Autumn of Life

Autumn of my life.

No time for redundancy.

How will I find work?


Sadly, this is the experience of too many people, especially in the current economic climate. But when it comes in later life, the question goes through your mind, “Is my working life over?”

You don’t have to be all that old to have this experience, either. And, worst of all, it can come along totally unexpectedly. And you have no control over it.

However, at this age, one thing you have is experience and determination. So, rise up and meet the challenge head on. Don’t assume that you are of no value, just because someone terminated your employment. It may be difficult to be positive, faced with rejection after rejection. But remember, the more positive you are when being interviewed, the more likely you are to get the job.

Some years ago, I read, or heard, a great tip on interview technique:

Remember, the interviewer has more to lose than you have. You don’t have a job to lose. If he or she chooses the wrong candidate, they could find themselves out of work.

It’s great advice. And it works.

It’s Getting Up That Counts

Disappointments happen; and we need to get used to it. We are going to have bad times as well as good; and the only thing we can really control is the way we respond.

When we fall, there is a temptation to think that we are failures. But that is not necessarily true. It has often been said that failure is successfully finding a way that does not work. That’s a good way to look at it. Psychologists call it reframing. It’s a matter of looking at things from a different perspective; changing the way we think about things; viewing failure as an opportunity to learn. It’s a matter of seeing the potential in each situation. As was once said, when you’re at the bottom, the only way is up.

Think Positively

I know it sounds condescending to say, “Think positively.” But it is the way forward. If we can see the next step forward, and if we can summon up the courage and strength to take that step, then we will not stay down; we will not be a failure. Moving forward after a disappointment is essential if we are to enjoy life. It also means that we are not going to be victims of our circumstances. Too many people wallow in their misery rather than getting on with life. The past is past. Learn from the past, by all means; but leave it in the past and get on with living.

Thinking positively may be the last thing on our mind, of course. After all, we have suffered a setback but being positive means we are already starting to recover. We are moving on.

So how can we start to think positively?

Determine the Next Step

If you were heading for a destination, say a vacation, and you took a wrong turning, would you decide that you may as well not keep going? Would you not look around you, find out where you are, compare that with where you want to be, and start heading in that direction? A journey of a thousand leagues may start with a single step, but it also ends with a single step. And each step is one step closer to the destination.

So what is your next step? It’s certainly not to stay down. You still have a destination to reach. So, where is that destination compared with where you are now?

Sometimes we have to take stock of our situation. Sometimes we need to take a deep breath and work out where we are. Then, we need to look around us, find our bearings, and point ourselves in  the right direction. Once we have achieved that, we can consider our plans. After all, it may have been necessary for us to change our plans. Maybe our circumstances have changed dramatically; maybe we had planned a future with someone special who is no longer there; maybe we are facing a future that we are not looking forward to. But it is our future, and we are going to live it, whether we embrace it or not.

Now it is more important than ever to take that first step. Remember, we cannot change direction unless we are in motion. Therefore, it is essential that we get moving. And, if we can move in the right direction, so much the better.

One of the best ways to get ourselves moving is to look for ways to help someone else.

Do Something For Someone Else

When we are suffering from the effects of a disappointment it is easy to focus inwards. We look only at our own problems. Yet we know that there are other people out there who are in the same, if not a worse position than we are. And some of those people are nearby, perhaps even in our own family.

Focusing on the needs of someone else can be an excellent way to encourage positive thinking. By focusing on helping someone else we actually help ourselves. We experience the pleasure of giving. And when we see that our efforts bring joy to someone else, it brings joy to us, too.

Take Time to Grieve

This does not mean that we cannot take time to grieve, of course. And I’m not just talking about grieving after the death of a loved one; we may need to grieve a lost opportunity, a lost job, or even the embarrassing loss of our dignity.

Still, doing things for others can actually help us to grieve. It’s often the case that when we are doing things for other people, they do something for us. Sometimes, they listen to us. For example, consider helping an older relative to look after their garden. They know about our changed circumstances. They may not be in a position to do much physical work, but while we are doing the work they may encourage us to talk; and talking is a great way to deal with disappointments.

Yet, even if the other person does not even know it’s us doing the giving, they still do something for us. Consider making a donation to charity, for example. The charity’s beneficiaries may never know who made the donation; but the donor knows, and feels a sense of gratitude and satisfaction from that giving. This can lift the spirits and help in the recovery.

