Cake and Gratitude (how saying “thank you” could change your life)

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Cake and Gratitude

How saying thank you could change your life.

I have always loved baking and creating sweet treats. I believe I am something of an alchemist with chocolate (especially hot-fudge icing) and I derive huge satisfaction out of baking birthday cakes for my friends and family.

And I recently figured out why I love baking so much.

It’s because I enjoy making something that I know everyone is going to like.

I used to love cooking when I lived in a house with seven people (who were always hungry) but now that I just cook for myself and my two kids I hate cooking! And I here is why: It’s because no one likes the same things, so no matter what I do, someone is always unhappy with my efforts. When I cooked for seven people I made huge pots of vegetarian stew most nights, but I loved doing it, because the pot was always scraped clean by hungry people.

In the same way I love doing other peoples dishes in their homes but hate doing my own. It has very little to do with dishes (or cooking) and a lot to do with knowing that my efforts are appreciated.

When I was writing my book I became completely despondent and unable to work when I thought no one would ever want to read it. It took enormous will power to push on, in spite of my misgivings about how terrible it is, and just keep writing until it was finished. The idea that I was pouring all this time and energy into a project that might not ever bring anyone any joy was exhausting.

On the other hand I can happily slave away for hours on any task that I know will bring joy to the benefactor. Provided they appreciate it.

You see I am a little bit selfish after all, in spite of how noble my desire to please may sound. I want my efforts to be appreciated. If I know that they are I don’t need any more reward than that. If, however, I feel that I am making a sacrifice in time and energy for someone who doesn’t appreciate my efforts, I find that I have absolutely no motivation to continue.

I think that actually most humans are wired this way.

We all like to feel appreciated.

But how often do we actually show our appreciation? Probably not nearly enough.

Which is crazy! Because when someone feels appreciated they are willing to do so much more. They feel better about themselves, which makes them better people, which means you are surrounded by happy, giving, appreciated people who like you and are willing to go the extra mile for you. And you know what? You will find you are willing to go the extra mile for them too.

Basically all of humanity would be a much happier (and more well adjusted) place if instead of trying to demand gratification and service, we all just took a minute to say “thank you” (and mean it) to the people who are helping us.

That means everyone. The lady packing your shopping at the grocery store, the guy sweeping the street, your wife, your boss, your employee’s (paying them is not the same as thanking them), your parents and even your kids. Say “thank you” every day as often as you can, and mean it.

I guarantee that the more you show your appreciation to people (no matter how big or small) in your life, the more you will find you have to be grateful for.

If only everyone in the whole world could show love and appreciation to every person they ever encounter, just think how very different the world would be.

Life after Rock Bottom

Life after Rock Bottom

Picking yourself up, brushing yourself off and carrying on.

Last week I posted a blog about the power of hitting rock bottom.  I spoke about how the best things about hitting rock bottom are learning your own strength (and loosing the fear of living), finding out who your friends are, and being able to reinvent yourself (because you have nothing to loose when you are already at the bottom of the shit pile)

But all of these are advantages that you usually only get to seeing after the fact. When you are there, at the bottom of the shit pile with your tail between your legs and the wind kicked out of you, it is very difficult to see how things will ever get better again.

So

How do you pick yourself up and carry on?

First of all, make sure it’s finished. If you are at rock bottom the chances are you or someone else (or both of you) screwed up. You have to make sure that you don’t keep going there in your head. You will want to – that is the natural thing to do. You are obsessing about it day and night and unable to sleep or eat (or perhaps stop eating) but you actually have to just. Stop.

Say you’re sorry to the people you’ve hurt. They may or may not forgive you. That is none of your business.  Your business is to say sorry and mean it. Sorry doesn’t come with justification and excuses.  Justification and excuses prolong the agony. They don’t change anything.

Say thank you to the people who have stuck by you. Even if the situation was entirely the fault of the rat-fink-bastard (or bitch) who left you, the chances are you have not been a little ray of sunshine recently. Anyone who has been brave enough to put up with you probably deserves a medal.

Now

Get up, Dress up and Show up.

I’m sure that’s a famous line from somewhere that I am plagiarizing, but it is also something that my mother always said to me. My mother is a depressive type, she is also the matriarch who has supported a family of depressive types through thick and thin so she really knows her shit. And she understands how important it is to get your ass up. Have a shower. Put on clean clothes. And go out.

