A little diversion with the World Cup

It is hard not to get unaffected by the World Cup football around. Even if you have little interest, you get influenced by the bug by the people around!

England are unfortunately out of the World Cup finals. After a stellar run, going all the way to the semi-finals and avenging that last-16 defeat by Iceland in the previous competition, leaving the Lions with their tails between their legs, the team managed to hold Croatia to injury time before a late goal saw them lose out.

There is a general belief that the England team have done enough to restore their reputations, and there is hope amid the pain of defeat. England boss was quoted as saying that the team has raised expectation and belief. There is still something to fight for, as England head into the third place play off with Belgium. You might argue that this might have instead been the final game had been expecting, instead of France and Croatia, but this is still a good chance for England to prove they have the mettle to beat one of the top teams in the world.

In Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, you may have argued that the Belgium team had a good spine from defence to attack. Unfortunately they were snuffed out by a French team and lost to a set piece winner by Samuel Umtiti of Barcelona.

It is a good test for England to see how they will hold up against their Premier League buddies. Most of the third and fourth place players ply their trade in the Premier League, and so it may feel like a charity match of sorts. But make no mistake, there is not going to be any charity in this one!

The big question now is, will Gareth Southgate let the fringe players of the team get a chance to play? Some of the players did get some game time in the third match of the group stage, when England’s place had already been confirmed. In that third match, it was England against – you’ve guessed it – Belgium. Or more accurately, England B vs Belgium B, with both sides resting many of their key players. It is unlikely that either team will now give their B teams a roll out, because the third place finish is important. To both teams, it highlights the pinnacle of both managerial careers. Southgate is on his first as England manager, while Roberto di Martinez is doing the same since being out of the Premier League.

England vs Belgium is an important game. It is the last game for the next two years before the Euros, so get your flags out and get cheering! You have to live with the result for the next two years!

Hopefully England’s march to success will continue!

Google or Counselling?

Seth Stephenson-Davidowitz is a data scientist, which – apart from the fact that it is viewed as a modern, tech-y, somewhat sexy job – means he uses data to draw insights. A major part of his work uses Google searches as a data set, because he believes that people are less inclined to tell the truth when presented with a face to face interviewer or a survey, simply because of how it reflects on them. In other words, traditional methods of information gathering are not necessarily trustworthy, from a deeper truth point of view. However, he believes that because there is a higher perception of anonymity afforded a computer user who goes on Google to search for answers to thoughts, the data trends are more accurate.

There is some truth in that belief, but in counselling once you have established that relationship of trust with a counsellor, it is easier to unravel the tangle of thoughts in your head, to work through the things that trouble you, instead of looking to Google for answers – the latter would be akin to reading an online self-help book!

One of Stephenson-Davidowitz’s research on data trends has focused on depression. According to data searches, August 11 and Christmas Day are the happiest days of the year – there are less searches for the word depression, while depression is highest in April, the month called the “cruelest month” by poet T S Eliot. Google data also suggests that climate matters a great deal. But also highlights that money is the perhaps a strong underlying cause – searches for depression are less in areas which a large percentage of people are college-educated, which – for those of us in the UK – means they have degrees, and are not to be confused with sixth-form college.

Using such data to gather insights is useful, but we should be careful about being too reliant. The data used in this research also suggested that areas with higher Hispanic-Americans were less depressed, but that could have been because Hispanic-Americans might not have typed “depression” into Google, but used other phrases as well, some of which may have been in other languages. And while depression is an anchoring word, people might look up “suicide”, “how to kill myself”, or “end my life” as other indicators of depression.

When you are depressed, it is a good idea to speak with someone else, because not only would that help unravel the thoughts in your mind, the speaking is effortful, and helps you burn off unwanted stressful energy within you and dissipate it. Of course, the listener – the person you are speaking to – should listen, and be trained to withhold comment, otherwise helpful “suggestions” only increase the pressures on you and the things you have to do and cause more mental triggers!

If you are not yet comfortable speaking with someone, try taking up a skill to take you out of the spiral of negative thoughts. Try a candle-making course, something arty, that takes you out to meet people. But if that still is too far of a social stretch at the moment, then something like learning the piano might be a useful skill. Learning the piano activates different parts of the brain which relieves the pressure on the cortex and the word-processing part of the brain, and as you get lost in the music and melodies, it will momentarily take you out of your stressful world and you give you some form of mental escape – instead of being lost in the maze of Google searches without a way out!

Music and Silence are both underpinned by the same thing

What does the fact that many people are listening to headphones nowadays tell us?

Does it tell us the music industry is growing? Well, it is, but that is not the main thing.

Does it tell us music plays an important part in everyone’s life? Yes, it does, but only to a certain extent.

What it really tells us – and I might be ruffling a few feathers here – is that we don’t really want to know.