It’s Getting Up That Counts

One thing to remember, though, is that it doesn’t matter how many times we fall. It’s how many times we get up that counts. If we get up more often than we fall, we are not a failure.

I know. How can we get up more times than we fall? Easy. To fall, we must have got up in the first place. Therefore, if we fall once, we have already got up once. Getting up again means getting up for the second time. Otherwise, we would not talk of getting up again.

So remember, it’s not how many times you fall, or fail, that counts. What matters is how many times you get up. That’s one of the greatest secrets of success. Don’t be afraid of the future. It may not be what we had planned, but we can get up again. And it’s getting up that counts.

Take a Deep Breath – It Will Improve Your Vision

A colleague once offered a very interesting observation on life. There are at least three sides to every story: There is your view, there is my view, and there is the truth, usually found somewhere in between.

I like the idea. Too many complications come from misunderstandings. People have been killed because of seeing things from different perspectives. So how can we simplify our lives in our interactions with other people?

Take a Deep Breath

Deep breathing has long been proven to be a fine method for calming the nerves. Many people who practice meditation use their breathing as a point of focus. This makes sense. After all, our breathing is one of the few things that we take with us wherever we go. Also, since it is essential for life, there is a psychological link to better physical health; and better physical health often leads to better mental health.

Here, however, we want to concentrate on our relationships with other people. How can we use our breathing to improve these relationships?

Both Sides of the Story

One of the greatest causes of conflict is an entrenched viewpoint. We see our side of the story and we cannot, or even will not, see any other side. Our point of view “must” be correct. How can it not be?

To a certain extent, that’s true, of course. What we see is what we see. The issue is whether we see the whole picture. The problem is whether we want to.

For now, though, let’s assume that we have good motives and we want to be peacemakers. Let’s assume that we want to understand the other person’s point of view. What can we do?

This is where deep breathing becomes useful.

Time to Think

Taking a few deep breaths gives us time to think. Even when the conversation is getting intense, with lots of quick-fire comments, we can ease the pressure by taking a few deep breaths. We can compare it with any other activity. Let’s say that you are driving along the road at a fairly good speed when you notice a situation developing up ahead. You are not involved, but, as a good driver, you automatically slow down so that you can deal with things as they develop, and you get through safely. That’s why we have fewer and less damaging accidents when walking; the situation is developing at a more rational speed, allowing us time to preempt dangers.

Now apply the lesson. You’re in the middle of a heated debate. Comments are becoming increasingly contentious, and there is a danger that you are about to start tackling each other, rather than the issues involved. So you take a deep breath. It’s just long enough to give your mind chance to throw in a quick thought: “Be careful. This conversation is in danger of becoming angry.” That triggers you to do something. So you lower your head, which is a submissive gesture that demonstrates a desire to be at peace, take a few more deep breaths, and what happens? Usually, your antagonist experiences difficulty continuing the barrage and the conversation slows down and calms down.

Even if your taking time to breathe does not calm your antagonist, it will calm you. It allows you time to order your thoughts and determine the best plan of action, even if that means walking away.

It’s also very difficult to keep being aggressive with someone who is not responding aggressively. So when we calm down, it can have a similar effect on our antagonist. Thus, we develop a reputation as a peacemaker and problem-solver, even though we may not have said anything!

Improve Your Vision

The other benefit of deep breathing is that it improves your vision. No. I’m not suggesting that your physical eyesight will improve by deep breathing, though it may; speak to your optician or doctor to find that out.

What I am saying is that breathing deeply allows us time to consider the other person’s point of view. Is it possible that they have a valid opinion? Is it possible that they can see the flaws in our reasoning, but we cannot? Is it possible that their idea will work better than ours? Or is it possible that we can combine the two ideas into an even better solution?

All these things, and many more, are involved in seeing the big picture. We need to understand the full effects of what we are proposing or experiencing. We need to look beyond our own entrenched viewpoint and see things as the other person sees them. Until we can say, “I can see why you think that way,” we do not have the full picture. Taking a few deep breaths can allow us the time to see better.

