The three short years of my son’s troubled life were torture. I thought the bad days would never end. His deformed heart would suddenly cause his blood pressure to drop and he’d pass out. He was in and out of hospital all the time.
Various medicines had to be taken several times a day to keep him alive. When we went out as a family we took a whole pharmacy with us wherever we went.
After he died, shortly before his third birthday, I entered a dark place of not coping that, thirty years later, is only just coming to an end.
When you are going through something frightening or unpleasant, it sometimes feels that this bad period of your life will never be over. Often it feels like the good times play out too fast and the bad times play in slow motion. Life doesn’t have a fast forward button.
Sometimes it feels like our ship has sunk and we are cast adrift, swimming in an endless ocean with no sight of dry land. How long can we go on? But I have learned to look for seagulls.
We may not see the dry land of hope yet, but seagulls never fly too far from the shore. Even a lone seagull can give us hope. Then a few more appear in the sky. Land must be near. Our trial will soon be over and we will stand on solid ground once more.
I don’t know what trials you may be facing today. But don’t give up. Look for the seagulls. Look for a small sign that something is changing for the better.
You may not yet have what you hope for but the seagull means you’re not far off. Hang in there. Dry land is coming soon.
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A quick glance at nature now and then will tell us that living things are always growing and changing. The world changes. Society changes. Our lives change from one season to the next.
When I left school (years ago!) someone advised me to get a job with a big successful company and work for them for life. That was the route to security apparently. But since that conversation those jobs have all evaporated. Big companies have downsized and reduced employees to a bare minimum.
Wiser advice today would be to work out what your gifts and skills are, develop them, and then see who is willing to pay you to do those things. And it may be several people or jobs rather than just one these days.
One danger with success is that it feels so good we don’t want that season to change. But it will, so get ready.
Kodak dominated the photographic world for over one hundred years. It had a 90% market share of photographic film sales in America. Almost everyone used the brand.
What followed was a colossal story of failure and missed opportunities. Kodak was a gigantic casualty in the wake of digital photography – a technology that Kodak invented!
Kodak engineer Steve Sasson invented the first digital camera in 1975. But it was filmless photography, so management’s reaction was, ‘That’s cute, but don’t tell anyone about it.’
As a result the company entered into decades of decline, unable to perceive and respond to the advancing digital revolution.
In 2012 Kodak filed for bankruptcy.
Simple steps to avoiding your Kodak moment:
Understand your passion
Kodak’s leaders thought they were in the film business – instead of the image business. They misunderstood the essence of who they were. When you boil it right down, what is your passion in life? Write it down. Stick it on your fridge.
Kodak thought their success was fixed. Life and technology are changing all the time. They made a lot of money from selling film so it was hard for them to think of a world where no one used film.
How is your world changing? What trends are happening in society? True, we don’t always want to be following the crowd but, if a sea-change is going on that affects you, shouldn’t you try and understand it?
Don’t be paralysed by fear
Kodak was so afraid of losing their lucrative film sales they buried their head in the sand. Don’t cling to the past when the past way of doing things is already passing away. Find someone who knows about the new way and learn from them.
Take some risks and experiment
In 1994, in my spare time, I set up a charity to develop my work in Africa and the UK. I wanted to see lives transformed and people rescued from poverty. Four years later, in 1998, my job contract came to an end. I was about to lose my home, which went with the job, and my monthly income.
I decided to try and go full time with the charity I had founded. I’m glad I experimented and set up the charity four years previously. I didn’t have to start from scratch. Although it was a big risk and a scary time, it worked. We now employ three people and are not only still viable but also still growing, these seventeen years later.
As we start 2015, is it time to do an audit of where you are going in life?
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Well limbo is coming to an end – those few days between Christmas and New Year. As Ian McMillan put it:
‘At the tail end of December, the days huddle together for warmth.’
– Ian McMillan
I don’t know how you feel about 2014 but I have mixed feelings about it.
Several friends were diagnosed with life threatening cancer in 2014. So there has been lots of prayers and visits to different parts of the country. So far so good.
