Today, you could think of three ways in which your life could be worse.
And take some time during the day to rejoice that it's not so.
Today, you could get something wrong.
Do it deliberately, make a mistake. You might make someone else feel better.
Today, you could listen to your heart.
And ask your brain to comment on what your heart tells you. If they agree, go ahead.
There are some problems in life you just have to deal with. Either you can't live with them or things will take a turn for the worse if you ignore them.
There are also times when arriving at solutions takes more time and energy than accepting the problem and living with it. The world is never going to be perfect.
It's wise to distinguish between the two situations, so you can get on and enjoy the experience of being alive.
Try telling a naked man who is standing in a strong wind at - 20° C that he creates his own experience. He might not agree with you.
But you could tell yourself the same thing, when you get upset over something someone has said to you, an anniversary your partner forgot, a promotion for which you were passed over, holiday plans that went awry, a scratch on your car or a rainy day... The list is endless.
Today, you could take responsibility for what you create.
Sometimes, change occurs in an instant; a major event or a sudden occurrence. But often, the change has been in progress for quite sometime without being noticed. It is the realization of the change that is sudden.
More often, change is a process. We may not be aware of it except in retrospect. In the context of losing weight, a pound a month is inconsequential. But over a year, it amounts to almost a stone.
So, look back a year or five and take stock. See what has changed and ask yourself if you like the direction in which your life is going.
If not, it's time to make changes so that this time next year, it will all seem very different.
What was your reaction when you read this question?
If you responded to it with a start of recognition, what comes next was written for you. If not, consider if it might apply to someone you feel close to.
Here are some predictions:
You feel you always have to cope, either because of childhood experiences you endured or because of current demands on you. Unlike other people, you don't have a choice.
Underlying your response is probably a fear that if you don't keep on coping, a part of your world will collapse and things will go wrong and become chaotic.
But consider the following:
Just because you have to cope with everything most of the time, does not mean you have to cope with everything all the time.
If you've always been someone who dealt with problems, that part of you will still be active even when you take a short break.
Your taking some "time out" may allow others to become more capable and result in them feeling better about themselves.
If the above made sense to you:
Tell those close to you that on certain occasions, at least, you're not waving, but drowning. Trust them to take over for a while.
September 6: Not all problems can be solved.
But that doesn't mean things can't be improved.
One of the signs of a flexible approach to life is a willingness to accept partial solutions to problems that can't be solved in their entirety.
When you're faced with something you feel you have to come to terms with, don't stop looking for areas where you can still make improvements.
Today, you could move things forward.
Some things have to be understood.
It can help to have reasons, even if nothing changes. Inquiry and exploration are useful tools for understanding what is not yet clear.
Some things have to be accepted.
They are just not going to change and it's better to recognize this and stop wasting your life waiting for something that won't happen. It may be useful to understand the situation and let go.
Some things have to be forgiven.
It may not be enough just to understand or to accept. You may have to forgive in order to move on. Not so much for the sake of anyone else involved, but for your own peace of mind.
September 8: What was your life like when you were that age?
This is a question mostly for parents, but also for those who have any contact with children.
Bringing up children can be one of the most difficult and rewarding challenges in life. We make it that much more difficult when we have expectations that don't match the reality of our children's lives.
Societies, peer pressure and consumerism all change so much and so quickly, that the lives of the next generation are often very different from ours, both from the social and financial point of view.
What is much more likely to be shared with our offspring is the experience we ourselves went through at the same age. That's when it's worth asking the question in the heading. If you are in doubt about the answers and your parents are still alive, check with them. They will enjoy reminding you about the problems they had understanding you.
When you find the tantrums of your five-year-old trying, ask how your parents felt when you were five.
When you are confused by your offspring's refusal to engage with you or share his or her experiences at puberty, remind yourself of how unwilling you were to talk to your mum and dad when your own body was changing.
When you feel ignored by your fifteen-year-old, it's worth reflecting on how you treated your parents when you yourself were fifteen. How sensitive were you to their feelings?
The experience of being human does not seem to change that much over the generations.
Every day of the week to come, make one gesture beyond your normal routine that will benefit someone else in a way he doesn't expect.
Pay someone a sincere compliment about something you would not usually mention.
Give someone a small gift for no particular reason, other than your feeling that they deserve it.
Reach out with a reassuring touch or even a hug a person when he or she is having a difficult time.
Most important, at the end of each day, write down what you did and the response your evoked.
