe them. Maybe I’d missed some vital element in the film. Maybe I’m just not as smart as I think I am.
When it comes to matters of opinion, we tend to look outside of ourselves first before we have the confidence to form our own. It’s as if we need the validation from others before we can make a decision. Whether or not we’ll admit it to ourselves, many of us are strongly influenced by what others believe. We lack confidence when it comes to standing up for what we really think.
But when it comes to opinions there is no right and wrong – our opinion is based upon our knowledge and our perspective so why do we let others’ opinions overpower our own unique perspective on the world?
When we care too much about what others think about us too, we allow it to affect our lives and influence our self-esteem. Get called a “loser” often enough and we’ll start to feel like one, even if that’s not what we really think.
To see others’ opinions as more valuable than our own is giving away our power but we do it anyway. We cannot seem to help it.
The stoic, and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his collection of personal writings:
“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. If a god appeared to us—or a wise human being, even—and prohibited us from concealing our thoughts or imagining anything without immediately shouting it out, we wouldn’t make it through a single day. That’s how much we value other people’s opinions—instead of our own.” Meditations 12.4
But it’s so easy to be in this position. I had a situation not too long ago where a mum at my child’s school had taken a dislike to me, for some unfathomable reason, and I actually started to doubt my likeability. It took a lot of self-work and journal writing to get myself to realise that I was allowing this one individual to take my power. But why was I letting this happen?
In the place where my power should have been, instead there was fear. I should have shrugged it off but anxiety got the better of me. A fear that developed many years ago when I was at primary school when my best friend would find another best friend to play hopscotch with and I would be alone.
Fear is there to protect us and make us realise that we need to increase our own power. This power comes only from within us, and it helps us to weather the storms of day-to-day life.
But we can only weather the storm when our power is strong and stable and deep enough. Like the strong roots of a tree. The bigger our power roots are, the more wind (in the form of others’ judgements of us) they can withstand.
Unstable power comes from listening to others’ empty opinions of us and believing them. We can listen but it is only through knowing ourselves and the power we hold that enables us to stay strong and not tumble at the first sign of a gale.
Loa Tzu wrote “Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.”
When we listen and care about what others say about us we are allowing them to affect our sense of worth, which is tied up in their view of us. We are limited by their perception of us.
I held a job many years ago in which, foolishly, I enabled a colleague’s approval of my work to determine my sense of worth in the company. The colleague in question held much influence and because I didn’t pick up the job as quickly as she thought convenient, she wrote me off as incompetent. Pretty soon I felt incompetent and eventually I left because I felt that I lacked ability.
My power was diminished to such a level, that when I left the job it took a good few months to build it up again, along with my confidence. But, had I possessed a stronger inner power I would have been able to stand up to her like a warrior defending my land. Instead I was left feeling powerless and demoralised. I don’t blame her – I allowed her to take my power away from me.
When we care too much about others’ opinions and ruminate too much on them, the thoughts that result become destructive. Quite simply, we are sacrificing our own happiness for the approval of others.
But, paradoxically it takes power to resist others’ influence on your power. This power must come from inside. You cannot look to friends to give it to you. Unfortunately, other people don’t always have our best interests at heart, so you much seek that power within.
By all means seek the opinions and advice from others but ultimately, how you deal with any situation comes down to you. Learn to strengthen and use your power so that other people have no influence over you.
If we have personal power we act on our own intelligence, and whatever the outcome of our endeavours we know that we have acted with integrity. We have our own back, so to speak, and we don’t need others to approve of or validate us in any way. Ironically, that is when we are likely to be more influential over other people.
When we care too much about what other people think, it’s because we are afraid of being rejected. We all yearn to belong somewhere, because it makes us feel worthy, validated and accepted – to fit into society and into whatever ‘club’ we feel a sense of belonging to. But the person in whom we put all our power when we care too much about their approval, holds the key to the club.
In the job I just described, I wanted to belong, I very much wanted to belong. This company was in an industry I very much wanted to be in, and I saw my colleague as the gatekeeper. She could sense this power that I had unintentionally given her, and she abused it, simply because she could.
To try to endear yourself to others is to risk looking desperate and to give them your power on a plate with a salad garnish. It’s not good for your self-esteem and chances are they’ll dislike you even more for being so goddamn desperate.
It can be very difficult to simply stop caring about what other people think of us. After all, no one likes the idea that others dislike them. We want to feel as though we belong, it gives meaning to our lives, and if we belong we’ll know that we have people who have our back should life get difficult. But to do so at the expense of our own power means that we will always be singing to someone else’s tune.
Image: UBC Learning Commons Singing Cartoon
The playground can be a frightening and inhospitable place. But it can also be warm, friendly and welcoming. It all depends on how powerful I feel on any given day.
There are times when everybody wants to talk to me; I’m the centre of attention and people laugh at my jokes. But other times I am a social leper, navigating a shark pool of dirty looks and sideways glances. Perhaps I’m a bit paranoid, but I do feel as though I must have sprouted tentacles or made some drunken admission that is now making the rounds on the gossip train.
Yes, mood has a lot to do with it. Like when your kids scream at you from the moment you wake and it sets your mood for the day. But I believe it is personal power that determines whether we feel like garbage or gold on any given day. And in my experience this feeling of power can wax and wane constantly depending on the situation we’re in, the people we speak to, and whether our power ‘tank’ is full or running on empty.
It is personal power that determines whether you feel so completely super-charged that your husband/partner hangs on your every word, the kids do as they’re told, first time, and everyone else is listening intently to what you are saying. Or lack thereof, where your conversations are interrupted mid flow, or your kids ignore you even after you’ve shrieked at them for the 23rd time to put their FLIPPIN’ SHOES ON!
Thankfully we can manipulate power to our advantage. Sports personalities do it all the time (read Bounce by Matthew Syed for more information) They have mantras, and affirmations to try to influence how they play. We too can do the same when we enter the school gates, when we walk into our dreaded office of employment when we feel nervous at networking events or meet up with domineering friends.
So how do we fill up our power tank?
Start by listing everything you’ve ever achieved that you’re proud of – include jobs you’ve had, qualifications you’ve worked hard for, a difficult situation you’ve recovered from, your children, or your home. Then, list all the people who love you for who you are. People for whom you don’t need to pretend to be someone else. This list will form the basis for your power tank and as long as you remember the items on this list, your tank will never be empty. Do as the top sports performers do and give yourself affirmations to repeat to yourself each day. I often do this when I’m on my way to meetings or network events when I’m nervous.
Then add to the list by doing things that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Actions that you might consider brave such as talking to people you don’t know, or offering your help to some cause or person who is in need. These things have a huge effect on our personal power. Ween yourself off Facebook – this is a sink hole into which all your personal power will disappear, leaving you feeling worthless and powerless.
It is hard work, obtaining and holding on to power but once we have it, we can use it in any situation. When we fill up our tank of internal personal power, then we have the qualities to respond with power in every other area of our lives, including disallowing others to have a negative influence on us.
