What ‘kind’ of person are you?

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories this week. Specifically the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

We probably all have them. I’m not sure (never having been anybody else), but I know I do.

The thing is, until very recently, I hadn’t noticed that these stories weren’t real. That they were based on specific interpretations of things that could actually be interpreted in all sorts of other ways.

I was acting as though they were facts, when actually they were possibilities.

This didn’t matter too much when the stories I was telling helped me to be happy and healthy, but many of the stories did quite the opposite. For example, I had all kinds of stories that told me not to try new ways of being or doing things, because I wasn’t that kind of person. And I believed them.

Having started to get my head around the idea that these stories may not all be worth believing, I decided to see how many unhelpful ones I could dismantle and replace with new ones.

Lots of them, it turned out.

And I’m beginning to think: what if there isn’t such a thing as a kind of person? What if it’s ok to hold a little less tightly onto who we think we are and start being a bit more playful, experimental and curious about who we might like to be?

So I’m curious…do you have stories about yourself too?

Who else might you like to be?

What’s your safety net?

One of the most important things I’ve done over the last two years has been to create myself a ‘safety net’: a set of protective factors that support me in staying well.

I’ve discovered that lots of different things help me, but three of the most important are:

  • getting some kind of exercise
  • going outdoors, no matter what the weather
  • getting to bed before midnight

When life gets busy, I’ve noticed that it can be tempting to imagine that these things are luxuries. That it wouldn’t hurt to neglect them for a day or six. And initially it doesn’t seem to matter that much…

But, before I know it, I’m feeling just a bit more anxious. A bit less able to think clearly. A bit less patient with my nearest and dearest. A bit more critical of myself. A bit less hopeful about the future.

In just the same way that tiny positive changes can have a surprisingly huge effect over time, these little lapses really add up. And when they do and life gets really tough – as it seems to, sooner or later – it can seem completely unimaginable that such simple things as exercise, fresh air and sleep could bring any real relief.

For years people told me about the benefits of small, practical things like these and I smiled and ignored them. Behind the smile I even felt slightly indignant. How could they imagine that problems as terrible as mine would respond to such unremarkable things? (Good old ego…)

And yet, it turned out that unremarkable things exactly like these were able to help me turn a completely unmanageable life into really rather a nice one.

I suspect that everybody’s safety net needs to be slightly different. (I’m very definitely a morning person, so getting to bed before midnight matters to me, but might not to someone else.) I also suspect that it’s important to adjust one’s net from time to time. Optimise the tension. Make sure it’s still doing its job properly.

So, I’m curious…. do you have a safety net too?

If so, what does yours consist of?

Do your best. Let go.

One of the most challenging things about openly sharing one’s personal story – in my experience at least – is trying to keep steady on the inside, no matter how that story is received.

The talk I gave at the Do Lectures 2018
(originally entitled: The Problem with Big, Amazing Things)

I found taking part in the 2018 Do Lectures an enormously positive experience. It demanded that I think deeply about the ups and downs of my life, find some kind of meaning there and then try to articulate that meaning to others. It required me to have conversations (particularly with my two sons) that I hadn’t dared to have before. It opened up new discussions about the common struggles we go through in our attempts to feel ‘good enough’. It was an opportunity to make peace with a peculiarly painful period of my life and move on. An extraordinary process and one for which I will always be grateful.

Now that the talk has been published online, I am noticing how easy it is to feel vulnerable knowing that it can be seen and responded to by others; people who will inevitably have their own judgements, experiences and sensitivities around the subject matter. At times it can feel scary to have spoken out and to have been so honest and unguarded in sharing a story which, previously, was held private and safe.

However, as I’m gradually learning to do, I’ve found my way back to the writings of much older and wiser people. In particular, to these words by Lao Tzu from the Tao Te Ching (translated by Stephen Mitchell):

“Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.”

What I love about this is the reminder to do one’s best and then let go.

A simple thought, yet such a comforting one.

So I’m curious…

How do you keep steady?