Category: peace

Jaded Heart

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Apologies for my absence on here for a few weeks. I have been working on a new book – Jaded Heart – which came out today!

Jaded Heart is the story of love, loss, grief, addiction and recovery.

After the sudden death of my parents and my son, thirty years ago, I spent decades looking for personal peace.

This book shares my personal journey through trying to cope with loss, addictive behaviour and coping mechanisms.

After three decades I have finally come to a place of greater peace and share the journey in this very honest account.

Jaded Heart will help those struggling with loss, grief and addictions.

Jaded Heart is my story, but it may be your story too.

The book is available on Amazon, on Kindle and in Paperback.

Here is a short video about the book.

Jaded Heart from RSVP Trust on Vimeo.

The book is available on Amazon here…

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jaded-Heart-story-addiction-recovery/dp/1511954000

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Looking for seagulls

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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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Who validates you?

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We all want to be a ‘valid person’. But most of us have some little (or large) secret insecurities. These can make us nervous about being ourselves. So there is a human tendency to seek validation from others. Comedians seek laughter. Actors seek applause. Craftsmen seek appreciation. And so on.

I think for most of us this seeking of validation starts when we are small. Do we fit in? Are we popular? Or are we on the edge of the crowd? Are we sometimes shunned?

I remember when I was at primary school and we’d have a medical check. When they did the hearing test I tried really hard to hear the quietest sounds. I was always hoping the nurse would say, ‘You have incredible hearing. I think you’re unique.’ I hope she’d tell others and officials would come and visit me at school and say, ‘Your hearing ability is so amazing, the Prime Minister wants to meet you.’

Needless to say that never happened.

But seeking validation can be very dangerous. Sometimes we give the power of validation to the wrong person – the overbearing parent, the judgemental friend, the unsupportive spouse.

And that’s what we need to understand – we hold the power of our own validation and we choose who to give it to. Be careful.

Many men suffer because they gave the power of validation to their father but he never validated them, never said well done.

In Paul Merton’s autobiography he tells how he sought his Father’s approval but it never came… until his Father was dying. At the last moment in the hospital he tells him how proud he has been of him. After his death, when the family are clearing his Father’s house, they find a scrapbook with every newspaper article about Paul Merton. His Father had been a secret admirer all along.

Many men and women give the power of validation to one parent or other and sometimes the approval never comes.

In some ways we are all seeking a mini-validation by getting the thumbs up ‘like’ on Facebook, or the favourite star – or even better a RT – on Twitter. I’m hoping for a few on this article! But if not, I’m not bothered.

I sometimes get people giving me the benefit of their opinion on my life or work. Here’s a news flash for them all – I haven’t given you the power to validate or invalidate me.

I choose to let history / God / the Universe validate me or not.

The group of people that irritates me the most is those who think they are something special when they’re just like the rest of us. They assume that their opinion is of more value than mine. They spout their opinion as though it was an inarguable fact, when it is just an opinion.

People told me I couldn’t go to the Third-World to help the poor. People told me I couldn’t write a book. They told me I couldn’t start a Charity, or buy my own house.

So I did.

Be careful of those who try to hold you back. They may be trying to keep you down in order to lift themselves up.

You have the power to validate yourself.

While it is always helpful to have a few wise counsellors around you, you need to be true to yourself.

We are all looking for someone to believe in us but be very careful about letting others validate you, because one day they may decide to invalidate you.

You are unique.

Go and be amazing today!

Don’t believe Facebook spin

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Was life better before Facebook? Possibly. I never saw what you were having for lunch, or the amusing thing your cat did.

On the other hand, I do like being in regular touch with distant relatives and friends.

Last year, a couple of people commented on how idyllic my life sometimes looks on Facebook – the family walks, meals together, and smiley selfies etc.

To be honest, my life is just like most other people’s life – happy bits, sad bits, boring bits, cooking dinner, putting the bins out, paying bills, blah blah…

Some people’s life does look idyllic on Facebook and maybe it makes us jealous. But we really need to understand what Facebook is.

Facebook is mostly spin.

Just as the Blair government made an art form of spinning negative political news to make it look like something positive, so people are doing a sort of life spin on Facebook. We show only the best bits, the happy positive bits. There’s no intention to deceive. Just to show ourselves in the best light.

