Jan 08

2023

0

Comments

Helen Whitten

Posted In

Tags

I wonder how you are thinking about the year ahead?  2022 was a tough year for many people, and the Covid years before it, too. We wake up to daily news of threat – Ukraine, the economy, inflation, pandemic. No other generation has ever been exposed to so much news, and often bad news, brought to them 24/7 through images from screens in their sitting room, on their mobile phones, and now I even get them on my Apple Watch. There’s no escape. The only escape we have is by taking control of our mind, in making the choices of what we choose to watch or listen to, and what we choose to pay attention to in the inevitable cascade of thoughts that run through our minds every day, and sometimes continue to keep us awake at night.

Images are powerful drivers of our feelings and actions. I don’t watch the 10 o’clock news any more because I don’t want to go to bed with a whole bunch of anxious-making pictures and messages in my head. But instead, as we start this new year, we can begin to work at creating more positive images for ourselves, our communities, the world.  Focusing on the negative simply drives us to a paralysis of fear and helplessness, especially when so many of the news stories we are receiving are beyond our immediate control. What to do about the economy, inflation, climate change, war? We can only start with ourselves. For how we act, and the energy we create around us, influences others too. And to do this we need to decide what we can Alter, what might we need to Avoid (eg the 10 o’clock news, or specific people or places that upset us) and what might we need to Accept – eg the things we cannot change, and that could be illness, as my 11-year old granddaughter demonstrates to me continually as she lives with Type 1 Diabetes with acceptance and stoicism, determined to make the most of her life.

In my experience in my own life, and in coaching others, it really works to take some time – it doesn’t have to take ages – just to jot down how you would prefer things to go for you, your family, friends, country, the world in the year ahead. The mind works continuously to bring into being the things you seek but if you focus on the negative, or if you are unclear what you are instructing it, this can lead to ambiguity and doubt. I am speaking to myself in this as we all need constant reminders of the habits that help us live life well.

The Buddha said “it’s your mind that creates your world”. Your subconscious beliefs and expectations can limit your ambitions and achievements and, when you take time to bring them up to the surface, you may find that they are not your beliefs today at all. They may be the beliefs and expectations of your parents, or a teacher, an aunt or uncle who sewed some idea in your head some time ago. We are witnessing the way we need to question our perceptions every day as we become a more tolerant society. It’s valuable continually to challenge one’s own beliefs about oneself, others, and the world, as we go through our lives, because we are not the same person at 21 that we were at 10 years old, not the same person at 40 that we were when we were at 20, not the same person at 70 that we were at 50.  The world changes around us and we need to go inward to adjust the thoughts and images we have built up over the years and update them to circumstances today – but, more importantly, to how you would like life to be, and how you would like to be within yourself. Change your thoughts and you change your world.

So, maybe take some time today, tomorrow or soon to consider what you might like to have achieved, experienced, received, enjoyed, contributed, by the time you arrive at the end of 2023. It’s always worth writing this down as it utilises another sense and the thoughts that might be jumbled in your head become more organised as you make them visual. What might you like to have changed for you, your family, your health, your finances, your colleagues, business, friends, the world? And don’t forget to visualise peace in Ukraine and justice for those oppressed. Then consider what that might physically look like? What would you and they be doing differently if this came to pass? Build some pictures, images, like a movie in your head. See it happening as you go through the year and capture an image of how you would like it all to look by the end of the year. Caption that image and let that caption rest in your mind every day to motivate your belief in yourself.

“Change your thoughts and you change your destiny”, so Joseph Murphy wrote in his book The Power of the Subconscious Mind. Mahatma Gandhi advised us to “Become the change you want to see”, which basically means acting as if you will be successful in achieving those aspirations you have imagined. Doubt simply limits us, and negative thoughts deplete our immune system so become more aware of your thinking patterns as you go through the day. What helps you feel happy and competent, what holds you back? It’s up to you. You are in charge of your mind – you have an executive brain that controls which thought or motivation you pay attention to. It’s like lying in bed in the morning where one thought leads you to stay in bed, the other thought leads you to go to the gym or for a walk in the fresh air. It’s up to you which one you listen to and act upon.

Charles Darwin wrote that “it is not the strongest of the species who survive, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” And so we have to adapt the way we think about ourselves and those around us in order to enjoy life’s different stages. As I get older, “ancient” as my grandson would describe me (!), I have to accept that I will never look as slim and youthful as I did and wonder why I didn’t appreciate what I had when I had it! So, it’s important to be thankful for what we do have to feel good about. Gratitude takes us a long way towards contentment. If we are to turn the economy around, we all need to put energy into work, innovation, and consider what the fruits of that might look like. If we are to turn climate change around, we all need to make changes to our personal habits of how we use energy. If we are to turn our own state of happiness around, we need to go inward and change the thoughts and beliefs that no longer serve us well. How we are inside translates to the personal energy we bring to a room, to the world.

None of what I write is new, but it is so easy to forget to do it. So why not take a pen and paper in the next day or two and write down how you would like things to be by the time we reach the end of the year. Then sit quietly, slow your breath, and build visual images of the changes you want to see for yourself and others. Maybe even create some post-it notes to have over your desk, or messages on your phone, or a collage of images on your fridge to remind yourself. It can be quite fun, and no one else can do it for you.  Good luck and bon courage!

Let’s, between us all, make 2023 a whole lot better than 2022.

Further reading: https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B0034OJ57S

Donate to Junior Diabetes Research Fund: https://jdrf.org.uk/get-involved/give/donation-v2/

Share

I can still remember some sixty years ago the terror of being asked by my Maths teacher to come up to the blackboard and do a sum in front of the class. Have you experienced a similar moment, when one’s brain completely freezes and all sensible though goes out of the window?

