I was chatting with friends last night about how we find it so hard to get a decent photo that captures the real "us" for our websites. We agreed that a great photographer would probably be helpful, but also that it's about relaxing for the shot. Properly. Because if we're the slightest bit stressed, our lips go thin and our face gets tense. And the eyes can't hide how we're feeling inside.
We decided we were obsessing a little too much about our flaws. And we needed to just be ourselves and people will approve or not. To not stress about what we can't control. So we're keeping it real and not photoshopping our photos or posting pictures from decades ago. Not yet anyway!
And it got me thinking about how we judge ourselves so harshly. And how it's worse for people whose whole identity is strongly linked to their external beauty or an image they want to project. Because this can become a huge source of stress. Trying to get that perfect photo ...
Me, I never got that obsessed with beauty. Quite the opposite. When I was young, I thought I was ugly, because no one ever complimented me on my looks. Not like they did my pretty, younger sister. They would compliment me on my brain, my grades, my achievements. So I became obsessed with achievement. And being perfect at it. Yeah, right there was the start of my stress.
I know it's not helpful to praise kids for their looks. That's not my issue. My problem was I'd decided I was ugly and so I didn't feel OK with being "me" as I grew up. I'd made a false assumption and created a severe lack of self-esteem and confidence because of it.
And now, as I look back at those old photos of little me, I can see I was actually rather cute! I just wish I'd known that. Way back when. A lot of wasted time hiding in the background, feeling ashamed of being me ...
Nowadays I'm OK. More than OK. My work with NLP has released those old, limiting beliefs and, with them, the shame and the stress.
So now I appreciate my gifts. I love my big eyes, even if they're a little more lined than before. And by being OK with me as I am has brought out this new energy. A glow that is so much more powerful that physical beauty. Getting old is still a luxury on our planet and so I plan to enjoy the journey. And love my body for getting me every step of the way.
Even if I do wonder at times who that person is who looks back at me from the mirror :)
It is what it is.
I came across a video by Dove about women and their self-perception that expands on my point perfectly. Even though we all put ourselves down about our looks, others will always see us in a better light.
A forensic artist draws a woman's face as she describes it (she's hidden behind a screen). Then a stranger describes her to the same artist, who draws a second image. The woman then gets to see both drawings side by side. The results are quite moving.
Watch the 3 min video here.
Our brains are wired to look for the negative (focusing on and amplifying the things we believe are "bad" and ignoring the "good"). So we all need to work doubly hard to be notice beauty in the world. And in ourselves.
The only answer is to accept ourselves, warts and all. Because others don't really notice our warts anyway. They're focusing on their own warts. Their own dramas.
And when people spend time with us, what they really see is the person inside. Our real beauty within. And true friends really love us for it. And reflect it back.
I also found this 2 minute video showing an alternative view, this time with men. I love the irreverent way that people take emotionally-laden stuff and just turn it on its head.
And it reminds me that I, too, can choose to take myself a little less seriously ....
Today is the UN's International Day of Happiness.
And to find out how happy you may be, based on where you live, here's the UN's 2018 report on World Happiness or a simpler overview of the happiest countries in the world here.
But wherever you live, why not make time for a smile right now? Yes. Go on. Smile.
Just for yourself. Because smiling lowers stress and simply makes us happier.
It's more comfortable to smile than frown. So give your face muscles a break.
And maybe that smile could turn into a laugh ...
Laughing tells your mind and body to relax, because you breathe out for longer than you breathe in. Remember those belly-aching laughs that make you feel you're gonna pass out until you finally gasp the air back in again? What better way to turn on your "rest and digest" hormones?
And then why not make someone else smile? Say something heart-warming or funny or simply smile at them. For no other reason than just to brighten their day ...
Smiling is contagious (check out this brilliantly funny poem) and so let's infect the world!
Just came across this great blog written by Wee Peng Ho which is packed with advice for a healthy, stress-less life.
And I found on there this list of inspirational quotes, so I thought I'd share my favourite two:
This one is simply stunning:
How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light – Barry Lopez
Make "your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light" - Wow! That just says it all for me. Sends a wave of energy down my spine ...
And this one, on keeping it simple, from one of my all-time heroes (and featuring one of my favourite herbs!) :
However mean your life is, meet it and live it: do not shun it and call it hard names. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Things do not change, we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts - Henry David Thoreau
And this wasn't on the list, but it's so brazen it makes the cut :
I mentioned before a friend who went on a Buddhist retreat and learned the best way to start the day was to simply smile upon waking.
She'd just lie there and grin to herself for a few moments before getting up. She said it was something she would continue doing forever - it really set her up for the day.
She even had a sign by her bed to remind her to smile every morning!