Go to work. Woops, you just lost your job, okay, go to sit at the internet café and job hunt. Go have coffee with a friend. Go to the library if all else fails, but you do have to go out. I know you don’t want to. For the first week you may stay in bed and cry. You have my full permission. But as soon as that week is done get your ass out of bed and off you go.

Usually getting there is more than half the battle. A good idea for dealing with the desire to stay in bed for all eternity is to make small concessions. Set your morning alarm ten minutes later, but then get up when it goes off. And plan to spend one weekend morning in bed. You owe it to yourself. You need it. And if you plan it in advance then you are not giving in to the gloom. Then read a good book while you are there. You don’t want to be lying there feeling sorry for yourself. I always find reading something that transports you to a whole other world to be a great way to escape feeling like slitting your wrists until the feeling has passed.

Join a group and meet new people who don’t know your sad ass story

One of the most difficult things when you are at rock bottom can be dealing with everyone’s sympathy. I know, you need a bit, but after a while it becomes exhausting. Answering the same probing questions over and over and dealing with all the uncomfortable-ness.

New people are awesome. They are part of the new you. They don’t know how bad things got and so it’s easier to brush it off and move on. “Oh yes I just lost my job but I’m feeling really positive about a possible change in career path.” Or “Yes I am recently divorced, so what do you do for a living?”

They are not expecting you to tell them all about your suffering, and so in a way they actually allow you to let it go more easily than the people who love you and are worrying about you. That is not to say that you should ignore your existing friends, you shouldn’t. But injecting different personalities into your mental space can be very refreshing.

So where do you meet these new people?

That is the best part. You have to challenge yourself to do something new. Whether it’s joining a cooking class, a bird watchers group or a martial art, do something for yourself. Build a new piece of yourself from outside of the bad situation and you will find new people in it.

(Please note: Becoming a bar fly does NOT count as meeting new people or getting out. Drinking in hard times will only lead to worse problems)

I personally joined a Capoeira group that changed my life. And that brings me to my next point…

Get Some Exercise

Exercise is highly under prescribed for its anti-depressant values.

And yet probably the best thing about exercise is its anti-depressant powers. We all know that if you want to look good and be healthy you should get in your cardio and your gym time. We also all come up with hundreds of legit reasons why we just don’t have time (for example: I don’t give a shit).

If someone had told me when I was sixteen that sweating it out would give me an endorphin high I would have been all over it like a rash. As it is it took me well into adulthood to discover the powerful healing abilities of exercise on the human soul.

Exercise is a distraction. The less fit you are the better, actually. Because you will be too busy trying to deal with your body and the complaints you are getting from it to think about everything that is wrong with your life.

Exercise in the form of a martial art, dancing or anything that requires concentration and a little skill can be beautiful. Doing something with your body that feels beautiful has amazing healing powers on your soul.

Exercise releases happy hormones. It’s a fact, it really does. It makes you feel better.

In the case of a break-up, exercise has the wonderful added “fuck-you” bonus feature. It says, “Look, I am hotter than you thought and I can do things for myself. So there.”

Groups are a great place to meet new people, too.

For me joining a Capoeira group was so much more than I ever expected it to be. I had been looking for a yoga group to help me through my depression post break-up. Unable to find one that operated after working hours I ended up at Capoeira. I had no idea that it would change my life the way it did. I was so inspired by the beautiful movements I was seeing that I couldn’t leave it alone. The idea that I could learn to do them was unbelievable. Long story short: I learned a new skill, discovered a great passion, found something creative and beautiful that I wanted to do, got really fit and made friends who are still, five years later, some of my very best friends. I had no idea when I walked into that first class just how much I would get out of it.

There are almost as many different sports and disciplines available as there are people to practice them. Have a look around your area and find out what’s available.

If all else fails even going for a run will release endorphin’s, take your mind out of its rut and help you build your self-esteem.  (If you are in a wheel chair you can still pump weights. No excuses here people!) just do it.

Listen to cheesy pop music

Music is a gift to the soul. It can comfort you, encourage you, help you get motivated or make you weep.