One study on personal power shows that most of us wish to have power only so that we can control our own circumstances. The study authors write, “Power as autonomy is a form of power that allows one person to ignore and resist the influence of others and thus to shape one’s own destiny”.
So from now on, I want you to enter those uncomfortable situations with your power tank set to full. Remember that no one can take your power, not even those two-faced mummies/colleagues/aquaintances who look you up and down, then turn around and giggle to another, in an attempt to feel powerful themselves. They are simply trying to take your power because they don’t have much of their own. Fill up your power tank and you can bat them away like an annoying fly.
We’ve all had that conversation, “Oh I’d love to write a book, but I just don’t have the time”. Perhaps you’re one of those people who spout these same words every year. I know I am.
Not having time, I’m told, is also the reason why people don’t see their best friend from school, start the interior design business they’ve been talking about for years, write the horror fiction they’ve always longed to write, learn to play the ukulele, learn to speak Chinese or one of the many other things we resolve to do in the New Year. Not having enough time is responsible for an awful lot of non-starting enterprises.
‘Don’t have time’ = ‘It’s not important enough to make time’
But this excuse really doesn’t cut it. I know from personal experience that what people mean when they say they ‘don’t have time’ is that it’s not important enough for them to give up something else to make time for it.
I would like to write a book, and every January I tell myself that this will be the year I write it. But when it comes down to it, the thought of sitting at my desk scribbling away into the late evening, at something that takes enormous mental energy, when I could be cosy on the sofa with a green tea and re-runs of Poldark, is not something that I relish.
What is ironic is that so many of us spend hours on Facebook, connecting to and ‘liking’ stupid cat memes (which I must admit, are hilarious, but still I could be using my time more productively) and updating our feeds for ‘friends’ who aren’t all that important. Yet we don’t have time for the people or projects that matter.
Perhaps the reason we don’t see friends and family is down to the fact that we’re so busy trying to edit our online lives with updates and perfect pics so that it matches up to what we perceive others’ lives to be, that we don’t give priority to the real people who really know us and love us for who we are.
Or, is the reason we don’t start that business or write that book because we are scared that we will fail spectacularly, so we wonder what the point is of starting in the first place, as it will be too damaging to our ego.
Whatever our reason, we should stop kidding ourselves and own up to the real reason – we just don’t want it enough.
We all have those moments. The kind where everything in our life seems a bit shit and we feel hard-done-by. For some, those thoughts last a few moments, for others it lasts for weeks, or months. It’s not helped by Facebook either, where everyone else’s life seems so much more fun.
But what if I were to tell you that there are ways to help you get over it, ways that will help you to appreciate your life exactly as it is? All it takes is a moment of imagination, to create a scenario in which things are vastly different, worse than they are now – whether it’s a real memory or imagined.
Remember a worse time in your life
Last year I was in a job I hated. Actually, it wasn’t the job that was insufferable, it was the company and their treatment of staff. It was the behavior of one individual in particular, that ground me down in the end.
That was a period in my life where I struggled to get up in the morning. Every day created an internal conflict for me – should I stay, tolerate the intolerable person and hope that sometime in the future I would end up in a position I’d enjoy, in another department? or should I give up, leave and return to freelancing. Eventually, I could stand the job no longer and I quit. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
So now I’m back to freelancing, and without a doubt things are looking up. I’m earning the same salary as I was when employed, but I’m no longer glued to a desk for the majority of the day, I no longer have to ask to go for a pee (slight exaggeration there but after many years’ freelancing being employed definitely felt constraining) or speed home from my place of employment to avoid being the last parent in the playground to collect her children.
So, whenever I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed due to too much work, or underwhelmed due to too little work (the ebb and flow of freelancing!) or I’m simply having a shite day, I think back to last year when I’d go to work feeling anxious, I’d come home in the afternoon feeling anxious and didn’t sleep properly at night due to feeling anxious. And when I think back to that time, I thank my lucky stars that I had the courage to leave that awful place, and it immediately makes me appreciate my life as it is now – shit days and all.
Imagine life without your spouse/lover/children
There are days when my two boys massively get on my nerves, I won’t lie. And even though I love them to bits, at times I wonder if I’m cut out to be a parent. But then I imagine life without them and immediately I am struck down by a horrible, almost physical wrenching pain in my gut, at the thought of not having them with me. It is an unbearable, unthinkable thought and it immediately makes me appreciate every ball-breaking, whining, moaning, fighting, stubborn, infuriating moment of them. To their surprise, at times like this, I cannot help but grab them and hug them tightly.
Imagine you had an accident
It seems a little morbid but imagine you were the victim in a horrific accident and were paralyzed from the neck down. Your whole life would change in that moment. No longer would you be able to feed yourself, bath yourself, go to the toilet by yourself. No longer would you be able to cook, clean, walk, run, play tennis, do the shopping, kick a ball around with your children, make love, work, write … I could go on but I think you get the picture.
Now doesn’t that make you think? What do you do to appreciate your life today?
I’m not anti-make up. I don’t have some righteous crusade against it. I don’t have daughters so I’m not one of those conscious-of-the-pressures-we-put-on-girls-to-conform-to-society’s-standards-of-beauty kind of person. I don’t feel superior in any way. No, it’s simply the case that my I-can’t-be-bothered-ness overrules my need to look beautiful.
I am a beauty moron. I know nothing of the ins and outs of a beauty regime. While some of the other other mums refuse to do the school run unless swathed in Kiehls cream and Max Factor, I might, on occasion, drag some brown No.7 eyeliner across my eyelids for a crazy night out.
This is a travesty in this day and age when every magazine is busting with ads for the latest organic wonder product that claims to gives your skin a dewy, even skin tone and make you look like a 6-month-old. I swiftly flick past this section, where words such as epidermis renewal and radiance boost jump out at me, trying to tempt me with their promises but instead leaves me feeling incomplete as a woman.
There are a few things I do to attempt to keep my inner hag contained…
- I use coconut oil as a moisturizer, which makes my face all shiny for the next 12 hours but is cheap cheap cheap!
- I regularly take the time to tame my unruly eyebrows to avoid looking like a male politician.
- I occasionally have a day sans chocolate in order to unpack my bunged digestive system and reduce the face swelling brought on by existing solely on a diet of Fruit & Nut and red wine.
- Occasionally I might wear a lip balm, but they smell so delicious that my taste buds get confused and I end up licking it off. I’m pretty sure it’s not so good for my diet.
However, I’m not sure this regime is working so well.
I worked in an office for a brief spell recently and decided that, as all my co-workers would be young and glowy and dewy and beautiful, I should at least make an effort not to look like a decaying hag. So each morning I put on some tinted moisturiser, a spot of eye shadow (which usually requires a Master’s Degree in contouring to avoid looking like a drunk prostitute, so I rarely bother), and a dab of mascara, (I usualy end up absent-mindedly picking it all out, together with my eyelashes – so my eyes end up devoid of said eyelashes – which totally negates the point of wearing mascara).