We don’t really want to know what goes on outside our immediate world.

We are not capable of helping those we see in need, such as the homeless under railway stations. We don’t really want to know we can’t help them, or we don’t want to invest the necessary time to address a social issue.

So we look down on the floor as we past them, or pretend to be scrolling our phones. And we plug in headphones so we have an excuse to say we didn’t hear their pleas of “Spare some change please…”

We travel on public transport. On a train or a bus, someone plays music loudly, talks loudly, or behaves in an anti-social manner. It used to be that we could busy ourselves in a book and pretend not to hear. But the plugging of ourselves into a world of music tells us we don’t need to bother trying to get angry, trying to waste time convincing them of their idiocy. We can just disconnect there and then.

A pair of headphones is the biggest tool in your arsenal.

It allows you to switch off from the world around you. Some of it might be in response to things you disagree with but cannot change. But disconnecting may be a way of finding your own space in a crazy world.

Some of us may listen to music with loud beats and driving rhythms. It may not necessarily be music that is modern, it may be Romantic piano music or loud choral music by Handel. We may blast out music loudly, or choose to plug headphones in as a barrier. Ultimately, it is our silence that speaks most.

Watching someone on our daily commute listen to music tells us something. It tells us human beings are trying to disconnect further and further from the fabric of society.

Therein lies a time bomb.

The balance of creativity

Sometimes when we see children misbehaving we are inclined to think the worst of them. This is especially true if our energy levels are low and we have not an ounce of patience left within us. We might let an angry word slip from our mouths which we regret later.

Of course, this is not a good thing to happen. And sometimes children frustrate us. We ask for something to be done one way, someone comes back with a smart aleck comment that only saps us further of our energy when we have to explain a second time. Being around children can be draining!

It really comes down to how children decide to implement their innate creativity – whether they use it in a good way or bad way. I will suggest that the decision between using creativity in a good way – say, finding a unique solution for a problem – and using it in a bad way (to find a method for getting out of doing a task, for example) comes down to will. It is how children choose to use their creative nature, whether they have a good or bad outlet for it.

When we chastise children for being devious or calculative, we should make sure they understand we are not chastising them for who they are, but for the wrong choice they made. If a child has shown poor judgement in using their skill – applying it to bad use, for example, such as in arranging toys on the floor such that someone would trip over them, thinking it would be fun to “prank” someone, we should make sure they know why they are wrong, but not try to squeeze the talent out of them by admonishing them outright and making judgements about their character (such as using statements like “You stupid child” instead of saying “you acted stupidly”.)

Every one of us has talents that could be put to good or bad use. Problem-solving could be a good skill to have. But problem-solving put to bad use in order to weasel out of a situation, such as to pin blame on someone else, is not a good thing to do.

The Impressionist music composer Claude Debussy was by many counts, a rebel. As a Muswell Hill piano teacher tells us, Debussy failed his harmony music exams because he was always experimenting with music and sounds, instead of accepting the theoretical knowledge that was being taught. If one of his teachers had forcibly made him rein in that creativity by drilling it out of him until he complied, he would have completely eliminated that creative, experimental streak that soon gave rise to the Impressionist movement, music by suggestion rather than by explicit mention. And what a great loss to the world that would have been!

Maybe slightly entwined with a creative streak is the will to try and be open. Part of being creative is to experiment and push accepted boundaries (of course, within reasonable limit), and to try new things. If you are stuck in a rut, and have given up trying, and accept life as it is, you take fewer risks, but there are less opportunities to grow and become more inward as a person. And so when we get older we should try to risk, to extend ourselves. We can do so by learning a new skill, such as playing the piano, or basket weaving, or any other activity that involves reaching into the mental framework and shaking it up. But when I mention risk, it has to be balanced and cautious. Extend yourself, but slowly and not too far out!

Finding Strength

When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.

There is no question that at various points in life we will find obstaclees placed in our path. What did you expect? Did you think that life would be one smooth travellator, where once you have got on from birth, it would just be a matter of coasting along?

The above analogy highlights an important thing. Life is not smooth. Things happen. This could be a career incident – being made redundant, or being fired. Or it could be something to do with relationships – a breakup. But because life is never smooth anyway, we can’t view these occurences as the disruption to the natural order of things. Instead we should view them as a part of a natural order of things.

You can find this change in mindset really helpful. When something goes wrong, don’t waste energy thinking “Why did it go wrong? Why is life so unfair?” Now, the severity of the bad thing may lead us down this path. But if we see obstacles as occurring naturally anyway, learning to deal with them could result in emotional growth. How we control our instant unbridled reactions, and instead focus on dealing with them, is what gives us emotional growth and a base to lay future foundations on.

