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.

Advertisements

Do I know what you are thinking ?

2013-07-19 19.40.26

It is amazing how many mind readers that I have met this week. People with psychic abilities that can tell ,just by looking at their partner or loved ones even people on the street, exactly what it is they are thinking ,feeling and even what it is that they are about to say.

They apparently know when they are being sarcastic or critical, hurt or offended, angry, sad, content, happy, flirtatious or dismissive just by watching them. They are so confident about this that they immediately respond in a manner they feel is appropriate to the mood they believe they are observing. Quite remarkable really and impressive if it was really true, however the problem is that it seldom is, true or accurate or helpful. In fact what usually happens when someone attempts to mind read another  ,they get it wrong .They personalise  how someone is looking at them based upon their own thoughts and feeling when they look  at someone that particular way .They imagine thoughts like they have or are having internally  as they pre judge what the person is truly thinking. Problems always arise when relying on this method of communication with another .It doesn’t actually show how close you are to another if you choose to do this; to me it actually shows a lack of consideration and respect. Both for yourself and for the person that you are choosing to mind read. Neither of these attributes are desirable in a healthy, happy relationship.

I don’t care how long you have known someone and how close you are to them, there is always going to be a time when you judge their mood or thoughts and be wrong. That is unfair  both on them and on yourself .There is no substitute, no quicker way to actually know what someone is thinking, than to stop and really listen to what they are saying. There is a definite need in any good relationship, to spend time communicating and talking to each other. Not as you run past each other on the way out to work or for that matter any other time when you are partly preoccupied doing something else as that too is a recipe for disaster. To communicate in this harassed way is a sure fire way to create problems in any relationship. People need time to explain themselves fully and this cannot be done to someone’s back as they  walk out the door, or run for the bus ,deal with the children ,the messages or any other distraction.

Time is needed to just sit and connect or even reconnect and to explore what both of you are truly thinking and feeling. If something has been said that has come across as hurtful or antagonistic, time is needed to actually explain things a bit more fully before deciding how to react to it. Everything worth doing takes practice and communication is no different. We need to consciously decide that we are going to be good listeners and make the effort to positively follow through with that decision. We need to set aside time for the people we care about to hear what they are thinking and feeling in order to develop healthy, happy and more fulfilling relationships. If we leave mind reading for Fairgrounds and magic shows we can concentrate on truly improving our lives. Simply put anytime we spend developing this quality adds to our character strengths and makes life a bit easier and happier for us all.

As British actress Emma Thompson once wisely said “Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening.”

Meeting your expectations.

Image

I mentioned last week that my Mum was having to go through a period of adjustment and find a new home after 23 years living in her much loved upper flat. Somehow I fell in to the trap of thinking that as soon as she had come to terms with the idea of moving everything else would just naturally fall in to place. I am clearly a glass half full type of person. What I hadn’t considered though was the impact that searching for the new home was going to have on us all.

We believed that it was going to be a simple straightforward procedure. We obviously haven’t moved a lot in our lives and certainly not recently! Mum selected houses in an area she liked, with room sizes that looked reasonable and large, fenced off enclosed gardens. She based her selections, as everyone does, on various Estate agents pictures and descriptions. Going to view the selected houses she was quite excited and looking forward to a fresh start. It was a huge shock to us both to find that many of the houses we viewed didn’t really look size wise like any of the cleverly taken photographs had suggested. Fenced gardens weren’t all completely fenced and in many cases a fenced patch would have been a more appropriate description. It felt truly awful going through someone’s much loved home knowing that whilst it was perfect for them it didn’t meet Mums needs at all. How can you criticize someone’s lovingly tended patch, when you know how proud they are of it, and how can you truthfully say you are interested when they eagerly enquire your views?

It seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that takes pictures deliberately to mislead prospective purchasers. What does it achieve? It can only frustrate the home seller as much as the viewer and when you actually see it the disappointment is more acute than it would have been if you had known exactly what you were choosing to view.

The houses we have viewed were not bad. They were lovely homes and would have been entirely suitable for someone else, someone without two large dogs perhaps! What happens though as that everyone ends up feeling slightly let down.

Strangely viewing the stylised pictures of the houses has made me even more determined to embrace my true self and to really value the individual natures of my family and friends. There is something really refreshing about dealing with honest, direct characters after viewing so many stylised photographs that have no basis in reality.

It made me think of us as people and why it is so important to remain true to ourselves and not to try to become something that other people, but not us want us to be. A false front can’t last as it requires too much energy to keep up and to maintain .It also prevents us from actually meeting and bonding with the people who truly like us and can really relate to us. The world is full of interesting and varied individuals. How sad would life be if we turned in to well-manicured, highly polished clones of each other as some magazines would seem to suggest?

If the houses we have viewed were advertised to show them exactly as they are, the right people would view them and no doubt they would sell much more quickly by reaching the right target market. There really was nothing wrong with them in the first place. Their photographs just presented a falsely attractive image to us as we were searching for a large enclosed space. Equally the pictures may well have put off a prospective buyer looking for something smaller and more manageable .In truth it is not just the Estate agents who are at fault I think we could all benefit from being a bit more honest. Honest about what we are looking for and what we have to offer to get it. We all need to relax a little and like ourselves more. We should respect ourselves enough not to have to pretend to be what we are not. Likely we would all be much happier if we had the confidence to do so. 

