Tag Archives: Change the world

How to Set Goals on Your Terms

Everyone seems to be talking about New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of the year, whether they are setting their own or mocking other people for making them. The same stuff gets churned out year after year, as if achieving goals can be addressed with a one-size-fits-all mentality – yet year after year, most people fail to achieve their goals.

I believe the most effective approach is a personal one. Instead of listening to whatever guru is currently on television, turn to the premier expert on you: yourself.

 

  1. Figure out what YOU want

A lot of noise gets created by the media, social media, advertising, your family and friends, etc. We are bombarded with a lot of messages about what we “should” want: a thin body, a romantic relationship, children, a big house, a fancy car, designer clothes, luxury holidays… These things are sold as solutions to our problems and all too often, we accept that at face value because it’s easy and seems to work for everyone else.

You need to step back and question these assumptions. Why do you want any of the above? How would it change your life? How would it make you feel? Might there be different effects to the ones shown in glossy magazine images?

Pinpoint what you ultimately want, rather than thinking a certain goal equates to happiness. If you would like a new relationship, for example, how would you like to feel in that relationship? Supported, cherished, secure? Consider whether other things could be more effective in helping you achieve those feelings. I’m not saying you shouldn’t want a relationship or anything else listed above; I’m saying you need to work out why you want it and keep an open mind as to how you might achieve that why.

If questioning yourself doesn’t change your mind, that’s great! It means you want to achieve your goal for the right reasons and have clarified the specifics. For instance, if companionship is a priority for you in a relationship, you may not want to pursue a relationship with someone who works away for months at a time. You have a clearer vision.

However, if you have changed your mind about what you want, that’s great too! Don’t be afraid to search away from the beaten track. Who cares if other people don’t understand why you are choosing a specific goal? As long as it makes you happy, it’s all that matters. Besides, quirkier goals are usually more fun!

 

  1. Do your research

Has anyone achieved your goal? For most goals, the answer is yes. Seek these people out, online and real life. Find out how they succeeded and what they wish had happened in a different way. Ask for advice. Gather all the information you can at first, then select what is most relevant to you and your situation.

If your goal has never been achieved by anyone (gold star for you!), research people who have achieved similar goals. In fact, a lot of information and inspiration can be gleaned from reading about successes which appear different to what you want to achieve. Whatever your goal, factors like determination and confidence are bound to be issues.

It can help to divide your research into practical aspects and mental/emotional considerations. While there may be overlapping, it is helpful to organise your material this way because practicalities and mental/emotional concerns require different approaches. Further subdivisions can also be useful, as tackling your goal in smaller chunks makes it more manageable.

 

  1. Play to your strengths

What works best for you? What are your skills? Which of your personality traits can be characterised as strengths? How have you achieved goals in the past?

All of these things can help you tailor how you approach your goal to your own needs and idiosyncrasies. For example, if you struggle to get up in the morning, perhaps early runs aren’t the best strategy for you to get fit – exercising later in the day would suit you better and make you more likely to stick with your goal. The idea is to incorporate your goal into your life as seamlessly as possible – it doesn’t mean achieving your goal will be easy, but it will make things a little easier and increase the chances of achieving your goal.

Refer to your research: have other people used strategies which might work well for you? How have people with similar lifestyles or personalities achieved their goals? Are there any deal-breakers which you will need to fulfil in order to avoid failure?

 

  1. Define what success means to you

How will you know when you have achieved your goal? The answer is obvious for some goals, like running a marathon, but can be open to interpretation with other goals. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, what indicates success? A certain number on the scales? A clothing size? Define what you want.

If your goal is more difficult to measure, you may need to create your own subjective scale. For instance, if you want to simply be happier, how will you know? Our moods fluctuate and memories of emotional states are unreliable. Perhaps you could measure your happiness by the number of times you have had fun over a week. Or you could use a scale of one to ten to rate your level of satisfaction with different areas of your life.

It’s up to you how you define and measure your goal – just choose a mechanism which works for you.

 

  1. Don’t be afraid to experiment and re-evaluate

Finding what works for you is reliant on trial and error. Don’t waste time playing it safe – if a strategy intrigues you, try it out as an experiment for a certain period of time. You have nothing to lose by trying something different for a week or two, but you could gain a lot if the strategy works well.