Something we all do when we are down is listen to down music. That’s cool. That is totally fine as part of your week of self-pity and the evenings of crying yourself to sleep. BUT, if you want to get better you have to embrace your inner geek, turn on the radio and get down to some funky, happy tunes. It is absolutely mandatory that you do the whole sing in the shower, dance in the mirror thing. you need it. Because silly is important. Laughing at yourself is important. Choosing to be happy, even for a moment or two, is important.

As soothing as your sad, beautiful music is (and it is) it is not going to lift you out of a stupor.

I recommend a three stage music program:

  • First, find any album that you love that makes you feel better (even if it is sad) and listen to it for the first week.
  • Next, turn on the radio or ask that friend who always has the latest pop, and find a happy song that you like (or at least can live with). Use this song to help you get moving in the morning, and any other time that its difficult to keep going. It can even be a few songs, but they must be happy and you must feel slightly ashamed to know all the words.
  • Last of all keep finding more soothing, happy sounds (for some of us Rage against the machine is soothing – please don’t judge someone else’s choice) and get a set of head phones. When shit gets tough, listen to your melodic friends. They will help you.

Try to remember that you won’t feel this way forever. Get enough sleep, eat your veggies, and look after yourself. You will be okay.

Some additional Thoughts on Picking Yourself Up when you don’t think you can carry on:

  • Drink Coffee – It helps
  • Keep a diary. Somehow writing things down helps you to let them go. You can always burn it later.
  • Get outside. Being on the beach, in the forest or just out in the open air all have magical, healing qualities.
  • Find your art. Something that inspires you. Be it cooking, photography, writing, dancing, flower arranging, whatever. If it feeds your soul make time for it.
  • Make time. For you. No one else is going to give you time to do the things you want to do. You have to schedule it in like you are booking a meeting.
  • Turn you r phone off. Or at least turn your data off, and go off line. You need a few hours a day to focus on your own stuff. That is never going to happen while you are checking your phone.
  • Spend time with people who love you.
  • Okay so that is a tall order for most of our busy minds, but within your phone-less space find ten minutes to just try and quiet your mind.
  • Acknowledge negative thoughts and emotions and let them go. You can’t stop yourself from having them. But you can choose not to let them rule you. I like to say “I have feelings of anger about that.” And then I observe the angry feeling and let it pass. I don’t say “I am angry” because that allows the anger to define me.
  • Give yourself time. Healing takes time. End of story.
  • Have FAITH in yourself. You are able to get through this, whatever it is. You have to and you will. You are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for.

*a note to friends and family of the person who is going through it all… try to be patient. Don’t take their behavior personally – it really is not about you. Be encouraging without being too bossy. And for goodness sake don’t ask them how they are. They are doing crap until they tell you otherwise. A good idea is to bring small, healthy meals. Also chocolate. And occasionally wine as long as you stay to drink it with them. It is also up to you to gage when to start harassing them out of the house and into some activity.  Lastly if you don’t really want to be there, don’t be. Your discomfort will be felt. Just don’t expect a Christmas card.

thanks Stocksnap and Abigail Keenan for the Image.

The Power of hitting Rock Bottom

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There are a few separate people in my life right now who are going through very difficult personal times. It can be really hard to see someone you care about in a broken state and not be able to solve their problems. Especially when you know exactly what it feels like.

What I ended up doing today was reliving all of the worst moments of my life. They are not things I want to talk about now (or ever) they are finished and I’m grateful. But the surprising thing I realised is that I really am grateful for them.

The things I fought the hardest to hang onto are all things that I am so grateful NOT to have in my life anymore. I am so happy to be free of them now.

I couldn’t see it at the time. At the time I thought my life was in turmoil, that I was a failure, a nothing, a great, big loser who had flushed her life down the toilet. And you know what? There are still some things that hurt to think about. There are some wounds that always sting. But you get over it!

And you fill your life with other things. And before you know it it’s been five years and you are a happier, stronger and completely different person for the changes you have gone through.

So what does that have to do with the power of hitting rock bottom?  Surely that is all about recovering from rock bottom, not hitting it?

The wonderful thing about hitting rock bottom is that once you are there you have nothing left to be afraid of.

You have already undergone painful changes. You have already lost the things you were hanging onto. You don’t have to worry about fucking things up, you already have. And so with that in mind you can change your life.

Rock bottom is a good place to change your life.

