Adapting to Change

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I have always had dogs and cats living with me. A short while before going on holiday our elderly and last remaining cat passed peacefully away. We were all heartbroken as he had been such a little character, always chatting to us, sitting on our shoulders as we worked at a desk or the computer and lying next to the dogs in the family room or standing waiting on them or us to dry him off when he came in from the rain. As he had such a strong presence our home seemed very quiet without him and the thought of bringing in another little cat did not seem very fair or right at that time.

By a strange coincidence the house we had rented for our holiday had living right next door to it a caretaker and he had four quite young cats. Initially the cats were shy and quite aloof and we were not really aware of their presence but as curiosity soon got the better of them they quickly began coming round to visit us and sit beside us as we sat and read or swam. By the time we came home we all had decided to get another cat. I had anticipated no problems with the dogs as they were so used to cats and had such sweet natures that they would accept anything. So, shortly after we came home we got a little black kitten and almost the day after I received a surprise with the gift of another little kitten, this one grey and white. The kittens were both fortunately males and luckily almost exactly the same age. It was no surprise that they got on really well and almost immediately began to play and sleep wrapped around each other. Our surprise came when some of the dogs who had always had a cat living with them in the house, actually found it really hard to adapt and cope with the new arrivals. Strangely it was my three biggest dogs that seemed to be the most affected, the others being neither up nor down. They were not aggressive, simply afraid and their fear manifested itself in different ways. One seemed to decide that if he looked up all the time and never down at the floor then they didn’t exist and he walked around staring at me or the ceiling with the kittens chasing around his feet. The second appeared to think that if he stuck his head under a cushion he would instantly become invisible so spent his time doing just that every time the kittens came near to him.The third and youngest  of my Golden Retrievers elected to mimic a parrot, when either of the kittens made any move towards him, he simply would get off the floor and quickly climb on to my shoulder as I sat on the couch. Of course the kittens absolutely loved this game, it was amazing ,they knew they had power and were loving being able to use it. They would try and scramble under the cushion to see Alfie, run around Teddy’s feet and trip him up and try to use my legs as a climbing post to get to Bruce. We were all amazed, after all our dogs loved cats what on earth were we going to do? Well, fortunately we did not need to do anything as all it took was a little time, time for the dogs to get used to the size of the kittens and time for them to realise that the kittens were just trying to play and have some fun. As soon as they recognised and accepted that, it took about a week, they became happy to lie on the floor and allow themselves to be used as climbing posts and now they are simply delighted when one of the kittens decides to lie cuddled next to them and purr happily away until asleep. The kittens have learned too. They know that the dogs will walk away if they try to chew their feet or run up their backs so they have stopped even trying. They want the dogs to be there and to play with them but have learned boundaries. The dogs have taught them those simply by withdrawing from play and moving to another room, anytime they felt the kittens were playing too roughly for them and the kittens have been astute enough to pick up on those signals and adapted their play.

In hindsight it was a bit unfair of me to think that the dogs would have no concerns about me introducing something new in to their environment, their home. Milo, our old cat had been their friend for many years. He was a certain size and behaved a certain way. The kittens are much smaller, faster and something quite new .But, by giving them all time and space, letting them each adjust to the new arrivals in a safe setting they have quickly recognised that there is nothing to fear and have been flexible and willing to adapt to the change. Now, looking at them all as they play and sleep together, it seems as if there has never been anything other than complete harmony.

Watching them learn and adapt and become good friends has strangely made me rethink what I expect from myself and others. We all take time to adapt to new circumstances and events, even if we have had similar experiences in the past we may need to allow ourselves a little more time to accept and become comfortable with any changes, even positive ones.

We need to take personal responsibility to set our own boundaries, ones which make us feel comfortable and make them clear to others. We should not just expect them to know what we want or need from them as that is simply unfair. If others make clear to us what their boundaries are we must respect them and not try to foist our own beliefs or strategies on to them, even if we feel they might be of help. We can explain how we feel and why we think it may help but still back off and let them come to terms with any issues or circumstances in their own time and at their own pace.