After seven days, take some time to reflect on and review your list. Think about the difference you have made to others and how it has left you feeling.
This is an exercise that's meant to be fun. If it feels like a burden, don't try it.
Every attempt to control and change someone else involves surrendering a little of your own freedom. Since, in practice, you have no control over the responses of others, by attempting to acquire it, you are allowing your life to be controlled by them.
Of course, if you are involved in bringing up children, you will realize that this loss of freedom is inevitable. It goes with the territory of being a parent. But it's interesting how we still give away our power when we are in an adult-to-adult situation. For some reason, we believe that people should be different from how they are and invest time and energy in vain, trying to bring about a change in them that will make them acceptable to us.
Today, it would be a good idea to accept people as they are. If that doesn't benefit you, move on.
Wherever you read about relationships or are told about them¯and that certainly applies to the ideas in this book¯please remember it may not apply to you.
If you think about your complexity as an individual, then add another party to the equation, the possibilities are beyond calculation.
Don't try and fit your relationship into someone else's understanding of it.
Ask the simple question: Does this apply to me? If it doesn't, move on.
They were determined that their only child should have a perfect upbringing. He grew up protected from all harm. When he looked as if he might fall, they were there to catch him. When he cried, the tissue they produced caught the tears almost before they started.
They tried to project their relationship as a perfect one for his sake. All disagreements were kept private and they never criticized each other in his presence. Of course, they also took pains never to criticize him.
When he started school and someone said something unkind to him, he had no idea how to cope with it.
Life can be good, but it won't be perfect. If it were, we wouldn't grow. It's how you cope when things go wrong that's the mark of your worth as a human being.
Other people can be so unfair, judgemental or critical and it's easy to attribute to others all responsibility for this kind of response and ignore our own role in the matter.
If we see ourselves as teachers and other people as our students to whom we are offering lessons on how to treat us, we may get a very different view about our relationships and friendships.
We may also begin to change our teaching method, our behaviour, so that we get results that are better suited to our needs.
If you want people to improve their behaviour towards you, you need to improve the way you teach them.
We live in a world that encourages us to seek external solutions to internal problems.
When we feel miserable inside, we turn to food, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, money, tears, children and arguments, among other diversions.
Ultimately, internal problems need internal solutions, which is mostly what this book is about, since it advocates modifying attitudes and thereby being better equipped to take decisions that will be appropriate for given situations.
The external sources not only fail to offer permanent relief, but merely contribute to frittering away precious time and sometimes end up destroying our lives in the bargain.
Certain external problems, on the other hand, need external solutions. If your water pipe springs a leak, for example, don't spend time thinking about it. If you're in a violent or vicious relationship, with little prospect of matters improving, your immediate solution would be an external one, that is, the decision to make a quick exit instead of brooding on how you got there in the first place.
So, the answer that comes up spontaneously to the question, "Is this an external or an internal problem?" would be your best indicator as to what needs to be addressed and rectified.
Today, you could look for a bigger challenge.
Seek greater stimulation, a larger problem to address and bring out the best in yourself.
Today, you could exceed your expectations.
Live beyond what you have previously held to be your limits, surprise yourself and, perhaps, shock other people.
Today, you could start making different choices.
Think about where your past choices have taken you and if you're not happy with where you are, choose differently in the future.
A woman is woken up by her partner who has brought her a breakfast of coffee and croissants in bed. She says, "There's nothing better than honey on my croissants in the morning. There are so many different kinds of honey. Each has its own character. Honey is definitely my favourite breakfast spread."
Then she says, "But honey is so unhealthy. All those little insects manufacturing it in unhygienic conditions ... and it can be bad for your blood sugar. On second thoughts, I loathe honey."
Her bemused partner replies, "You can't have it both ways. You need to make up your mind."
"I quite agree," she replies, "and I will make up my mind as to which opinion I want to hold, once I know if we have any honey in the kitchen."
It's easier to ride a horse in the direction in which it's going.
This is a phrase you have probably heard before, but its familiarity should not blind you to its inherent truth.
Here is an exercise you could engage in to see if this idea works for you.
Write down one thing you suppose you could feel grateful for, even if you don't feel it right now. If you can't think of anything worth mentioning, write down the fact that you have the power of vision and can see. There are many people who can't.
Spend a minute thinking about this item. Add another tomorrow and spend a minute on it too, along with another minute on the previous one.