When you find yourself at your lowest point in life you have the opportunity to look at your life and identify the things that make you unhappy and weed them out.

If you lost a job you hated, now is the time to try a different career move. You are already unemployed so you may as well be an unemployed person who is looking for a different line of work. Or perhaps you have an entrepreneurial venture you have always wanted to try but could never take the risk before of quitting a paying job. Well bonus you! You can now try anything.

If it is a relationship you have been hanging onto tooth and nail and now you are single, well it hurts. I know. But you know what? You will get over it. You may not want to get over it. You may feel like you want to fix it, not get over it. But if it’s over, its over and pretty soon you will stop wishing to get them back, and instead of rushing to replace them you will find that you actually really enjoy your own company. You will become so protective about your personal space that you will become very selective about who you allow into it. And that is a GOOD THING!

The three most important things about rock bottom are:

  • It shows you what you are made of. Discovering your own strength and abilities is a very liberating and empowering thing. Even if it sounds corny. Without the difficulties I have been through I wouldn’t know what I am capable of. As a result I am a lot less fearful. I live my life more truthfully knowing that at the end of the day as long my family and the people I love are safe, everything will be okay.
  • You have the chance to reinvent yourself. You will discover your own preferences and dislikes from scratch and you now have the chance to do something about them. You can’t reinvent yourself when you are busy being someone else. Rock bottom is in fact the very best place to change the game, decide how you are going to do things differently, and then do them.
  • You will find out who your friends are. There is nothing like being between a rock and a hard place to help you see who the people are who stick by you and support you and who phases themselves quickly out of your life. The friends who stay with you through the shittiest of times will always hold a special place in your heart. Those are the friendships that last lifetimes.

So If you are at the bottom, rejoice! You are in a powerful position to change your life. It all comes down to what you do next. Take a minute to think about where you have been and where you want to go –then go there.

And remember the wise words of Winston Churchill, “If you are going through hell, keep going!”

Thank you for the use of your image: Deviant Art 

Make someone’s Day

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Nothing makes me happier than hearing the words “you made my day”. Usually I hear those words when I least expect them, like today, from a musician I complimented.

I have a shy side (hard to believe I know) but I do. For some reason it’s much, much easier for me to express myself via the written word than to actually speak to someone.

So I try to make a point of speaking to real life people. It can be painful, it can be embarrassing, but I do it. And you know what? Nine times out of ten the person I choose to speak to is just as insecure as I am.

So today I went up to a musician who was performing at the mall my offices are situated in. We are subjected to a lot of less than palatable music in the centre and this guy was actually blow-me-away good. I told him exactly that, expecting him to blow me off as another pesky fan. He didn’t.

He said thank you.

Later when I bumped into him again, pushing a trolley full of equipment, he said, “I was feeling really insecure up there. like an ornament. what you said meant a lot to me. You made my day.”

And so you see, sometimes when you get over yourself and your own shyness, you can help someone else to get over theirs too.

The vast majority of people are as self-conscious, shy and insecure as you are.

Try to set a goal of at least once a day (like your random act of kindness) saying a few words to someone you wouldn’t usually speak to. Whether it’s a child or an adult, a compliment or just a “hello” or even just a smile, you never know how it might change the way someone else is feeling.

And believe me, there is no better feeling than making someone’s day :)

(thanx stocksnap for the image)

Be nice to the grumpy

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I have found time and again that (much to the disappointment of my sadistic streak) if there is someone in your life who is just annoying the crap out of you, irritating you or out-right mean to you, and for whatever reason you can’t cut them out of your life, you should just be nice to them.

In fact, I have taken to making a point of being extra nice to that person.

That guy at work who just irritates you and you don’t know why (or maybe you do) next time he comes up to you, stop.

take a deep breath, and give him your full attention for the next 120 seconds.

Make eye contact.

Ask him how he is and really listen.

don’t argue or offer advice. Just try to see things from his perspective, for 2 minutes.

Then you can happily go back to being irritated again.

In extreme cases you can even do something thoughtful for them. If they are a total arse and don’t appreciate it (or worse, feel entitled to it) then you can go back to ignoring them.