A word of caution: the time period of your experimentations depends on your goal and the new strategy you are trying out. Changing your diet for 3 days, for example, is not helpful in finding out whether it can sustain long-term weight loss. On the other hand, it may be long enough to establish that a new sleep routine works for you. Don’t give up your experiments too early – unless they are having a significant detrimental effect.

Make notes on what you try and the results. It’s useful to be able to refer back to them weeks or months later, when you might be facing a plateau in reaching your goal and need to assess why previous strategies you have used did or didn’t work. Keeping a record of your experimentations also helps capture ideas on what you could try in future – sometimes strategies which didn’t work at the beginning of the year can be ideal later on.

 

  1. Track your progress

A major reason for defining your goal and how to measure your success is so that you can record your progress. This helps keep you motivated and accountable. It stops you from carrying on regardless of whether your efforts are producing results.

Decide how often you want to track your progress. Weekly check-ins work well, because they keep your goal at the forefront of you mind, but fortnightly or monthly records might be more appropriate – it depends on your goal. Use a timescale which suits you, as long as you track your progress regularly.

Use a method of recording your progress which suits you. A gorgeous notebook might motivate you to take the time to detail your success, or using a smartphone app might provide a hassle-free and convenient way to track progress. Whatever method you use, keeping it simple will probably help you stick at it.

 

  1. Keep going!

I know I’m pointing out the obvious, but people often overlook the fact that most success is due to consistency. Hard work and determination go a long way. There are no shortcuts to achieving any goal that’s worth achieving – otherwise everyone would be doing it easily.

Sure, factors like luck can play a part, but even if you get a lucky break, you need to be ready for it. You need to have done the grunt work behind the scenes so that when a record producer asks to hear your demo tape, you can place a professional quality showcase of your talents straight into his hands. Some people might get quite far on charm and no substance, but they are rare and would go much further if they backed it up with other skills.

If you quit, the only person you are hurting is you. The world doesn’t care that you could have been the next great scientific genius or whatever – they will only care if you stick with your goal and produce great work.

Everyone has potential – but realising that potential is rare.

Choose to be one of the few who reach their potential, or at least a good percentage of their potential. Strive towards your goals and when you get knocked back, keep going. You can do it.

 

 

 

 

 

Getting my Mojo Back

The past month or so has been difficult. In addition to the stress of coming off antidepressants, which I didn’t expect to be so stressful, several minor events threw me off course. I couldn’t even turn to exercise, which I have been using to manage my mental health, because I injured my hip. My mood was affected and at times, it felt like the world was conspiring against me.

However, this week is a lot better. My hip has recovered enough for me to return to gym classes, so that has boosted my mood and put me back on track working towards my fitness goals. I think using the SAD lamp has helped a lot, too. It’s the kind of thing I don’t notice doing good until I do less of it and experience a corresponding drop in mood. My fiction writing is also going well and I’m doing some volunteer work again, both of which help me feel more purposeful.

I have realised that getting my mojo back isn’t about a dramatic change or a magical transformation. It is simply the accumulation of small actions.

Like Austin Powers, I had my mojo all along. I just need to access it through concentrating on self-care. I have to keep doing the things which help me manage my mental health, even when — no, especially when — I don’t feel like doing them. These actions may be small, but they still take a lot of effort when depression and anxiety set in. They may be small, but they are significant.

My self-care actions, in addition to the ones already mentioned, include:

• Getting outside, especially in woodland

• Spending time with my dog and cat

• Eating reguarly and as healthily as I can

• Reading novels and short stories

• Watching The Big Bang Theory

• Mindfulness meditation

• Scribbling down my feelings

• Watching tennis (and Andy Murray reaching number 1 helps!)

• Texting friends/seeing friends

The result of getting my mojo back is that I feel more motivated and have more energy. There is room for improvement, but compared to how I felt recently, it’s brilliant! 

Again, this experience demonstrates the power of small actions when they accumulate. I find that very encouraging — not just in terms of mental health, but also how the principle can be applied to other aspects of life. You might not feel like you can do much to change things, but you can do something small. Keep taking small actions and you could change the world.

Beauty Can Flourish Amidst Devastation

Nature regenerates when faced with disaster
Nature regenerates when faced with disaster

Three years ago, in the location of the above photo, were hundreds of trees. I used to walk my old dog there regularly and it’s where my current dog had his first walk. Then, one winter night, a storm flattened all but a few of the trees. The woods became a wasteland.