We are all different and as unique individuals and when faced with something new we each will have our own way of handling things. Some people find it very easy to adapt to change and others much more difficult. Knowing what makes us “tick” as an individual lets us develop a strategy for coping with change and helps us to manage it and make life easier.

For certain people fear is sometimes a normal response to being asked to face something new and different, before they have had time to adjust to a situation. If this is how you feel ,know that you  do not need to respond angrily or aggressively to new things, as that sort of strategy will never improve a situation or clear any issues, in fact almost always all that will do is make everything worse. Instead acknowledge that you have a need to get used to new circumstances, whatever they are, good or bad  and then take time to gather more information to enable you to adapt more quickly, make better decisions and be flexible enough to cope with and accept change.

Generally, when we show people close to us and even those a little more distant, respect and give each other personal space, we find that we can usually resolve any problems or issues and create an outcome that we are all happy with.

Listen and Learn.

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I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I am going to learn, I must do it by listening.
Larry King.

We all like to be heard. What we think and feel we want to be able to express to others and when we can do it freely we feel better and happier. We all recognize this and appreciate how important it is, so why when we have all this understanding and insight do we frequently fail to truly listen to what others want to say?
Perhaps it is because we feel that we are too busy or under too much pressure to waste time listening to what someone else thinks as we believe we already know the best decision or outcome? Or perhaps, we are too focused on what we need to do next that we simply do not take the time to listen before moving on to our next task or job. We just want to be able to tick off that we have dealt with the matter and move on.
The problem with this strategy is that more often than not we haven’t dealt with anything successfully. All we have really done by communicating in this manner is to potentially create more stress for the future.
Too often when we think that we are communicating we are in fact just barking out orders to others or we are defending ourselves from perceived criticism from others. This sort of communication can end up with us going round and round in circles trying to make our point and failing to do so. All that happens is that we end up feeling more and more exasperated, fed up and no further forward.
We are all guilty of doing this at some point in our lives and the solution to all the frustration and angst that this type of behavior causes us it really simple and straightforward. If we feel that we are not being heard rather than shouting louder and louder we need to stop and listen to what those around us are saying before we can then calmly answer them and express how we are feeling. Good communication requires all parties to be silent at some point and listen to what the others are saying before they actually respond. If we try to get our view over without paying attention to their views we are simply wasting our time. Seldom has anyone ever personally achieved anything constructive or made themselves feel better just by overriding the views of those close to them and imposing their own on any situation.
If we want to be happy, successful and content then it is simply essential to be a good listener. When we spend time listening to others they respect us more and will in turn spend time listening to us when we need them to. We can learn so much from hearing what those close to us have to say and that can help us to grow closer to those we love and to grow stronger as a person. As American psychologist Karl A Menninger once said:
Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.
Sometimes when we feel that we are not being listened to, we ourselves are also not actually listening. The only way to resolve or at least attempt to resolve this type of situation, is to stop trying to get our own point across and spend time hearing what those we believe are ignoring us, are really saying .If once we have listened to them we still feel they are not letting us respond or take our view in to account we need to make a decision about whether they are the right people to surround ourselves with. Either way just by listening we gain knowledge and that always makes us stronger.
If we find that we are the ones who have allowed ourselves to get in to the bad habit of not truly listening and communicating well to those around us, we simply need to decide to stop and change how we have been responding to others and handling things.
It is not difficult as we all have the ability inside us to be able to make such positive changes when we can see the benefit of doing so and know that by changing we will feel better and more in control. We all must learn how to make positive choices in life if we desire happiness. None of us should stick with bad habits or poor strategies that do not work well simply because they take time and a bit of effort to change. That is simply daft and most definitely not a recipe for success. Being able to be flexible enough to adapt and change makes life happier, as we learn what works best for us and for those around us. As I always say though, the choice and the power to make positive life changes lies solely within ourselves. No one can do it for us and we can hold no one responsible other than ourselves if we don’t change when we need to. We all need to learn to make changes today, even if only small positive, ones for a happier tomorrow.