This added at least 20 minutes to my normal hectic morning schedule and my skin felt heavy and clogged. I also spent most of the day worrying that I’d smudged the mascara or that the foundation line on my jaw was too obvious. I couldn’t wait to wipe it all off and be clean of face again.
To be fair, it probably didn’t help that I was wearing products that I’d purchased some time in the 90s, and yes, I know this stuff goes ‘off’ but I wasn’t going to go spend upwards of £100 (or whatever it costs these days – I have no idea) on new beauty products when I wasn’t even sure how long I’d cope with wearing it. I’m sure that make up and skin care (and creams and complexion correctors and serums and BB creams and CC creams) have advanced light years since the 90s but still, …
Ironically, as a teenager, when I didn’t need make up (fortunately, I didn’t suffer too much from spots or blotches) I wore loads of the stuff. Applied it with a shovel to try to cover up the billboard of my adolescent insecurities after I’d cleansed, scrubbed, toned and moisturized. One morning, at about age 17, as I was working my way through my usual ritual, an epiphany made me realize that I no longer wanted to be a slave to beauty. I wiped everything off my face and walked out of door as bare cheeked as the day I was born.
It took a few days to get used to the lighter feeling, the sensation of air on my cheeks that didn’t have to coerce its way through an inch of foundation and face powder. And I got a few comments from friends about how fresh-faced I looked. I took this to be a positive thing and I vowed never to be yoked to a beauty regime ever again. I decided that my face was a reflection of my lifestyle and although my diet was not terribly healthy, it was not not terribly unhealthy either (aren’t the raisins in Fruit and Nut one of the 5-a-day?). People would have to accept my face as it was, I vowed. I discovered that most other people just didn’t care either way if I wore make up or not.
And I stuck to it. Later, even when baby-induced broken nights gave my skin the parlor of a puddle and my under-eyes looked as though crows have been moonwalking on my face, I stuck to my guns.
On occasion I will meet a woman of my own age with flawless make up that flatters her glowing skin and makes her look 18. In these instances, I might have a moment of insecurity when I consider myself unwomanly and in desperate need of tutelage in the ways of beauty. The moment soon passes once I consider the amount of effort it must have taken to get that perfect.
But, I do wonder. Had I been regimented with a skin care routine, would I now have younger looking skin? Would the large pores on my nose and the tiny broken veins that populate my cheekbones be gone? No one will ever know how effective these products are at slowing ageing. We are led to believe that by not having a beauty regime as espoused by beautiful celebs and skin care consultants we’re missing out on loads of lovely treats for the skin. I mean, who knew that skin needs hyaluronic acid to help it look plump and radiant? Well me, obviously, because my skin looks as plump and radiant as a raisin.
Should I be part of the majority and take more care of my skin? I refuse to douse myself in expensive products or slather on the make up until I look like a clown but I could take a little more care of the face that I present to the world, if I want to retain what’s left of my…ahem…youth. Perhaps if I can’t ‘reverse the signs of ageing’ then I might at least try to slow it down.
My brain is skittish, foggy. I can’t concentrate for very long. I get ratty with books (my patience much reduced), and my attention span is microscopic. I need my next fix and I need it now, before I miss out, before something REALLY important happens. I’ve exhausted the BBC, I try Twitter – I need news, I need it like I need a fix of chocolate.
News is bad, bad news is poisonous. This is what I’ve read. I can believe it. I was caught in its toxic clutches. It started off as an experiment. I wondered, will I learn more, be more informed, will I wow people at parties with my knowledge of current affairs?
I liked the (fleeting) feeling of awareness the news gave me. I did the same the following day. Before I know it, I am seeking out new ‘news’ as though my sanity depended on it.
News bulletins are like sweeties. Little bonbons of compelling trivia that we consume without thought or question. We are drawn to it without considering its relevance on our lives. When consumed so passively we barely register whether it’s positive or negative. Mostly it’s negative. Journalists are like pushers – trying to tempt us with their little ‘treats’ which disguise the scaremongering and political propaganda.
So much of it is irrelevant to me. I don’t want the limited capacity of my brain to be saturated with such trivia. The ex PM resigning as an MP, who gives a stuff, really? Does this information affect anyone’s life in a positive way, or offer any kind of advantage?
Negative, tragic news skews my view of the world, makes it into an unsafe, riskier place to be. And this bigger picture that we feed with froth bears no relation to our reality. Apparently, a negative view of the world is further entrenched with every negative news story we hear, despite the lack of first hand evidence to support it.
The recent referendum is a case in point. With the amount of fuss made of the vote you would think an apocalypse was on its way. So much shallow discussion, so much propaganda. I was sick to death of it. Even friends who hitherto I found enjoyable company, who, on the eve of the referendum sought to entertain me with their strongly held views, bored the pants off me. They spent too much time listening to the news, so they’d be ‘informed’ on current affairs in order to have an intelligent discussion, should the opportunity arise. In reality they were taken in by the propaganda or they’d adopted the views of others – perhaps they based their opinions on those of impressing friends and colleagues. It is impossible to know all the facts with so much ‘information’ saturating the media, how can we possibly make an informed choice.
I am yet to see Brexit’s impact on my day to day. Some may call me naïve or blinkered – but if it means I don’t fill my head with fluff then I don’t care. If it’s really important – as in, if it’s likely to affect my life in a big way then the news will find it’s way to me. The important stuff tends to stick around.
We rate the importance of news items by its prominence in the media. We get used to the dramas, grow immune to the death, destruction and violence that is happening elsewhere in the world and increasingly we lack empathy. We have no power to do anything. We just sit, passively absorbing the stench of the frivolous bulletin.
Like an annoying bluebottle that cannot find its way out of an open window, the interrupting snippets of news trivia from every source steal my limited attention and focus from what is important; my children, relationships, books and long-form writing. My brain pathways strengthen in areas that are irrelevant to me, and weaken in its deep-thinking capacities, severely affecting my ability to read a book from start to finish.
I turn off the news. Permanently.
I want to be free of such brain padding. Without the fascism of trivia my creativity is vibrant. Ideas pop in to my mind, uninhibited and unobstructed. There is more room for it to run and be free.
As you mop up your tears of pride at seeing your little darlings toddle off to big school in their oversized uniform and enormous shoes, just remember you’re going to be in this playground, at the crack, every morning for the next six years so you’d better make some playground buds pretty sharpish, before you become the loser parent in the corner who dribbles crab cakes down her Boden blouse. You don’t have to like these people of course. Their only purpose is to share gossip with you about other mums you don’t like.
As you’ll have discovered, the playground is divided up into those people who have the confidence to chat to others about their little darling’s latest IQ grading, and those who stand looking around them nervously, or feigning an intense fascination with their child’s nose-picking antics. The playground is the sorting hat for people who are sociable and people who like The Archers. So, take my advice – if, in mid conversation, you find yourself talking to the latter, stop talking immediately, introduce that person to another Archers fan and go find someone more interesting, or simply move to the other side of the playground swiftly, as though going to do something terribly important.
