March 1: Today, you could...

Today, you could use your past mistakes for new learning and deeper understanding.
This won't make those mistakes disappear, but it could make them useful.

Today, you could ignore all outside distractions and move towards the important goals in your life.
You could always deal with the detail tomorrow.

Today, you could expect the best of yourself and end up exceeding your expectations.
At worst, you will have taken a significant step forward.

March 2: Possibilities in a relationship

There are only three possibilities for the future of any relationship:

1. Stay as you are.
2. Change how you are.
3. Split up.

That's it; there are no other options. So, if you can't bear the way it is and you don't want to give up on the relationship, your only option is change. And to quote the oldest idea in therapy, "You can't change others; you can only change yourself." If you can't both agree on change, then the onus is on you.

Yes, that may seem unfair. You may be in the right, but that won't make any difference to the way things are.

How will this change your approach to your relationship today?

March 3: How to get a 200 per cent return?

This, by the way, has nothing to do with finance. I don't believe such returns are possible with financial investments, unless you are prepared to take unacceptable risks. It's not about sport either, as in 'He gave 200 per cent effort. But there is a way of getting a 200 per cent return:

By turning a negative into a positive.

Think about an unpleasant experience in your life. Instead of brooding about how it has hurt or damaged you ask yourself the following question: What have I gained from this experience? It won't make the experience any different from what it was when it happened, but it may help you have a more balanced perspective on it.

Our hard times help us to mature. There may not be a purpose to our negative experiences, but we can help ourselves to move on by gaining positive insights from difficult situations.

March 4: If your thoughts were food

If the thoughts that usually fill your mind were transformed into food and constituted your daily diet, how would you be feeling right now?

If negative thoughts about the past became food that was past its sell-by date...
If angry thoughts were transformed into unbearably hot and spicy food...
If hasty decisions were, in reality, a hurried meal gulped down...
If positive thoughts were the equivalent of fresh fruit and vegetables... would your body be feeling today?

You might think this is just a metaphor, but in practice, what we put into our minds can affect us and have as important a bearing on our well-being as what we put into our bodies.

March 5: The magic rose geranium

This is an old children's tale. A lonely, despondent woman receives a gift from a friend. The latter tells her that the magic rose geranium she has given her is a special flower that will transform her life. Although the lady admits it's a lovely flower, she doubts whether it will have much effect on her life. Later in the day, she notices how the flower is making her table look old and shabby. So, for the first time that year, she spends the evening cleaning it.

The next morning, she decides to clean the chairs that go with the newly scrubbed table, so that they won't look out of place. And she carries on with her cleaning spree until she has covered the entire house. In a week's time, not only has the house in which she has been living been transformed, but her feelings too have undergone a significant change.

This is a wonderful story, but what lesson does it hold for us? Take your pick:

1. When you let love to enter one area of your life, it spreads to other areas.
2. Make one change for the better and other things start to change as well.
3. Giving appropriate gifts to others and to ourselves can change lives.

March 6: Will this matter a year from now?

This is a great question and one way to approach it is to try and remember what was on your mind a year ago. What caused you worries as far as relationships, health, family, friends, work, finances and politics were concerned?

Now, which of these are still issues for you today? Chances are that most of the problems that troubled you a year ago do not cause you concern now or, at least, cause you far less concern today. And, yes, some of them may still be issues for you. But you probably either have plans in place for dealing with them or will do so by the time you go to bed tonight.

So, start with the assumption that the next twelve months will bring you similar results. Most of the things that trouble you as you read this, will be over and done with in a year's time. You might, therefore, stop to consider whether you should allow them to bother you quite as much as they do right now.

Of course, there might be certain problems you suspect will linger until this time next year. If they are the same ones that caused you worry this time last year you need to seriously consider taking steps either to solve them or to minimize the impact of the consequences they are likely to have on your life.

March 7: Good news versus bad news

Here's the good news: Whatever troubles you now will almost certainly pass, either completely or to the extent that you will be able to deal with it more effectively.