Learning how to react positively to stress.

 

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In life our reactions to everything can be improved upon the more we learn about ourselves and our ability to handle situations. Nothing is worth making yourself ill over and without putting in to place some sort of structure and strategy to deal with stressful situations people can and do get ill by allowing daily issues to overwhelm and control them

Every day in life we all can be faced by situations that could be considered stressful. Partly what enables us to be happy and relatively stress free is learning how best to distinguish what really is a priority and therefore needs to be dealt with and what can be left until we have more time or energy to deal with it. By consciously making decisions to prioritize the importance level of daily events we can in fact learn to control our stress levels. If we believe everything has the same high importance and must be dealt with immediately then we are creating a very high stress level situation for ourselves to have to cope with. That inability to distinguish between important and not so important can easily cause us to go in to overwhelm and then nothing really gets done. Things start to pile up and before we know it we feel close to a complete meltdown as the pressure to act builds.

So how to decide what needs to be dealt with first? I usually make my decisions based upon the likely impact that taking no immediate action would have and whether I feel comfortable enough delegating it or leaving it until later? I make daily lists up and number in the order in which I consider I need to get things done. Where possible I will delegate tasks that do not necessarily need my particular attention alone to others who may be free to help. It is also important to take time during the day to try to have at least five minutes peace. To be able to sit, have a drink to rehydrate, eat something, take a good few deep relaxing breaths and then start again. I have found that having short breaks actually helps me to be more efficient and effective in dealing with any issues that have need of my attention. A short break often allows me to get a different perspective on a problem and enables me to tackle any issues with renewed vigor. If I don’t fully understand something or I need a different opinion I ask someone I trust for their views  as that can often help me to clarify my own thoughts.

Despite all our best efforts at the end of the day there are sometimes some things which are not fully resolved, some things which need more time and effort to sort out and we just have to learn to be able to accept that too. Fretting and fussing about those types of issues will not alter how quickly they can be effectively dealt with. Some things just need time and patience and it is important to learn how to recognize when you have done as much as you can and then to decide to stop worrying and, just wait and see what if anything is required next.

All of these techniques take conscious effort and practice but the end results are well worth it. As Hans Selye rightly says “It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it”.

Keeping it simple

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When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.