Sometimes, of course, when we go silent in thought, the person we are speaking with will prompt us to respond. A good reply is, “Please give me a minute. I think I can see what you are trying to tell me but I need to consider it for a few moments.” Then, having considered their viewpoint, maybe we will see things differently.

Practise

This ability to be calm and rational, and to see things as others see them, does not come automatically, the first time we try it. It takes practise. Practising daily helps in several ways. The most obvious way it helps is that it gets us into good habits; we learn to deal with situations because we have exercised our abilities and imagined how to use them in daily life.

Another way that it helps is that we become generally calmer. We start to deal with our own issues. We learn that we do not need to fly into a rage about every little thing. We can deal with life. Once we come to realize that we are in control of our lives, we have less reason to worry about other people’s superciliousness. We don’t need to worry about whether they, or we, are right or wrong. We can deal with their intransigent manners and views.

“But,” you may ask, “Doesn’t that lead to being abused?” Frankly, no, it doesn’t. Such inner peace often leads to being seen as the sort of person who can be relied upon to come up with sensible solutions. People will often bow to your views, even when they have their own entrenched ideas. Yet, even if that does not happen, you have the peace of mind in knowing that you have kept calm. You have preserved your own dignity and integrity. You have been true to yourself and your principles.

Strangely, when we allow other people to have their way, even when can see the flaws in their plans, we are more highly respected. Then, when their plans fall short of the ideal, when the plans fail to achieve the desired result, it is not uncommon for them to eventually seek our views. At that point, it is even more important to take a deep breath. We must avoid the I told you so mentality and work with them to find a solution.

So learn to breath deeply. We need air to fuel our thought processes. Without air, we panic, and things go wrong. By learning to breath deeply, we are able to calm ourselves, and often calm others, too. And, finally, it will improve our vision as we see the whole picture and respond appropriately.

Enough Really Is Enough

Some years ago I was discussing the weekly shop with a colleague. He told me that his wife had been to the local superstore, the previous evening, and returned with a car “full” of bags. She had spent most of the week’s grocery budget. On checking the bags, however, it appeared that there was little food included. As he said, it appeared that the cleaning products, toilet rolls, toothpaste, etc., far outweighed the food.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow developed his theory of The Hierarchy of Needs. In it he proposed that the physiological needs fill the most basic necessities – food and water, among other things. Safety, such as you may consider to be satisfied by cleaning products, comes second. That makes sense. We are not likely to be able to clean the house if we fail to eat or drink for too long a period.

All of this highlights the difficulties of obtaining “sufficient for each day.” What do we mean by “sufficient”?

Advertising Pays – But Not You

Without getting into a lengthy discussion about what we really need, let’s look at the concept of enough.

We are all aware that advertising works. We are all aware that we are influenced by advertising. Even those who say that they are not influenced have been influenced by the advertisements telling them that. In addition, when we visit the store, we know that certain items are displayed in prominent places to encourage us to buy. Consider, for example, why we have to pass through an entire aisle full of sweets (or candy), but then there is another display of the same products next to the checkout. If you take children shopping with you, then you will be aware of the danger zones.

Also, store owners will make a habit of locating those products which they want to sell on the middle shelves of the racks. Why? Because many people are too lazy to stretch to the top shelf or to bend down to the bottom. In fact, it is sad to say that many people in the Western world, today, find it impossible to bend down because of their obesity. Yet the “exercise” of bending down to the lower shelves, where the less fattening products may be stored, could be the best exercise they could wish for. The middle shelves are also at the eye level of children sitting in shopping trolleys.

Then, again, advertisers go out of their way to emphasize that they are being “fair” to their suppliers, that their “carbon footprint” is neutral, or even negative. One of my favourite anomalies in this regard is paying to offset your carbon footprint. With all due respect to those who commendably give consideration to using such a system, would you pay someone else to eat your food?

Enough is Enough

So how can we overcome the tendency to buy more than we need? how can we simplify our lives when it comes to consumer spending? Here are some suggestions that may help. They are by no means exceptional; nor is this a complete list. I’m sure that you could come up with equally valid, if not better ideas of your own. For now, though, this list is meant to get us all thinking about what we use and when enough really is enough.

