January 1: Changing your life

Do you want your life to be different a year from now? I assume so, otherwise why are you looking at this book.

If you don't want to end up in twelve months time back where you are right now then the first thing you have to do is make some different choices. There is a definition of madness that goes 'Madness is doing the same thing as you did last time and expecting a different result'. so, make some new choices and act on them

Starts today with something simple and easy, don't set yourself up for failure. Write down now three ways in which today could be different, three changes you could make and would be sure to stick to. They could be as simple as tidying up a room, making sure you laugh three times or better, promising to make three other people laugh before you go to bed.

Whatever you choose write it down now, put the list by the side of your bed and check you did what you agreed to do before you go to bed tonight. If all you did was repeat this exercise with new items every day for the next year you life would be transformed.

January 2: Do you ever create problems to draw attention to yourself?

Just look back over yesterday, last week, last month or even last year and ask yourself this question. Perhaps, you didn't really create a problem as such, but merely highlighted one? Or, maybe, this doesn't apply to you at all?

If it does, however, you might want to spend time asking yourself whether this approach really serves your purpose. If you create a problem or make too much of one, it could help you attract attention from other people. But it would also leave you with a greater problem on your hands because of the energy you have wasted on it without being able to arrive at a solution.

Your challenge today is to come up with a way that serves you better.

Spend the next 24 hours without talking about your problems and see if this approach makes a difference.

January 3: An interesting quiz

Write down the names of the following:

The three richest people in the world.
The three most recent winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The three most recent winners of the Oscar for Best Actress.

Now write down the names of the following:

Three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
Three people you know who have inspired you.
Three people who have made you feel special.

The people who make a difference in your life are neither the wealthiest ones nor those with the greatest number of awards.

They are individuals who have touched you, those people who have made you feel good about yourself.

Remember this when you are considering what is important in your life. Remember this when you have a chance to reach out to others today.

January 4: Suffering and happiness

There is a story of a man who resolutely endured suffering all his life so as to be able to buy a single moment of pure happiness. One day, he bundled all his suffering into a large, heavy bag, slung it over his shoulder and headed to the market. When he tried to trade in his suffering, however, he was told that no exchange rate existed between suffering and happiness. For there is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.

All your deferred gratification doesn't enhance your happiness; it merely postpones it. Plans are useful, but they should be relevant to your present, not just focused on the future. They should aim at making you happy now, not at some unspecified later date.

Remember, the tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long for it to begin.

January 5: Keep a record of your victories

It's a good idea to maintain a record of your past successes, big or small. Now you might think "I don't have any successes to record." In which case, start with the following one: "I made it this far." However traumatic your past may have been, whatever might have been the nature of the problems you faced, you wouldn't be reading this now if you hadn't made it this far. Indeed, the more difficult your life has been in the past, the greater is your triumph in surviving it.

For those who are less self-critical, I would suggest that you make a list of some of the successes you have enjoyed in life, along with the obstacles you have overcome and the occasions on which you lent others a helping hand. Dig deep and you will find many such examples.

Keep this record for tough times, when you need a reminder that life isn't as hopeless as you're imagining it to be. Keep this record for the moments when you feel helpless and not in control and your confidence needs that extra boost. You'll discover that it does make a difference.

January 6: Letting people grow at their own pace

A man came upon a cocoon in which a caterpillar was slowly growing into a butterfly. He noticed that a small opening had appeared in the cocoon so he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body out. At one point, it seemed not to be making any progress at all, as if it had gone as far as it could and could go no further.

Observing the butterfly's plight, the man decided to help it on its way out. Taking a pair of scissors, he snipped off what remained of the cocoon, setting the butterfly free. He noticed, however, that it had a swollen body and small, shrivelled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly, expecting that at any moment, its wings would expand to a size appropriate for supporting its body. He also thought the body would contract in time to accommodate the increased wingspan. Neither happened. On the contrary, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around on the ground, it never was able to fly.