This in turn made me get myself checked out. I’m not very good at going to the doctor – I average one visit every decade. But this time my visit turned into blood tests, scans and having a camera shoved up my rear end!
Fortunately, it turned out I only have a slight problem with my prostate but nothing serious. Old age apparently.
But remembering that gratitude increases happiness, what am I thankful for in 2014?
At the beginning of May I finally gave up alcohol. And in September I gave up caffeine. These were two things I’d been trying to do for years, so well done me! (Pats self on back).
(By the way – if you want to quit alcohol all together but you are finding it hard or impossible, I can recommend Jason Vale’s book Kick the Drink Easily! Lots of people think they could just stop if they wanted to, but find it’s a lot harder than they think!)
In November I began keeping a food diary again, which is the only way I’ve found to lose a bit of weight.
I took more exercise this year specially cycling to work more.
All that has given me an increased feeling of health and wellbeing, so I plan to stick with all of those things.
These are things I sometimes have as New Year resolutions and then fail to achieve.
Resolutions never work unless we are prepared for a change of lifestyle.
Dieting for a coupe of months achieves nothing, if we just go back to unhealthy eating at the end of it.
As ever, I am very grateful for a loving family and the friends I have, and all the great supporters for the work we do in Africa and the UK.
I want to continue to take more simple steps to improve my life every month, so that the accumulated effect of these simple steps becomes transformational.
I’ll be putting together a FREE e-book and also publishing a more substantial book on Simple Steps to Improve Your Life in 2015.
If you want the link to the FREE e-book, it will only be available to members of my email list. They also get a FREE extra thought on life improvement each month. One email a month. No SPAM. I NEVER pass on your info to anyone else. Period.
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Happy New Year! All the best for 2015!
Every morning just before you wake, the energy fairy visits you and gives you a portion of emotional energy for the day. Each one of us is allotted a similar amount of emotional energy every morning. When you have spent that emotional energy it’s more or less gone until the next day.
When that emotional energy is gone, everything you try to do seems harder. There are a few things you can do to recharge your emotional batteries and there are a few things you can do that will drain your emotional batteries.
This energy is limited so we need to be wise in how we spend each day’s allotted energy.
It is the source and power of all your creativity. So we need to understand that our best work will normally be achieved within three to four hours of waking.
This means that, where possible, we should do the most important things for the day in the morning, when our emotional energy is fully charged. Get up earlier if you have to.
Professional negotiators often plan important negotiations for late afternoon when the people they are trying to negotiate with will have fewer resources to argue with them. It’s easier for them to sell their ideas to people running on low emotional energy. So beware of agreeing in the afternoon to doing something you may later regret.
Depending on where you fit on the introvert/extrovert scale of things, you will likely gain energy in different ways. By the way, no one is either extrovert or introvert, but these are opposite ends of a scale, and all of us fit somewhere between to two. And please don’t confuse introversion with being shy or quiet either. Basically, the nearer to the extrovert end of the scale you are, the more likely that you gain energy through outside stimulus and being with a crowd. By contrast, the nearer you are to the introvert end of the scale, the more you are likely to gain energy from solitude and time to think.
For example, I’m nearer the introvert end of the scale. This surprises some people because I do a lot of public speaking, so I don’t appear shy. But that’s a misconception about introverts anyway. But I do need a daily dose of solitude and quietness to survive emotionally. I need to think and process the day.
By contrast, a friend of mine is more extrovert. He gains energy from outside stimulus. When he feels low, he’ll invite a load of people round for a barbeque. This recharges his emotional energy, whereas for me it would be quite draining after a while.
Once we identify what energises us and what drains us, we need to have sufficient periods of the thing that energises us. If we let several days go past without those energising activities we will start to feel stressed.
One more thing, avoid angry, negative or toxic people. Anger, negativity, and toxic behaviour will always drain everyone. Anger drains the angry person as well as those to whom the anger is directed. Everyone loses.
So take a step back. Observe when in the day you feel most alive and energised. When in the day do you feel most drained? Can you plan your day to use your higher energy times for your more creative activities?
