Friday, 12 July 2013

Keeping motivated

Sometimes there are days, weeks, maybe even years when all the cards seem stacked against you.  We've had a run of apparent bad luck recently, with expensive repair after expensive repair to the plumbing, the kitchen, the car, to the point where it's all getting a bit ludicrous.  A wise friend pointed out that although things seem like a run of bad luck, they're all just individual things happening.  When things don't go wrong we don't tend to look at it as a run of particularly good luck. So why do we start grouping our unlucky occurrences in threes (or multiples of three as we've got into at the moment)?

A lot of it has to do with how our brains have evolved to look at the world.  The thought for the day on the radio this morning pointed out that we tend to react more to bad news because, for our ancestors, being alert in times of danger was the difference between surviving or not.  I see this as meaning that the pessimists who reacted the most to frightening or strange events survived, reproduced, and after thousands of years produced a species that buys newspapers in a direct positive correlation to the horror contained on the front page. 
My nice thing for the day

We can get bogged down by this tendency to react to bad news, and go through our days with a 'why me' attitude, comparing our lot to others who appear to be wealthier, healthier, happier.  Or, we can take control and retrain our brains.

During my twenties I suffered with two major bouts of Post Viral Fatigue, which for a long time was misdiagnosed as anxiety/depression.  The mistake is understandable because the conditions share many of the same symptoms.  Even after I finally got a GP who suggested that PVF was far more likely, it was still a tough time.  For each bout I would have months of sleeping for up to 20 hours a day, followed by a recuperation period where I could function enough to go to work full time, but only if I did nothing outside work and was in bed by 9pm at the latest.  The attitudes of other folks, thinking I was lazy, or crazy, was especially tough.  I'm not a person who finds sitting down doing nothing relaxing, I'm happy when I'm busy, so to be hugely limited and at the same time judged harshly for it was not pleasant.  it was also hugely isolating, because there's only so many times you can turn down a girl's night out with the staff at work before they stop asking and assume you're not interested in a friendship outside work.

So, I could either wallow even more, or I could find a solution.  I couldn't fix the PVF overnight, that was a slow process of gradually increasing what I could do, with lots of backsliding from doing too much.  But I could work on my brain to not feel so disgusted with myself.  I read about a therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and the principles seemed so sensible and easy to apply that I got cracking with it straight away.  The aim is to retrain your brain so that instead of dwelling on negative thought processes, it begins to automatically recognise the positive aspects of your situation.  Many religions have a practice of 'giving thanks' that encapsulated what you need to do to make these changes in your brain.  You could make a list each day of things you are thankful for and that make you happy, or you could speak the positive things out loud as you notice them.  My Mum, with a great deal of wisdom of her own, has a habit of pointing out 'the nice thing for the day'.  "Look, there's a woodpecker in the garden, well there's the nice thing for the day".  We don't need our lives to be dramatic, to make ourselves the centre of attention with the worst 'poor me' story.  How much better would it be to stroll along through life holding close to us the things that make us happy and letting go the things that don't?

This process of giving thanks has become central to my way of looking at the world.  I may have the odd moan, but I don't take things going wrong personally.  The PVF wasn't some kind of retribution from the Universe for something I did or said wrong, it was just a bad reaction to the flu jab (I had the flu jab twice in my life, and both times got PVF following it, but other factors could have been involved and I would not recommend avoiding the jab if your doctor has advised you to have it).  I would perhaps not have been the person I am now, in the situation I'm in now, without the experiences of my twenties, good and bad.  Since I wouldn't change my life now for the world, I can't feel bad about the experiences that got me here.  One of my favourite quotes encapsulates my outlook and is from the Buddha 'let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die, so let us all be thankful'.  

So what has this got to do with raising kids?  I think it has everything to do with it.  Our children are the only really important thing we have to think about each day.  Everything else is just 'stuff' compared to their needs, and  the biggest need they have is to be loved and to feel cherished.  We can't really give them this love unless we love ourselves, and this means working on making our brains and our hearts happy.  I'm not talking about some Disney singing-with-the-bluebirds kind of happy, I mean the deep down contentment that grief may rock, but a broken washing machine has no hold over.  I'm sure this is sounding very hippy dippy but the science behind it is sound.  Happier people are healthier people, and happiness (once basic needs for food, shelter and safety are met) has very little to do with levels of material wealth.  Happy, healthy parent are more likely to raise happy, healthy children, and since that's ultimately the goal for every caring parent, then we need to get motivated and get happy ourselves.

If you are struggling with a negative outlook and can't afford, or don't want, professional therapy, there's a great deal of inspiration to be found in the library, including new sections of 'books on prescription' aiming to help guide you to help yourself.  If however you are really struggling with despair and ill health then your GP can help to find out if you have an underlying problem that they can help with, mental or physical.  There's a huge difference between down in the dumps from time to time and real, grinding depression. No-one should have to go through that without help, although asking for it may be the biggest battle.

If on the other hand you are a school leader faced with children and staff in the doldrums, then there may be ways you can help teach positive ideas on a larger scale.  Advice on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles, and positive attitude can help.  There is also a long tradition in successful schools and businesses of bringing in professional motivational speakers.  I've never really lusted after money, but if I could pay for the company of a few of the people on this company's list to inspire and delight my friends and family over dinner then I would in an instant http://www.primeperformers.co.uk/category/motivational-speakers/.  I think my hubby would vote to bring in Mountaineer Catherine Destivelle, while Ben Fogle would be one of my top choices, or possibly Emma Forbes, or all three of them together because they would have so much common ground to talk to each other about.  Professor Brian Cox is on the list.  You could even pretend you wanted him to motivate your students to enter the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths industries, and not just because you want to gaze dreamily at him (KH if you're reading this, you know I mean you!).

This blog post was sponsored, but the thoughts and experiences described are genuine and all my own.  The orchid with a bee on it was at Sheffield Park and was one of my lovely things for the day we went there, a wonderful place to escape the stress of the week we'd just put behind us.  We also found a cream tea very soothing :)