The story illustrates a valuable lesson for us all. It's so difficult to stand back and let those we love struggle to make it and sometimes it's right to reach out and lend a helping hand. But sometimes the struggle is what is needed so the person concerned can grow to be truly themselves and we would be unwise to get involved.

There is a skill involved in knowing whether to intervene or not in a given situation and we develop that by being aware we have a choice and that it's not always the best approach to reach out and help.

January 7: Slapped and saved

Here's a story that holds a lesson for us all. Two friends were walking through the desert. During the journey, they got into an argument that ended with one friend slapping the other. The one who had been slapped was deeply hurt by the other's behaviour, but refused to protest or retaliate. Instead, he remained silent and traced the following words in the sand: "Today, my friend slapped me in the face."

Walking on further, they came to an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and would have drowned, had it not been for his friend who ran to save him. Having recovered from the experience, the survivor carved the following words on a stone: "Today, my friend saved my life."

His rescuer asked him, "When I slapped you, you wrote in the sand. Now that I have saved you from drowning, you carve your message on a stone. Can you tell me why?" His friend replied, "When someone hurts us, we should record it in sand so that it gets blown away easily and is soon forgotten. When, on the other hand, someone does us a favour, we should record it in stone, so it will never be erased either from its surface or from our memory."

How do you personally respond to such situations? Do you let go of the hurt and hold on to the memories of the favours people have done you? Do you give equal weight to the injustices done to you, along with the favours? Or do you, perhaps tend to do the reverse of what the friend in the story did. If you do, perhaps, you could change this way of reacting both now and in the future, it's your choice.

Right now you could even let go of something you have been holding on to and replace it with a memory of a past kindnesses.

January 8: Trust or distrust?

This could be a book in itself. But here are some thoughts for your consideration:

Trust: Your heart and your mind, when they are in agreement.

Distrust: Those who claims that whatever they believe will work for you as well.

Trust: Whatever does work for you; it's a simple and effective test.

Distrust: Those who say there is something wrong with you and they can fix it.

Trust: Friends who are willing to give you their support more than their advice.

Distrust: All "experts" and systems that claim either to be unique or the best.

January 9: The unresolved past.

I'm not a great advocate of the habit of brooding on the past. The fact remains, however, that we each have a past and it can affect our present lives without us always being aware of it.

Here's a good test: If you find yourself overreacting to harmless situations and easily becoming angry, defensive or frustrated, then it's probably linked to an event in your past.

There are many resources available today to help explore such problems and resolve them. Sometimes, however, mere awareness of the past association is enough to start the healing process.

January 10: Does the resolve to be positive last forever?

There's an easy answer to this question. Positive thinking, motivation, determination and resolve don't last forever.

But then neither do eating, sleeping or washing. That's why we need to repeat these activities every day.

Good habits¯as well as bad ones¯need to be sustained in order to become a regular feature of your life.

January 11: A mind that is stretched

"A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions." ¯ Oliver Wendell Holmes

So here's a question, a challenge for you to consider:

If the alternative was to walk naked down your local high street, what risk would you choose to take today (nudists, feel free to come up with an alternative example)?

January 12: Where is the grass greener?

We are all familiar with the old saying, "The grass is greener on the other side". It means that we are attracted to what we don't have, often at the cost of what is already ours.

Here's another way of looking at this question: "Where is the grass greener?"

Answer: "Wherever you water it."

What grows is what you care for, put your energy into and nurture. The problem is that this truth applies to weeds as well as to grass and flowers. If you nurture your resentment, it will flourish. If your mind concentrates on forgiveness, this quality will grow and resentments will wither and die.

I'm sure you can come up with many more examples, including some that are relevant for you today.

January 13: Could you be holding on to suffering simply because it is comfortably familiar?

This question may well anger and upset you. If you have endured great suffering in your life, it can seem callous and insensitive if someone suggests that you might be deliberately clinging to memories of difficult experiences. I perfectly understand this might prompt many of you to answer my question with an honest and resounding "NO!"