I try to write first thing in the morning for an at least an hour. It’s my most creative time and I want to use it well. Things like admin, meetings and other stuff can wait till later in the day.
Social media can drain us too. Taking in lots of unimportant information, amusing cat videos, and similar stuff can use up our precious emotional energy. Chose a less important time in the day for that stuff if you want to maximise your creativity.
What about you? What gives you emotional energy? What drains your emotional energy?
Do you ever feel guilty just by being you? Do others express impatience with you when you are just trying to be you?
Let me explain. I’ve loved writing since I was fourteen years old and my Dad brought home an old fashioned black typewriter. I loved the clackety-clack sound of the keys as I typed. I loved the black and red inked ribbon. I wrote bad poetry and poorly written stories. But I wrote because I like to write.
When I grew up I had to go out to work. I had to do things that earned money to pay the bills. I worked in a factory, in a shop, in a community center, in a church and finally I started a charity to help some of the poorest people in the world. All those things earned me just enough money to keep my head above water. But no one paid me to write. I had to fit my writing in around other things. I wrote some booklets and finally published my first book.
All my life, other things have pushed my writing onto the sidelines. Sometimes I was busy trying to save the whole of Africa but really was just building an orphanage or a school or starting a feeding program for street kids. All those things take time and, once you start them, you have to see them through.
From time to time we all have to face the difficulties life throws at us – relationships, the end of an era, moving house, losing a job, trying to start something from scratch and so on.
It must have been during one of those times when I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and a little low. Walking and chatting with a friend of mine, the situation looked impossible. Then he said something that changed my life.
‘Keep being you and keep doing what you love.’
I found that a very profound statement because the more I thought about it the more it made sense. When we are just being ourselves and doing what we love, it brings energy to our whole being. A photographer spending a day taking photos will find energy and joy in what they are doing. A painter likewise will come alive if they can spend a few days painting.
My best days are days like today, when I have marked a day in my diary to just be alone and write. It refreshes me. I used to have to take a day off to do this. But now I manage my own time, it’s not a day off, it’s a day ‘on’. It has taken me years to reach this point.
I’m not sure I have ever made any money from writing but writing leads to other things. Money is not the whole point. If we only focus on money, it will crush our creativity. But if we keep being who we are and keep doing what we love, we’ll get better at it and one day, maybe, we’ll become someone who makes money from what we do. But either way, we will be more alive, happier in ourselves, and more at peace with the world.
Having written a dozen or more books and having a few more in the pipeline, I am happy in my little writing corner. Some people ask ‘How are you able to write a whole book?’ Simple tip: write one page a day – between 500 and 1,000 words. Do that for 30 or 40 days and you have a book. (More writing tips on my other blog How to Publish Your Book.)
So who are you? What do you like to do?
Let me say to you what my friend said to me:
‘Keep being you. Keep doing what you love.’
All of us get down from time to time. It’s hard to get back to a positive feeling about life sometimes. If we get depressed about life there’s a few things we can do. Don’t get me wrong – it’s stupid and hurtful to tell someone who is depressed to ‘snap out of it’. I’ve been depressed myself in the past and I know that is just not possible.
Neither am I talking about clinical depression. I am talking about when we get really low and just can’t seem to break that feeling. I’m going to cover each of these aspects in more detail in the book and on the blog but here’s a quick rundown of a few things that will start to improve your life from day one.
Sleep. Eat properly. Walk.
Eating junk food can cause feelings of depression and flatten our mood. Eat only healthy stuff for a few days. Try a week. Eliminate or seriously limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant. Drinking to drown your sorrows will only make you feel worse in the morning.
Go for a walk for an hour. Walking is simple, free and available to most people. It has many health benefits and can lift your mood quickly.
If you feel low or depressed, do these three things everyday for a least a week and you will start to feel better about life. Sleep. Eat. Walk. Make them your daily rituals.
There may be all sorts of reasons for why you feel low, but I am convinced these three things each day will help 95% of people when they feel stuck. Often it just takes one small change to our daily routine to significantly change things for the better.