Here's the bad news: New problems and issues will continue to crop up and preoccupy your thoughts in much the same way as the old ones did.

Problems are a sign that you are alive. If you are waiting for the moment when all your problems will be over, you had better start drawing up the guest list for your funeral, because the moment you are looking forward to won't arrive before you die.

However, a point may come in the time ahead, when you'll have become so good at dealing with life's problems you'll be able to meet them with a smile of recognition and the knowledge that it's only a matter of time before you put them behind you, leaving space for something new to come along.

Today you could start to feel that way.

March 8: To have what you want, you need to know what it is

This seems like a very obvious statement. So, here are a few questions that might help you to understand whether it applies to you or not.

1. Are your goals stated in a positive way? For instance, "I want to stop feeling so despondent" isn't specific enough. "I want to go to bed tonight feeling my day has been worthwhile" is a lot better.
2. Can what you want be measured? For example, "I want to earn a specific" sum is better than "I want to have more money".
3. Have you established a time frame for achieving what you want? For instance, "Someday, I want to write a book" is not as good as "I will complete the first chapter a month from now".
4. Is what you want within your area of control? For example, "I want my partner to be more loving than they are" you can't control, "I will be more loving", you can.

The clearer you are about what it is the more likely you will be to get what you want.

March 9: Are we compatible?

This is a question couples and friends often ask each other. It's an important one, because compatibility in a relationship makes life a lot easier. The most compatible people aren't, however, identical in the way they think or feel. In fact, an element of difference is what makes our relationships exciting and stimulating and a stimulating relationship, you will agree, is almost always better than a boring one.

So, while a crucial test of a relationship is how compatible you are, just as important is the manner in which you deal with your differences. They do exist, even in the best of relationships, and it's a healthy sign if you can discuss them with each other and have strategies in place to deal with them whenever they come up. Here are some thoughts that might help:

1. Have respect for each other's differences. It's not a matter of who's right or who's wrong, it's usually a matter of perception.
2. Keep aside some time to discuss areas of difference, particularly when emotions are not running high, and seek out points of agreement on how such differences can be dealt with in a positive way.
3. Look for areas of agreement that transcend your differences. At some level you are likely to discover that you want the same things in life.

March 10: When you die, your "to do" list won't be complete

Life is a process of development rather than a string of events to be completed. However far you go, however hard you work and however much you achieve, you will never be free of "things that need to be done". To imagine that it's possible is about as sensible as thinking there is one perfect meal and that if you prepare it, you need never eat again.

So, accept the fact that your "in" basket will never be empty for long and don't put your life on hold until everything gets done. Start to enjoying both the process and the current moment.

Ask yourself: What could I decide, right now, that would make my experience of today a better one?

March 11: Do my internal thoughts and question support me?

The thoughts you entertain, the questions you ask yourself, are almost always the outcome of the choices you make. No one tells you what to think. No one decides what questions you should ask yourself. If that is the case, it's reasonable to ask if you are making the kind of choices that work for you.

Examine the hour that has gone by.
How empowering have your thoughts been during this period?

How helpful were the questions you silently asked yourself?

See what changes you can make in the hours ahead. You deserve to treat yourself as well as possible.

March 12: The brothers' choices

Two brothers grow up in difficult circumstances and drift apart. Later, one gets in touch with the other and wants to know how he is.

"Well I've been on drugs and in and out of clinics for most of the last ten years," replies the other sibling. "I guess with both our parents being drug addicts, it's not surprising. And how about you?"

His brother replies, "Well with both our parents being drug addicts, it only seemed right that I should work in a drug-rehabilitation centre and that's where I'm calling you from."

Whether this is a true story or not is irrelevant. What it does illustrate is the degree to which the life you lead depends on the kind of choices you make. There are turning points in your life, times when the decisions you make will determine its future course. Those are the moments when you need to assume full responsibility for yourself and your future.

The good news is that even if you have made some poor decisions in the past, it doesn't mean that you can't make better ones today.