But this year, just over 2 years after this loss, a field of foxgloves blossomed amongst the debris. The space is beautiful once again, in a different way.

I have been drawing some parallels with my own life: just as I would rather the trees hadn’t been uprooted, I would rather not have experienced mental illness, but the experience has enabled some good things to happen. My life isn’t a wasteland, though it may have appeared so for a while, because new growth is possible. New growth that might be more beautiful than what came before.

You can find beauty in your own life
You can find beauty in your own life

After all, if I didn’t struggle with mental health problems, I wouldn’t have been forced to focus on my priorities. I wouldn’t have found the courage to take risks or to actively pursue a writing career. Mental illness also shows you who your friends are — and which people in your life are unsupportive and best cut out.

I think we often forget that beauty can flourish amidst devastation. Yet we are all conscious of famous examples, such as the fields of World War One erupting in poppies. The same is true on a human scale: Malala Yousafzai comes from a war torn area of Pakistan and nearly lost her life when she was shot by the Taliban, yet she is a strong, intelligent, inspiring woman whose message is so far-reaching precisely because of what she has suffered.

Why shouldn’t the same apply to you?

Why shouldn’t beauty flourish in your life? No matter how disastrous your current situation appears, the laws of nature apply to you — that’s part of being human. You can go on to achieve things you never thought possible.

My own achievements (so far!) are very modest, but there were times when I thought they were impossible. I believed I could never go to university, let alone gain a BA and MA. I didn’t even think I would learn to drive. Sure, I have had to do things in somewhat unconventional ways, such as living at home with my parents throughout university, but I still did them.

Nowadays when I feel hopeless and useless, I try to remind myself of how stupid and ignorant I was when I thought that going to university and driving were beyond me. I don’t know what I am capable of achieving — but I do know I will never find out until I try.

Look for the beauty in your own life

Search for the shoots of potential foxgloves. It might be as simple as deciding you would like to do something. It might be acknowledging a couple of wonderful people in your life. But even if it all looks disastrous, remember that there is hope — beauty can flourish.

Permission to Be Fabulous

Two weeks ago today, I was panicking. It was the first day of my Arvon short story course at Totleigh Barton and I had no idea what to expect. Meeting new people is nerve wracking for most people, but it’s one of my biggest triggers for anxiety, which has been severe in the past, so I was especially worried.

My fears were somewhat allayed by the Arvon staff and my fellow students, who were all warm and welcoming. As the week went on, I grew increasingly comfortable around everyone. Our tutors, Clare Wigfall and Tod Wodicka, were also friendly and supportive. It was a fantastic week — intense, challenging and inspiring.

As my anxiety shifted its focus from whether everyone would hate me and think I’m stupid (aided by vast quantities of wine…), I became preoccupied with my major concerns relating to my writing. These can be summed up as:

• Who the fuck am I to try to make a living from writing?

• Who the fuck am I to write this particular story?

• Who the fuck am I to have goals and dreams?

I realised that these issues all relate to one concept:

Permission

Permission to write, permission to write what I want, permission to take myself seriously as a writer.

I recalled an interesting blog post by Tania Hershman about permission and was surprised to find, upon rereading it, that she refers to an Arvon short story course she taught at Totleigh Barton. She discusses how permission can be gained from the example set by other people’s writing — how other writers have found ideas, written in certain styles or formats, about specific subjects, etc. All of which I wholeheartedly agree with; I have been inspired by various writers to experiment in my writing.

In fact, during the short story course, I hit upon an idea which made me uncomfortable because I felt I didn’t have permission to write about the topic at its core. Strangely, when I consider other writers, I am adamant that anybody can write about anything — as long as they seek the emotional truth at the heart of their story. Nobody owns a particular story until they write it; you can write about your own experiences, of course, but you can also write about experiences which are vastly different to your own. However, I find it difficult to give myself permission.

External Permission

My course tutors were brilliant at giving me external permission to write about whatever comes up. Their tutoring styles were contrasting but complementary: Clare reassured me to continue exploring my ideas and Tod challenged me to think more deeply about my ideas. I continued to work on my story and will complete it at some point (hopefully) in the near future.

I also received external permission when I won the Devon prize in the Exeter Writers short story competition: somebody thought my story was good! Maybe I’m not completely deluded in trying to write. Ditto whenever I receive any encouragement in my writing — it feels like I’m being given permission to continue writing.

