Dam; Busted

After a month of refusal, obstruction and obfuscation… on Monday the dam finally broke.

Under siege from my other and better half, out thought and out argued by my eldest; and finally advised to throw in the towel by my youngest… I gave in. Tomorrow we drive to the south coast to pick up a small brindled bundle of energy and potential joy called Romeo.

My daughter’s well argued PowerPoint put a massive crack in my defences

Our friends bringing his sister Winnie round last weekend brought the proposition to life…

So tomorrow we embark on by my guesstimate circa 17 years of having a hound again. Here he is looking rather down in the mouth with his breeder:

Albeit I know I’ll end up schlepping around in the rain, cold and dark for myriad hours as a result; I also know – in my heart of hearts – this is a statement of genuine optimism.

A dog brings mess, bother, responsibility, cost and ultimately great sadness – in their inevitable and sometimes painfully protracted decline. But a dog also brings joy, unconditional love and companionship; no one more pleased to see you when you open the door than a dog.

Every home is a happier home with a hound.

And so to our old dog. Poor old Mr Tumnus went downhill very badly in his last months; but he was a very fine hound for a good 7 years. It has taken half a decade but it’s time to welcome another big fella into our lives.

Sunny

😎

After two house moves in two weeks; last Sunday, post visiting a loved one in terminal decline and absolutely physically and emotionally shattered – I cried for the first time in a decade. It was just too sad.

But five days later the sun has come back out. Life is very simple. Get some sleep, be kind, work hard, do stuff, and crucially (as I’ve recently discovered) ruminate less; and the sun comes out.

My single biggest achievement in the last year – and arguably in my life – has been to train myself to think, act and be more positive. If you’re kind, interested, positive and helpful there is no situation you can’t improve.

For me it is a feat of application, discipline and will. It’s not my natural disposition. But sunny is the best way to be. Today it absolutely was; and I absolutely have been.

: )

Re-wiring

Talking to a nice person at work this week, as we descended several flights of stairs; she said:

"Yes John, but you're about the most positive person I've ever met."

I nearly tripped and fell down the remaining stairs… As I subsequently texted to one of my finest friends:

And a good week it has indeed been – against all the odds!

Which goes to show why being more positive and following my new motto: trust the universe to provide an answer – is a goodie.

Still, another marvellous former colleague of mine (now working in a real zoo; not just a human one) offered an even better motto to end the week…

Scienceing the sh1t out of it

I met some old professional friends for an annual reunion yesterday; and was pressed (as we all were) to recount my year. This made me think. 

First what did I want to say, why and to what purpose? Second, write it down (good old Chris Croft at work here again).

So I chose to describe my last year/18 months through five books:

1) Fierce Conversations

Gifted me by some free coaching from my previous employer, I was far more honest than I normally would be in workplace assessment; and was suitably diagnosed as: perfectionist, passive/aggressive and chronically unassertive with a strong tendency to take the problems of the world on my slender shoulders.  

Prescription: more ‘fierce conversations’ to assert my needs and proactively and reasonably manage the expectations of others.  

2) Depressive Illness – The curse of the strong

Faced with the first sight of what my new job entailed, I realised I’d made a horrible mistake… Massive construction projects with big problems, chronically unhappy people, no status, no power, no levers and probably hired as a fall guy. 

A very deep and sudden slump in my mood was explained and then arrested by this priceless little book. And since I’ve helped three other people by buying it for them. 

The essence: if you always work harder when more pressure comes on, and you don’t feel you can escape, you will blow a fuse. Simple and unavoidable; your body does for you what your mind won’t and cuts the power.

Prescription: ‘leave the Hoover in the middle of the room’ as I’ve written before; learn to deliberately leave some tasks undone, and some people potentially disappointed, as the inevitable reality of more demands than you can possibly meet.

3) Learned Optimism

Now this has been a BIG change… having written on it before I won’t rehearse it again.

Prescription: unless you are an Air Traffic Controller or a Loss Adjuster, as Eric Idle famously sang ‘always look on the bright side of life…’

4) The Anatomy of Peace

The simple if obvious discovery, that, nearly everything that happens to you, spirals out from your own attitudes and behaviour towards others. Correcting the behaviour of other people directly (however selfish, antagonistic or hurtful) is impossible; the only way to change things in others is by startling with yourself. 