March 13: The one-word answer to rejection

If you live fully, participate in the activities of your community, have family, allow relationships into your life, are employed or run a business, you are going to have plenty of opportunities to experience rejection. It hurts to face rejection, certainly, if you see it as a personal slight or failure. And it's true that while rejection is usually more about the person who is responsible for it than about the one at the receiving end, it rarely feels that way.

You also live in a world of amazing opportunities. There are several billion people in this world. And there are certainly a few hundred thousand who would benefit from being with you, as you would gain from being with them. The same principle applies to jobs, manuscripts, designs and so on. Anything that is liable to be rejected also has alternative sources of acceptance.

So, the one-word answer to rejection is: Next!

March 14: Changing the "future past"

Most people look back with regret at something they have done or failed to do. It's a natural, if unproductive human trait, because it makes no difference to what happened or did not happen.

However, you can change what I call your "future past", because while you can't alter what happened a year ago, in twelve months' time, today will have receded a year into the past and you can certainly change what you choose to do today.

So, here's a challenge: How do you propose to live today so that this time, next year, you will be able to look back with pride and pleasure at the outcome?

March 15: Today, you could...

Today, you could open your heart to the love and joy that surrounds you.
All you need to do is change your focus.

Today, you could see it as a privilege to experience everything that comes your way.
Even the difficult times can become a source of inner strength.

Today, you could look at the blessings that come from just being alive.
Particularly, when you consider the alternative.

March 16: It's not where you come from; it's where you are going that counts

If history determined the direction of our lives, everyone with a similar history would end up in the same place. We all know that's not what happens. The past most certainly does not equal the future.

So, what makes the difference?

If it's not where you have come from that determines the course your life will take, it must be where you are going that decides it. And that's something over which you have a choice. Your past is a given. You can't change it. Whatever problems, failures or difficulties you have experienced before are behind you. You may still be dealing with their consequences, but the events themselves are over. From now on, it's your own direction that counts.

You are more than the sum of your past experiences. You are also your potential, the promise you have within you. Today, you can realize your possibilities instead of repeating your history.

March 17: A lifted weight

Consider the question: What can you do today that would result in your going to bed tonight feeling a weight had been lifted off your shoulders?

Interestingly, the answer may not involve a major decision or gesture. It could be a small thing that has been allowed to build up because it has been put off for so long. It could be a decision that you need to be communicated to other people or simply one you need to make in your own mind.

Today just hold onto the idea of a weight being lifted off your shoulders and aim for the feeling to be realised by the end of your day.

March 18: Is this one big problem or a series of little ones?

Many so-called big problems can be seen as a series of small issues clubbed together. Breaking the cluster down into individual issues can make the situation far easier to deal with. Some people have trouble making distinctions between major and minor issues. So, here are some leads:

1. Loss of a loved one is almost certainly a big problem.
2. Dealing with weight gain is a series of small problems.
3. A health issue could fall into either category.

Write down three problems you are facing right now and ask yourself which category each one falls into. It will help you to decide how to deal with the issues confronting you.

March 19: Life isn't an emergency

Life isn't an emergency, but we often seem to treat it as such. As a result, we become fire-fighters rather than planners and apply first aid to symptoms instead of taking steps to deal with the causes. The most important distinction you can make here is between what is important and what is urgent. Then, using the categories developed by Stephen Covey, you can look at life in four quadrants:

1. Important and urgent: Usually, crisis issues.
2. Important, not urgent: Preparation, prevention and planning.
3. Urgent, but not important: Interruptions, pressing details.
4. Not urgent and not important: Trivia, time-wasting pursuits.

The quality of your life can improve by increasing the time you spend in area 2 rather than in areas 1, 3 and 4, which is where most people end up spending their time.

You could choose to spend significant time today in this important area.

March 20: Do people really change?

There is no bigger question in the world of therapy and this isn't going to be a definitive answer. But it might well be a useful one and a good stance to adopt in viewing yourself and other people in your life.

