Today, you could tell the truth and nothing else.
First to yourself, then to others. This could be the most difficult thing you try to do all year.
Today, you could make a greater effort.
Walk the extra mile, work towards your desired goal without a pause.
Tomorrow, you can take it easy, if you still want to.
Today, you could look for the strongest reason why.
If you have a big enough WHY, you will find the HOW you need.
From a distance, a woman can be seen walking along a beach and bending down at regular intervals to pick something up and throw it into the sea. As she comes closer, a passer-by realizes that she is throwing stranded starfish back into the water.
"That's pointless," he tells her. "There are so many starfish stranded on this beach. You can't possibly make a difference."
The woman bends down and throws another one into the sea. "Made a difference to that one," she says.
Sometimes, the problems of the world, along with our own, more immediate, issues, can seem so overwhelming that we just don't think we can make a difference to anything.
But a kind word to a friend or stranger, a smile at the supermarket checkout, does make a difference.
Can you remember when someone paid you a casual, sincere, but unexpected compliment?
Well, others remember what you say, just as you remember what they say and you do make a difference and can do so today.
It can be of great help to look at the past, particularly, the important events of our childhood, and to arrive at an understanding of how we got to be the person we have become.
However, if you stop there, your journey is incomplete. The purpose of looking back is not to understand, but to change, and this requires action in the here and now.
You may need the understanding to make the plan, but without taking action, it's like buying a train ticket and staying on the platform.
What action do you need to take today?
Most people think the meaning of a communication is defined by what they want to say. But consider this sentence: "I've explained it to you a dozen times, but you still don't get it".
What's important here? Is it the explanation or the fact that the other person doesn't seem to have understood?
If your wish is to communicate something, then it might be more helpful to see the meaning as being defined by the response to what you say, rather than by what you actually do say. "I realize I haven't done a good job of explaining this yet" might be a better response than the one cited above.
This is particularly true when talking to children and others who are close to you. If they don't get it, you need to explain it again and differently until they do.
The bad news is that saying the same thing again, and saying it louder, rarely works.
The good news is that you almost always get a second chance, and a third.
A man is captured by enemies and thrown into prison. That night, he is unable to sleep, because he fears that the next day, he will be interrogated, tortured and executed. Then, the words of his teacher come to him: "Tomorrow is not real. It is an illusion. The only reality is now."
Heeding these words, he calms down and falls asleep.
Your first reaction might be: "Nice idea; completely impractical." But you could start to think about the small steps you might take towards living in the present, rather than agonize over the past or worry about the future.
I doubt that many people will ever get to the position of the person in the story, but you can do better.
These are two very different perspectives on life. Both can be useful in creating the balance you might need between the immediate and the long term.
Consider the following idea: Something which threatens your life is a problem; everything else is an inconvenience.
A woman farmer owns a horse which is admired by all and sundry. One day, it escapes and her friends express their regret over her loss. "Things happen," is her response to the situation, and within a few days, the horse returns with a number of horses in tow.
Her friends express their pleasure at this new turn of events. "Things happen," says the farmer, and a few days later, her son breaks his leg trying to tame one of the new horses. Again, her response to this mishap is, "Things happen." A few days after that, when the recruiting army comes to the village, her son is spared enlistment because of his injury... And so it goes on.
You may never know the true meaning of an event, favourable or unfavourable, until long after it has taken place.
Looking back, I suspect some of your greatest problems have given you your best lessons and what you initially thought was good news may have turned out to be a mixed blessing.
This is one for the difficult times in life, when you feel the world is closing in and the future looks bleak.
The truth is, most things pass. Over a period of time, most things look and feel different.
Look back on a problem that threatened to consume your life some time ago and see where you are in relation to it now. It may lend a different perspective altogether to your current situation.
So, if you believe things may well improve in the future, why wait? Look forward to looking back.
A workman is trying hard to cut a large log in two with a saw that a passer-by notices is obviously blunt. "Why not stop for a while and sharpen your saw?" she suggests.
"I don't have the time," is the reply, "I have to get this finished as soon as possible."
How many of your tasks in life would be completed more quickly and, perhaps, with less effort, if you broached them in a positive frame of mind? However, this can take time to achieve and, sometimes, you just have to plough ahead and get things done because of time constraints.