Instead of wallowing in anger or pity – or perhaps allow yourself some opportunity to feel this way -focus your energies on what you can do and how you can dig yourself out of a poor situation. Sometimes, a healthy mindset helps. When a person loses a job for example, it is easy to panic at how you will manage for the next few months without a job. The higher the stakes, the higher the panic. But focus your energies into thinking how you can work things out financially, and drawing up contingency plans. This is a way of teaching yourself not to panic whenever something “bad” or unexpected happens. And the next time something like this happens again, you will have had the positive experience to deal with it again, instead of reinforcing it with a mixture of panic, guilt and fear.

Our natural reactions are to panic and let bad things destroy us. But we can learn to turn adversity into action and let it define us, and build our character.

What is really important is to realise that we have a choice. We of course don’t choose the bad things that happen to us, but we have a choice in deciding how we will react and respond. That we can control. When bad circumstances happen, often the initial feeling of fear and panic is developed from a lack of control over the happenings. We all feel calm when we have a measure of control than if we had not. So work on establishing and creating some form of control over situations. Choose how you feel. Choose how you react.

Success

What does success mean to you? To different people success means different things. For some, the measure of success is how much money they earn. For others, being successful means being in charge. We often define success in terms either of wealth, control, power or status.

Perhaps an intersection point of all these is to define success as achieving what one has set out to do.

But achieving it is only part of the equation. Consider these points about success:

Don’t let others define you. Don’t let the past confine you. Take charge of your life with confidence and determination and there are no limits on what you can do or be.

The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.

Success is more permanent when you achieve it without destroying your principles.

Never give up on your dream…Perseverance is all important. If you don’t have the desire and the belief in yourself to keep trying after you’ve been told you should quit, you’ll never make it.

You get the common points among all four of the above quotes.

Sucess involves perserverance. The pursuit of one’s goals involves dogged determination and you have to keep believing in the pursuit of your goals. But perserverance and doggedness need to be correctly focussed. Speak to people and friends and gather their feedback. What is even better is if you can speak to a counsellor or someone neutral to get an unbiased point of view. Our friends, are often too keen to tell us what we want to hear and not what is objective. Get an independent view about the pursuit of your goals. Correctly focussed, that is perserverance. Wrongly focussed, it is delusion.

Success also involves a certain level of integrity. If we set out to be sucessful but achieve it without integrity, that success is fleeting and a stain on our character. For example, some people may consider being a millionaire as a mark of success. Some others may question that marker, but nevertheless, if you have achieved that financial target you set yourself then in your eyes you are successful. But if you achieved that target through deceit, through means that you should not have, that success is tainted.

A characteristic of successful people is trying to turn negatives into positives. The pursuit of goals involves obstacles and difficulties along the way. They may leave you disheartened. But if you have the outlook of trying to turn disaster into opportunity, trying to make good from negatives, then you are on your way to being successful. Life will always throw its fair share of problems, but if you can turn them into your advantage, then you will be successful!

Better to burn out than fade? Use experience to achieve balance

Sometimes in life we feel drained, when we have tried to do too much and it takes a toll not only on our physical being but also of our mental health. What can we do? it is a good idea to take a break, and the length of this break depends on how deep we are into this kind of negative thinking or perhaps even depression.

Why is a break good? And how long does it take before we come out of the other end of the tunnel?

Scientists refer to this break as taking time away to refocus, to reset our neural circuits. When we overthink situations or spend too much time exploring different avenues, our minds go into overdrive trying to think out various contingency situations for which only one is needed, but because we need speed and responsiveness we try to do everything so that when the time comes we do not have to spend precious time thinking. But the problem can be that we have invested so much time thinking out possible scenarios, that by the time we have to act on one, we have already exhausted ourselves and our energies.

The flip side of this is inaction. For some people this is the mode of choice – to others it looks like they have given up. But being resigned to circumstances and expecting life to shape itself out for you, so that you can drift along with the tide is a bit of irresponsibility, a sort of transference that borders on having given up.

What can we do then? The narrow road is finding a balance between the hyperactive mindset and the inactive mindset. It is not necessarily better to be burnt out than to fade away. In some situations it may be more self-preserving to fade away that to expend energy being burnt out. It all comes down to balance. Sometimes we need to find that balance between expending too much and too little energy for the things we need to do in our lives. And how does that balance come about? Experience.

Listen, then talk

How can you help a friend who needs someone to talk to? Often when we think of someone in need, we should realise that what they need is someone to listen without judgement. This “without judgement” may even extend to listening without dispensing advice. Because when someone has an awful lot of their chest and wants to talk about it, sometimes our “advice”, no matter how well meaning, only increases the tension because we are only giving them more thoughts to think about, when they are trying to get rid of all these thoughts in their head.