The easiest way to make friends is to go up to people and introduce yourself as [your child’s name]’s mum. They won’t remember your name anyway so don’t bother telling them.
Eye contact is vital when trying to make playground friends. No one is going to chat to you for long if you stand there playing Crossy Road on your IPhone while they’re talking. On the other hand, don’t stare too intently, they might think you want to stab them.
Start the conversation with something innocuous like the weather or the price of school uniform (not The Archers) and then pretend that everything they say is really interesting. Be sure to do the motions; cocking your head to one side and bobbing it up and down after every word they say, and repeat “Oh, really!” at regular intervals.
Once you’ve had your initial break-the-ice conversation and they walk away smiling, then, unless you discover they’ve moved their child to a school on the other side of the county you can pretty much guarantee that you’re onto a winner, (feel free to do a Mini Air Punch). However, it might be a little too soon to behave as though they’re your bessy mate. Calling them a ‘crusty old twat’, that kind of thing, is probably too much, too soon.
Always compliment your new friend, especially in the early stages of the friendship. For instance, tell her that she has lovely skin (yes, even if she has pig-trotter skin, especially if she has pig-trotter skin) and she’ll stroke her face and say “what this old thing”. Be warned, a response of “don’t talk bollocks” probably means she’s not buying it, and you should probably try someone else for a NBM (New Bessy Mate). However, if it’s a man you’re trying to compliment, simply tell him he’s a hunk of Brad Pitt proportions and it’s highly likely he’ll believe you, even if there’s a bulging weight of evidence to the contrary.
Be sure to say nice things about your new friend’s hair, clothing, weight and sense of dress. But be careful with this. Saying “What a lovely dress, it suits your skin colour’ is good. But “Your shoes make you breasts look huge”, not so much.
Everyone loves to be funny so laugh out loud at everything your new friend says (unless they tell you their dog just died) and they will forever seek you out. (Note: if they start knocking on your door to recite their repertoire of gags about blobfish, you’ve probably gone too far on the laughing-at-their-jokes front, so tone it down a little.)
Contrary to popular belief, arriving at the school gates wearing your PJs is a definite No No, unless you own Gucci slippers and an Yves St Laurent onesie. Remember money will always buy you friends, even if they want only your money and not your sparkling repartee.
The lesson – if you want to make playground friends then you have to talk to people. Don’t hide at home. It’s hard to make friends if you send your husband/mum/postman/dog to pick up the kids.
Do you have any stories of winning new playground friends? I’d love to hear it.
(Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely co-incidental.)
My pointy finger hovered above the arrow. Do I send it? This letter of resignation that contained only two sentences but still took me two hours to compose (the wording had to be spot on, obviously). Do I quit? Am I a quitter? Does that make me a loser?
Many of us are told, in our formative years, mainly before we realise what hypocritical mothers we have as parents, that we ‘shouldn’t give up’ when the going gets tough? That we should persevere to get to the good stuff of life that makes us want to jump out of bed in the morning and do 20 star jumps, just for the hell of it.
But how long do we endure the depths of seven hells (slight exaggeration, it was in fact a highly unsuitable job, that I took when my chosen career was proving rather challenging) before we finally surrender and realise that this situation we’re in, this job, relationship, friendship or venture is just pants?
Biographies, autobiographies and self-help books abound with tales of individuals who have persevered, who were not to been beaten down by adverse circumstances, suffering and oppression. Who yelled up to the gods, “We will not go quietly”. They didn’t quit when things got tough.
Quitting is for losers these stories tell us. It’s just a hump, a hill, to get over before we reach golden fields and paradise. This is reinforced by theories promoted in books such as The Dip.
So how do we know if it’s a ‘Dip’? What if it’s simply time to quit?
I tested the theory to ‘not quit’, I aimed to ‘persevere’ so that I could ‘get over that dip’. It didn’t go well. It made me unhappy and frankly it just felt plain wrong. I clung tenaciously to a job that was wrong for me, in the hope of an eventual prize – my dream job. It turned out that the longer I stuck at it, the more toxic the current job was for me, and the further into the distance my ultimate dream job receded.
My pointy finger engaged. I clicked ‘sent’. I did what I’d told myself I’d never do again and I quit. Yet I have no regrets. The idea of staying in that job there another year, another month, even another week was more abhorrent to me than sticking something sharp and shit-covered into my eye.
So when the darkest times come looking for us, when it’s a struggle to get out of bed – do we quit then? No, because quitting is for losers. When the people who are supposed to support and work with us to help us grow and improve, look at us like we’re hapless losers, no matter how hard we try – do we quit then? No, quitting is for losers. When the job that had once been exciting and challenging has become a grind and drains the life force out of us, do we quit then? No, quitting is for losers. This kind of thinking makes us feel more trapped than ever. Which is precisely when the desire to quit increases its hold over us.
All those biographies, autobiographies and self-help books also show us that quitting can lead us to a new place. Sometimes we have to let go, to create a space inside for new opportunities, to get rid of the deadwood. Yes, we need to persevere, but we also need the wisdom to know when enough is enough and not to blindly and tenaciously cling to something that just isn’t working. To get where we’re going, we first have to leave where we’ve been.
While every story of wanting to quit will be different, I believe that just because we stop doing something doesn’t mean we’re quitting, it simply means we are moving on, we are keeping our options open, looking to the horizon, being fluid in our motions (and a million other clichés that all mean the same thing). Sometimes this takes big balls. Letting go doesn’t mean we’re quitting. Quitting does not necessarily mean we are losers yet society admonishes quitters and celebrates those who endure the shit.
If you know you’ve done your very best to make it work but cannot see a future in it, don’t think of it as quitting, just be assured that you are moving forward in your search to find the job/relationship/friendship/venture that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning and do 20 star jumps, just for the hell of it.
I’ve been out of writing action for a few months. Seven to be precise. The reason? Because I got a job, which sadly didn’t work out, but happily made me realise that I missed writing and so I’m back on it with renewed vigour. But can a writer really just take 7 months out of writing (other than the odd journal verbal dump about the frustrations of employers and work colleagues) and expect to get right (write) back into it?
I do feel a bit rusty, it has to be said. The words don’t flow as easily as they did. I have to think a little more before I start typing, and my rusty writing fingers (yes I do believe we have different mental/finger modes for different activities – so writing prose is much different to writing admin emails, for example) need a little oiling.
Why did I get a job in the first place if I write for a living. Well, because it was available, I was feeling restless and incompetent and I needed a change of scene. It was good for me. Not only to help me realise that I do actually love writing but that I hate being chained to a desk, where the boss looks at me with utter shock and disapproval if I tell her I’m late because I fancied a coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen for a while (surely better than lying? I’ve since learned my lesson!).