We all have some characteristics that, while undergoing occasional changes as our lives progress, so define our character that it will not change fundamentally. They are the personality equivalents of say, our height or the colour of our eyes.

There are also aspects of our personality that can evolve substantially. A timid person, for example, can become a confident one. An individual who is reticent about expressing his love for another might learn to do so. These changes are less likely to take place as we grow older, but the possibility of them occurring is always there.

What is more likely is that we learn to express our characteristics in more positive ways. Our personality remains the same, but its expression changes. From the point of view of an observer, it might seem as if we had undergone a more fundamental change. But we remain who we always were. We are just working things out in a different way.

March 21: What holds you back from doing what you want to do?

Before you do anything else, take a piece of paper and write down three things that you have wanted to do or even wanted to stop doing, but have yet to see this process through to the end. They are likely to be important things in your life, but they don't necessarily have to be.

Next, write down the main reasons why you have not made more progress on each item.

Look for patterns: What do each of these reasons for the lack of progress have in common?

Now, examine these reasons to decide what changes you need to bring about in your life.

Oh, and one more suggestion, start taking action to make your goal come closer¯today.

March 22: Behind every action is a positive intention

This thought isn't meant to be a definitive truth, but a useful way of looking at the world. It's not intended to suggest that people shouldn't be held responsible for their actions. It does indicate, however, that it would be a good idea to probe beyond the accepted concept of good and bad and explore what underlies our notion of evil, so that we can identify an intention we all recognize within ourselves, even if its expression is abhorrent to us.

Now, if you have been hurt, betrayed or injured, it would be a real ordeal to ask yourself what the positive intention could possibly have been behind the deed. In fact, in situations where a great deal of pain, emotional or physical, lingers, it would be an unwise approach.

But for those not directly affected by the trauma or in cases where its devastating impact has lessened over time, it can help to bring peace and understanding to a fractious and divided world.

You might want to spend some time thinking this one over. It challenges the conventional ways of looking at the world to such an extent that it could take a while for its implications to be clearly and fully grasped.

March 23: What happens to your negative thoughts when your house catches fire?

Indeed, what happens to any thoughts at all, positive or negative, to your headache, your fatigue, your apprehensions about future events, when a catastrophe befalls you? When you are focused on saving your life and that of your loved ones, along with your precious possessions, nothing else exists for you at that moment, because you are forced by circumstances to live in the present, in the here and now.

In the present, past experiences and future concerns cease to be a part of your consciousness so completely that they don't seem to exist at all.

So, if you want to put past and future issues aside, don't set fire to your house; just start living entirely in the moment.

March 24: How to be a ballet dancer

There are two ways to become a ballet dancer.

The first is to sign up for lessons, buy the appropriate gear, devote yourself to the requisite practice and audition for jobs available in the field.

The second way is to decide that you are a ballet dancer, to tell yourself that this is who you are. Then sign up for training sessions, buy the appropriate gear and so on.

Perhaps, the difference between the two ways doesn't even seem all that important to you. Spend today the way you would if you were already the person you wanted to be. Assume that you have already brought about the change you were hoping for in your life. And observe, when you go to bed, whether this approach has made any difference to your life.

March 25: Who do you spend your time with?

Before you read any further, write down the names of three people outside your immediate family that you regularly spend time with. Now, write down the names of three family members you feel or have felt closest to. They could also be parents who are no longer alive. Now ask yourself this question: Would I be happy to have the three people I love associate with the three people I regularly spend time with?

If your answer is yes, take some time to rejoice in the friendships you forged in your life. If the answer is no, ask yourself if you need to value your time and friendship more than you do.

March 26: A bull's-eye every time

This is a lovely little story about a national archery competition in which contestants were asked to send in a record of how many times they had scored a bull's-eye. The person with the highest self-assessed score was invited to the city to meet the mayor. Everyone was surprised when this eight-year-old girl turned up, having claimed a score of 100 per cent.

"How could you have achieved such a high level of accuracy at your age?" they asked her.