More often than you think, you can take the time to care for yourselves first, to spend more time in planning a task so that you'll need to spend less time on its execution.
Today, you could take full responsibility¯for everything that happens to you.
See how taking responsibility changes the way you feel.
Today, you could notice what disappoints you.
It's a clue to what you still need to take action on to feel fulfilled.
Today, you could explore in depth your fleeting wishes.
They are clues to what you really want.
I was taking the tube one Sunday morning and reading my newspaper. At the first stop, a man and his three young children entered our carriage, but the children were so badly behaved that I found it impossible to read or enjoy the journey. A little annoyed, I asked the father if he couldn't try and control his children better.
He replied, "Oh, I am sorry they disturbed you. You see, we have come from the hospital where their mother, my wife, has just died."
My mood changed immediately from one of irritation to: "How can I help?"
¯ Stephen Covey
You can never fully know what others are going through or why they act the way they do, but you could try assuming that people have a reason for it. If you were aware of that reason, it would change your negative response to them to a positive one.
Today it would be good to recognise most people are fighting a hard battle and react with kindness to whatever happens.
It could be a decision you make and start acting on, a person you call, something you let go of or someone you sever ties with.
It could be a book you order or a holiday you book.
It could be planning a theatre trip or a social event.
The important thing is to take the action now, even though the benefits may not be apparent for some months.
It's great to live in the here and now, but it's also true that some things demand long-term planning. Getting the balance right is one of the most important skills in life.
We have all been through the experience of promising something in the heat of the moment. New Year resolutions are a good example, but that's not commitment.
Here's a good definition for it:
"Commitment is still doing something long after the emotion which caused you to start has faded."
With this definition in mind, what commitment can you make today?
You can have most of the things you want, if you are prepared to pay the price and usually the cost is not financial.
You have the right to ask in any situation: Is this what I want for myself? If it is not, you don't have to put up with it. You just have to pay the price to change it.
Sometimes, the price will be too high. That's fine. At least, you know you had a choice.
A lady in her nineties was asked once, "Do you ever stop worrying about your children?"
She replied, "Well, I worried less about my son once I got him into an old people's home."
Not everyone is a parent, but everyone has been a child. Most people will have parents who are still alive. Whatever situation you are in, it's important to remember that parents never stop worrying about their children, even if they tell you thats not the case. The bond is just too strong.
So, the message to parents is that these feelings are a part of life. Don't wait for them to go away.
The message for offspring, regardless of their age, is that parents are usually more concerned for them than they let on.
Perhaps, you could reach out today to offer them some reassurance and express your gratitude for all they've been to you.
Often, you can't control what happens to you, but you can exercise some influence over your reactions to them.
It's not an easy area to operate in, where you need to react positively in a world that is often negative, but it's a significant area of personal freedom.
When you invest too much of the future with your detailed plans and expectations, you reduce the chance of joyful surprise overtaking you.
When you take things as they come, you just have your reactions, positive or negative, to the current events, not the burden of your past investment.
If you suffer before you need to, you suffer more than you need to.
If each partner in a relationship came without a past, without an emotional history, then the above would not be true. But they don't, so it is.
Our problems often surface in our relationships, but declaring that our difficulties are expressed in a relationship is not quite the same as claiming that the relationship itself caused the problems.
A reliable guide is a situation where an old problem crops up in a new relationship or emerges in more than one relationship at the same time. You can, in such cases, be reasonably sure that it's about you, not other people.
The good news is that relationships can offer ample scope for healing, affording both partners the opportunity to nurture each other and grow.
To bring this about, however, you can't blame your partner for anything that isn't working out. You have to take direct responsibility for the problems in your life.
A traveller comes across a swollen river he needs to cross, but the current is too strong for swimming. He builds a raft that carries him safely over. On his arrival at the far bank, he picks up the raft and carries it on his back for the rest of his life, just in case he has to cross another swollen river.
Take a look to see if there are things you are still doing, or things you still own that served you once but which are no longer appropriate and yet you hang on to "just in case".
For example examine the way you dealt with a childhood fear, a strategy you have made a habit of and still haven't left behind you, although the fear¯and your childhood¯are long gone.
Consider the attitude you had when you were poor, one that you no longer need, now that you are more financially comfortable, or, perhaps, the reverse, where you were well off once and had adopted an attitude to fit your circumstances and which you must modify now you have met harder times.