Yet as much as I enjoy receiving external permission, I know that I need to give myself permission.

Internal Permission

The more I think about this, the more parallels I find between writing and recovering from mental illness. I spend so much time seeking permission from others, too scared to push my boundaries without it, that I often play it too safe. I shy away from risks, despite experience having taught me that the biggest risks have the biggest payoffs.

There simply isn’t time to hang around waiting for somebody else to give you permission to pursue your goals. Most people are too busy worrying about whether they have permission to follow their own dreams to stop and give you permission to follow yours. Even if you have close friends or relatives who act as permission givers, encouraging you to take risks and push your boundaries, you ultimately need to give yourself permission.

No matter how we pretend to be mature and sophisticated, I think most of us have internalised aspects of fairy tales which do us no favours. We might not literally believe that Prince Charming will rescue us from a life of drudgery, but we bestow this wish onto other things which we (mistakenly) believe will transform our lives and make everything better — winning the lottery being a prime example. We know we don’t have a fairy godmother, but we still wait for someone else to give us permission to go to the ball.

I need to give myself permission. Both in writing and in life. It also needs to be continuous, rather than letting myself take risks sometimes and letting myself hide behind my anxiety at other times.

Consistent Permission

Consistency is key to any success. As a big tennis fan, I see that what divides players at every level is not innate talent or luck, but consistency in training, mental attitude and skill. Every aspiring writer gets told about the famous examples whose manuscripts were rejected many times before hitting the big time (JK Rowling, anyone?), but that’s merely the most visible kind of consistency.

Success in writing usually depends on consistently practicing and improving your craft, finishing projects and submitting work. I need to keep giving myself permission to write and to be a writer.

The same is true of any goal — giving yourself permission every once in a while is not enough. You need to give yourself permission every day to prioritise what matters to you. Even if you don’t actively work towards your goal every day, the permission needs to be given on a daily basis as a reminder that your goals are important.

All-Encompassing Permission

Over the past week, since finishing my Arvon course, I have been learning about how permission applies to all areas of my life. I have realised that part of managing my mental health is giving myself permission, every day, to monitor how I’m feeling and to work with my symptoms, not against them. Sometimes this can be counterintuitive — it’s hard not to berate myself for being lazy when I know that I’m not well enough to work. Sometimes it involves challenging myself more than I find comfortable, because I know it’s better for my long term mental health.

Giving yourself permission isn’t easy, but it is necessary if you want to lead a fulfilling life.

Think of the people you admire most — your heroes and role models. Whoever they are, I bet they didn’t wait for someone to give them permission most of the time. I bet they gave themselves permission frequently and consistently.

Imagine if people like Helen Keller, Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, Marie Curie, Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks waited for someone to give them permission before they took action. None of them would have achieved as much as they did. In all probability, they would have led unremarkable lives.

So who are you not to give yourself permission?

You could be just as amazing as the people I mentioned above and anyone else you find inspiring. How can you know if you don’t give yourself permission to achieve your goals? The only guarantee is that if you don’t give yourself permission to do what you want to do, you will be lucky to fulfil 1% of your potential.

That’s my single piece of clarity as I struggle towards my goals: my chances of success might be low, but if I don’t try, my chances are zero.

So I will continue making the effort to give myself permission, though it’s never easy, because it’s the only way I will achieve anything.

And that Arvon course I have been talking about? It took me over 3 years to give myself permission to apply. I kept making excuses, thinking I couldn’t cope with completing the course or that I stood no chance of getting a grant which would cover enough of the cost. I was wrong. Giving myself permission to do the course was one of the best decisions of my life.

Go ahead — give yourself permission to be fabulous!

Proactive Doesn’t Mean Positive

I use the word “proactive” a lot, but what does it mean? Put simply, it’s about taking control. It means carrying out an action or many actions which will change your situation. Sometimes these actions will be big, like applying for a job or taking a course, but you can be proactive by carrying out small actions too. When I’m having a bad day, for example, my version of proactivity might be having a shower and making a semi-healthy breakfast. Being proactive means accepting that you can change your life in some way.

A lot of people confuse a proactive approach with a relentlessly positive approach, but the two are not the same. I do try to adopt a positive attitude, but I’m also realistic. You can be proactive without being positive — the only positivity required is that you accept there is a small chance of your actions improving your life. You can convince yourself you’re destined to fail, but as long as you are taking action you are being proactive.