Sometimes people have problems because they are overwhelmed. They could be overwhelmed with work stresses or they may have too many things going on at home or in relationships that cause their mind to be filled with thoughts. Like it or not, every thought sends a trigger to your mind. Take for example this situation: You are travelling on public transport and someone plays their music loudly. Your mind recognises this bit of information. “The music is too loud.” And almost instantly it is also thinking, “should I say something about it?” Then after this step your mind is assessing whether or not the person you are about to speak to would be receptive towards what you would have to say or not. Your mind makes judgements about it. And then perhaps if you have assessed it would be safe to do so – you think the individual would be non-aggressive, perhaps unaware of the anti-social behaviour he or she is causing – then you think of the best way to phrase your words. Or if you don’t, your mind castigates you for not having the courage to stand up for yourself and you start evaluating your own life history for such previous instances. Your mind has gone into overdrive simply because someone has played loud music. Just that one trigger has become a stressor and caused you mental overload.

So when someone is stressed, they could have a lot of mental information to process. Let them talk it out. Don’t offer advice initially because they have then to process it, consider your words and their own thoughts. Only when you feel they have emptied themselves, should you then start to think about offering advice. Be a listener for your friend. Not a stressor. No matter how well-intentioned you are, you may inadvertently cause more problems for your friend if you are too keen to dispense advice!

On Forgiveness

Forgiveness does not mean that we suppress anger; forgiveness means that we have asked for a miracle: the ability to see through mistakes that someone has made to the truth that lies in all of our hearts. Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness. Attack thoughts towards others are attack thoughts towards ourselves. The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive.

Marianne Williamson

The laws of physics state that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Many of us bring this law into our lives in the form of retribution. If someone has done us wrong, our natural tendency is to pay it back in equal measure. After all, if we follow some of the axioms around us, such as “What goes around comes around”, they would seem to suggest that we “get what we give” and “give what we get”. Or if we are taught to “do unto others as you would others do unto you”, you might feel that if someone has wronged you then they should get a taste of their own medicine.

Can you see how many axioms I’ve quoted in the previous paragraph that seem to support the law of equal force or return? We are predisposed to react in a certain way, and in certain situations a lack of an equal response may be viewed as being a pushover. If someone punched you, and you stood there and turned the other cheek, they might have just taken it as a sign to keep on doing so, because in their minds they would only stop when they get a response, because that is what they assumed most people would do – give a response.

So it may be difficult when someone suggests that when you are wronged, to forgive the other person. After all the law of equal measures means that there is a force that must somehow be suppressed or dissipated within you. This is exactly why it is suggested that we see forgiveness not as a suppression but as a miracle. Somehow, somewhere, we need to absorb the injustice by looking beyond our natural instincts. And we need to let it go.

We live in a world that is high on stimulus. Our world is filled with various things that fight for our attention – work stresses, texts, social media, social injustice, anti-social behaviour, advertising, entertainment – that our minds are more heavily bombarded than those of our parents’ generation. There is so much stimulus going on that we need to filter things out rather than bombard our minds with more triggers. So “attack thoughts” towards others are actually stressors on our own minds. Forgiveness is not often easy but it is a long-term way of saving ourselves.

Keeping personal accounts in the black

In life we all have moments of sadness and moments when we feel down. Sometimes, we rationalise in our minds the things that we could have done differently, the things we might have to have landed ourselves in a bad situation, and the things we could do to break out of this funk. All of these take up tremendous mental resources, leaving us fatigued, sometimes unable to find the energy to perform daily functions such as work, or keep up social commitments, which impact on other areas of our lives. Before we know it, we have slowly slipped into a depression-like state, and it is very hard to climb out of.

How do we define depression? I have sometimes looked at it from the perspective of a bank account. Depression is when you are in the red for many bank accounts. Physical energy? Low. Happiness? Low. Enthusiasm? Low. Money? Possibly low. The problem when you have many of such “Low” accounts is that when you try to fix one such account, you end up having to withdraw from another. When you need a change of scenery, and perhaps work is bothering you, maybe you need to spend funds you do not have to go on a holiday. Perhaps when your enthusiasm for life is low, and you need to do something about it, you have neither the energy of time. And when you do perhaps, splurge in order to meet an impulse need, you end up withdrawing a large amount from one of your accounts.

How did you get into that state and what can you do to avoid that? It is like sinking into a deep hole and trying to climb out of it. You can only slowly dig the sides of the hole around you, and then try to pile up the debris you have dug, to stand on, so that you are incrementally getting higher and higher and out of the hole. But digging takes energy which you don’t have, and some how you need to find the will to keep going.

But more importantly it would be better if you never got into the hole in the first place. If there is an area of your life that needs attending to, channel all the other resources into addressing it, so that it does not slide and drag the other areas along with it. And if you know someone who is depressed, just offer your time to listen, to let them talk. Often when you give suggestions, it is like asking someone to do things, drawing resouces from already depleted accounts. Depression is like a mental wall and talking to someone else is like removing a brick of the wall at a time.