When life ticks by without a hitch, we have a tendency to just get on with it. It seems to be within our human nature to have a little moan if we’re not entirely happy, then carry on regardless. Perhaps when things get boring or leave us down in the mouth we’ll plan a bit of a treat for the evening, or book a grand holiday to look forward to. But it’s a routine of often waiting for what’s to come; eager for the weekend, can’t wait for the Christmas break, and dreaming of plans for when we finally retire. When you look at it like this, is there any wonder that our lives seem to fly by quicker and quicker with each year that passes?
This will sound like a cliché quote but it’s apt here. We really need to stop seeing life as a destination, and start to value the journey instead.
When we were children we imagined how great it would be to be all grown up and capable of our wonderful ambitions. Then we grew up and for the most part, stopped asking ourselves what we even wanted.
Perhaps we’ve been long overdue a shake up?
Change – A Universal Fear or Incredible Catalyst?
None of us expected the Coronavirus. For our lives to come to an abrupt stop overnight and for it to affect everybody globally. It’s all been a recipe for fear. Fear for our lives, and the lives of loved ones. Fear for our finances, our freedom, and even for our identities. So many jobs thrown up in the air and routines broken down. The change has been so abrupt that it’s barely felt real.
For a great many of us the result has been an excess of uncertainty, with little means to express or take action or control. The danger is clearly not just the virus. Some of us have been painfully lonely. Some of us left feeling like caged animals with frustration mounting. And so very many people left overwhelmed by grief. I dare say none of us have been untouched.
When things happen in life that we aren’t expecting, it can feel like everything’s crashing down around us. Suddenly we’re being pushed into a corner and stripped of the things that we consider important. But change is always offering us two options, it’s just not that easy to see. We can scramble mindlessly and try to salvage what’s being torn away, but the alternative is to observe that painful kind of beauty, which is the spaces that are being created for us to refill.
What is unknown will always seem scary; and so, abrupt and uncontrollable change is something we’d probably rather run from. But a gradual, gentle change is rarely something we’re going to decide to introduce, so a sudden jolt can become the best route for improvement (on reflection).
While the challenges are fresh upon us and many things are feeling more like a case of getting by than thriving, it may seem like an odd time to discuss this. But can we be humble enough to recognise that there was so much we were doing wrong anyway?
Whether it’s learning to work from home, restructuring your business or maybe reconsidering your ambitions entirely, something I think we should keep in mind with all of this change, is that we’re using it as an opportunity, a catalyst if you like, to put our own wants more centrally within our routines.
A Time To Start Living?
I can’t talk for everybody, but I think it’s fair to say that ‘living the life I love’, has generally been pretty low down on the list of our priorities.
In a book ‘The Top Five Regrets of The Dying’ by Bronnie Ware, the following came out as number one:
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life that others expected of me”.
Nothing could more eloquently summarise what this series is about.
The word ‘courage’ is well chosen, because it’s a true bravery to not just face the change that’s forced at you, but to choose to make a change to put yourself first.
Selfish Or A Benefit To All?
Society has us frown upon people who put themselves first. We’ve created a system that works by finding our place as a part within the greater machine. It functions best when we do as we’re expected; turn up on time, make sacrifices for our children etc.
But to be truly selfish is not a bad thing. What I mean is that knowing who you are, and what you want, and following what brings you joy should be encouraged.
If we could aim at that for ourselves then we’d know that it’s the right thing for others too, and that part of the regret above – “… not the life that others expected of me” would just melt away.
Death is inevitable for all of us at some point. But the real tragedy we have around is the acceptance of living without feeling very much alive.
Auto pilot and just getting by should be replaced. Do you know yourself well enough to imagine what would really excite you? Without awareness of that, we can spend our time feeling miserable just because we haven’t won the lottery yet. But it’s been well studied that lottery winners are generally more glum after the win.
The real winning ticket is simply knowing our desires. That’s the most valuable thing in the world.
Culture may have you thinking that you know what you want, but I’m not talking about keeping up with the Jones’.
“The courage to live a life true to myself”. That means doing it differently. Doing it uniquely your way. Taking the risk of being a bit of a geek, and getting passionate about that quirky interest that your friends just don’t understand!
And in accepting that for ourselves, we accept it for those around us too.
A joyful life should be the goal. It’s ok to take things a little less seriously.
Enjoyment. The New Normal?
I know I’m not alone in feeling that there’s been times in my life (a vast majority of it in fact), when I’ve had so much to get done that it’s felt like there’s been no choice left open within my day. It’s not a case of questioning ‘what would I like to do’, but more head down, plough on and hope to get it all squeezed in.
The problem I noticed that comes with this, is that it became my norm.
Even when there was something exciting going on, it’s very difficult to switch out of the mindset of working through the checklist. There’s always been a part of me feeling tense about what’s next on the agenda, panicking about whether I’m prepared for it. The next item to tick off could be ‘exchange Christmas presents’ and there’d probably still be some needless tinge of anxiety about fitting everything in.
It’s oh so easy to moan about not having enough time to enjoy the things we love, but it seems to me that what’s more of the problem, is getting stuck in a habitual pattern and forgetting how to actually relax and fully experience life as it’s happening.
So that’s two major challenges for us to explore through this series. Discovering what it might mean for each of us individually to be a little more selfish. And relearning how to truly enjoy ourselves in the moment.
Alongside this we’re also going to look at the connection between our happiness and our health. That’s not about airy fairy cure-alls but more of an additional encouragement for why we should be putting our happiness at the heart of our lives.
On the surface we could recognise this through knock-on impacts from a changing routine. It’s not hard to see that we’re more likely to pick up on unhealthy habits when we’re feeling at a dead-end, than when we’re eager for what our day might bring. Going deeper than this we’ll dig in to the harrowing extent of stress and depression within our world, to consider the physical connection between our happiness and disease within our bodies.
As with each of these series the topics will be vast and there’ll be a lot that challenges our thoughts. But there remains the core concept that a healthy planet starts with healthy people. So in many ways, the other series can not be fully appreciated without us facing the delights and complexities of ‘Starting With Me’.
Can you think up five steps that each of us could take to proactively heal the world?
That’s what I got asked when doing an interview for Thrive Global. It was a pretty broad topic, but I had good fun wrapping my brains around the steps – they turned out to sum up Winglewood pretty well. You can read my answers along with a few other personal quirks, over at their website.