I tend to post happy family times because it’s something positive. I don’t post about arguments, or the time I had to go to the eye hospital and was quite scared about my eyesight, or when I get a letter with bad news, or times when I feel hurt, and a whole load of other stuff that would make me look bad, irritating or boring – even though I can be all of those things!

Facebook seems to be split into two types of people – the angry people who rage about something new everyday, in a way they never would if they were talking to the person face to face, and normal people –  those who mostly post simple moments that made them smile or think.

There is possibly a third group – the show offs – those playing the ‘keep up with the Joneses’ game of look-at-what-we-just-bought-that-you-haven’t-got.

I tend to block the angry people and the show-offs.

The problem is, if you think what people post on Facebook is their whole real life, you may become depressed that, by comparison, your life seems boring.

Here’s the thing. Everyone’s life is boring or mundane a lot of the time. We have to make our own joy.

A few years ago our family moved from buying mostly material gifts at birthdays and Christmas, and started giving ‘moments’ instead.

We went to see the Chinese State Circus when they came to town. We booked into a Jazz Breakfast. We hired a boat for the day and cruised down the river in Norfolk, for a picnic. What were we doing? Making memories.

Good stuff rarely just happens. You have to organise some stuff to create memories. Sometimes it can all go wrong, but the memory of it all going wrong can still be a funny memory.

Facebook isn’t real life. It’s a million tiny snapshots of what’s in people’s heads at a certain moment of their day.

If you want more happiness in your life do two things:

  1. Don’t think Facebook ever tells you much more than a bit of spin.
  2. Organise your own spontaneity! Plan some stuff. Make some memories of your own.

And perhaps it is time to write down the dreams you have for your own life. Then go and make the dream come true. And, when it does, tell us, on Facebook!

Understand your emotional energy

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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.

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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?

Developing an attitude of gratitude

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There is a lot wrong with the world – that’s true. There have been a lot of wrong things in my life, things that really hurt me, not least the loss of three family members back in the 1980s. That is also true.

For the last twenty years, a big part of my work has been helping adults and children in Rwanda recover from the horrors of genocide. I’ve seen some horrors in that country in the aftermath of the killing.

BUT… and it is a big BUT!

There is a lot we can be grateful for in the world. It doesn’t deny the injustice or the suffering in the world, but it does help.

Here’s the thing:

One of the steps of my own personal healing has been to learn to be intentionally grateful and thankful. I’ve spent years being depressed by what I lost. But I can’t change the past. By focussing on what we no longer have, we often miss the many things we do have.

Something happens when we give thanks for good stuff – it enriches our lives and releases joy in our spirit.

Over the next seven days, I am going to write down something I am thankful for each day.

We may have moments when something good happens that we are grateful for. But I am talking about being intentionally grateful, everyday.

If you woke up in a bad mood today – give thanks that you woke up today. Not everyone did…

If we want to build our gratitude muscle we have to nurture an attitude of gratitude by listing the things we are thankful for each day. As it gets stronger, it will bring us joy and happiness.

I once heard about a man called Tom who was always thankful. When he had an accident and broke his arm, his friend commiserated with him about his broken limb. But Tom said it was the best broken arm he had ever had!

Perhaps that is a little extreme but here is a short video to get you started.

What are you thankful for today?

Keep being you and keep doing what you love

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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.’

Update on the no complaint diet…

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Last week, I started the ‘no complaint diet’ – where you abstain from complaining for seven days. If you start to complain you have to start the seven days again.

Here’s the thing: it’s really hard to never complain. So I had to keep starting again. I think I complained yesterday so I’m back on day one.

Obviously, the purpose isn’t to abstain for seven days and then say, ‘Great! I can start complaining again.’ The purpose is to make you aware of how much you complain about things and people. It certainly did that.

Every time I started to complain, I was aware I was breaking the diet. Sometimes I kept my mouth shut and didn’t complain so there was a small reduction.

I’m carrying on with it because, like any exercise, the more you do it, the stronger you get.

How about you? Could you go a whole week without complaining?

The ‘no complaint’ diet

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I always try and be authentic on this blog. I try not to write about life improvements I haven’t personally tried. But like everyone else, I’m still keen to learn new things. So here goes.

I’ve recently started listening to James Altucher’s Ask Altucher podcast. James and his wife Claudia talk about going on a ‘no complaint’ diet.

What that means is, while you’re on the diet, you abstain from complaining for seven days. If you slip and start complaining you have to start again at day one, until you’ve gone seven consecutive days without complaining.