As for the house hunting, well it still goes on but we have learned from this experience. Now before we go to view a house we visit the area first and drive past to get an idea of the garden size and external look of the house. If that meets Mums criteria we visit and I can honestly say we are much happier about what we have viewed. All being well we may actually be placing an offer in for one soon.

Mum has to sell her house too and we have decided that the pictures will honestly represent it. People will come to view and see exactly the same thing that attracted them in the first place. Hopefully they will like it and Mum can soon move on to the next new chapter in her life and have some fun.

Moving on.

Image

 

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

Anatole France

 

My Mum has lived for over twenty years in her much loved, large traditional flat. It has huge bay windows, large airy bright rooms and a view that is spectacular, over countryside with a distant view of the sparkling lights of the city of Glasgow. She is physically fit and active but now eighty. Her home is on a steep hill with stairs up to her front door and again to her back garden. Not a problem twenty years ago but becoming one now. She also has two much loved dogs that she takes out four times every day ,probably why she is so fit, but that is now becoming a problem as the stairs and hill become harder for her to manage. Even more of a problem if the weather is bad.

Very reluctantly and after a fall last year, when she fractured her arm, she has come to the realization that she must move and has started looking for a suitable new home .Despite her deciding to look for another house every house we have seen has been compared unfavorably with her own. Rooms too small, corridors too narrow, no view, the list could go on. Each time after we had viewed a place we would go through the same depressing discussions.

We all felt a little sad and a bit despondent because we have not really known what to say or do to help her adjust. All of the family was very aware of the huge changes that she needed to go through to adapt to a different way of living. The acceptance of these changes had to come from her and we felt powerless, unable to help her come to terms with things.

Then help came from a very surprising source indeed, her solicitor. During a discussion about selling her home and buying a new one she spoke about how miserable it was making her feel to have to move. The solicitor looked at her and said “why, would you rather stay in your gilded cage?” “You have the potential to have a new and much better life adventure in more suitable surroundings and remember it will only be a bit strange for a very short while before it too becomes home. There are many, many worse things that could be happening in your life. This is something nice”. I sat in stunned silence waiting on my Mum’s reaction. It seemed to me that the solicitor had been truthful and clearly well-intentioned but a little too direct and I wondered how Mum would feel. I shouldn’t have been worried as it turned out to be exactly what Mum needed to hear. She was laughing as we left the office and has since decided that she will look on it as a new life adventure. She acknowledges that it will be a bit sad leaving her old flat and moving to something new but feels that her attitude to it now has changed. She is looking at the advantages rather than the disadvantages and she says that she feels so much better.

It is certainly true that in life if we dwell on the negative and sad then we are not going to feel very strong or happy. Life presents us with choices and challenges all the time. We can’t avoid them if we want to live life fully and part of living is accepting that things change. Being able to adapt to those changes and go with them to create something new and positive is the best way to succeed.

Keeping it simple

Image

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.

To friends New and Old

Image

It is not too late to develop new friendships or reconnect with people.

Morrie Schwartz.

As we go through life we attach and sometimes detach from people who were once important to us. This can happen for a variety of reasons, some because of differences perceived or real and sometimes it is that we simply just drift apart. Occasionally you can let others influence how you think and react and instead of taking action, do nothing to preserve or maintain something that once was very important to you because of their influence over you.

I have learned a lot of valuable lessons over the years but none more so than this. I have found that I have to base my feeling towards people on how I personally find them to be and not on how others tell me they are. Sounds simple enough but actually it is quite difficult as people who are close to you can for one reason or another try to guide you in a direction which they believe is best for you. They truly believe that it is for the best but in actual fact it is really what is best for them and meets their needs and not necessarily your own. This is never beneficial because it fails for two reasons. If they are right and you are better away from the person or people you need to learn this for yourself in order to feel satisfied that you have made the right decision to move on. If they are wrong you have sacrificed a friendship for no reason other than to meet someone else’s needs.

Whatever decisions you make in life make sure that you base them on how it affects you. It is never too late to admit if you were wrong in your judgment of someone and try to make amends. It is possible with new learning to reconnect and in fact have a stronger relationship than before with a clearer understanding of each other’s needs. Equally it is important to recognize when new bonds and new friendships need to be created and to let go of ones you have grown apart from. The choice should always be your own and you should never allow others to box in your choices or options. So if there has been someone you have been thinking about and have been meaning to call, call them. Do not think that you have left it too long. Go learn for yourself whether you have or find perhaps that they in fact they have been thinking about you too. It is far better to know one way or the other than to forever live feeling uncertain. Alternatively, if you have moved to a new area or perhaps friends have moved make a concerted effort to get out, join clubs or classes that will help you to meet and connect to others and find new friends. Always take positive action that increases your happiness rather than decreases  it and you can’t go far wrong.

Seeing both sides now.

Image

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.