Adapting to Change

2013-08-23 19.05.24

 

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.

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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”.

Seeing both sides now.

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My Grandmother had a saying “It doesn’t matter how thinly you slice the bread, there are always two sides”. When I was younger it used to drive me mad as usually she would say it to me when I was repeating some bit of gossip or information I had heard at school or at the local shops. To me everything was very black and white .It was either right or it was wrong and I believed tales that people recounted without question. I didn’t tell lies so why should other people? As I grew older I began to realise the wisdom in her words. It really wasn’t about telling lies, at least not always. Seldom people deliberately set out to lie to you when they recount what has happened to them and apportion blame to whomever or whatever they believe caused it to happen. It is just how they actually see it. They will tell you a story based on their values and beliefs and how it appeared to them but if you were to take a survey of other people who may have been present at the incident, you would get varying accounts of what each had or had not seen and all would believe they were telling the truth. The police find this all the time when they take witness statements. There could have been a robbery and a whole lot of people may have witnessed it, yet it they had not had a chance to talk to each other, each person present could give similar yet different accounts. These can be differences in the size of the person, their clothing and even colouring and accent. If however the witnesses have chatted to each other before giving their statements to the police then they will start to follow and actually believe what the person or people in the group with the most conviction remembers. This is why it is important for police to try to speak to people before they have had the chance to speak with each other. They do not deliberately change their statements it is just in fact human nature to be easily led to do so by someone else’s strong conviction of the truth, even if this is actually a misplaced conviction.

If this is a problem with a lot of witnesses imagine how hard it is when you are hearing one person’s account of a situation against another person’s account? Who is telling you the truth? Mostly you will find that in many situations, unless it is a crime where one person commits a definitely criminal act against another, the truth is somewhere in the middle of both sides. Rather than cause further pain to both injured parties it is often wiser to just be a good listener and not to take sides. Taking sides usually just results in more fighting and more upset for all involved. If you can be supportive, without judgement it will help others to heal quicker. Yes their ex may have been horrible but constantly agreeing what a bad person they were and what a fool they made of them is not going to help them move on healthier and happier. It just increases their feelings of unhappiness and spirals people further down in to a bigger darker hole, making it harder to climb out. Equally telling them not to be daft and that you can’t believe it of the other person will also have the same effect of increasing feelings of hurt and isolation. So whilst you may have an opinion it is far kinder not to actually express it other than to agree it is time to move on as clearly whatever the reason it was unhealthy for them to stay in that particular relationship.

So how does this affect us as individuals? Well when we feel that we have been hurt or treated unfairly by a partner, ex-spouse, family member, friend, colleague, the list can go on, it is important for us to realise that this is just how we feel and that the person that hurt us might truly believe that they are in the right. No amount or arguing or debating will change that and it will not help us to hold on to the hurt. That is not to say that we allow it to continue and take no action. It is just that trying to get the blame to lie with another is a waste of time. It will not in the long term ease the pain, in fact it actually makes it worse as it can be unfair to both parties .A lot of precious time and energy can be spent trying to get someone to recognise how they have wronged or hurt us and it achieves nothing as they may well still believe they are in the right. It is far better to look at how you allowed it to happen in the first place. To recognise what it is that you need to learn positively from the experience that will enable you to move on with life stronger and happier? Take back control of your life by taking back your personal responsibility.

None of us can actually control the actions of another person, not even of those that we love. All we can ever hope to do is to be able to control our own reactions and to make sure that we learn from our past mistakes. By accepting this we take back our own personal power and reduce the ability of others to cause us lingering pain. We learn to thrive rather than just survive and surely that is the best motivation of all to start today, to let go of past perceived hurt, pain or regret and move forward building as we go a happier, healthier more fulfilling life.

How a dog sees it.

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Like for most people the run up to Christmas in our house is a very busy time with lots of different things seemingly requiring immediate attention to make sure everything is organised in time for us all to relax and really enjoy the holidays. To add to our fun we also have two birthdays to arrange, as one of my daughters was born on Christmas day and another two days later. Both naturally like to have their birthdays kept separate from the festive arrangements to ensure that they are personal for them. Obviously this means that I have to work from many lists to ensure that I get everything done on time. I pride myself on being able to accomplish this and resolutely stick to my set programme.