As I said to someone this week, quoting Oogway from the marvellous Kung Foo Panda: “a man often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it” as here

But I have discovered progressively (since an epiphany half way through this book on our family holiday in Italy last summer) change how you yourself are ‘being’ and everything else changes for the better. 

Prescription: stop trying to correct things in others and invest in listening, understanding and accommodating them.

5) The BIG Book of Happiness – 87 Practical Ideas

My current favourite – there’s just so much to learn from this as here

Having reeled of my five books and the linking story, one of my pals said: ‘it’s quite impressive how you’ve analysed, researched and read stuff and figured out a way through all this.’

That struck me as very kind. I’d simply thought of it as ‘installing new upgrades’ and a few ‘power ups’ as my son would say. 

But on reflection later in the day, I concluded I’ve largely followed Matt Damon’s advice from ‘The Martian’ when he was faced with a hostile climate and a low apparent chance of survival – I’ve scienced the sh1t out of it. 

Nostalgia

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Turns out Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…

Traditionally associated with wallowing in a rose or even sepia-tinted past; nostalgia has a bad reputation for losing us in misty-eyed escapism to a lost time that never really was.

I’ve always believed nostalgia was a thing to avoid; at best a source of melancholy and at worst downright sadness. But not so according to the New Scientist:

First described by Johannes Hofer in 1688, the word nostalgia comes from the Greek nostros, to return home, and algos, meaning pain. Hofer observed it as a disorder of homesick Swiss mercenaries stationed in Italy and France… a disease which whose symptoms included weeping, fainting, fever and heart palpitations. He advised treatment with laxatives, narcotics, bloodletting or if nothing else worked sending the soldiers home.

As recently as 1938 the New Scientist continues:

It was described in the British Journal of Psychiatry as “immigrant psychosis”: a condition marked by a combination of homesickness, exhaustion and loneliness.

However, in the last two decades nostalgia has been recognised as an emotion found in all cultures; a mix of happiness and longing. Its bittersweet nature is apparently “unique but universal” – and most of us experience it at least once a week!

Why?

One theory the New Scientist offers is that nostalgia gives us a sense of continuity in life: “Nostalgia reminds us we are the same person we were on our seventh birthday party as on our wedding day and at our retirement celebration.” 

It turns out nostalgia is an antidote to loneliness; not its cause. It lifts us when we are feeling down and boosts well-being. 

And it helps you cope… less nostalgic people feel less connected to others, that life has less meaning, are less likely to seek help from others and deal with loneliness less effectively.

Whereas: “reflecting on nostalgic memories boosts optimism and leaves people more inspired to pursue their goals.” Wow! What’s not to like?

Music is a particularly effective summoner of nostalgia by all accounts (explains my blog about Teddy Mac, Alzheimer’s and Sinatra’s: “You make me feel so good”).

So yesterday I tuned into Absolute 80s on the radio for some teenage kicks, and sent my folks some BFI black and white archive videos of our home town. I used to think that sort of thing might drive them to melancholy; not now.

I’m embracing and prescribing a regular dose of nostalgia – rose tinted spectacles all round!

Optimism Epiphany

   

I’ve had an epiphany. It all comes down to three Ps; and avoiding learned helplessness

First discovered in dogs and then in humans, Wikipedia takes up the strain here:

Research has found that human reactions to a lack of control differ both between individuals and between situations. For example, learned helplessness sometimes remains specific to one situation but at other times generalizes across situations.

An influential view is that such variations depend on an individual’s attributional or explanatory style. According to this view, how someone interprets or explains adverse events affects their likelihood of acquiring learned helplessness and subsequent depression. 

For example, people with pessimistic explanatory style tend to see negative events as permanent (“it will never change”), personal (“it’s my fault”), and pervasive (“I can’t do anything correctly”), are likely to suffer from learned helplessness and depression.

If you want to bounce back fast from setbacks and beat the blues, Martin Seligman’s book and the thesis of learned optimism are well worth a read. It’s certainly working for me. 

I’m ruminating less, and actively breaking up permanent, pervasive and personal interpretations of bad situations when I hit them…

I’m regularly reminding myself: 

“It’ll pass”, “it’s just one part of my life”, “it’s not me that’s causing this.”

And directing myself – and others – toward action, not helplessness: 

“Ok but what can we do about it right now”,  “OK if we can’t fix that, what else can we fix” and “if anyone is going to make this better we can, so let’s have a go.” 

I feel a lot better, and people around me do too. It transpires the main benefit of pessimism is you predict the future better. 

Optimism might help change it.