“Don’t Tell me to be positive. Don’t tell me to love myself more. The more I try to ‘be present’, the more all-over-the-place my mind becomes. I just get lost in overthinking”, said Alice in one of my coaching sessions. When my father-in-law was diagnosed with an incurable illness earlier in the year, he felt fear, despair and ... an overwhelming pressure to stay upbeat. A challenge we all face in this new normal is the tsunami of people popping up all over social media and TV telling us to be positive. And on the basis of that very statement, we should all move forward with a big cheesy grin on our face as if everything is ‘just great’ in our world, seemingly because of said attitude. For most people that is so untrue. The ideology of positivity given birth by our optimistic American cousins and raised into adulthood by the ‘personal growth’ industry, is now a global phenomenon. For many, including new age warriors, 'being positive' has become the new way of telling someone to 'cheer up'. Of course, we know we should be cheerful. Of course, we have heard it a million times before. And it’s downright annoying…
I did the Duke of Edinburgh award which is all about championing young people. “How can we do more to help our young people develop after all they have lost in his terrible pandemic?” says Chris from Newcastle. What Prince Philip did when he set up Duke of Edinburgh was forward thinking, and the fact that it has not only lasted for my whole life time is a great legacy of Prince Philip imagination and the thinking that created something that could contribute in a really positive way to British society. To me and the facts support it every child is born a genius and as the saying goes our children are not things to be moulded, but are people to be unfolded. As a father of four and a grandfather of three, I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it. For me the best way to make children good is to make them happy. The best way to help our children learn is to make them happy.
I am returning to last weeks topic because so many people contacted me asking for more information about our thoughts. Thank you to Jim, Brian, Jill, Alice and all who contacted me. Leah said to me last week: “I often feel like I am rowing a rickety boat across an ocean of sticky muck, especially in this pandemic. And, no matter how hard I row, I keep getting sucked deeper and deeper into the mud. Deep down I know if anything is going to change, I have to get out of the boat. Yet, there is a sense of security in the boat. After all, it’s solid, gives me some protection, it seems to be moving, even if it’s only in a circle." Leah found that what she thought was security is actually an anchor pulling her deeper and deeper into despair, at worst, or she was just existing, at best. Yet when you try to change it feels hard and what many of you do is get back into the boat where you were comfortable before even if it is denying you your dreams or goals and then the merry go round of life continues again.
For a very long time my mind controlled me. It paralysed me, kept me ‘living’ in desperate situations, and stopped me from ‘living’ the life of my dreams. I only learnt to move on when I understood what happened to me was not as important as what happened ‘in’ me. Nowadays as a mindset coach I ask people to take a walk with me - not literally, but a stroll through their minds. I usually start with: “Let’s listen in on the conversations you are having with yourself.” If you really listen to the voice in your head you will hear it telling you things, chastising you, organising you, offering you opinions, and creating replays of past events that ‘you’ would rather not remember.
This week I was working on leadership and change with business leaders zooming in from over 20 countries. One of the most mentioned topics was how COVID has changed us all, and how it will continue to change the way we work, rest and play. We talked about the change in how we use the internet, home schooling, working from home, the Joe Wicks only-for-a-week club, our new fascination with baking, online shopping, cashless wallets and how going to the supermarket is now considered a good night out. We have seen changes in the way people meet and couples date. There’s been a huge rise in virtual dates, and what to do on a “virtual date” is a top trending search on internet. We have seen an explosion of people swiping on dating apps, as there is no chance of you bumping into your ideal partner physically, unless it’s the delivery person or a Royal Mail driver. We have had watched zen-like football that is no fun, especially for the Geordie fans in our lives. Face masks are now the new condoms. We are eating more junk food, drinking more alcohol, freezing our beans off standing in coffee queues, using…
I was coaching some people this week who told me they were old and were living for retirement and it was funny as I heard about the feisty Eileen Smith this week in Cullercoats (whose age will be my secret) who does not let age be a barrier. It’s funny how when you start thinking about something you start noting more things. I was then reading this week about Europe's oldest person, French nun Sister Andre, who had just survived Covid. She turned 117 last Thursday. As she was being released from hospital she was asked what next. She said a birthday feast, Glass of champagne and her favourite dessert, baked Alaska. I said, what a nun. Go sister go! She reminded me of how much living is in front of all of us.
Sylvia (not her real name) said to me this week: "Don’t tell me to be positive. Don’t tell me to love myself more." I agree with her. A lot of people are suffering with mental health and the way many of us try to deal with our worries is to dismiss them, ignore them, or push them aside. Of the hundreds of people I have seen though this pandemic, over 30% of them beat themselves up for having bad emotions. Some of them are so tough on themselves. Telling people to be positive without understanding their challenges, empathising with their concerns, and helping them reframe their response can elicit a bad response. For many including new age warriors “being positive” has become the new way of telling someone to “cheer up.” Like we need to be told to feel better. Of course, we know we should cheer up. Of course, we have heard it a million times before.
As the the lockdown runs on, lots of people have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions and feelings - from sadness and anger to tiredness and feeling groggy. As every storm runs out of rain, so every dark night turns into day. But the problem is that we are primed to see the negative first. So whilst we see the vaccine on the horizon we are torn between two lovers: our potential saviour the Big V and the negative voice in our head-telling us to be afraid. As humans, we have at least 50,000 thoughts every day, which means we have a new thought approximately every 1.2 seconds. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are repetitive thoughts. Many of us are finding isolation uncomfortable or downright scary. Many of us find our own thoughts uncomfortable or downright scary I recently read a scientific study that offered 200 people a choice between giving themselves electric shocks or being alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes. Believe it or not, over 100 chose the electric shocks.
100,000 people dead. Staggering. Let's remember they are not a number. I have just been tearfully remembering them as I watched their faces on BBC this morning. Diverse, grandparents, parents, family, relatives, friends. Each unique & special. And many died in isolation. Death should not have the last word. We should remember them as individuals. Many of us are feeling a deep sense of loneliness. Loneliness can be profoundly damaging for mental and physical health. Social isolation and loneliness are not the same, but they are closely related.