I’m excited about all the opportunities open to me again now – lunch dates, leisurely coffees, popping off to the gym for an intense spin session or a relaxing yoga workout (I’ve never actually done this – but I could start!). I suppose I should probably think about getting some more work again too … at some point. There’s no hurry!
As babies my two boys were a wonder to me, and a chore. I loved them deeply but resented the all-encompassing attention they needed. In the depths of baby shit, painful and bulging boobs and delirious inadequacy, I looked ahead to the time when they would be able to use the toilet, communicate their needs, and engage in conversation. Now they are able to do these things, I miss the younger versions terribly. Those tiny, cuddly, precious, vulnerable bundles are now noisy, heavy, whining, messy boys of 5 and 6, who challenge me with Star Wars trivia, use the house as an army barracks and alternate between fighting amid themselves and ganging up on me.
Rarely now do I get the chance to sit quietly and have a cuddle with them, looking deep into their eyes while they gaze at me adoringly. I miss them. I miss burying my nose into their hair to get the full benefit of their baby smell. I miss playing ‘Round and round the garden’ on their tiny hands and feet – so perfect and precious. I miss their giggles, and the way they fitted into my embrace like a conker into its warm cosy shell.
In the beginning, when things are tough, our new parent heads are filled with the future milestones of our offspring. It’s ironic, and one of the failures of human nature that we don’t recognise these phases as temporary, we’re too busy wishing they would hurry up and learn to hold the spoon themselves/use the potty/walk unaided. It’s only years later when we look back, do we realise that so many chapters have gone, to be lost forever.
As toddlers, they annoyed me with their night-time cries. I wished their lives away looking forward to the time they would sleep through. Now I miss these night-time reunions when the world is quiet but for their contented sighs. I wish I’d been aware of the last time I’d change a nappy, because, poo splats aside, I miss those few moments when we’d be fully engaged with each other. Had I realised that this phase in his life was ending and would never return, I would have savoured each and every stage, said goodbye to each version of my boys as they passed.
I know that soon I will miss them crawling into bed with me in the morning, or their still childish giggles at the words ‘bum’ and ‘poo’. Soon these simple amusements will be replaced by teenage sulks and an ear-aching silence.
I’ve a few years left to go yet but I know that, judging by the speed with which these last six years have passed, the next ten will fly by in the blink of an eye.
I urge all mothers of babies and toddlers who are struggling with the mind-numbing day-to-day to take a moment to embrace in all its glory; the feeding, potty training, night waking – all of it. Because whatever stage your child is at now, he won’t be there for long. You will look back, all too soon and wonder where those years went, and you will physically ache to enclose that small child in your arms again.
Nothing prepared me for the enormity of parenting when it began, and I fear nothing will prepare me for the end of their childhood, when they swan off into the world without a backward glance.
Most of us are aware that the food we eat has implications for our mood. Chocolate gives us a small temporary high, for example. But how many of us know that gluten can cause depression and anxiety? Even Celiacs are unaware of the effects of this stuff on their brain. It is a digestive issue isn’t it? Well no. Actually. In fact, more of us could be suffering from a gluten sensitivity mood disorder than digestive disorder.
A report by Celiac Central showed that patients who struggled with gluten-caused mood issues such as anxiety and depression only had digestive system symptoms 13 percent of the time. Which means that many people could have a mood disorder as a result of gluten sensitivity without knowing it because they don’t have digestive system issues associated with the disease.
One year ago, I was anxious, cranky and extremely intolerant. The tiniest little transgression by my two boys would bring on my intense frustration. It wasn’t just a case of being in a bad mood, like stubbing your toe bad mood. My diet was negatively colouring my perception; a small communication problem suddenly turned into a massive deal-breaker. I was seeing major problems in my life where there was only actually a minor irritation. My moods were a rollercoaster that took me from high to low in a matter of seconds and which slowed, I eventually realised, only after a period of not eating sugar. That gave me the clue that my moods were very dependent upon the food I ate.
A paper submitted by The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 diseases caused or exacerbated by eating gluten, which include depression and anxiety. My disturbance of mood it seemed, was possibly an indicator of a gluten sensitivity. Gluten inhibits production of serotonin. Wheat in particular has been associated with psychiatric problems, due to an army of brain-disruptive opioid peptides, and wheat germ lectin (WGA), which is thought to be toxic to the brain. Wheat also affects our blood sugar levels which, in turn effect our hormones. I decided that enough was enough, I’d had it with wheat.
After one very tough and miserable week of no wheat; no bread, no pasta PASTA?!?, pastry, biscuits or cakes, (man, it was tough!) I felt as though a black fog was lifting. I was calmer, more tolerant and so much more positive about life. I had a long way yet to go, but already I realised that the majority of my mood problems had all been food related. It got easier and my improved mood spurred me on. It’s been 5 months now and I no longer get the urge to eat wheat.
I still can’t be sure whether it was the lack of gluten or the steadying blood sugar levels that improved my mood. What I can be sure of is that avoiding wheat got easier, I learned to enjoy substitutes. I lost my muffin top, my moods stabilised and I had more mental and physical energy than I knew what to do with. And on the odd occasion when I succumbed to the siren call of a piece of toast, I immediately felt bloated, irritable and short-tempered.
I won’t lie, it was hard work but by reminding myself of the changes I wanted to make to my mood – to be calm and patient and not influenced by my fluctuating hormones, (a result of the wheat on my blood sugar levels) I stayed strong. Here are my 5 tips for anyone thinking of doing it:
Start slowly – try reducing intake of wheat one meal at a time. So rather than eating bread or pasta with breakfast, lunch and dinner, try limiting it to breakfast and dinner for a few days, then go down to one meal a day before cutting it out altogether.
Eat plenty of protein – protein helps us to feel full so we’re less likely to want to fill up on the empty calories that bread provides. Go for a plate of scrambled eggs first thing in the morning, for example, or try porridge with raisins.
Choose good substitute carb products – I eat a lot of oatcakes which don’t contain wheat or gluten but are still very filling. They are delicious with Cashew nut butter or hummus. There is also a good range of pasta taste-a-likes on the market these days too with spaghetti and noodles made from rice flour. With a delicious tomato sauce, it really is very difficult to notice the difference. Rice is a good substitute too and means you don’t have to miss out on takeaway food, although avoid the soy sauce because that contains both wheat and sugar!
Don’t weaken – treat wheat as though you absolutely CANNOT eat it for health reasons, and it’ll be a lot easier to avoid without the painful deliberation our brains go through when trying to avoid a certain food.
Be creative – learn about the foods that you CAN eat on a wheat free diet and create some new recipes. There are hundreds of books or websites with wheat free recipes so do some research, be inventive. It can be quite fun to cook with restricted ingredients.
“Alone, alone, alone” says the sloth.
“That’s a lot of aloneness,” says the woolly mammoth in Ice Age.
