Perspective

Two things have happened this week that have left me thinking.

The first was when we were doing a ‘Growth Mindset Journal’ with another home ed family on Monday. For those that don’t know, growth mindset is the belief that you are in control of your own ability and skills and that you can learn and improve. Our journal has covered all sorts of things from being kind and helping others to looking at the brain as a muscle that needs exercising. This week was about positivity. We spoke a little about the difference between having a positive and negative attitude towards things and both my big two piped up cheerily ‘oh, I’m negative. Yes, I have a negative attitude!’ And it made me really sad! I actually don’t think it’s true when I look at their reactions to things in life and their general interactions and disposition but it made me sad that this was their image of themselves.

I got to thinking why this might be the case and pondered whether it could be due to my attitude. They say children are your mirror and I’ve been rather more ‘glass half empty’ over the last months than I used to be. I think this has been mostly down to being ill so much this year and to some epic over-scheduling in the last academic year. But I’m determined to make an effort to be more positive and focus on the good things in a situation, rather than the bad. This used to come so easily to me so I’m not sure why it doesn’t so much anymore but I’m going to practice positivity until hopefully it becomes the natural choice in my reactions. So apologies in advance if I start being annoyingly cheery again – I’ll try to dial it down where appropriate!!

The second thing that happened was online. In a facebook group I’m on, a lady of two very young children reached out, asking if other mothers ever felt totally overwhelmed, touched out and with no sense of self or time to do things they wanted to do. I realised with a sense of surprise that after years of feeling like this, on the whole I actually don’t anymore! Having three kids so close together was tough, especially when they were all under 5, and I often felt like I was madly treading water to survive. I remember feeling like there was nothing more to me than being a mother. They needed me mentally, physically and spiritually all the time and it consumed me. I was touched out, tired and bloody irritated with the whole affair.

But now at 9, 7 and 4 this has passed. And it happened so gradually that I didn’t even realise. They have more independence, need me less and I am lucky to get a heck of a lot of time to myself, be that at the gym, out running, at work or just generally seeing friends. I’m aware that a lot of my friends don’t get this so I don’t want to take it for granted. At the same time though, I don’t think it’s a luxury but a necessity to my sanity and one that I think everyone needs and deserves. Being a parent is amazing but it’s not all I am.

So I guess both of these things made me think about perspective. I’ve had a few conversations about this over the last week. It’s easy to be so absorbed in the present that taking a step back to see what has changed can be hard. But I think it’s really important to practice doing this. Often you are able to take stock and realise that things are massively different and hopefully, in a really positive way! It’s easy to forget about the small achievements and progressions that you (and your children) have made if you’re not looking for them but important to acknowledge and celebrate them I think. It’s easy to feel stagnant and like nothing has changed when actually, micro-steps of moving forward have happened. Perspective helps us identify where things are going in our lives and using it, we can fine-tune what happens next.

I think perspective, like gratitude, is a practice and one that is worthy of regular practice.

Gratitude Starts Here

Mid-January. A time of year characterised by the bleak weather and for a lot of us, equally bleak state of affairs when it comes to finances. The festive cheer has most definitely worn off and the combination of last month’s holiday overspend and the five week month is sinking in. At this point it’s easy to let a dark cloud of gloom descend as you constantly count pennies for the next few weeks and curse the you from last month that spent so frivolously on yummy treats and extra bits for the holidays. This was me before the weekend. With three children’s birthdays and Christmas within a 10 week period, we are not particularly flush at this time of year!

However, as I headed out for a run on Saturday, I got to thinking and realised that despite my not so friendly bank account, I still have a heck of a lot to be grateful for. Not only do we have a roof over our heads, food in our cupboards and religious and political freedom but we are also blessed to have (mostly) good health, some amazing friends and to be living in a beautiful part of the world, guaranteed to lift the spirits whenever you head out the door. It might sound ridiculous but just thinking about all that has changed my mindset and I now feel much calmer and more positive about things.

Interestingly, a friend sent a link to an article today that laid out 4 rituals a neuroscience researcher claims will result in increased happiness. One of the things it mentions is asking yourself what you are grateful for. Apparently, ‘the benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine….it can also boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex’. The complexity and cleverness of our brains and the way they works never ceases to amaze me.

Although we might mostly use the concept of being grateful to chastise our children when we think they’re being spoilt (don’t you know there are children starving elsewhere in the world?!), it turns out that there is a lot more substance to it than that. Gratitude has the potential to be a deliberate art, one worth devoting some time to, in order to gain some perspective on your life and to improve your mental health! Even if it’s only something seemingly small like enjoying your favourite meal or the kids fighting less, I think it’s worth making a mental note of the things you are grateful for daily. Although I’ve already covered New Years resolutions (I’m not a massive fan usually), I do quite like adopting the challenge of practising gratitude this year. It starts here.

 

Walking the Walk

It has come to my attention that whilst I’m pretty good at talking the talk and at giving out verging-on-sanctimonious advice as to how we should live and where our society is going wrong, it turns out that I’m not actually very good at living said words. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that if I was reading my column in a paper, I’d probably get increasingly irate with the author, week on week. I think I’m a bit of a one trick pony. I tend to stick to what I know, rhetoric about strong communities, staying positive and the ability of many small actions to work together towards significant change. And whilst I fully believe in all those things, I’m guessing folk out there might be getting a bit bored of reading the same thing week in, week out.

On paper, I’m that annoying eternally chirpy person we all know, always pointing out what we should be grateful for and giving out unwanted pep talks. But to make matters worse, in reality I often fall short of my own impassioned cries for self improvement. This week, I was consistently grumpy every day. I was stressed about money, grouchy at being tired and letting myself be wound up by the kids when they weren’t really doing anything other than simply being children. It was only when I escaped for a long run this morning that I gained some perspective. I realised a few things.

Firstly, that being grumpy was not having a particularly productive or desirable effect on myself, others around me or life in general and I’d probably be happier if I snapped out of it. Secondly, that actually, life is pretty good. I’ve got a roof over my head, food in my fridge and good friends and family. In the grand scheme of things, that ain’t half bad! And finally, whilst pondering column fodder, that if I was going to insist on continuing to write with such positivity, I should probably start walking the walk and living out what I’ve written.

The upshot of all of this is that I’m going to make two changes in my life (both written and real). I’ve decided to try and make an effort to actually focus on the good things, to help others more and to be more grounded. I’ve also decided that rather than continue my fairly limited narrative in this column, I’m going to cast my net further afield and set myself a challenge by asking others for topics for this column. Whether I write about everything suggested is another matter altogether, but I think it will be a good exercise for expanding my writing skill set as well as hopefully making for some interesting reading for you, dear readers! So, if you have any suggestions, please send them my way!