The trouble is, it’s difficult to keep taking action if you believe it will have no effect. If your frame of mind is negative, focusing on the actions themselves is the only way you can maintain a proactive approach. You perform each task without getting caught up in the what-ifs. You follow your plans even if you doubt there will be good consequences. However, being proactive always has one good consequence: you have taken action. You have grabbed an iota of control.

You can also be positive without being proactive — it’s called wishful thinking. This can be more harmful than being negative, because you relinquish control of your life and if anything good does happen, it doesn’t have the same effect as it would if you had worked towards the good thing. Your self-esteem and confidence will not be boosted, because you didn’t do anything to bring about the positive consequence. Being proactive, on the other hand, boosts self-esteem and confidence even when the consequences aren’t good, because you are taking  responsibility for your life. You are effecting change, even when it doesn’t always work out as you had hoped.

And let’s face it, nobody is going to wave a magic wand and solve all of your problems. Everyone has strokes of luck in their lives and some people have massive windfalls, but unless you are proactive you will not be able to take full advantage of luck. If you don’t become proactive when you get a lucky break, you will squander the opportunity. Your windfall will not make you happy.

Perhaps you refuse to be proactive because whatever will be, will be? Something is bound to happen sooner or later, right? External events will change your life, regardless of whether you do anything about it. If you think this way, grow up. You have some control over your life, so use it. None of us have 100% control over our lives, but as long as you are capable of consciousness (and if you are reading this, you are) you have some degree of control. Even people in the most desperate situations can use the small amount of control available to them: Victor Frankl, who wrote the amazing book Man’s Search for Meaning, used his time in a concentration camp to learn about humanity and refused to let the Nazis steal his only remaining possession, his mind.

Being proactive takes some effort, but it is not difficult — as long as you tailor your actions to your current situation and frame of mind. Small tasks add up and improve your life, no matter how gradually. Every time you take action, celebrate. You don’t have to break out the champagne; simply acknowledge that you are taking control and your life will improve as a result. You don’t need to convince yourself that the result of your actions will be brilliant — you just have to carry out the action and see what happens.

Learning to Play Big

This post is dedicated to Kathryn Bond, one of the most awesome women I know.

A couple of months ago, I read Playing Big: A practical guide for brilliant women like you by Tara Mohr and was inspired. The book calls on women to stop limiting themselves, to stop believing  the crap society tells you about knowing your place and to chase your dreams. Women tend to “play small” in their careers and personal projects. They regard hugely successful women with awe, wishing they were like her, instead of realising that they — and you — are that woman.

There is no “success” gene or magic elixir. There is nothing fundamentally different about the women who achieve great goals; all women have such potential. The difference is, ultra-successful women have seized opportunities ities, persisted in the face of criticism and aimed high. When they have been discouraged and their confidence has failed them, they keep going. Mohr calls upon all of us to keep going and to support others in their endeavours.

Read Mohr’s 10 Rules for Brilliant Women for an introduction to how to play big.

Another woman who is no stranger to playing big, Mayim Bialik, launched a website last week: GrokNation.com. For anyone who doesn’t know, Bialik plays Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, was the eponymous Blossom in a former life and got a PhD in Neuroscience in between. in addition, she has published books on two of her passions: veganism and holistic parenting.

I have enjoyed reading her posts on GrokNation so far — it’s refreshing to read open, honest viewpoints on a range of issues, especially from someone in the public eye. I don’t share all of Bialik’s views, but I admire her integrity and intelligence. I was also delighted to read (in a reply to a reader’s comment) that she plans to write about mental health.

My mentor, Emylia Hall, is another amazing woman. She has written her third novel, The Sea Between Us, which will be published in paperback on 27th August and is already available on Kindle. It’s a love story with a difference — the protagonist finds fulfilment in herself, through surfing, family relationships and art, becoming a whole person in her own right. Whether or not she gets the guy who seems to be her destiny is another aspect to her life, not its raison d’être. 

Emylia’s first two novels, The Book of Summers and A Heart Bent Out of Shape are also fabulous. They also tackle issues of identity as young women learn about themselves and their place in the world, which is one of my interests — probably because identity struggles are a common element of Borderline Personality Disorder. I think it’s a topic that doesn’t get discussed enough, particularly when you consider that women are in a strange position, experiencing a lot of inequality and prejudice despite not being a minority group in any society (bar a few religious enclaves).