Gilbert K Chesterton

Recently there has been much debate in our house over going on holiday. Whether I should or I shouldn’t and who to go with and where to go? Not normally something that would be debated but two years ago one of our much loved dogs was very ill and almost died. Since then he has been on regular medication and I have been anxious about leaving him with anyone else. The youngest dog also has strong attachment issues to me and this has added to the guilt I would feel leaving him to go away for a holiday abroad. This was not a problem when all members of the family lived at home as I could have gone knowing they were safely being cared for by others that knew and loved them as much as me. The dilemma this year has arisen because the holiday was to be with my eldest girl and her partner and involved asking her sister to move back home and watch the dogs for two weeks as well as getting my elderly mother to come daily to dog sit. Everyone agreed to it and yet I found myself still anxious and debating whether this was fair on the people involved and the dogs, which are also very much part of my family. There have been heated debates about priorities, mine, and lengthy discussions. Then I got a cold. Not any cold but one which knocked me totally off my feet and worse still stole my voice. All of a sudden all the debates had to stop. I could not even answer the phone. I realised how for granted I took the simple act of speaking. In fact I realised just how much I enjoyed communicating with others on a daily basis. The phone calls to friends or family. The evening discussions I enjoy with my husband about the day’s events or just sitting chatting to my clients about all that had been happening in their lives. All no longer possible as any words coming out of my mouth were reduced to a soft squeak and even attempting that was too painful. Plenty of rest and no talking was what was advised. My middle daughter came over to take me for lunch and we collected her younger sister from the train to give her someone to chat to. In the restaurant I found myself indicating no more pepper to a bewildered waiter by placing my hand over my soup bowl and getting it covered in pepper! I had tried saying enough but he had not understood my squeak and had instead kept on sprinkling. Despite not being able to reply my daughters happily chatted away asking me questions to which they already had decided my reply. “This place is great isn’t it Mum”? ”Yes of course it is you love it don’t you “, “This is fun we really should do it more often” “We will get Julie (the eldest) down next time” And the boys and Dad make it a family regular thing they decided. On and on they chattered and suddenly it came to me that I was sitting their feeling frustrated about not being able to join in the discussions and feeling a little hard done to when the real joy was in listening to them. I actually had been given the chance to sit and hear, really hear what they felt about the things that were happening in their lives, in the world and because I couldn’t speak I didn’t need to voice my opinion. This was a unique experience and opportunity for me. Generally I see my role as the” problem” fixer and I realise now that often I would be listening to issues affecting family, friends etc. and actually be  waiting for my chance to say “now here is what I think you should do”. By sitting listening to my daughters chat I had the opportunity to see how they handled and solved their own problems .Not that I think I am now redundant, it is more that I think I now have a better respect for their own capabilities and may now occasionally, just occasionally mind you, keep my mouth shut and let them figure things out their own way. Having no voice has made me a better listener and I feel that I have learned a lot. I have had to find different ways of communicating what I mean and to be more flexible. But, most of all I think that I have learned not to get too bogged down in the specifics of life and trying to control every small aspect. There really seems to be little point in worrying too much about the future when life can change on a daily basis. Hopefully my voice will return soon but its loss has made me appreciate that I cannot control all aspects of my life, no one can and why really would we want to? In our lives we will all have to cope with change. I realise that I am not actually very good with accepting change or things I cannot control. Losing my voice I initially found incredibly frustrating and yet it has had hidden learning for me. I have decided to use that to practice being a bit more flexible and try to actually allow myself to go more with the flow of life and enjoy where it takes me. So every cloud they say has a silver lining and I very much think that learning may actually be mine.

When humour turns bad.

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Humour is a wonderful and powerful thing. It can get you through tough times and help create bonds between people. It can lift your spirit and change gloomy days to happier ones. It is a great coping ability to have. But, when it is used to ridicule or tease someone with intent to make them feel bad then I consider it to become a very dangerous thing indeed. I use the word dangerous deliberately as it is an insidious way to knock someone’s self-confidence and create doubt whilst keeping at a safe distance from the victim. The attacker can always use humour and their victim’s lack of it as an excuse for their behaviour. Leaving the person attacked by it feeling vulnerable and angry. It also fails to resolve the initial problem that initiated the “humorous” response in the first place. So the person who set out to hurt or deflate his victim with the attack has a momentary but unsustainable high as the problem still exists or has been made worse.

“Sarcasm I now see to be, in general ,the language of the devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it”.

So says Thomas Carlyle who clearly may have been hurt by someone’s sarcastic comments. I don’t quite see the devils involvement but it can be very hurtful when used against individuals in the form of personal attack.

If someone has done something to upset, hurt or annoy you then it is far better to deal with it face to face. Reasonably and calmly explain what has happened and try together to find a way to resolve any issues. Bring in a neutral third party if required or go to a mediator but do not be fooled in to thinking that by using various sarcastic attacks you are going to remedy the issue and gain permanent satisfaction.

This solution is of course for those who are feeling genuinely aggrieved and who have resorted to sarcasm as a poor means of communication. There are others though that have an innate desire to pull people down for various reasons but inevitably because they can’t face their own inadequacies or failures and so can’t bear to see others succeed or be praised or get any form of recognition that they themselves desire but have no ability to receive, perhaps because they do not give of themselves enough to ever be in the same position as those they envy.