But do take a few minutes to ask yourself the following questions:

What would you lose if you were to let go of your suffering?

What would you have to face up to, if you let go of your suffering?

January 14: Changing the world

Here are a couple of rules which can transform your life and the world as well.

1. Be kind to others whenever possible.
2. It's always possible to be kind to others.

Kindness is not to be confused with weakness. It doesn't mean letting people walk all over you. Kindness is a state of mind that guides your choice of action. You can't hold on to resentment and still be kind. You can't be angry and kind at the same time.

Today you can decide to let go of your anger and resentment and respond to others from a heart full of kindness.

January 15: Today, you could...

Today, you could remind those you haven't spoken to for a while that you love them. It's taking a risk of course, but then, that's what life is all about, isn't it?

Today, you could start letting go of an old hurt or pain that has festered within you and begin to feel free again. You don't have to do it all at once. Just take your first step in that direction.

Today, you could try something new and change the direction of your life, it could even be something as simple as a new way of having fun.

January 16: Making sandwiches

A man opens his lunch box every day and exclaims, "Not peanut butter and jam sandwiches again! I just hate them!"

At the end of a week of complaining, a colleague asks him, "Why don't you ask your wife to make you different sandwiches next week"?

"Oh, I'm not married," the man replies, "I make my own sandwiches."

Now, this is obviously more of a joke than a story, but then so is complaining about the circumstances in your life that you have created yourself. Yet most of the situations we find ourselves in are either of our own creation or because we are not prepared to pay the price required to release ourselves from them.

January 17: What do you want in life?

Setting a goal and moving towards it is not a method that works for everyone. There are those of you who just want life to take them where it will and are happy to enjoy the journey. There are others who find it useful to have an idea of where they want to go before they set out.

Once you know what you want in life, you can ask yourself the following question: Is the activity I'm now engaged in taking me towards my current goals or away from them?

January 18: Who or what is on your LTS list?

Since our time in this world is limited, it's worth having a Life's Too Short (LTS) list of things and people we can very well do without.

Here are some of the items you might want to put on your list.

Life's too short to do things that don't make you feel good about yourself.
Life's too short to be in places you don't feel comfortable in.
Life's too short to be with people whose company you don't enjoy.

Why not use these ideas to draw up a list of things and people you really don't have time for and act on it?

January 19: The difference between purpose and learning

I don't subscribe to the belief that there is a purpose in everything that happens to us. Some events in our lives are so devastating that it seems heartless to suggest they have a purpose.

I am convinced, however, that we can learn from everything that happens to us, no matter how catastrophic the event. It doesn't mean it has to be part of a larger plan, just that even the bad times can teach us something.

Look out for some unusual lessons you can learn from your past bad times and from your experiences today.

January 20: Why be unhappy as well?

"So your wife has left you, your business has gone bust and you think your children no longer love you. Why be unhappy as well?"
¯ Lionel Fifield

In addition to making you smile¯I hope¯this is a reminder that our feelings need not be entirely dictated by our circumstances.

We do have some choice about how we feel and can choose to emphasise those feelings that work best for us.

January 21: Moving the book

During my counselling practice, I would keep a diary on the table beside my chair. Sometimes, particularly when clients were talking about a row they had had, I would push my diary a few inches towards the edge of the table. I would repeat this movement a number of times until, inevitably, the diary fell off the table and landed on the floor.

"So," I would ask my client, "what caused my diary to fall on the floor?"

"You pushed it," was the usual reply.

"Which push sent it down?" I would ask.

The answer was usually, "The last one."

Well, it depends on how you look at it. To my mind, each push was necessary for the book to reach the edge of the table before falling off it. Yet, it might seem to a casual observer that the last push was responsible for sending the book to the floor.

Here's the lesson to be learnt from this:

1. If you concentrate only on the immediate effect, on the drama of the moment, as it were, you will miss the pattern of events that led up to the situation in the first place.