"Well," she replied, "I take my arrow and draw it back very tight in the bow. Then I point it very, very straight and release it. Wherever it lands, I draw a bull's eye."

When was the last time you were satisfied with something you had tried your best in?
I'm not advocating lowering of standards, but sometimes, perhaps, today, it would be a good idea to give yourself top marks, to draw your bull's eye wherever your arrow lands.

March 27: Do you need a plan?

Do you need a plan to get where you want to go? Self-improvement books seem to repeat the mantra, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail," but I'm not so sure. It's certainly true for some people, but not for everyone.

Ask yourself: Is my current way of approaching life working for me? Is it getting me close to where I want to be? Am I enjoying the journey?

If you can give a positive answer to those questions without a formal or written-down plan to back it up, ignore the idea of setting a goal for yourself. If what you are doing now isn't effective in getting you closer to your objective, then having a plan or, at least, a better plan than the one you have already devised, would probably be a smart move.

March 28: The road well travelled

There's a famous book called The Road Less Travelled, based on a poem by Robert Frost. Here, I'd like to think about the well-travelled road that is, to my mind, of equal importance. Some people seem to thrive on forging their own path, a path different from that undertaken by others, and it works for them. But there's nothing wrong either in following the course chosen by other people. There's nothing to be gained from being different just for the sake of it.

When others have trodden the path to a positive goal, it might well be the right one for you too, and worth following. The wheel already exists; you don't have to go to the bother of reinventing it, do you? When you have a problem you need to deal with, it's useful to see who has been down the same road before and find out what worked for them.

March 29: When do you feel most connected? When do you feel least connected?

Spend a few minutes right now writing down three situations or experiences or even the names of three people that have contributed more than others to making you feel most alive, fulfilled and connected to the world.

Now write down three situations, experiences or name three people that have been responsible for creating feelings in you that are quite the reverse of those. Perhaps, they have made you feel ill at ease or even made you feel alienated.

Spend a little time studying the two lists you have just made and ask yourself if your life is well balanced and geared for your general well-being. Are you spending the overwhelming majority of your time on things and people that make you feel connected and the minimum possible time in situations that make you feel quite the opposite?

If not, mightn't some adjustment be called for to correct the balance?

March 30: A half-full glass or a half-empty one

This very familiar metaphor is supposed to reveal whether people have a positive disposition or a negative one. It's certainly a good starting point. Here are some points you might want to ponder over:

To some extent, how you see the glass¯and life¯involves a choice. If you focus on its positive aspects, you will be able to enjoy them. If, on the other hand, you concentrate exclusively on the negative elements that is what you will end up experiencing.

There is, of course, the very real danger of overly optimistic people failing to see the glass as anything other than completely full. They remain oblivious to the negative possibilities in a situation. In such cases, a reality check is essential and should include a willingness to acknowledge the negative aspects in a given context.

Suppose, for example, that you are in a relationship where you, the optimistic half of the couple, are incapable of recognizing the negative elements in a situation. You may well leave your partner with no option but to express or highlight only those elements to the exclusion of all else.

The question you should then ask yourself is this: In regarding the glass as half-full, am I deliberately avoiding a reality that is unpleasant or unacceptable to me?

March 31: What do you really want?

You probably have many answers to this question. Perhaps, you're looking forward to a better relationship, improved health, weight loss, more money, promotion at work or a more peaceful world.

Now, ask yourself what all this will give you when you achieve it. Somewhere in your answer will be the phrase, "I will feel better because...," and it is likely to be followed by something event or change that lies outside your immediate sphere of influence and control.

What you really want is to feel differently, that is, better than you are feeling at present, right? And in all probability, you've attached a condition to the circumstances that you think is necessary for you to have this feeling. Now, suppose you had control over how you feel. Then you could create the desired feeling without relying on external circumstances over which you had no influence.

Now, ask yourself: Is it possible to feel the way I want to feel without achieving the targets I have listed?

If you can give a positive answer to this question you may find your life easier and more fulfilling.

© 2019 David Mills