Do this every day for a total of five days, so that you spend a total of five minutes reflecting on five items.
If you find this makes a difference, add items as they occur to you. If it doesn't work for you, file away the list. It will be there when you need it.
It's a tough question: Would you live with yourself? It's not meant as a "beat-yourself-up" question, but as a way of honestly looking at your role in relationships.
Here are some possible answers:
Yes, I'd be very happy to live with myself. Be grateful that you are able to answer this way and consider what those around you contribute to your life.
Yes, I'd live with myself, but I would find a few things difficult to bear. Examine your relationships to find out whether anything you bring to it has the potential of undermining it. Then decide if you want to make changes.
No, I would not want to live with myself. What changes would you have to make to come up with a different answer (including not being too harsh on yourself)? Are these changes you can make on your own? Are you willing to seek help from others?
"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." ¯Leo Tolstoy
I'm not a fan of bumper-sticker philosophy. I don't take to easy solutions and I find it annoying when problems are dismissed with a phrase like "The longest journey starts with the first step." What's even more annoying with this one is that despite it being simplistic and failing to tell the full story, it's accurate and even insightful, however you choose to look at it.
Whatever it is you want to achieve¯fulfilment in a relationship, financial success or health targets¯you won't get there until you start taking action.
Your first action might well involve planning and preparation, modifying your attitude and making a decision, but until it's implemented in the outside world, it won't feel real.
Here's a challenge for today: Take any objective you have in mind and take the first step right now towards its achievement.
You may undertake either a short journey or a long one, but it's unlikely to become easier if you delay starting it.
The first part of the sentence is an expression parents use when their children clamour for instant gratification. It's supposed to hold the moral that if something is worth having, it takes time to achieve. Some people interpret this to mean that all they have to do is wait. And so they do, wallowing in inactivity and impatient for their goals to be realized without any contribution on their part.
Although "Rome wasn't built in a day", parts of it were. In other words, it's best to look at the small steps you can take towards your eventual goal. Many good things in life are the result of a number of small deeds, carried out often on a daily basis.
An education cannot be acquired in a day, but new learning certainly can.
A weight-loss target is unlikely to be achieved in a day, but a daily weight reduction might be a feasible objective.
Financial success is usually not achieved in a day, but you can open a savings account to start off with.
A damaged relationship cannot be mended in a day, but a significant start can be made in that direction.
This book wasn't written in a day, but this part of it certainly was!
What do you want to start building today?
And here are some of them:
Wasting your life, waiting for someone else to change.
Living with violence or emotional abuse.
Watching your children being damaged.
Losing your own identity, friends or interests.
It's not easy to move on, but sometimes it's what life asks of you.
"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stopped to look fear in the face." ¯ Eleanor Roosevelt
An unemployed father of four was walking in the direction of the nearest town from home in search of work, as he had done every day for the past few months. Bills were piling up and his wife was getting depressed. His toes came into contact with something and, bending down, he picked up an old coin.
Arriving at the town, he took it to a coin collector who paid him £30 for his find. Passing a hardware store, he saw some wood and decided he would build his wife the shelves she had been asking for. On the journey home, he was stopped by a furniture maker who offered him £100 for the wood as well as a new cupboard for his kitchen. While carrying the cupboard home, he passed a house which was being renovated and its owner offered him £150 for the cupboard which he accepted.
Pleased with his fortune, he stood at the gate of his house counting the cash, when a man with a knife accosted him, took the cash and ran off.
Observing the incident from the kitchen window, his wife rushed out. "Are you all right?" she asked anxiously. "What did he take?"
The man shrugged his shoulders and said, "Oh it was just a battered old coin I stumbled across this morning."
Sometimes, it pays to devise the best possible explanation for things over which we have no control.
Put simply, this idea states that 80 per cent of the results you achieve come from a mere 20 per cent of the actions you take.
Now, I have my doubts as to the degree of precision of any formula applied to a human situation. I do, however, see that when we act at the right time and in the right way, we obtain results that far exceed the energy involved.
It's certainly an excellent idea to concentrate your energies on things that make a difference instead of squandering your resources to no great effect in another area.
Too much activity can be a curse. It stops you from looking too deeply at issues in your life. Well-timed and effective action can free you to contemplate the direction you are taking.
How can you act more effectively today?
We are all guilty of repeating unhelpful patterns in our lives, not just in relationships, but in the way we deal with our finances, our eating habits and so on. Each time we make up our minds that the next time, it's going to be different. However, when the next time comes, nothing has changed.