We share our home with our family of dogs and a cat and to make sure they are not left out I also need to factor in to my schedule time for their daily play and exercise. One of our dogs had been very ill and had eventually to be put on steroids to control his condition. One of the side effects of these are that he has gained quite a lot of weigh. To ensure that this is kept under control and to give him some fun, especially as we are so grateful to still have him here with us, I make sure that included in my daily routine as well as normal exercise periods there are  several play times for him to chase his ball around the garden. Yesterday I was busy as usual and on checking my watch noticed it was time to take him out to play. As I stood in the garden mechanically flinging the ball for him I was mentally planning what I had to do next. Suddenly I became aware that he was not coming back up with his ball as normal and when I looked I saw that he was half hidden in the bushes. Well his head and shoulders were hidden but his rear end was still sticking out for me to clearly see. Teddy though was unaware that I could see him. In his world because he couldn’t see me I obviously couldn’t see him. For a moment I was puzzled and wondered what on earth he was doing. Then when I shouted his name, I noticed that his tail was wagging and the more I shouted and pretended not to see him the happier and more excited he became until it all eventually became too much for him and he bounced out and ran up to me. His tail was wagging furiously and his face beaming with such joy that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Then I could have cried as the realisation came to me that Teddy didn’t just want to play ball. That was not the main source of his fun. The “fun” was clearly he and I playing, engaging in having fun together and when he realised that I was not having any fun he had decided to create some for me and bring me back in to the game which was why he had hidden. It got my attention and brought us both back to sharing this time together and mutually benefiting for it. This made me feel a bit emotional because it made me realise that somehow along the way I had lost the meaning. It was not about arranging everything perfectly it was about participating in something together, sharing and really interacting not just going through the motions as a means to an end. Life I think can be a bit like that and sometimes we get so lost in existing that we forget to live and life can pass us bye at a tremendously fast rate. As John Lennon said “ Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans” After playing for a while longer I went back in and sat with my lists. I prioritized by keeping the essentials such as food and gifts, I would feel a bit mean if I didn’t provide these, and ripped up the rest and wrote spend quality time with the family. Today we had a lovely trip out to see some beautiful decorations in a local garden center and my eldest daughter, who was sensibly born in August, and her partner treated us all to a lovely coffee and cake. We sat and watched the world go by, chatted and had fun and thanked our Teddy for his little lesson.

Festive season choices.

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Today is the first of December and for many, particularly the young and young at heart, there is now a happy dash towards Christmas and love for the Festive season, but for many others it can be a time of worry, sadness and stress. I am always busier towards Christmas as people who feel outside of the festive fun for whatever reason and worry about how alien all of this festivity makes them feel. They can be badly affected by adverts and Christmas television where everyone appears happy and there seems to be nothing that can’t be fixed and yet they may be living with a lot that can’t at present be mended.Often people feeling this way can quickly become overwhelmed by it all and start to act or sound like Scrooge as they put up buffers and barriers of protection. This in turn actually starts to alienate them from other people at the very time when they perhaps need them the most.

It is very easy to get sucked in to the commercial aspect of Christmas and forget what it should really be all about and I am not just talking about the religious aspect of it, though obviously for many that is the most significant part of Christmas. I am actually talking about recognizing the opportunity that it gives us. Joseph Addison, an English writer and politician once said “Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for”. If you are dreading Christmas take note of this and my guess is that you will feel happier. If we ignore the commercial advertising aspect of the Festive season and just look at the essentials we can all learn how to feel part of it and make it something to be enjoyed instead of feared or avoided.

Firstly it gives us at its most basic a holiday. We can use this for meeting up with people that are otherwise too busy working and living normal family life to meet up and relax or we can plan to rewards ourselves with a nice time to relax away from the stress of normal daily routine. So we should plan to do things around this time that normally we don’t have the time to do or are not available for us to do at other times of the year. It can be anything but there are obvious things like a panto, outdoor ice skating or one of the many food and drink festivals that are around at this time of year.

We can use this period to spend time with loved ones and reconnect in ways that we have missed throughout the busier time of the year. If you are totally alone and happy then just enjoy having time to do the things you enjoy doing. If alone and unhappy make plans to bring some love in to your life. It could be in the form of a pet, never underestimate the love and companionship having a pet can bring. Or, it could be that perhaps you need to get out and volunteer to help others and in doing so meet like-minded individuals and open your heart to the wonderful energy that working to help others brings in to your life.

I know of one person locally here, who is on her own and last year spoke with several elderly neighbours about their Christmas and finding that they had none decided to invite them to Christmas dinner at her house. So she ended up cooking for 8 others as well as herself. Her Christmas was hectic but she said she loved it and this year she and a few others are doing the same. I am not suggesting that you do the same but it is a fact that looking outside of yourself and finding a way to relate to others can often provide the most satisfaction and happiness.

Christmas can also bring us hope. As a religious festivity it is all about hope but even if we remove the religious aspect we can still share the feeling of hope and wonder  as we watch others doing things to make life easier or better for those around them and even perhaps choose to become involved in this ourselves.

