Every week I see a new article with almost the same title: “10 tips for…”. There’s “10 Tips For a Happier and Healthier Life“, Richard Branson’s “10 Tips for Success” (illustrated with pictures of himself), the catchily named “10 Common Mistakes That Prevent You From Being Happy and Healthy Today, Backed by Science” and even the Pope gave his own “10 Tips for Happiness” last year.
The thing is, a lot of these articles seem to be like telling someone who’s fat to eat less cake and go for a walk every day: all very obvious. They lack any guidance on how the average person, who lacks the self-motivation, control and confidence of the author, could work them into their life on a day-to-day basis. If you look at the publications these stories are from (I found them by typing “10 tips for” into Google, so I’d say they’re fairly typical), you’ll see that the kind of person who would read them are already likely to take an active interest in their personal development (Psychologies magazine), to be educated (the Independent) and to most likely come from a demographic which actively seeks out and is aware of these issues (Virgin, HuffPo). In reality, the kind of people who would benefit from such articles, like the obese guy who sits in front of a screen all day, doesn’t know a carb from a cowboy and has no real motivation to do anything about his health, are basically teased with a few meaningless concepts, but given no back-up and real-life application at all.
This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while: how you can actually make a difference to your mindset and thought-patterns in a practical sense, and how to take tips like the ones in these articles – undoubtably right, if not vague – and fit them into your own reality. I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while, but it’s an intimidatingly weighty topic. I did intend to try and structure a series of posts into a cohesive and meaningful format – to make sure that X tied to Y which linked in to Z – but now it’s Wednesday – posting day – and in order not to fail at my new years resolution, I’m just going to get on with things.
So let’s start with being happy. Simples. One of my main goals when ensuring I stay happy (you remember I said I was going to write about my experiences, knowing them best, yeah, so this post is gonna be all about me) is to not feel shit about myself.
“Don’t feel shit about yourself”
Obvious, huh? In reality, it’s not always so easy. In my life, one of the best ways to feel good about myself is to actually get stuff done. I write lists of what I need to do, and as I cross things off I feel good about myself. I’m pretty sure this Get Shit Done And Feel Good concept would apply to just about everyone on the planet. Sometimes tasks are really annoying, which is when a great piece of advice comes into play – do the worst things first – and then I’m left with the easy ones, which is even more pleasing.
If I wake up feeling all “meh” and like I want to stay in bed, the first thing I do is figure out some things that I need to do that aren’t too difficult or time consuming. Days like this aren’t the time to start your novel, to re-do your CV or to finally tell your mother that you’ve fancied girls for the past twenty years. No. Start with the easy stuff: go to the bank and pay in that cheque that’s been in your wallet for the past month, cancel the subscription to Hello magazine that you’ve been meaning to do since they published all those pictures of Jordan last year, cook the recipe you stuck on the fridge in a moment of inspiration, and call that person who you’ve neglected for so long (you know the one I mean).
Wasting time makes me feel shit about myself, and there is nothing like the mortifying regret that comes from staying up late getting monumentally drunk and then over-sleeping. There’s the potential for making a fool out of yourself (never happens to me, natch) but also for having to be somewhere the next day where you really don’t want to be.
And that’s my next tip: prioritise between having fun and not feeling shit about yourself. At the end of last year I’d said to a close friend I’d be round at theirs in the mid-morning. Cue me waking at 10am (late for me) feeling terrible, but worse than a hangover I felt annoyed that I’d missed the best part of the day and hadn’t done half the stuff that I wanted to. At this point I decided to post-pone my social life till the afternoon, got some stuff done then went out later.
Life’s full of choices, and if you know that you have a tendency to feel shit about yourself when you make a certain one, be that drinking till 2am then sleeping in, eating a bag of Haribo in bed or not making the time to go to the gym, then it’s down to you to identify that thing and, if you can’t (or won’t) stop it, then at least find a way to mitigate the consequences without resorting to beating yourself up about it.
Which brings me to an oft-featured tip on “10 Tips to…”: don’t beat yourself up. There’s a fine line between what I’ve just said above and needlessly (and metaphorically) punching yourself in the face. I, like everyone else, am human. Sometimes I don’t want to train, I don’t want to talk to anyone and I sure as hell don’t want to leave my bed. What I don’t do is feel guilty about this, because I mentally give myself the “permission” to do it, generally in the form of a time frame. I tell myself “you can skive off work [I’m self-employed so no biggie], sit around the house and drink half a bottle of wine this evening, but tomorrow you’re going to get back on it and do the stuff you need to do”. And that’s what I do.
Of course there’s another fine line between not beating yourself up and giving yourself a free rein to do whatever the hell you want, guilt-free, but then we’re into a whole different subject area…
I guess the thing that summarises my attitude to not feeling shit about myself is just to do my best. If I’m going to do something, I give it my best shot – do a good job of whatever it is, whether that’s picking out an outfit, doing a workout or tidying the house – and finish with that glow that comes from inside when you know I’ve tried, just like the frankfurter above.
Perhaps next time I’ll talk about motivation, and how to gear yourself up to actually get that shit done…!