  • Use a shopping list. This might sound superfluous, but it serves two purposes. First, it prompts you to purchase only those things that you really need, thus providing some protection from consumer advertising. Second, how many times have you returned from the store without the very thing you went to buy? A list acts as a prompt to buy what is needed, sufficient for each day.
  • Use cash. In these days of credit buying, it may seem old-fashioned to talk about using cash. Still, using cash has a remarkable focusing power, especially if you leave your cards at home. When you know that you only have a certain amount of money to spend, it is very difficult to go over that budget.
  • Use a basket instead of a trolly. Shopping trolleys are designed to be filled, and we have an inbuilt distaste for empty space. Why else would we see so many overflowing trolleys at the checkout? Also, as it gets heavier, having to carry a basket will provide a constant reminder not to fill it too full.
  • Use bags and walk or go by public transport. Walking is good for you. However, if you know you will be weighed down by bags of groceries, you will be less likely to purchase more than you need. Don’t be tempted to buy a shopping trolley that you can wheel behind you. That will only encourage over-spending.
  • Look up and down in store. When you are passing through each aisle, do not be tempted to reach for the middle shelf. Check to see if the products on the upper and lower shelves are better value and/or healthier.
  • Don’t be tempted to ‘Buy One Get One Free’. These offers are great – but only if you need the product. How many half-cucumbers have you thrown out? Why? Because you bought one for a salad and it sat in the fridge until it went soft and runny. Only buy more than one if you need it and will use it. Also, check that you really are getting one free. If you could buy one, walk out of the store, walk back in and buy another one, and the total price is less than the offer, then it is not a special offer. Also consider this: If stores are selling two for the price of one, how much money are they making on the product? If they can afford to sell two for the price of one, why don’t they drop the price? If we all refuse to be drawn in by such advertising, then stores will be forced to lower the price for everyone.
  • Look for coupons. But only if you really need the product. The same rules apply to coupons that apply to special offers.
  • Check the date. There are a number of reasons to check the date of products. First, if you are not going to use the product before the expiry date, then you do not need it, now. Second, if the product is near the expiry date, maybe the store would consider lowering the price. Third, buying and using a small pot of something about to reach its expiry date may be cheaper than buying a large pot that will waste cupboard space and be thrown out in a few months’ time.
  • Leave the children at home. Not on their own, of course! If you can go shopping without the children, then you will be less subject to emotional pressure to buy things. This is especially true if you have trained your children (even inadvertently) to throw a tantrum when they cannot have their own way.
  • Leave your spouse at home. Many wives lament the fact that, although it’s nice to have someone to carry the shopping, they spend more when their husband goes to the store with them.

As mentioned, earlier, these are just some of the suggestions that could help to meet our needs, rather than our wants. I have no doubt that there are many more. However, this list should be enough to get us thinking about when enough really is enough.

Count The Cost of Lost Opportunities

In Care – But Not Too Much I mentioned that giving of ourselves to others always comes with a cost. It doesn’t have to be financial; it may be our time, our resources, or our energy. But there will always be a cost if it’s genuine giving.

What, though, about the hidden costs? What are the risks in giving of ourselves?

What’s In It For Me?

The most obvious risk, especially to someone who has a tendency to think of themselves first, is, What will I get out of it? It’s a good question. Yet the answer depends to a great extent on our outlook in life. If we are too self-centred we may only think about tangible rewards. People with a more altruistic view of life revel in the pleasure of simply giving with no expectation of getting anything more than the joy of satisfying someone else’s need, and seeing the gratitude in their eyes.

Yes. But wouldn’t that leave us open to abuse? No. Why not? Well, notice the concept of meeting someone else’s needs, not their desires. There’s a big difference. Abusive people claim that they “need” to have their inordinate desires fulfilled. Genuinely needy people have a humility and modesty such that they do not ask more than “Sufficient for the day.” We can learn to distinguish between the two. It doesn’t take many bad (or good) experiences before we know the difference.

Missed Opportunities

Now think about this: A friend has a genuine need. It could be anything, but let’s start with money. We may have some spare cash sitting in our savings account, so we discuss it with our partner and agree to give our friend enough to meet their genuine present need. What has it cost us? What could it cost us?