This is bad enough when the person attacking you is a stranger or even and ex friend. An ex-partner often falls in to the poor communication or anger category and usually this  can be resolved by mediation or if this is not possible then  simply just let them go, cut them out of your social circles, social network sites and anything else you could have communication with them in and move on.

What though if it is a close family member? How then do you deal with it? Well again communication is the key but if this has been tried and failed then for me the answer is the same as I would say for anyone being hurt or harassed, move on and no longer communicate with them. If need be cut all ties with them unless they develop the ability to communicate in a normal, healthy fashion .I appreciate that the thought of this can be daunting but living with someone putting you down on a daily basis is no way to live your life. It can and will create all sorts of personal issues for you and will more than likely never be resolved unless you remove yourself from the situation. It is unhealthy for them and for you. When I was younger I remember hearing older people say to friends struggling with family issues ”you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family”. This is true but that doesn’t mean that you have to stay and put up with negative behaviour. Sometimes people develop a negative way of talking to each other without actually realising how destructive it actually is. By creating space it can give each person a chance to examine their behaviour and decided whether any aspect of it needs to change. If they can’t recognise the need to change and you can no longer tolerate it then it is far better and safer to be away from them and the situation, than risk it degenerating in to something more physical. When an individual has to deal with sarcasm daily it can and often does lead to physical altercations. The inability to be clearly heard or to be able to express oneself without ridicule can and does make people very angry and brings out frustration often as aggression. So take yourself away from a situation where you are likely to lose control. Sometimes we simply need to recognise that there are some people with whom we will never be able to communicate and leave it at that. We should stop trying to explain ourselves and our actions, rise above their level and move on.

Its not always personal

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Since others have to tolerate my weaknesses, it is only fair that I should tolerate theirs. William Allen White

I wish I had read this quote when I was assisting on a course in Glasgow a few years ago. The course was being held in a Glasgow hotel. Every day when I went in the hotel receptionists would say a cheery good morning and ask how I was and we would exchange small pleasantries. That was every receptionist except one. Each time she was on she would bury her head in her desk as I passed. No matter how cheery the “good morning” I shouted to her she would ignore me or worse just look like through me as if I wasn’t there. As each passed I grew more and more fixated about trying to get her to acknowledge me. I went out my way to be friendly and to smile and be nice. It didn’t seem to matter what I did she completely ignored it. Finally I thought okay she wins I will just ignore her too and for the remainder of the week I walked past without glancing her way or I acknowledged the receptionist beside her but not her until finally the week was over. As I said goodbyes to the other course participants one of them excused herself from the rest of the group and explained that she was going to over to speak to Mary, the receptionist that had ignored me all week. Fortunately I said nothing as she went on to tell us all that she knew Mary through her church and that Mary had been going through an awful week. Her mother who was suffering from dementia had been admitted to a home and her cat of twenty years had just died. She expressed amazement that Mary had managed to drag herself in to work but had done so not to let her colleagues down. She said that she could barely function and that everyone who knew her were very concerned for her wellbeing because of the stress she was under. I felt immediately ashamed of myself as I had not for one moment considered that she might be unhappy had just thought her rude.

Why had I made it personal? Perhaps my own insecurities were part of the problem or my ego; after all I was supposed to be a good communicator. Whatever the reason I have made sure never to judge another like that again. For me it was a lesson well learned. Time and time again though, as I watch others reacting to people the same way that I had and taking a strangers behaviour personally, I want to stop and tell them my tale. None of us know the burdens another person carries yet often we act as judge and jury. Many times we react perhaps because it is easier to take out our own frustrations and angst against a total stranger than deal with the issues that are making us feel so fragile. It could be that we are all a bit stressed with the multiple daily roles that we have to do and the slightest break of our rules can push us over the edge in to an overreaction. Whatever the reason or whatever the apparent justification I  now  believe it is better to “turn the other cheek” and walk away rather than add to the angst and misery another person may be suffering. Who knows perhaps one day it could be someone you love or you who forgets to say hello or inadvertently cuts someone off in their hurry to get home because of an emergency or problem. Wouldn’t you like to think that they would be “cut some slack”   rather than potentially be harassed or hurt by another person’s frustration and anger when they were already distressed?  It goes without saying that of course you would.