It is a time when we can feel a bond with others that although present all year round can often go unnoticed. It is when many ordinary and normally busy people increase their work for charities and charities can collect more. This is obviously done throughout the year but it is at Christmas that most of us will dig a little deeper to give to those without. Perhaps, it is because we all have time to stop and think of all the things in our life that we are very grateful for that we recognize now more than ever how difficult life can be for those less fortunate and we want to do something to help. Like New Year which follows so closely, it also gives us time to reflect on what we would like to be different for the following year and for us to start making plans.

Of course there can be and are a lot of negatives around this time, such as overspending and debt and loneliness but we all need to take personal responsibility for this. We do not need to buy in to the advertising. We can encourage limits to be set and we can teach our children, when young values, the importance of real values not manufactured values. That is our responsibility.

We do not need to be alone; we can reach out and connect with others if we make a choice to do so. As with everything in life it is always far easier to look to the negative, it requires much less effort and very little is ever gained by it. For some finding a way to look at the positive side of set occasions such as Christmas can be harder and definitely requires more effort if you are not naturally thrilled by it all, but if you take a positive mindset it will ripple out from you to impact others in a positive way and produces an uplifting benefit to yourself. As none of us truly know what the person next to us is going through surely it is far better to find something positive, no matter how small to say and leave them feeling happy.

I would like to end with more wise words from Joseph Addison who wrote:

I have somewhere met with the epitaph on a charitable man which has pleased me very much. I cannot recollect the words, but here is the sense of it :”What I spent I lost ;what I possessed is left to others; what I gave away remains with me”

Stuck ? A technique to help you to move forward.

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Sometimes life hits us with an experience that can stop us in our tracks and freeze us. We can forget how to move forward and for a while do not know which direction to take. It can be a horrible feeling of being stuck and lost at the same time. Most of us recover from this sort of experience naturally and after a period of time has elapsed. We begin slowly to find our balance, having learned what we need to learn in order for us to and get back on our life path again and once more start to move forward. Occasionally, there are times however, when we can feel totally stuck and cannot seem to find our way out of the situation that we presently find ourselves in. For these times ,I suggest trying a little visual technique, used in NLP(Neuro Linguistic Programming) and  there is a variation of it used in a very good book that  I would recommend  called “The Invisible Path to Success: Seven Steps to Understanding and Managing the Unseen Forces Shaping Your Life” by  Robert Scheinfeld

It is a useful technique to use if you have spent too long waiting on things to change in your life or have been unable to find a solution or a way out of a difficult or confusing experience or situation.

I use it with clients and myself often, as I find that it frequently helps obtain a clearer picture and can be a useful tool to teach us what it is that we need to know in order to get out of a stuck state and move on.

It is really very easy and can be quite relaxing and fun to do. We are going to pretend to make a movie or story about your life. Firstly you have to think of a person you know, that has the sort of qualities to be able to deal really well with your present situation. It can be a real person or a character from television/film or a book that you know well. The important thing is that they must have the qualities/strengths that you feel would be able to handle your part, should this life experience/situation actually be in a movie. They must have the emotional capability and strength to know how to deal with this appropriately. Someone you look up to or aspire to be like. You may have many people you like and respect but I want you to pick the one that would best suit your life right now. Whose knowledge do you wish to have right now? Who would have the ability to easily deal with what is going on in your life? That is the person I want you to cast in your movie role. So for example you wouldn’t pick Arnold Schwarzenegger to deal with a spiritual or emotional dilemma. He doesn’t portray the qualities on screen capable of teaching us in that way. Rather you might pick a spiritual leader you admire and respect or an actor who has played a lot of emotional parts very well. Someone you believe has the qualities that you presently need.

Once you have decided on the character playing the main role close your eyes and imagine that you are watching them on a television screen playing your part. You are sitting in the projection booth right at the back of a movie theatre and are watching a story of your present situation being played out on the big screen. It is in black and white. Everything that you have gone through and are going through is being played on the TV or film. But, it is not you it is them so you can relax and just watch and learn. What does your stronger character do? What action do they take? Given the strengths that you know that they have, which is why you have picked them to play you, what would they do different to what you are doing now? Most importantly how would you want this movie to end? Take your time; play out different scenarios if you need to, until you find the one you feel the most comfortable with.

Then end the movie on a positive, successful note. We all want an ending when the main character positively learns what he or she needs to move on and forward with their life.

How much better do you now feel? Can you now see a positive way forward?

Is it now possible for you to use this new and positive learning to help move you out of your present situation and on with your life?