And now some researchers at the University of Kansas have shown why it works. They've found that even if we only pretend to smile, we de-stress and feel happier. Yep, they shoved chopsticks in the mouths of volunteers to mimic the smiling action of their facial muscles and even though they didn't know they were supposed to be smiling, it still worked!
Apparently, the act of our faces being in a smiling expression, tells our brain that we are not in any danger. So we relax and our blood-pressure lowers and our heart rate slows and we feel better........
You don't have to mean it. Try it. Just fake a smile and maybe you'll find, in a few seconds, that it works for you too. Or for a good laugh, try the chopsticks. Go on. Give it a go right now. Go on! Just for me....
You can see a summary of the research here
And next time you find yourself feeling stressed or upset, why not try smiling and see what happens?
He likes to sleep on his back and, if it's too light for him, he hides his eyes behind his paws.
Big bear's paws.
He is the biggest cat I've ever seen and he turned up at our house one day and decided to stay. He'd sleep under our van and used to eat Spot's leftovers.
At first, we used to shoo him away, because our cat, Spot, has a very nervous nature.
But we noticed that Spot quite liked Tommy. They would sit together outside.
Never seen her act like that before.
We'd joke that he was like Kevin Costner to her Whitney Houston in "The Bodyguard". He became her rock and she felt safe outside when he was around.
She even started chasing after intruding cats herself - finally got herself some brazen courage!
We put an advert on the internet in case someone was missing Tommy. We even had a lady come round to see if he was her lost cat "Vega", but Tommy legged it down the road and hid until she left.
We were worried that we'd never see him again, but he came right back as soon as her car turned the corner.
He wasn't going anywhere.
So Tommy joined our family and now another 3 stray cats have adopted us at our new home in the countryside - it's a crazy cat-filled life!
Spot & Tommy - sleeping like two book-ends!
Having a companion animal can also ensure we live longer and reduce stress - see this article about the health and even social life benefits!
And if we can adopt a homeless animal, then we're doing something really amazing.
Here's a short, but unforgettably wonderful clip about the rescue, rehabilitation and re-homing of a stray, blind dog they named "Fiona".
Brings a happy, hopeful tear every time I watch it.
Us humans can be amazing animals too, can't we?
Sometimes, for me, the best part of a film can be watching the credits at the end.
Some of those jobs just have to be made up, don't they?
Take "standby painter" for instance. What IS that? I have an image in my head of a guy in white overalls, with a paint brush in one hand and tin of paint in the other, standing there looking really eager, just waiting for someone to shout "Painter, Action!".
It must be pretty good to get a shout out for the job you've done, no matter how minor your role. Absolutely everybody seems to get a mention at the end of a film nowadays.
Imagine they did that for every product that we used.
What if my cup of coffee had a listing of everyone who contributed in bringing it to me?
Like - the designers of the cup, printers, material suppliers, manufacturers, the guy who drove the lorry to deliver the cups to the cafe, the coffee & sugar growers and manufacturers, coffee tasters, farmers and cows, right through to the person who made the coffee in the café, the makers of the car they drove to work in, the coffee equipment manufacturers, the bankers, accountants and insurance companies who support the business, the music that was playing in the café. And let's not forget the make up & clothing supplier and hairdresser of the server.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
How big would a cup of coffee have to be to print everyone's name and job title on there?
It's pretty incredible how many people go into making stuff we take for granted each day. Someone, somewhere has worked their butt off making sure the print on the coffee cup is exactly the right pantone reference colour. Probably had to work late to make sure they were on site for the print run start-up, maybe missing their kid's birthday party. Maybe they had a splitting headache, but stayed on to get the job done. Maybe they had to go and explain their decision to stop the line, to get the colour right, to the production manager who then complained to their boss. All in the name of the print on a coffee cup that no one much notices.
They're all out there. The likes of us, not in the film industry, doing this stuff every day and yet the customer doesn't know their name. Never will.
Once, for a laugh, I tried writing a credit list as if there'd been a film made of my life - it was pretty long and I never got close to finishing it.
There are just so many unsung heroes I could (and should) thank for helping me get to here.
But still, on that long, long list there was no standby painter. Not needed one so far, but then I'm young yet........
I had to do it.
I've just looked up Standby Painter and it IS someone just waiting around, on a film set, to do emergency painting. Amazing! Here's a job description - how cool a job is that?
Amy Cuddy is cool.
She's come up with something really simple to help us when we need a little boost to our self-confidence when faced with a difficult task such as going for an interview or telling someone something they won't want to hear.
All we need to do is go somewhere private and adopt a confident pose (e.g. hands on hips like "Wonder Woman" or shoot our hands in the air like we've just won the 100m sprint) for a whole 2 minutes.
Then we go and do that thing we have to do, feeling much more confident.
See the TED talk here.
Martin Seligman is the guy famous for working on the early positive psychology research i.e. what it takes for us to be happy and not just how to stop ourselves feeling depressed; he found that we have to actively work on both, if we want to be truly happy.