Between a quarter and half of us are introverts. That’s almost half of everyone we know who are energised by solitary pursuits and who feel drained if exposed for too long to social environments. I am an introvert. I find it tiring to talk to people I don’t know. Sometimes I find it tiring to talk to people I do know. I will often be having a good time in the company of a few friends but all too suddenly I will feel overwhelmed and I’ll need to escape, or drink more wine to dull the sensory overload.
You’d never guess I was an introvert. I hide it well. I put on an act to make it seem as though its not a struggle to talk to people about the mundane. I want to seem as though I am friendly and amenable and approachable, because I do love talking to people and I don’t want to appear rude, yet at times I find my mind is looking for escape routes, an opportunity to be alone to tune into my inner world. My loud thoughts are struggling with my need to connect to people.
This is most obvious at the school gates, where many semi-familiar mothers mingle to talk about how tired their children are (at the end of the term) or how cold the weather is turning. Sometimes I cannot face talking at all and so I just drop off the boys and run. The problem is, if we don’t talk about the mundane then a potentially great friendship will never get off the ground so that the real conversation can start, and I have met some wonderful friends by starting a conversation about the weather.
There are some mums who will happily flit from one trivial conversation to another, moving around the playground as one would a party. Introverts don’t want to do this. We need real connection. We prefer the company of fewer closer friends with whom to have a deeper, more meaningful interaction, than many acquaintances. But it’s easy to beat ourselves up if we don’t have hundreds of best buddies, and thousands of Facebook friends. When other people’s lives seem like one long social extravaganza it can make us feel like we’re freaks. We may even suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out). I do, even though I would actually prefer to pursue my own interests than spend copious hours of the week ‘catching up’ or ‘grabbing a coffee’ just for the sake of it.
I’m not saying I don’t want to talk to anyone, on the contrary, I love talking to people about subjects that are meaningful. We introverts like to get to know the person behind the conversation, rather than talk about the weather. But introverts also need plenty of time to be alone with our thoughts, because our thoughts are LOUD. We calm ourselves and gather our strength by being alone. A recent trip I took to London alone, was one of my best weekends, simply because I didn’t need to talk to anyone. My own thoughts had free reign to go wherever they chose. I came home feeling energized and happy, ready to be sociable again.
The lovely thing about being alone is that there is very little to think about other than the thoughts that already exist in my head. I hear nothing but my own breathing. Being alone is not lonely, not for me. For some who have never had the pleasure of aloneness, even introverts, it may be different. When you’re alone there is no pretension and no social etiquette to worry about, no worrying about others opinions or sensitivities, no thoughts about what I should and shouldn’t say, and no having to shoulder others’ burdens when they are too selfish to listen to mine – just simple, clean, healthy, self indulgent aloneness. It’s like a restorative process for me, like topping up an emotional credit card.
Next time you see someone alone in a coffee shop, or standing alone in the corner of the school playground, don’t assume she is lonely, know that she is possibly one of the quarter-to-half of us who is perfectly happy in her own company.
I look in the hall mirror. The person staring out at me is not the person I feel inside. Mirror-me is haggard, pallid and my eyes seem to be disappearing into my head. My hair, although not yet showing signs of grey (thank you genes!), is lank and weak. It takes more effort these days to look and feel like myself, and even then when I catch glimpses in a window or mirror I am shocked by my accumulating decay.
At the tender age of 18, I thought my 30-year-old uncle was ancient. To my mind he was a proper grown up, reaching towards the end of his life – proper old. Like disasters and death, aging was something that happened to other people. I never thought for a moment that I would reach this age within the blink of an eye. Now I’m in my 40s, I know that teenagers consider me an ‘oldie’.
So, why is that so bad, to be considered old? Well we tend to think of aging as a negative thing. When we age we not only lose our youth but also our lustrous hair, our perfect skin, our energy, our eyesight and our muscle tone. Maybe this is a bit of a stereotype, along with the idea that we also lose our wits, and are a burden to the young. But the truth is that older people are no longer young and dewy and as such are increasingly insignificant to younger people. And its something many feel they should be hiding with creams and loose clothing, creative use of make-up and cosmetic surgery. The media don’t help when they splatter images of young fresh-faced beauties all over the mags, where celebrities are praised if they still look 18 when they’re 38, and are ridiculed if they look anywhere near their actual age. So pervasive is the fear of aging that even women in their 20s are worrying about aging. Ironic, considering we’re living longer than ever before. Of course, the producers of anti-aging products who cash in on our ageist fears welcome this.
Ironically my emotional maturity has led me to realise that trying to reject my age and hold on to my youth is futile. I know this, yet the occasional and increasingly rare time someone tells me I don’t look my age, I still puff out my chest in pride.
But what would happen if I decided to embrace the process of growing older? What if I didn’t try to fight it but instead looked forward to a life that becomes more enriched as I age.
I want to forget about my physical decline, to see it as unimportant. Instead, I want to concentrate on the mental and emotional improvements. Since entering my fourth decade I’ve noticed that my mind focuses more on positives than negatives, I take worries less seriously and I have more confidence in asking for what I want, or complaining about what I don’t want. I care less for what people think and more about pleasing myself. I am more accepting of friend’s flaws, less accepting of their bad behaviour. I am in the prime of my life, according to some – I’m not yet old, but mature enough to know my own mind, so why aren’t I celebrating this instead of interrogating the mirror and pulling back my sagging cheeks to see what different a bit of cosmetic hocus would make, were I that way inclined.
I want to look forward to a fulfilled and productive second half of life where I focus on the good things in life; friendships, family, reading, good food, not scrutinising my thighs, underarms and neck for signs that my body has sagged a little further. Yes, I am stretching toward my middle age but there is no reversing this. I cannot control it because the more I try to do that, the more disappointed I become. I want to see the sagging as inevitable and embrace it as part of life, as something I cannot change, so therefore requires no further thought on my part.
I may mourn my youthful body, but by doing so I am giving myself the room to grow in other ways, to have new experiences and to live life more fully.
It doesn’t mean that I can no longer have fun; it just means that my idea of fun has changed.
I may be increasingly invisible to the younger generation, but in a positive light I no longer feel scrutinised. I can relax and wear what I like rather than what fashion dictates, which is not to say I will wear saggy, baggy clothes that do nothing for my figure, but that I will wear what I feel good in, (mainly jeans and t shirt).
With age comes knowledge, about my place in the world and about me. This brings confidence in knowing that whatever age I am, I still matter.
From the moment my first son was born I’ve questioned my effectiveness as a mother. In the early years I was confounded by decisions I had to make – How much do I let him cry before I pick him up? Do I feed him every four hours or when he’s hungry? Six years later and the decisions don’t get any easier, the context simply changes; should I send him to more extra-curricular classes? Do I limit his screen time?