Emylia is also an incredibly supportive mentor. I was selected as her mentee after I applied to the mentorship she was offering through the WoMentoring Project, which links aspiring female writers to mentors who are established in their fields. It’s all done on a voluntary basis, which means people of limited means (like myself) have access to mentorships. Emylia has continued to encourage and advise me, long after my initial mentorship ended, for which I am incredibly grateful.

I’m trying to play big and struggling, but reading about other women who are defining success on their own terms and striving towards their goals keeps me motivated. The women I know who do amazing things every day, like working with children with challenging conditions like autism while raising a toddler and being an awesome friend, also inspire me.

You Are Not Normal!

This week, I read a charming book called What The **** Is Normal? by Francesca Martinez, who faces multiple challenges because she has a terrifying condition: she is a comedian. Oh, and she happens to have Cerebral Palsy but prefers to refer to herself as “wobbly”. Francesca points out that nobody is normal and having a disability — including mental illness — just means you do things differently. We all have different abilities, strengths and skills — so why do we define some people by what they can’t do and not others?

Francesca’s book is awesome and should be read by everyone (especially politicians, in my opinion), but I found it very interesting from the perspective of someone with mental health problems. Francesca and other people with physical disabilities spend their lives being told what they can’t do, often erroneously; myself and others with mental illness spend our lives being told, erroneously, that we can do things. We can “pull ourselves together” and “snap out of it”. My conclusion is that people should mind their own bloody business!

We should also stop labelling each other. You may have noticed that I don’t use terms like “depressives”, instead refering to “people with depression”. I do this because language is powerful and nobody should be indentified by a medical condition. Of course, medical conditions can be part of your identity — I have talked about the merits of mental illness — but it should never be the whole.

I think Francesca is fucking amazing and her message, delivered with the force of her hilarious humour, is vital: you are not normal. Nobody is. So why waste energy bewailing the fact? Whether you have a physical or mental condition that affects how you live, there are far more important things to worry about thatn how “normal” you are.

Reads to Rewrite Your Life 4: The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau

The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau is a call for revolution. It’s about challenging convention and figuring out what you want from life, not what others expect you to want. It’s about discovering a lifestyle which works for you – whether that means travelling the world or living on an isolated mountaintop, working a few hours a day or making your work your life, spending your time partying or wandering alone. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to look past the limitations put on you by society and live your dream.

Guillebeau is living his dream and uses his experiences to explain and illustrate his points throughout the book, but he also features many other people as case studies or examples. You might not want to follow Guillebeau’s lifestyle of frequent travelling (I don’t) but there is plenty of inspiration for different types of people. The Art of Non Conformity will appeal to anyone who has wondered “why should life be like this?”

It’s refreshing to read a book that encourages you to follow all of your crazy goals. So many lifestyle guides and self-help books take the opposite approach, asking you to reduce your goals – or abandon them – and focus on what’s “realistic” or “achievable”. The problem is, we don’t know what is achievable until we try. Throughout history, people have achieved what was previously believed to be impossible. Many of those things have become banal – I’m typing this post on a laptop that is more powerful than any computer that existed a few decades ago, yet it’s not the best model available (by a long shot) and although it’s purple and I like it, it is not particularly impressive. Some ordinary tasks, like online banking and internet shopping, have only taken off in the past decade. What if the people who originally had these ideas gave up their goals because they seemed unlikely to succeed?

The Art of Non Conformity teaches you to become a trailblazer. It doesn’t matter if your goals are small or weird or unique to you: you can experiment and discover new ways to lead your life. You might have an innovative idea that could change the world, or you might want to work out how you can do as many of your favourite activities for as long as possible. It doesn’t matter – be the trailblazer for your own, personal lifestyle.

It’s early days, but I have been inspired by The Art of Non Conformity and I’m trying to create the life I want. Guillebeau presents a range of advice and I can’t do it justice by summarising everything, but my favourite piece of advice is to write a to-stop-doing list. This is what it sounds like: a lists of tasks which waste your time and sap your energy, getting in the way of you achieving your goals. My list includes “watching TV programmes I wouldn’t bother recording” and “stressing about ‘what-ifs’”. If you would like to change your life and are looking for inspiration and ideas, read The Art of Non Conformity and check out the blog at www.chrisguillebeau.com

 

About the Reads to Rewrite Your Life series

This series discusses books which have helped to change my perspective on life. Many will be self-help guides, some will be classics and others will be a little different… I aim to provide an eclectic mix to inspire everyone, regardless of whether or not you have mental health issues.