Today, you could focus on gratitude and appreciation.
And notice, by the time you go to bed tonight, how much richer your life feels.
Today, you could let go of anger and resentment.
And notice how this allows more space for love and joy.
Today, you could be a friend ... to yourself.
And start treating yourself as well as you treat your friends.
Probably not, if you're watching a film or a sporting event. The information would detract from your enjoyment of the experience that depends, to an extent, on the unpredictability of its outcome, on not knowing in advance what happens next.
And yet, when it comes to life, some people go to great pains to avoid surprises and the uncertainty they imply. This may mean that they don't have to deal with disappointment they hadn't anticipated, but it also means that they miss out on unexpected delights.
Life is uncertain. Enjoy the fact that you can't read the future.
Life will always be too short, however long you live.
The first question is about clarity, both for ourselves and for others.
Once we are clear in our minds about what we want, our chances of getting it are greatly enhanced. Yet, at times, it is very hard to be specific about our goals.
We are usually more certain about what we don't want. Or we find ourselves merely wanting to feel differently about something or somebody.
It is useful to recognize that this is a part of your state of mind. It logically follows, that it would make more sense to seek to bring about internal change than to expect external factors to change.
The second question is a great one to ask others.
It neither makes any suggestions nor offers solutions, but simply states our willingness to be there and to be of assistance. It is not an offer to be made lightly and sometimes, the very fact that you have made it is enough in itself.
Problems are a sign of life. Your journey will always involve dealing with problems and, yes, death is the only destination.
Don't waste your life dreaming of a time when all your problems will be behind you.
Take action on the ones you encounter, but also accept that this will only create space for more.
Work towards making your problems more manageable instead of trying to create a life without any.
There is a tendency among counsellors and therapists to discuss the situations their clients present by urging them to "look at what's really going on here".
That seems to me both to undermine the client's version of the experience and to create a power imbalance. I am far keener to accept and honour the experience of clients just as they describe it.
If, in the course of the exploration, additional insights arise that's a bonus and can be of great help. They don't, however, negate the client's original presentation. They merely enhance it.
It's worth drawing up a list of what you have achieved, of what there is in your life that makes you proud.
If you can't think of anything, it's because you're not looking hard enough.
Read the list out to yourself every morning for a week. It may just change how you see life.
It's great to have clear objectives. Here are some criteria they probably should meet:
1. They should lay emphasis on the positive, as in "I want to be fit and healthy," rather than "I want to stop being so lazy."
2. They should be measurable, as in "I want to weigh 60kg" rather than "I want to lose some weight."
3. They should be time-bound, as in "I want to have this a month from today," rather than "I want this sometime soon."
4. They should be within your control, as in "I want to react positively to what my partner says," rather than "I want my partner to stop being critical."
Here is a stimulating exercise:
Write down five happy experiences in your life (or five relatively happy ones for those of you who don't yet view life in positive terms) and examine them to find out what, if anything, they have in common.
For the future, you might consider trying to experience more of what shows up from this exercise.
Life is a dance. During a dance, your aim is not to get to a particular point on the floor, but to enjoy the experience of dancing.
Objectives are important, but the process is just as significant. If you think everything is going to be fine when you have "arrived", you are setting yourself up for disappointment. As long as you are alive, there is always another part of the journey to be undertaken.
There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.
Some things you can and should fight against, like social injustice.
Some things you can and should flee from, like a physically abusive relationship.
Some things you have to let flow and stop trying to speed up or slow down the river.
Be certain only for yourself, not or others.
Yes, the world would probably be a better place, if everyone shared your beliefs. It is not, however, what you believe or do not believe that causes all the suffering, but the conflict between different beliefs.
Don't contribute to that suffering by believing things on behalf of others.
This is not a question to ponder over at length. Just decide what number best sums up the last twelve months.
Then ask yourself the following three questions:
1. What needs to change to enable me to choose a higher figure in a year's time?
2. What decisions do I need to make right now to support this process?
3. What action must I take today to start moving in that direction?
It's almost certain you will arrive at a particular point twelve months from now.
How you will feel during the journey and on your arrival is up to you.
I wish you well; it's been a pleasure to have walked this part of the road with you.
© 2014 David Mills.