In an effort to feel that I had one iota of control I would be regimented in certain aspects of my day. The boys’ lunch would be ready by noon latest, snack at two thirty and dinner would be on the table at five o’clock, on the dot. They would be in the bath by 6.15, and both in bed by seven sharp. I will admit that as a result of this strict schedule they do now eat and sleep well, but I’d be stressed to the bone by the time they were in bed, due to sticking so rigidly to those strict scheduling ‘rules’, endorsed by certain baby experts, who in my naivety I looked upon as ‘all knowing’.
I came across the work of Winnicott, a pediatrician who in 1953 developed the ‘good enough’ parenting concept. With this concept he was recognising the unrealistic demands for perfection that parents placed upon themselves, which undermines their efforts in meeting the needs of their children. He stated that, “Her [the mother’s] failure to adapt to every need of the child help them [the child] adapt to external realities.”
‘Failure’ refers to the fact that mum is not always able to make things better, and in discovering this simple concept I felt as though the dark cloud had been lifted. Those words ‘good enough’ stayed with me and consciously I began to apply them to my own parenting whenever the feelings of inadequacy threatened to engulf me. It freed me from the expectation on myself to be a perfect parent, which came from thinking I could control everything that happens to my children. In my mind, Winnicott was saying that whatever I do, as long as I do my best, I will be a ‘good enough’ mother, even if I make the wrong decision sometimes. There’s no point or purpose in busting a gut to be a perfect mother. In doing so I am making it tougher on myself than it need be.
This constant bombardment of guilt and anxiety about what I should or shouldn’t be doing with my children wears me down. And, as if this weren’t enough there is a strong element of competitiveness in parenting. If we’re not trying to live up to the impossible standard of some celebrity or childrearing guru then we are competing with our friends. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a sense of smugness if I’m virtuously helping my boys create landscapes out of old egg boxes or making home made soups and casseroles. Then there are times when I’m cringing with inadequacy whenever my son mentions his friend’s busy after-school schedule of Cricket, Gymnastics and creative writing.
I have come to realise that by trying to be a perfect mother I was trying to guarantee a perfect outcome, when in fact, if I take things easy, make more effort to relax and not worry if one whole day passes without reading a book to the boys, or doing a craft with them, then it’s not such a big deal.
It is important that we keep in mind something that Winnicott goes on to say, that attending too much to our child’s needs is a sure way to mess them up. Striving for perfection in raising our children will also mess us up as we turn into competitive, nervous wrecks. If we try too hard to make everything right for our children, we will fail, it is impossible not to, simply because as they grow and separate from us we will not be able to control everything that happens to them. As Winnicott says, a parent’s failure to satisfy a child’s every whim helps the child adapt to the reality and later, the demands of the social world, which they will soon be entering, alone.
Parenting comes with its own unique brand of inadequacy, something I’m now very well acquainted with. I’m still not sure if I’ve made the best decisions but I think I did my best with the knowledge I had available to me, and my boys have not turned out too badly so far.
We parents are driven by our need to satisfy every desire in our children, conscious or otherwise, and outside pressure or ‘advice’ does little but confuse and frustrate us. We need to trust that we are doing the best for our children and despite our best efforts we will fail at some point, some of us more dramatically than others, in different ways and at different times. None of us can get it right all the time, so we should stop trying so hard and stop beating ourselves up about it. Just as we expect our children to make mistakes and learn from it, so must we. Our children do not need perfect parents, but they do need sane parents
There are two books I’ve been reading, both of which are forcing me to look at my diet, and that of my family in a whole new way and both of which were introduced to me by the excellent podcast Latest in Paleo. One of the books is Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes, which supports one of the fundamental principles of the Paleo diet, to avoid grains in the diet. It makes sense; our ancestors didn’t farm and therefore didn’t eat the produce of farming. The book says that eating wheat, in any form, makes us fat due to the gluten content. It discusses how our endocrine system is the leader in determining our fat levels, and how what we eat influences hormone response.
The other book I’m reading Wheat Belly supports this notion and focuses on the mutant high yield version of wheat that we consume in such vast quantities, at every mealtime every day.
Wheat Belly’s main message is that wheat is actually bad for you; a poison! While more and more people are diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, the rest of us believe that bread couldn’t possible harm us. Yet today’s “wheat” is not the wheat that our ancestors ate. By messing about with genes we have replaced traditional wheat with a stunted, bulging, super-productive dwarf variety. This triggered a change in the proteins our wheat contains, with the effects being detrimental in many ways to our health. The gluten in wheat can also cause a whole host of health problems and diseases – even in those who don’t show symptoms of celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
As if that wasn’t enough wheat, with its blood glucose increasing effect, causes blood sugar spikes. Two slices of “healthy” wholewheat bread raise blood sugar farther and faster than two tablespoonfuls of sugar. And is therefore implicated in the pandemic of obesity, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes and is the likely culprit for heart disease, and cancer.
Dr Davis in Wheat Belly presents a very convincing argument that humans are not adapted to eat and digest, wheat and its gluten protein. Given that ‘good old wheat’ is so omnipresent in our society is concerning, and the book’s message is that many health conditions that are prevalent today would probably not even exist if it were not for our high consumption of wheat.
Since they were born I’ve been conscious of the health of my children. I limit their sugar intake; they eat vegetables every day, and get plenty of fresh air and exercise. But as they get older I worry that I’m not doing enough, but then how far do we take it? With such conflicting advice afloat in the media stratosphere, how do we know what is best for our children?
It is our job as parents to instil habits that will serve them well in their lives. I want my children to grow up eating foods that will enable their young bodies grow strong and healthy, so they are not debilitated by health issues and so that they have the energy to find fulfilment in their lives, no matter what that means.
I want my children to be happy and I genuinely believe that happiness starts with healthiness. I didn’t always believe this. In the past when my body worked fairly well regardless of what crap I put into it, I couldn’t give a stuff, I assumed it would always work that way and those people who were turning to healthy eating, obviously didn’t have enough excitement in their lives. Since I hit my forties, things have changed. Every day my body aches a little more, sags a little more and responds more significantly to what I put inside it. I have been gaining weight, although my intake of fattening foods has never really changed, it is just that my body is no longer as amenable as it once was.
I needed to make a change but changes are hard to sustain, as we all know. So it had to be a change that I would incorporate into my life, as a permanent thing, but more than that I wanted it to be something I enjoyed. I didn’t want to count calories and agonise over everything I put into my mouth, I wanted to enjoy eating the foods I love, and as much of it as I wanted, but also to know that what I was eating was having a beneficial effect on my body. Mostly I wanted to show my boys that eating healthily is not a prison sentence, that just because it can be a challenge sometimes when you’re caught out with no real food and only McDonalds for as far as the eye can see, that it doesn’t mean that all the enjoyment has gone from life. I want them to see that I enjoy the food I eat, not that I yearn to eat food that, according to my diet, I cannot have. This above all else is not sustainable. Because there will come a time when my resolve will weaken and this form of denial eating will get the better of me and I will end up gorging on all the crap that I’ve been denying myself for weeks. These kinds of diets don’t work; regardless of the steely resolve we have initially to make it so.