I now try and treat others, even those that are apparently rude with the same care I would want others to show my children or anyone that I care about. I feel better for it. Sometimes I need to take a deep breath and count to ten but always when I manage to walk away or drive away without an angry exchange I feel better. It really does take practice but for me it is worth it.

This quote by Phillips Brooks sums up my new found philosophy “Be patient and understanding. Life is too short to be vengeful or malicious”.

It takes a lot of energy to be angry or nasty, energy I would rather keep to use for something more constructive and positive. I feel stronger being able to walk away from negative situations with strangers I am unlikely to ever meet again and happier that by walking away I am not contributing to the negativity around them or their pain. If you have been finding it easy to react negatively to others behaviour why don’t you just take a deep breath and walk away?  See how much better you feel for doing it and move on without dragging someone else’s negative baggage with you.

How to win friends and Influence yourself

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“The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours – it is an amazing journey – and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins.” – Bob Moawad

How many of us waste our time seeking affirmation from others to find out who we really are? Teenagers often go through a stage of looking to their peers to find themselves. Trying to conform and fit in to a group even if it is the group who believe they are non-conformists! Generally they band together which is strange because they say they value their individuality. When we mature we are supposed to know ourselves and to have grown to be self-confident and self-aware but often this is not the case. Each relationship we enter into we should be going in as an equal, yet often I find adults trying still to fit in and relying on others daily to tell them if they have succeeded or failed. The problem with this is obvious. If you give away your personal power to another person or group, even if they love you, then you are giving away control of your life and the responsibility for your decisions. Some think that this is a way of feeling secure but it is in fact a false security. Someone else’s or a groups values, beliefs and goals even if very similar to our own, are not our own, and they are going too unconsciously and consciously influence your decisions based on what they believe is right for you rather than what is actually right for you. Giving them this power makes you vulnerable to not being able to achieve what you want or be who you really want to be and nine times out of ten that leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

To have a belief in one’s own abilities is essential to live a happy, contented life. We can make mistakes that we wish we hadn’t but that is a learning process through which we can grow as a person. If these decisions were not ours in the first place then how can we learn from them?

“It’s not your job to like me – it’s mine.” – Byron Katie

We need to start by actually liking and having confidence in ourselves. In order to find ourselves again we need to reconnect to what makes us function. What do we hold dear to us? What in life do we consider important? Are we being true to ourselves or are we following someone other life plan? What do we wish if anything that we now had in our lives? What would we like to get rid of? Answering these questions gives you a basic structure for change and self-discovery. Start gradually and work your way through the list creating a new you with recognition of new strengths and abilities as well as building upon those you already have. Remember as they say “Rome was not built in a day” just taking the first step on the path to self-acceptance is a big achievement.

When we like and have confidence in ourselves a wonderful thing happens, we begin to attract like-minded people who like us too. It is not a case of becoming so egocentric that we begin to believe that we can do no wrong and therefore alienate others .Rather it is a gentler acceptance of ourselves as doing the best we can, with the best of intentions and finding companions along the way that love and accept us for who we are rather than who they want us to be. If we do the same with others we will create a happier healthier environment for us all to live and journey in.

When we stop looking to others to tell us whether we are doing the best we can and start instead to look at ourselves, we take back control of our life and can then start to steer it in the direction we want. Those close to us can help us on our journey, as we can help them on theirs, now working together as an equal team and no longer as extra baggage. Life is a journey to be experienced and not just tolerated. When we reach the end of our journey on this plane we should as Frank Sinatra said be able to say we did it our way.