‘One thing you lack.’ – Jesus
Most of my life I have said Yes to people when I really wanted to say No. I said Yes because I wanted people to like me. I thought if I said No then people wouldn’t like me.
This thinking was flawed because lots of people say No to me and I still like them.
In fact, some of the people who say No most often are the people I admire the most.
I saw No as my enemy because I assumed saying No would cause people to dislike me.
But here’s the thing.
The fact is people don’t change. Right now in your life a third of people who know you really like you. Saying No to them will not stop them liking you.
Another third of people hate you. Saying Yes to them will not make them like you.
The other third of people you know couldn’t give a damn about you either way. They are not going to change either.
So saying Yes when you want to say No will not make you more popular.
Saying No will not make you less popular.
Saying No will bring you more peace because you will avoid spending time doing things you really don’t want to be doing.
You have a right to say No.
Some people say ‘Jump!’ and we ask ‘How high?’ We should be saying No. We are not going to jump.
You have a right to say ‘No, I can’t answer you today and need a few days to think about it.’
You have a right to say No to bullying.
You have a right to say No to people who use you or give nothing in return.
Recently I have tried to stop saying Yes when I mean No.
Sometimes I phrase it like this: That wouldn’t be helpful at the moment. I just need some space.
Saying No has brought a new peace into my life.
When we are always available to everyone, to do what they want us to do, we are making ourselves of low value. Anything that is in free supply is always cheap.
But when the availability of something is restricted the value increases – people will always pay more for something that is rare.
As we roll into the Christmas period later this year, I can guarantee that there will be some new toy or gadget that will be in short supply and it will be the ‘MUST HAVE!’ item for Christmas. Watch the price go through the roof. People will pay any amount to have it because of the short supply.
You need to reduce the supply of you. You need to let others know that you are not available as much as you used to be. You need to say No.
When you say No, you will end up doing more of what energises you and brings you peace and life.
No is not your enemy.
No is your friend.
No watches out for you.
No gives you space to be you.
Saying No today releases us to say Yes to the right things later on.
The answer is No.
What’s your question?
‘Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’, ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.’
A lot of people I meet are time travellers. Some of them are stuck in the past. They go over and over something that happened in their past like a personal version of the movie Groundhog Day. I have been guilty of this sort of time travel myself over the years.
But here’s the thing – we cannot change the past.
Nothing you can do in your thoughts can change what happened. Maybe something bad happened to you. Or maybe you did something bad to someone else and deeply regret it. Or maybe you let your best opportunity in life pass you by.
It doesn’t matter what it was – you cannot change the past.
We can learn from the past and make sure history doesn’t repeat itself, but we cannot change the past.
Other people I meet travel into the future. They are always dreaming about a future that may or may not happen. What will so-and-so do? What if A, B or C happens?
There are some events in our life that we need to prepare for: a wedding, giving birth, travelling to a foreign country. We need to make some preparations for those sorts of events but we can’t live in the future.
The more we live in the past or the future in our heads, the more we miss the present moment.
The present moment is precious because we can choose the right thing today. We can help someone today. We can make a decision today. We can say No when we should say No, instead of saying Yes and regretting it later.
We can enjoy the present moment. We can feel real life today.
The more we travel, in our minds, to the past or the future, the more our real life – the present moment – slips through our hands.
When we are in a time of crisis, it is always tempting to fast-forward to the future to see how a stressful situation is resolved, or to rewind in our minds to see if there was something we could have done differently to avoid this situation. But the past cannot be changed and the future never plays out how we think it will.
Humans have a tendency to imagine the worst-case scenario but life rarely works out that bad.
Living in the Now of life takes skill. We must exercise control over our mind and emotions. But Now is all we really have.
How can you make your Now better today? Choose something that infuses you with life.
‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’
When did you last play? When did you last paddle in the sea or build a sandcastle?
As we get older, we can easily think of play as a childish thing and assume that adults who still play like children are immature. But if you think that, you’re wrong.
For six years, back in the 1980s, I worked with under 5s, with the pre-school kids. One of my tasks was to encourage toddlers to play. I spent my mornings in sand and water trays, built things from duplo (baby lego) and assisted little people as they painted works of art or played with dough.