When you are consciously kind and thoughtful towards someone who is irritating the crap out of you (without any expectation of a return) usually one or more of these things happen:

  • You start to understand them better and feel less irritated by them
  • They start to see you as less of a threat and behave better towards you
  • they are disarmed by your niceness and the wind goes out of their grumpy sails
  • You feel better as a person – even if it makes no difference to their behavior at all, even if they still suck, somehow being nice has the magical ability to make you feel better.
  • If they really can’t lighten up, they might at least be appalled enough by your niceness to leave you alone.

Sometimes, in spite of all attempts to be kind and nice and friendly, people still suck. My advice then? Don’t think about them. don’t give them any more attention than a buzzing over head light. If it’s someone you can’t cut out of your life or avoid, at least don’t let them take up space in your head.

If all else fails you can out bitch them by not giving a crap, not having dropped to their level and smiling your face off in spite of their crap.smiley

Bubblegum English

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I have been writing a lot of listicles of late for one of my online clients. They are the preferred form of article for their website and I have to admit they are quite a lot of fun to write. But I have to admit that while I was mentally mulling over my most recent listicle at the kitchen sink I did find myself breathing a tired sigh over the name “lisiticle”.

It is a real thing, you can Google it, and I suppose real things need to have names. The English language is pretty awesome in its evolutionary ability to adapt and morph with all of humanities changes. I think that is why it is the most commonly spoken language online and around the world. Because of its ability to adapt, it has survived.

But sometimes I feel tired by the constant need for millennials to invent new words. I mean, yes it’s fantastic that “Google” is now in the Oxford dictionary, but does it really need to be?

Are we going to wake up one day and suddenly be over the new-fangled naming new-word-in-the-dictionary-ftrconventions? Like when you love a new pop song, listen to it over and over again for three weeks, and then suddenly never want to hear it again. Are generations to come going to be embarrassed for us, because if how we went around making up names for things the way that we are embarrassed by our grandma’s swim suits?

I am waiting for the day that youngsters and Hipsters start speaking proper English again. I imagine it will be because they are suddenly so over inventing awesomely useful names for things, that, let’s face it, just sound made up. Will we grow up and stop playing house with the English language, or is it doomed to evolving right out of existence, along with the morals and good manners that have kept it company for so many centuries? I suppose only time will tell.

(thanks for the image communitytable.com)

Never stop learning, never give up on your dreams and just keep on keeping on

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I love learning things. I love books, I eat them for breakfast!

Although a university degree in your subject of choice is the obvious winner, Life happens, and not everyone has the opportunity to study.

But it’s not the end.

You are never too old, too broke or too busy to change your life.

It’s down to you. Yip, really. there comes a time when you have to stop blaming your poor family, bad teachers and shitty circumstances for your current state. Yes they play a contributing factor. Yes, it is hard to start from scratch. Yes, it’s hard to study when you are older, working, supporting a family. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.

With the wonderful cyber world more or less accessible to many of us these days, all you actually need to learn something new is the ability to read and the desire to learn.

There are numerous options for self instruction in cyber space:

  • Online courses – these are great. you actually get something to show for it at the end too, depending on what course you do and which institution you choose. I studied through SA Writers College. Courses are certified but you do have to pay upfront for each one. Support is via E-Mail, so you do need regular E-Mail access.
  • Lynda.com – has a variety of great tutorials available for anyone who is willing to learn. Mostly video content you so will need to be able to at least download videos to watch later if you can’t watch online. You need to open an account with them, but most employers will be very willing to help with this.
  • Bookboon.com – This is a wonderful resource with hundreds of free educational E-Books. As long as you can download a PDF you can take these babies with you.

There are many, many more online sites available to those who want to learn. You can find most of them with this magical tool called… google. Whats more is that when people start to see you taking an interest in yourself academically, they start to look at you differently.

I started in advertising with a Pre-school teachers qualification (WTF, right?) But I discovered my astounding love for Copy writing. I had always loved reading, it just took me a while to realize that I wanted to write.  So what did I do? I found every available free resource and I used it. Eventually my employers realized that I am serious about this, and you know what? They paid for my course! Because that is how the universe rolls. When you put in all you have with 100% undiluted enthusiasm and you expect to succeed, you do.

Don’t give up on your dreams. Invest in your self. often the biggest investment is time. Move your series addiction up by an hour a night, and spend an hour a night reading mind enlarging goodness.

A year from now you will be glad that you started today.