I want to show my children that I care about what goes in my mouth but I also want them to see that I take pleasure in the food that I eat, that healthy is not boring, plain, tasteless, so that they can take my example into their adult lives and live in their bodies as they were meant to.
I’d got to a stage where I was foggy, groggy, lethargic and ratty, no it wasn’t PMT, these are all symptoms of the effects of wheat consumption, and there are many more besides. The absolute havoc that the wheat protein gluten plays with our health, so much so that it is said to be instrumental in causing ailments such as diabetes, type 1 and 2, IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and many more, you’d think that we’d avoid it like the plague. So much conflicting advice, much of it funded in one way or another by the wheat industry, has confused us all.
I’ve been a wheat eater my whole life, bread, cakes, biscuits, cereal, more bread and a little bit of toast in there too. Whole grains are part of a healthy diet or so we are led to believe, but did you know that wheat, and not just the soft, glistening fluffy white stuff, increases blood sugar as much as table sugar?
Wheat has been the main ingredient of my diet since my mother weaned me off the boob all those many years ago. It was my breakfast, lunch, dinner and evening snack (which was called supper in our house and was usually bread and jam).
That’s why it was so hard for me to give it up. I struggled at first, before I really knew why I was doing it. Back then I’d read snippets of information that wheat was not particularly good for you. Health experts in UK and in the US advocated very strongly that if we give up wheat we’ll be so much the healthier for it. So I tried it. It didn’t go well.
I decided that the first step was to try to replace wheat with oats and rye. These still both contain gluten, the damaging protein in wheat but not in nearly the same quantities. Rye bread was foul, like eating the odour eaters of a 30-stone soap dodger. Oat cakes weren’t too bad, if spread liberally with hummus or cashew butter. They don’t, by any means, taste as good as hot buttered toast and marmite.
The cakes and biscuits were a bit easier to cut down on. I just needed to get used to not stuffing custard crèmes down my throat at every opportunity. Pasta was tricky as my boys love it and we have it at least twice a week in our house. Avoiding breakfast cereals was a doddle as I didn’t eat them anyway and I limit them to weekends only for my sons, because of the sugar content.
So, bread and toast were my weakness, my kryptonite, and the more I resolved not to have it, the more I wanted it. It was almost physically painful. So in a fit of rage at the injustice of denying myself something I so loved, I surrendered and went back to bread and marmite in the mornings. The guilt hit me like a tonne of house bricks. Then I read a book. It was called Wheat Belly.
My (pathetic excuse for) resolve strengthened with every word I read, especially when the author, Dr Davis explained about how modern day wheat affects our insulin levels and how this helps us to retain fat, and so I decided to quit again. For the first couple of weeks it was difficult but the words in the book echoed around my head whenever the smell of hot buttered toast threatened to tempt me with its evil ways. I’ve now been steadily reducing wheat in my diet for about 6 weeks. The changes are astounding, truly. I’ve lost weight, not loads but slowly, steadily looking and feeling trimmer. I no longer have fuzzy brain, no longer need a nap after lunch and have more energy that I know what to do with.
The enchantment of childhood may be long gone for most of us but that doesn’t mean we can’t share in some of the magic.
My boys sit on the carpet playing with small colourful figures. They are deeply immersed in their inner worlds where pirates, monsters and magical lands rule. How wonderful it would be to be so absorbed as to totally forget all our fears, responsibilities and chores, but how do we return to the child within us?
Once upon a time magic was real to me, Father Christmas was an actual person and there really were mischievous fairies at the end of our garden. Somewhere along the road to adolescence I lost that innocence. Before I knew it I was all grown up and the fairies were gone, Father Christmas and the tooth fairy had been rudely ripped from my fantasy life and I was faced with the harsh realities of life, job, stresses and responsibility. My children come along and as a parent I was too busy with caring and chores to take much time to really be present with my children. Even if I did manage to find time to do a puzzle or play ‘pretend’ kitchen my mind was usually on something mundane like what to make for real dinner.
But play, it turns out, has numerous benefits, not just for the child’s developing mind but also for us adults too and if we consciously allow ourselves to fully immerse ourselves in play we will be richly rewarded.
Full immersion play can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals which in turn promotes feelings of well-being. Playing board games, doing puzzles, or other fun activities that challenge the brain can help improve memory and brain function as well as boosting creativity. Just as children learn a new task better when it’s fun, so do adults, especially when we’re in a relaxed and playful mood. Play can also help us to problem solve and stimulate our imagination, helping us adapt to stressful changes.
Play can improve our connection to others too. Enjoying a laugh with family and friends can promote empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy. A fun and playful nature can help us loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships. It can also keep us feeling young and energetic and even improve our resistance to disease. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression.
So how we do reconnect with our sense of fun and play more? The imagination is amazing. Everything ever created by man started with the imagination. It is the engine that takes us to fantasy worlds and allows us to relive the moments of magic and adventure of childhood.
Watch your children play imaginary games and you’ll see they’re not restrained with self consciousness, self doubt or a lack of ideas – limitless imagination flows out of them in the form of stories and scenes, spectacular catastrophes (my boys love explosions!) or dramatic love scenes (think ‘Frozen’)
I feel my most child-like when my boys and I walk in the woods. The chores I have to attend to temporarily cross my mind but I shake them away. They can wait. I tell the boys to imagine the woodland creatures that might be living in a hole in the tree; we create fantasy stories and act them out. They carve their own path through the wood to see where it leads. We’ll find a spot where the sun filters through the leaves and create fantastical worlds in the wood around us. This nurtures our imaginations and fuels their creativity. It gives their imagination the freedom to run riot, and allows me to break free of the shackles of responsibility from time to time, to regain a new sense of spontaneity. I try to see the world through my boy’s eyes occasionally and be the person I was before responsibility set in.
When we engage ourselves in our child’s imaginary world we are engaging with them on their level, we are giving them power and permission to be themselves and as such we really connect with them. They will open themselves up and we’ll learn more about them. If our children see that we can be fun and spontaneous, they’ll see that we are accepting the part of them that is fun and spontaneous, which in turn gives them confidence and inner strength.
Fiction is wonderful for fuelling the imagination. As an adolescent I was obsessed with the Famous Five books. I always wanted to be George and I loved the adventures the Five had. There was something comforting about these books especially after some hair-raising adventures were concluded with Ginger Beer! Re-reading some of the books recently sent me straight back to my childhood bed where I would be immersed in magical lands of pirates and lighthouses. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe too, has me imagining evil witches and friendly fawns, and their modern day equivalents.
Not only does re-reading childhood favourites bring back memories we’d long ago mislaid but it can also make us more creative. Painting, drawing, writing stories can unleash creativity in other part of our lives too. In can be difficult to tear ourselves away from the day-to-day but if we make play a part of every day life we can reconnect to our playful spirit and creative energy.
Just because we grow up, doesn’t mean we have to stop playing. Consider the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”