Play has lots of benefits for child development – much more than occupying kids so they don’t get bored. The benefits of play are many:
- love of life
- release of energy
- tension reduction
- abstract thinking
- mastering new concepts
- anxiety reduction
- conflict resolution
- self-help skills
- learning to experiment and take risks
But when we stop playing, and start taking ourselves too seriously, we can stifle those aspects of our adult development.
I like to play. Sometimes my friends will ask me sarcastically ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’
We shouldn’t be immature – as in throwing a tantrum when we don’t get our own way or when someone criticises us. But I believe play continues to be a healthy pastime for adults. Sometimes we only think of sports as valid forms of play for grownups.
Last week we were on holiday. The sun was shining and we went to the beach. When the kids were little, I used to help them build sandcastles and tunnels in the sand. But now they’re grown up and left home, it’s just us two grownups on holiday.
One afternoon I found myself absorbed in trying to divert the water flowing across the beach by building banks with pebbles and sand. I found it very relaxing and therapeutic. Soon an hour had passed and the water curled round my diverted earthworks. I watched as the new direction of water-flow eroded a new channel as the stream flowed out to the sea.
Did I make money with my creation? No. Did it solve a problem in the world? No. Did it achieve anything? Yes.
It left me feeling relaxed and full of new creative ideas. It tuned me into nature and it’s gentle persistence. It rekindled that awe of the wonder of the creation in which we live. In some ways, it was a healing experience.
A little playtime on the beach, listening to the rhythm of the sea, fired up all the things on the list above.
If ever you feel stale, stressed or trapped, get to the coast and play on the beach for an hour or two. I guarantee you’ll feel better for it.
‘I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’
People assume that those who are successful not only have a ‘to do’ list, but that they also manage to complete it everyday.
For years I wrote a daily ‘to do’ list and failed everyday to complete all the items on the list. It got so depressing I eventually stopped making the lists. But then I felt guilty for giving up.
If you are writing a daily ‘to do’ list and failing to complete everything on the list, then you are almost certainly releasing cortisone into your body, which is really bad for your health.
Cortisone is one of the main hormones released by the adrenal gland in response to stress. It elevates blood pressure and prepares the body for a fight or flight response. It creates that feeling of being overwhelmed and cornered. That cannot be good for you.
The thing is, most people are not short of things to do. There’s always more to do in a day that we can reasonably be expected to achieve.
Secondly, the really important things will always bubble up to the top and demand our attention anyway. We don’t want to create a situation where we are always ‘fire-fighting’ or leaving everything to the last minute – that may cause us more stress. We can plan ahead and use common sense.
But instead of making a ‘to do’ list why not decide what is the one thing we really want to achieve today and aim for that. If we get it done quickly, great. We can do some other stuff too. But we never know what the day will bring.
There’s a great Dilbert cartoon where he finds the stapler is out of staples. He goes on a quest around the building to find the person who has the stationery catalogue so he can get some staples ordered. He gets side tracked by every person he speaks to. As he leaves the office at the end of the day, he tells Dogbert, ‘Thanks to teamwork, I almost stapled something today.’
We can all have days like that!
But perhaps the best idea is to change your list to an ‘I did’ list.
At the end of the day, think back about all the stuff you actually did do today. Include the little things – where you helped others, the emails you sent, the phone calls you made and anything creative you did in your own time. This will bring about a feeling of wellbeing. It will be a ‘pat on the back’. Instead of thinking that you failed to complete a list, you’ll see a full list of things you did complete – things you may have overlooked if you were to stare at an uncompleted ‘to do’ list.
When you write your ‘I did’ list for the day, it is more likely to release dopamine into your system which produces a happy feeling inside us. Dopamine can also be triggered by food or sex so it’s a powerful, feel-good chemical, which is good for us as it makes us happy.
If you write your list in the evening, the feel-good factor will help you sleep better because you will feel more satisfied with your day.
Is it time to ditch the morning ‘to do’ list and start the evening ‘I did’ list?
‘One thing is needed…’
– Jesus (Luke 10:42)