His latest research says that we need to use our signature strengths as much as possible in our daily life and then we'll achieve "flow" (where time stops for us) and we'll be the most content we can ever be.
It fits well with my view that, to be truly fulfilled, we should only focus on what we're good at and not on what we don't do so well (just let someone else, who's good at it, do that stuff). It's like being made to work extra hard at maths at school when all you want to do is be an artist. Why not work less on weaknesses and work harder on strengths? I say do the bare minimum of maths and do much more art! Less stress, more fun and more success.......
On Seligman's website are lots of interesting questionnaires relating to happiness that you can take for free. And you can save your results and retake the test again and again to see how you are changing your outlook on life over time.
If you don't already know your strengths, do the VIA signature strengths test on Seligman's site (register first and then you'll find it under "questionnaires") or else have a look on "Action For Happiness" which has a wonderful article about how to work out your strengths - click on "Where To Start" and take the survey.
Whichever test you take, I think the "Action For Happiness" instructions on how to use your results are the better ones to follow.
Anyway, I did Martin Seligman's signature strengths test and got the following top 5:
1. Industry, diligence and perseverance.
At first I was really disappointed with my number 1. "That's just REALLY BORING" I said to myself. But then I thought more about it and, although this is where my crazy, bad perfectionism used to be rooted, it is also where my ambition and success came from. I NEVER give up and that is my strength. It has also been cited as a key requirement for living a contented life, so maybe I am on the right track. However, all this persistence has to be tempered by my husband's realism - he will not continue flogging a dead horse (when I'd keep focused on the goal, never sidetracked, but also never looking sideways for a better way). Still, I'm at peace with this one now.
2. Love of learning
I can't quarrel with this one. I just love learning new things. It's my biggest passion. I need newness and this can be rather obsessive. I will read a book and underline lots of things to remember, but then I don't want to pick it up again to really, deeply understand what I've read. It's a battle for me to go back to something like that. So now I am learning to focus and dive deeper on learning. And forcing myself not buy a new book until I've done my learning on the last one........work in progress!
I also eventually realised that I love passing on what I've learnt on to others - hence why I started my practice. And this blog.
3. Fairness, equity and justice
I realised long ago that life is not fair; whoever said it would or should be anyway? It is what it is. So for me, this is about empowering others - I want to help those who can't help themselves and give them a chance to live an extraordinary life. I have supported charities such as "Free The Slaves" (did you know there are 27 million people in slavery in the world right now and these people free them, at great risk to themselves, and put them back on their feet?) and local animal shelters which underlines how important this is to me. Freedom is one of my key values.
4. Capacity to love and be loved
Enough said. Pretty important ...........
5. Forgiveness and mercy
Maslow said that all people are born good and it's life that turns some people bad. I believe this to be true. I tend to assume all people are just like me and it always surprises me when some people turn out to be less than honest. And then I still just try to see the world from the other person's point of view and not judge them. It's not always easy, but I'd rather be naive than become jaded and cynical. Some would see this as weak - I see it as keeping a positive outlook. Part of my persistent nature, I suppose - refusing to be changed by others.
I found this quite a revealing quiz to do, but even if you can't be bothered to fill out the long questionnaire (I think you need to rate high on the perseverance scale!), do check out the Action for Happiness website for many other fabulous tips on how to live a happy life.
It really is a goldmine.
I can recommend the Tony Hawks talk (he's the "hitching around Ireland with a fridge" comedian). It's long, but well worth every single minute - hilarious, heart-warming and with some deep insights about the meaning of life. I also recommend the talk by Oliver Burkeman.
Oops! My love of learning is keeping me up late again...............time for bed.
In a post some time ago I mentioned this amazing teacher I had in primary school who inspired me to take up a career in science. Then in another post I said that my teachers were all pretty uninspiring at secondary school.
So I really should tell you about this one exceptional teacher I had.
I can't for the life of me remember his name (pretty sure it started with a C), but Mr C. taught us biology.
And he was so passionate about his subject that his lessons were never boring. He would always come up with an interesting way to explain stuff to us.
One lesson, Mr C. wanted to demonstrate how the seed, as it puts its root into the earth, is lifted off the soil and into the air.
The only way he could think of explain this to us was to "become" the seed and act it out for us. He pulled 2 desks together at the front of the class and stood on them. And then he bent over and did a sort of wobbly handstand to show how the seed lifted itself up.
It was a pretty shocking gymnastic display and most of the pens and things he had in his pockets fell out. He was very red and sweaty when he returned upright.
And over 30 years later, I still remember that lesson.
Just shows how a passionate person can impact on the lives of others.
Thanks Mr. C - you made a mark on my world.........
"... outstanding in the field of self discovery..."
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