When that's the pattern you keep following, chances are that there is something you are resisting, some underlying cause you are refusing to examine or some deeper reason you are avoiding looking at.
You can't change things you don't own up to, so here's something you can do right now:
Take an issue where you tend to repeat a pattern despite your best efforts not to do so and ask yourself what it is you are resisting. Ask yourself this question two or three times and write down the answers. If nothing comes up, ask yourself what you would write down if you were going to write something. Then write that down.
This doesn't solve the problem, but it might well tell you where to start looking for a solution.
The woman was driving home from the hospital in a daze.
"You probably have only one month to live," the new doctor had told her after reviewing her test results.
As her mind cleared during the long journey, she started to plan the month ahead. She thought of the letters and e-mails she needed to write, the calls she wanted to make, the apologies she wanted to express for past mistakes, the declarations of love she wanted to make to those close to her. She realized that there were experiences she had always postponed which she could still cram into this month. Above all, she wanted to spend her last weeks feeling fully alive.
She arrived home, keen to start doing the things she had been thinking about. The phone was ringing as she opened the door and she took the call. It was from the hospital. There had been a terrible mix up. Her tests were clear. There was no problem with her health at all.
If this were you, would you still take the action you had planned on your journey home?
As a general rule, you can't fix both the process and the outcome of an action, but a lot of people waste much of their life trying to do so.
If you want to fix the outcome, be it an athletic achievement, the purchase of a house or fulfilment in a relationship, you will usually have to develop flexibility in your approach in order to get where you want to be.
If you want to fix a process, for instance, the way you respond to people or a set approach to business, you can expect to obtain a variable outcome to each situation.
There is no "right answer" here, just a need to select an appropriate process or outcome for a proposed action and not waste time trying to force the way things are into a mould of your own making.
It's almost impossible to argue with someone who is not concerned about being right.
An argument is a process that relies on those involved being attached to different outcomes. If either one of the parties involved is happy to enjoy an exploration of the given issue without attachment to the outcome, no argument can take place.
Sometimes, it's good to stand firm and live with the disagreement.
Sometimes, it's fine to give way.
Sometimes, it's time to respect differences and move on to other areas.
When I was twelve years old, there was a boy in my class known for his unruly behaviour. One day, after the English lesson had been disrupted several times by him, our much-respected teacher astounded the rest of the class by losing his temper sufficiently to slap the boy a number of times before sending him to the headmaster to be caned (this was, of course, in an era when it was a normal disciplinary procedure). We talked of little else that day.
The next day, our English teacher came to class and publicly apologized both to the boy and to the rest of the class for losing his temper and resorting to hitting him. We talked of little else that week.
This is one of the most useful lessons I have gleaned from my life. Our English teacher taught me many valuable things but, unbeknownst to him, this was his best lesson.
1. When you are in the wrong, you need to acknowledge it and apologize for your error.
2. You can grow in the eyes of others by the manner in which you handle your failures.
3. You never know what it is you do that will make all the difference.
There used to be a cartoon in my counselling room which showed a couple pointing at each other. The speech bubble suspended over both of them read : "You're supposed to make me happy."
It might just be the biggest myth about relationships that if you are not happy already, having a relationship will change everything.
A better approach is to take responsibility for your own happiness and be willing to share it with your partner.
A twelve-year-old wishes to become a teenager because "teenagers have more fun". In response to his wish, a wizard gives him a rope which, when he pulls it, will make him older. One tug and he's a teenager. But sadly, he finds that he also has spots on his face.
Wanting to avoid being teased by his peers, he pulls the rope again, but a bit too hard, and discovers that he is now in his early twenties, married and with a child. They are struggling to make ends meet, but he knows better times are ahead and pulls again.
In his late twenties, he gets a promotion, but is not happy with his new job. So, another pull takes him to the post of Manager. It's a fulfilling phase in his career and his financial situation is more stable.
The problems of two teenage children, their friends and their loud late-night music are a trial for him and he looks forward to the day he and his wife can enjoy the peace of their home together. Another tug on the rope and he finds himself struggling now to hold onto his job and looks forward to his retirement.
He pulls the rope again and finds he has retired but is now facing major heart surgery.
Anxious to find out what will happen next, he pulls the rope once more and finds himself in the dark and surrounded by a wooden box.
Enjoy each stage of your life as it comes; it's over quickly enough.