Some years ago an acquaintance made a very astute observation. With the permission of a needy person, I had made him aware of someone else’s difficulties and he had loaned money to the needy one to meet the immediate needs. I mentioned that there was a possibility that he would never be repaid. He said, “Never lend anything that you can’t afford to lose.” He was, and still is, right. Whether we lend or give money to someone we should always keep in mind that we may never get it back. Can we afford that? If not, it may be better to find another way to help. (Happily, my acquaintance was repaid in full.)

Going back to our savings, what were we saving for? Will our family holiday now have to be a little less exotic because we helped out a friend in need? Will that cost us anything in terms of our family relationships? Can we afford it? Is our family strong enough to withstand the adjustment?

Then there is the matter of giving of our time. We cannot create extra time, so it must be taken from other activities. Does this mean taking time away from our family? Is that a price that we, and they, are willing to pay? Spending time on other people is fine. But our family are “other people,” too. So is our employer.

Looking After Ourselves

This may seem strange in a discussion about helping others by giving of ourselves. Yet unless we look after ourselves how useful can we be to other people? A large part of the opportunity cost relates to opportunities to care for ourselves.

Does giving of our time or other resources mean neglecting our own needs? Occasionally, maybe. However, if we make a habit of neglecting ourselves so as to care for others, we can very quickly discover our weaknesses. Our health can suffer and we become the needy.

Also, when we spend time helping someone else overcome their problems, this will have an effect on our own emotional condition. As I have said, previously, that is why even counsellors have to have their own counselling sessions. Therefore, we need to maintain our own support network.

Be Balanced

The point of this discussion is that we must be balanced. We cannot solve all the problems of the whole world. We have a circle of influence wherein we can and should make changes.

Outside that, we have our circle of concern. We may or may not be able to influence what happens in this region. Therefore, there is no point in wearing ourselves out trying to change things that we cannot change. By extension, if there is little chance of motivating change, there is little point in expending excessive resources on it. It may be better to back off and use our resources more wisely elsewhere.

That’s not to say that we give up on anyone. We simply use our resources wisely. We spend them where they will provide the greatest benefit.

So count the cost of helping. This does not mean holding back when we have the opportunity and the resources to meet the need. It means being balanced and keeping each day’s needs where they belong.

Care – But Not Too Much

Lions

Yes. I know. How can you care too much? That’s a very good question which I hope to answer.

Consider a pride of lions. Each member is concerned with the welfare of his or her family. But he or she would also walk away if the circumstances dictated. If one of the pride was to die, he or she would have no worries about eating it. Not that I’m suggestion eating our friends, of course!

One of the best ways to find peace in our lives is to give of ourselves. Look around you. How many people are smiling? What about you? Are you smiling? Life, today, can be very hectic, leading to stress, misery, and ill health. In my previous post, Be Yourself – or Change, I mentioned that one way to change for the better involves taking an interest in other people. In The Power of Two I highlighted that we can all benefit from a trusted confidante.

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The Power of “No”

We lead such busy lives, today. We are surrounded by clutter. We buy too much and spend too much and eat too much and leave too much lying around.

Yes. I admit that I’m as guilty as anyone else. I have to make a conscious effort to clear my desk every night. I have to make a conscious effort to put things away. And I don’t always succeed.

But the biggest clutter comes from other people. How often have you planned some activity, only to answer the telephone and hear the pleading voice confirming that you are the only person in the whole wide world who can help and it’s really, really, desparate, and if you don’t help the caller doesn’t know what he or she will do?

And how many times have you given up your day out to go and help, only to find that it was something that could have been put off till another day?

That’s why we need to schedule personal time every week. We need time for our immediate family – which does not include the children who have left home. And we need time for ourselves, too. We need to protect that time. Don’t let anything trivial get in the way. We have our own needs to take care of. And if we don’t look after ourselves, we will not have the resources to look after anyone else.

This is where we need to learn the power of ‘No’. We need to learn that our time is precious and must be protected. Yes, there will be emergencies. But as one fridge magnet puts it, “Bad planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part.”

After all, there will always be other opportunities to look after the grandchildren; opportunities when you can plan fun activities, rather than being stressed about what you cannot do or should do or could be doing.

De-clutter your schedule – learn to say, “No.”

Anxiety

So many people think they are stressed, these days, I thought it would be interesting to see if we can learn to stop worrying about everything and start enjoying life.

Why worry about what you cannot change? It’s far more important to deal with issues than to worry about them.