  1. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  2. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  3. The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky
  4. The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
  5. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor

Make Kindness Your Superpower

The power of kindness is often experienced, but under-acknowledged. We tend to think of kindness as something that might brighten our day, but has limited impact on our lives. Wrong! Kindness can have huge effects: in the darkness of mental illness it can provide a light to help us find our way out. Performing acts of kindness can also help mental health problems, enabling us to reconnect with other people. Kindness can transform lives in small ways and big – look at the various charities who have provided people with clean water, basic healthcare, education, etc. And the best thing about kindness is that it benefits both the recipient and the person performing kind acts.

That’s why I want to invite you to make kindness your superpower. Use it to improve your life and the whole world.

Random acts of kindness have attracted a lot of attention over the past 10 years or so, celebrated for their eccentricity as much as their effects, but I prefer targeted acts of kindness. Targeted acts of kindness have more inherent meaning because they involve strong feelings about the recipient and/or the specific act of kindness. You might want to treat a friend who has stuck with you through the hard times, or who is going through a hard time herself. Perhaps you decide to donate to Amnesty International because you are passionate about human rights. Maybe you know a teenage boy who is always helping others and want to help him achieve one of his own goals. Targeted acts of kindness might not have the tabloid appeal of random acts of kindness, but I believe they are infinitely more awesome.

If we make kindness our superpower we can change the world, but we all have to start with a single person: you, yourself. It makes sense when you think about it – how can you access the full power of a value if you refuse to let it radiate in all directions, including inwards? When you are kind to yourself, you increase your ability to be kind to others. How many more acts of kindness could you perform if you look after yourself instead of beating yourself up all the time? How much more effort could you put into being kind to others when you gain the energy that comes from being kind to yourself?

Another awesome thing about targeted acts of kindness: they are accessible. Anyone can begin by doing something for a friend or loved one. Even if you are unable to leave the house, you can send an email to a friend thanking them for their support. You can make lunch for your parents if you can’t afford to treat them to dinner at a top restaurant. If you’re short on time, it takes seconds to send a charity donation via text message. Targeted acts of kindness cannot be quantified; when you are depressed, cooking dinner for someone is a massive act of kindness and the recipient will realise this, even if it seems insignificant to an outsider. A cheap surprise gift from a friend is more valuable than an expensive birthday present because it shows that your friend is thinking about you, without being prompted by a special occasion. Do whatever you can and remember that acts of kindness, in whatever form, are always important and effective.

So venture forth and have fun with your new superpower. Think of creative ways you can help someone achieve their dream. Aim to target acts of kindness at as many people as you can in a single day – then try to beat your record on another day. Shower a single person with kindness. Form a league of kindness superheroes with your friends or colleagues and use your combined power to bombard a local neighbourhood or a faraway nation with kindness. Don’t worry if you can’t do something “big” – just do whatever you can and let us know about it in the comments.

Claim Your Power

Every single living thing has power. Including you. The front wall of my home is susceptible to damp, which causes mould to grow. If left unchecked, this mould will cover the wall and start to grow on my books on the shelves which are fixed to that wall. Mould can spread pretty fast across a painted and plastered brick wall, so I assume it will be very efficient at spreading over the pages in my books. The books can’t be scrubbed like the wall, so I would have to throw them away. Mould has the power to destroy all of my favourite books.

That’s a lot of power, considering mould is just a fungus. But wait – mould has more power. Mould can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems. Some moulds can produce mycotoxins which may lead to neurological problems and can even kill humans. You can’t get much more powerful than that!

You are a far more complex organism, so imagine what potential lies within you. You also have the power to kill people – though I hope you never do – and if you use this power for good, imagine what a difference you could make to the world. You could save lives. You could improve lives. You could teach people new skills, entertain them, help them to achieve their dreams.

Your gut reaction might be to scoff, but why not? If mould has the potential to kill even the most intelligent, strongest, kindest, most talented people on Earth, why shouldn’t every human being have the potential to change the world? Claim your power. It’s yours; you already possess it, so all you need to do is access it. You are far more complex than mould. You have self-awareness. You can make plans. Mould cannot harness its power to do great things, but you can – and you have far more power. Go ahead: claim your power.