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
What Can You Do About Anger?
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
Don’t dwell on what doesn’t matter
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
Sing to your own tune
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
Is your power tank running on empty?
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.
Another failed NY resolution?
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.
How to make friends in the school playground (a guide for parents)
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.)
Revive your inner child
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.”
Writer or imposter?
I walk into a writer’s social networking meeting. Immediately I feel as though I don’t belong here – these are real writers, they all have valid reasons for being here. I, on the other hand, am an imposter.
Roughly 11 and a half months ago I resolved that this year I would: Get my book finished (am currently 41,000 words in); write a brilliant and illuminating blog post every week for this and my husbands website; lose 3 stone in weight; be infinitely more productive, and; be infinitely more organised.
Turns out that I was severely deluding myself as I didn’t achieve any of these things. The book is now at 41,050 words and is showing no signs of expanding; this is the first blog I’ve written for 8 months, and as for the rest, well let’s just say that my 2015 resolution list is going to be a tad longer than intended, with all those items I’ve carried forward.
Early every year many of us put pressure on ourselves to improve our lives, but the end of the year creeps up on us too soon and we realise (although I’m sure I don’t speak for all of us, especially those super-motivated, highly effective, super-women types) that we’ve achieved very little, and therefore feel a bit down because we’ve failed, again. So, isn’t it better to avoid resolutions altogether therefore evading the empty deflated feeling later on in the year when mega life-changing declarations turn to dust in our hands? Surely it is better to reflect upon small achievements, in whatever minuscule form they come, as and when they happen. Things like getting the rubbish out before the bin men arrive, getting that article finished before the deadline, and getting the kids school clothes washed and ironed before Monday morning. Getting these small things done make me feel so much more effective as a human being and as a mother, that I spend the rest of the day with a bounce in my step. So, with that in mind, my resolution this year will be that I will not make a resolution. Yet, I fear I’m just setting myself up to fail because alas, I know that come the New Year post-hangover fog my head will be busting not only with toxins but with all the things I want to achieve in the coming 12 months.