What I often find, after doing this myself and with clients, is that the path ahead is always clearer. My guess is that the reason for this being so is that we are often more able to get the positive learning from an emotional situation if we can somehow detach ourselves from the emotion in it. This way is one of the methods that can be used successfully to do that. Try it and see.

66 Days to a New You

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Generally speaking nothing we ever do to ourselves is done with a negative intent although it may result in a negative habit or behaviour pattern being developed the original intent behind it was probably positive. It was believed that you could develop any healthy habit within 28 days. Recent research disputes that and  suggests that it actually takes us 66 days .I am inclined to believe that the longer number of days is what is required for us to develop a positive new learning after a negative habit has developed. By giving ourselves this extra time it should ensure that the change is permanent and established making it therefore less likely to dissolve back in to previous “old” ways.

So, if all habits start with positive intent, as I believe, how do they turn in to unwanted negative behaviours or habits? To me understanding the value or need behind the action helps us to make a change to a positive choice. If we consider someone who overeats and struggles with trying to eat sensibly but fails time and time again, the chances are that originally they overate to meet a value or a need that wasn’t being met. Perhaps it was to be sociable, to be able eat out with friends, to feel happy, to feel loved, comfort, the list could go on. Most people do not set out to become overweight .That is the end result of a negative habit which would have started out with a positive intent. It is the same with nearly all bad habits. Why do people smoke? Does it meet a social need or value such as it calms them or supresses’ appetite and so prevents overeating. Is it a de-stressor? When people drink too much, why? Before it became an addiction what did it bring to them? Was it that it helped them to feel calm or helped them to relax? Were they able to socialise more because they believed it gave them confidence? Whatever the reason the original intent would have been positive. With smoking and alcohol there is also the addiction aspect that kicks quickly in after the original intent and often the initial benefit gets lost in the  physical need  to have the nicotine or alcohol  boost.

So in order to be able to change negative behaviour back to positive we must first establish the basic positive need it was designed to meet and then find a way of getting this need met in a healthier more positive way. Some people believe that once you decide to let go a negative habit you can just let it go. It is as simple as that. My experience with this is that certainly deciding to let it go is the first step to success but dogged determination and repeatedly reminding yourself what positive things you now want to bring in to your life ,is the key to  permanently establishing a new better  behaviour.

If we take smoking as an example, by first establishing what it is, apart from nicotine, that smoking gives you, you can determine what need or value you will still have to meet, to successfully give up the habit. Nicotine patches will probably not be enough on their own. It requires a change of attitude and direction to be able to maintain new behaviour. If we fail to decide how to replace the original positive intent, then the first time stress or whatever need it was arises, the first thing that will happen is that the person will reach for the old familiar way of getting it quickly. This is in my opinion the reason why people who have managed to stop smoking for a prolonged period can suddenly start again. They haven’t recognised what it has truly initially provided them with when they it gave up. So, if smoking was a way to help someone relax, finding another way of feeling relaxed and establishing this new way as part of a daily routine, alongside the nicotine patch or whatever it is you choose to help, will make it easier to permanently change this habit. This same principal, establishing the basic need being met can be used to help you get rid of any behaviour or habit that you now wish to change.

That is the first part and the second is attitude. How much do you really want to let go this habit? What benefits will it bring you to change? By writing the answer down to both of these questions it will enable your conscious mind to have something crystal clear to look at and to help motivate you during times of temptation.

Then as a visual aid take it one step further and write down what it is that you initially wanted to achieve by the habit on a stick it notes, and put these notes in places around you such as your wallet/purse, the visor in your car, the mirror in the bathroom, anywhere in fact that you will see them and remind yourself of what it is you want. These notes help to act as an emotional boost and can increase motivation. A daily note to self, written in a diary or on your phone to tell yourself how much better you feel and how proud you are of getting one more day closer to your goal of better health or whatever your goal is ,will also keep you motivated.

To help me stick to a healthy eating plan, I have a message that greets me on my phone in the morning. It directs me to do energetic things, such as going a walk and to eat healthy energy foods, as I previously had habitually ate sugary snacks as a way of providing myself with energy. This message is designed to encourage me to switch on my brain and to help me look for the ways to meet my daily goals. This in turn prevents me from snack eating and nibbling. Try it you may find it as helpful as I do.

Finally alongside the four previous steps we must recognise that we need time to fully develop new ways of thinking, new routines and new habits, we should not be too critical of our daily efforts .If we set each day up to have small, easily achievable steps forward we are much more likely to succeed and by keeping notes of what we want to achieve and by giving ourselves time to achieve we will easily learn healthier habits and have sustainable success.