The thing is, it is really hard to avoid complaining all together. So it’s an alomost impossible task to complete. However, the purpose of the no complaint diet is to give you more energy and happiness because complaining is draining! Complaining delivers very few results most times but makes us feel drained emotionally.

Take yesterday for example. We have a franking machine at the office, that my little charity bought to save money on postage. When they were selling us the machine they told us we would save a lot of money on postage. However, what they didn’t tells us was they would charge us for all sorts of extras which means we aren’t saving much money at all.

Yesterday, they sent me an invoice for a service contract for £165. This was something we had never asked for. I called them to tell them to cancel the invoice. The man on the phone was apologetic that we had received a bill for something we didn’t want and agreed to cancel the bill.

That could have been the simple end of the story. But I went into complaint mode and told him how unhappy I was about all the previous hidden charges. He couldn’t really do anything about the past so he offered to put a message into the managing director’s office. A lady called and I complained again. She said she would see what they could do as we were a small charity. She phoned back and said she’d sent us an invoice for £135 and added a few extras to the service contract. Now I got angry and told her to stop sending invoices for things we’d never asked for. The conversation reached a stalemate as I began to sound like Basil Fawlty. I came off the phone frustrated and exhausted.

Here’s the thing. Had I been on a no complaint diet, I could have just called and cancelled the original mistake and got on with my day. The energy I expended on ranting about unfair charges – which produced nothing but a feeling of frustration – I could have used for something more positive.

Now, there are things wrong in the world. I remember the good old days when companies promised nothing and delivered that nothing with added poor service with a smile. We didn’t expect good service and we didn’t get it. Everyone was happy.

Today, all businesses promise the world and few deliver. The rule is over promise and under deliver – which always disappoints. There a few companies doing the better thing – under promise and over deliver. I find companies like Amazon often do that. The goods come sooner that promised and are sometimes better than described.

My point is that we may have to draw attention to a fault with a product but we don’t have to start the complaining rant. More importantly, some people we chat to during the week start complaining to us about another person, and want us to join in. That’s the moment to say, ‘I’m on a no complaining diet so I don’t want to comment.’ As we avoid complaining and make that a habit, we will free up more of our emotional energy for more constructive and creative things. Maybe we could encourage a friend, compliment a colleague or start a new hobby.

I’m going to give it a try. I’m not sure I’ll get through the day but I’m going to give it a try.

Like all new habits, the more we do it – the stronger we become in that area. To be accountable, I’m going to attempt to report back on how I did by next Friday. Why not join me and abstain from the complain for a week because complaining is draining!

‘Do everything without complaining.’  – St Paul

Take a bloomin’ break!

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I got a shock this week. I went for lunch in a pub not far from where I live. The landlady is always there. She’s chatty, funny and a real people person. She’s often told me she’s not had a day off in eleven years.

When I suggested that at least she got Christmas Day off, she told me that was their busiest day!

She’s also been involved in politics – fighting the big breweries for better terms for pub landlords, whose position is often precarious.

Well, this week, she wasn’t there. When I joked with the lady behind the bar about if she was finally taking a day off, she told me the landlady had a stroke!

Fortunately, it looks like one that she will recover from.

I hope she starts taking a day off now.

I am absolutely convinced that humans are designed to need a break every seven days. Whatever our normal work is, we need a complete day’s rest from it every week.

I think this is the real meaning of the story of creation in the Bible. It was never about the science of nature. It is about our physical, mental and spiritual needs. It has stood the test of time.

Interestingly, in that story of beginnings, humans are created at the end of the week so their first day is the day of rest.

We tend to think in terms of resting from work. But I think this story tells us that we are designed to work from rest.

Rather than collapsing exhausted at the end of the week, if we do the rest properly – engaging only in activities that are healthy and that recharge us and our emotional energy – then we can work from that position of rest. Our weekly rest becomes a firm foundation for the week ahead. It is a reversal of the usual thinking but I find it much healthier.

I hope the lovely landlady recovers fully. I hope she has learned a lesson. We cannot work without a weekly ‘sabbath’ rest.

It is actually a ‘holy’ day – which is where we get the word ‘holiday’ from.

OK. I got bit spiritual there. But you need a break.

Is there anyone you know who needs to read this? Hit the share button.

‘I will give you rest.’ – Jesus