2. Successful relationships as well as unsuccessful ones leave a trail of clues. It's worth looking back at them to get a complete picture.

3. The relation between cause and effect is not always a simple one. If an action is immediately followed by a change in the given situation, there is a tendency to conclude that the action itself brought about the change. That may not necessarily be the case.

January 22: Emotional and physical

Society has devised all kinds of restrictions to curb physical aggression. The law seeks, and rightly so, to protect us all, particularly children, from physical abuse. There are few laws, however, to constrain emotional violence. Yet, this kind of aggression can do just as much harm, both to ourselves and to others.

Here's an interesting challenge:

Think about how you behave towards someone else, a friend, partner, parent, business associate or distant acquaintance.
Now, imagine if the words you use and the feelings behind them being turned into physical action.
A kind comment might assume the form of gentle touch, an unkind one that of a slap and a full-fledged argument might well become a no-holds-barred fist fight.

View today in this light:-

1. How do you feel about your interractions with the people you came across?

2. Might you have ended up breaking the law and being arrested?

3. Are there changes you need to make or people you need to apologize to?

January 23: What is sin?

The original word, "sin", is a term borrowed from archery. It means to miss the centre of the target. In other words, to miss the mark. The correct response to a sin, in this context, would not be to ask for forgiveness or be self-critical, but to stand up and take another shot.

When you watch a baby learning to walk, you don't criticize it if it loses its balance and falls. You don't interpret its inability to walk as a failure. You know that its faltering steps are just a process by which the skill of walking will eventually be acquired.

I do wonder why we are not as kind and understanding when it comes to ourselves. We are all still in the process of learning, and encouragement yields more positive results than condemnation.

January 24: The man in my local market

I learnt a great deal from the encounter I am about to describe. I was attending a training course at the time and had arrived too early for class. So, to kill time, I went to explore the local market in my area. Checking out the stalls, I saw a man ahead of me who, I thought, resembled the boxer, Mike Tyson. He was standing with his back to me. He had a huge neck, criss-cross markings on the back of his head and the build of a weight-lifter. Even while standing behind him, I could feel an aura of physical force emanating from him that was intimidating. Understandably, I gave him a wide berth.

When I returned from the market and made my way to the room where the training course was being held, the same man was, of course, sitting next to me. And I had the pleasure of spending the entire day with one of the gentlest, kindest men I had ever met. When we parted, he gave me his business card. It read "Human Being" in the space people usually reserve for their job title.

I like to think of myself as a person who is not particularly judgemental, but this encounter showed me how far I still had to go to be free of preconceived notions. I carry the memory of that encounter with me wherever I go, so that I can retrieve it the moment I have a hunch about someone. It prevents me from jumping to conclusions about a person's nature simply from my perception of their appearance or from my first impression of them.

January 25: The near collision

He steered his motorboat upstream with the sun glinting on the water ahead of him. As his boat rounded a bend in the river, he saw another boat moving steadily towards him. Unable to see the pilot because of the glare of sunlight on the window, he sounded his horn briefly to announce his presence. There was no change in direction as the other vessel moved relentlessly towards his own. He cursed the amateurs who rented boats on this stretch of the river. He gave vent to his annoyance with a long blast on his horn and a wave of his hand, but instead of swerving away from his boat, the bow of the other boat turned in his direction. It seemed bent on causing a collision. Swearing loudly at the pilot, he wrenched his steering wheel in the opposite direction to avoid the other craft and turned to make what he felt was an appropriate gesture in the circumstances to the person who had narrowly missed causing both their boats to sink. The other craft passed close by and he realized that there was no one at the helm. All this while, he'd been cursing a vessel that had slipped its moorings and was adrift on the river.

Think about this story the next time you get mad at the bad weather, the late train, the lost keys and the crashed computer, among other sources of irritation. Very rarely is there a personal motive behind these situations; it just sometimes feels that way.

January 26: The greatest mistake

The greatest mistake you can make may well be living life in the constant fear of making one.

Remember, few mistakes are life-threatening.

Most decisions can be reversed.

Most consequences can be dealt with.

Very little in life is permanent.

A life lived without running risks can become a life devoid of purpose, challenge, progress and, ultimately, meaning.

You don't die by falling into the water; you drown by staying there.

January 27: Some useful ideas about finances

These suggestions may seem obvious. They might also seem unsympathetic to your situation. If so, they may not be for you. But do check them out first.

1. Wait for the cheque to clear.
Don't spend money you're expecting to receive. Only money you have in your account and over which the tax man has no claim, is truly yours.

2. Don't borrow to fund daily expenditure.
If you need to borrow money, do so to buy capital items. But always shop around for the best interest rates. Don't spend your loan on daily requirements.

3. There is a connection between risk and reward.
Most days we get to learn from the media of financial crooks who have ripped off members of the public by offering high rewards on low-risk terms.
There are no such genuine investments in real life, no sure-fire winners. High returns = high risk.

January 28: What would X have done about this?

We have a great ability to take the resources of people we know, people we have read about, people who are long deceased and even characters from fiction as advisers and use their wisdom to guide us in our lives. It is true that they can't act on our behalf, but they may well be of help in showing us how to be most effective in choosing and taking action.

If you find yourself at an impasse at some point in your life, conjure up the memory of someone whose wisdom, energy and determination you admire. Now, ask yourself the following question: What would this person have done, if he were in my shoes? If the response you get is not of much help, try thinking of someone else whose way of dealing with the same situation could, in your opinion, have been effective.

This way all the worlds experts can be at your command to guide and advise you. You can also choose to remember this is just a technique designed to bring out the best in you.

January 29: The chainsaw therapy

I was part of the large group attending a weekend course. At one point, the course leader addressed the class and invited anyone who was feeling tired, had a headache or whose mind was elsewhere to join her in the front portion of the room where she was standing and explain very briefly what was troubling them. In return, she promised to take away the feeling for a while.

After each of the people who had volunteered to speak up had finished recounting their problems, the course leader vanished behind a curtain. We heard the noise of what sounded like a small engine starting up. Then she returned, brandishing a chainsaw.

She moved swiftly towards the group of students gathered in the front of the room and it was only after she had got quite close to them that she stopped and switched off the chainsaw. Then she asked them, "Who is still bothered by the feelings they came up here to talk about?"

There was much laughter, a lot of it stemming from a feeling of nervous relief.

This incident set me thinking about how we tend to react when faced with what looks like imminent danger. The other, less important, issues in our lives get put to one side. While it's not healthy to have a permanent threat hanging over our lives, you might consider how a serious crisis could create a context in which you feel more empowered and, therefore, more capable of handling the less significant problems you encounter in your daily life.

January 30: The first step to change

Whatever path you choose to follow, be it through self-examination, therapy or spiritual discipline, the first step in any direction has to do with increasing your level of awareness.

To become more aware, it's essential to take time out from whatever you're engaged in and start observing what else is going on within you. You can describe this as contemplation, meditation, prayer or just being still and quiet. Whatever the name by which you choose to identify it, the process is virtually the same in each case. You can begin it here and now by sitting still, blocking out external noise and just noticing the messages your inner thoughts and feelings communicate to you.

Probe beyond the usual superficial stream of thought in your mind, let them flow by and concentrate on your underlying feelings. They may well tell you of changes you need to make in your life and of the areas that need more attention as well as of those that need less.

January 31: An old joke

A man not famous for his intelligence is asked by a friend to help check his car indicators to see if they are working. The friend says, "I'll turn on the indicators and you look at them and tell me if they are working or not."

He gets into the car, switches on the indicators and his friend calls out, "They're working ... they're not working ... they're working ... they're not working," as the lights flash on and off.

The truth underlying this old joke is this: The question, "Is this working?", is probably the most powerful one you can ever ask yourself. It's a much better question than "Do others approve of this?" or "Is this what I have been taught?"

© 2019 David Mills