Well, it happens frequently. Some 1 in 5 adults report having difficulty with maths, and even maths teachers report feeling fearful in front of their class.

Shirley Conran OBE, feels very strongly about this matter and founded the Maths Anxiety Trust to tackle this fear of maths. So on Wednesday 30 November 2022, the Maths Anxiety Trust held a Summit to explore Maths Anxiety in Teachers – “Are we giving our teachers adequate training in the teaching of maths?”. The audience was mainly teachers and the consensus seemed to be NO.

It was a deeply thought-provoking evening organised by Maths Anxiety Trust CEO Caroline Shott. The excellent line-up of speakers on the topic, included Professor Dame Alison Peacock, CEO Chartered College of Teaching; Sam Sims, CEO National Numeracy; Dr Colin Foster, President of the Mathematical Association; Dr Sue Gifford, Emeritus Fellow, School of Education, University of Roehampton. The chair was the ever-impressive Professor Margaret Brown, OBE, President of the Maths Anxiety Trust.

Dr Colin Foster shared his own deep fear of water. He wondered how we, as adults, can ensure we don’t pass on our serious fears to our children or pupils. Whenever he walked beside the canal with his small daughter, he tried to distract himself from fear by pointing out a duck, or the beauty of the water, and yet his daughter would ask, “What’s the matter Daddy? You look sad.” So, silence and distraction do not, ultimately, fool any child, who usually picks up one’s fear intuitively.

Colin’s question to the audience was whether it is sensible to try to hide one’s fear, when one’s silence obviously leaves a child with a negative message about fear – yet the child does not understand what the adult’s problem really is. Many of us agreed that it could be more powerful to share our concerns rather than try to hide them or bottle them up. In sharing them as adult and child, try to work out strategies – to overcome the fear.

This collaboration can certainly work in the classroom to banish the sense that anyone in the room – pupil or teacher – should experience any kind of shame or humiliation. When I recall my moment in front of the blackboard, way back in 1964, I realise now that our teacher could not understand why I couldn’t understand. So, there was no collaboration to help me work out my problem: the teacher was disappointed and I increased my fear of maths.

At this Westminster Summit, that childhood episode was translated as perhaps my teacher wanted to show off how much he knew and, consequently, he made me feel small. That approach would not help many pupils, however skilled they were at Maths.

It was agreed among the teachers present at the Summit that communication skills are essential to a teacher – and particularly a maths teacher. Former journalist Shirley Conran pointed out that a teacher can use the communication skills a journalist is taught to use. If the first question or approach you make to someone doesn’t make a comfortable connection, you must try another type of question, and then another, or a metaphor.

Given time, a practical visual tool, such as a spiral made from paper, can help find the entrance to that person’s mind. Journalists are taught that it is essential to think from the other side of the desk to find the key that opens up a connection between one person and another: instead of alarming a person about the subject of discussion – imagine yourself in the other person’s mind.

It is also important to help pupils see the value and purpose of maths, so put the exercises into a real-life context. Research surprisingly shows that helping young children between the ages of 3-5 to discover the enjoyment of maths can be a predictor of their future success in life. So, teachers and parents benefit from finding ways to make maths fun for small children. This starts them on the right track of looking forward to maths classes, rather than dreading them. Some teachers don’t help – I have heard phrases from teachers such as, “Bad luck, it’s double maths for you this afternoon”, which hardly help to spread joy!

Historically, the fear of maths – which can be cultural – has been more prevalent in girls than boys and girls get unconscious messages about boys being better at maths – which is not necessarily true but can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Own your Worth a report by UBS published in 2019, shows that women tend to defer to men and often leave long-term financial planning to their male partner – to their own detriment.

If working girls and women with male partners don’t focus carefully on their own financial numbers in terms of salary income, pension, and investments, they can find themselves financially substantially worse off in mid or later life. Certainly, in my own time as a business coach, I encountered several successful women managers who were far more hesitant to ask for a raise than their male colleagues. Similarly, many put off thinking about investing in pensions and often elected for less risky investments. Greater confidence in thinking about numbers and maths would – without a doubt – make a difference to the long-term financial security of such girls and women.

Teaching maths teachers to enhance their confidence and approach would help those teachers to present maths in an interesting way: this could make a huge difference to future generations of children and adults. This means that teachers would learn the communication skills which help find the way into each individual child’s mind.

My own childhood experience at the blackboard – when stress sent me into a frozen paralysis of thinking – could certainly help teachers understand what a little stress can do to the brain; then they might present questions in a less frightening way.

Dr Brené Brown once said “Shame loves a perfectionist. It keeps us quiet.” But we don’t want children to be quiet. As Dr Colin Foster discovered when he walked beside the canal with his daughter, silence does not necessarily disguise our fears nor prevent a child from intuitively picking them up. So finding ways of working together to problem solve, as teacher and pupil, could surely lead to a better future learning of maths. For that, a teacher needs to learn good communication skills.

For more information do look at the Maths Anxiety Trust website http://mathsanxietytrust.com/

Also I have written a short booklet for parents who have children who experience anxiety around maths. The link is http://mathsanxietytrust.com/ma_Booklet_21.04.20.pdf

For further reading: FUTURE DIRECTIONS: Practical Ways to Develop Emotional Intelligence and Confidence in Young People by Helen Whitten, Published 2006 by Network Continuum.

Share

Nov 15

2022

2 Responses

Comments

Helen Whitten

Posted In

Tags

When I was in my teens my father gave me The Pensées by Blaise Pascal.  I was fascinated by its combination of science and philosophy. I can’t pretend to have understood it all. After all, what did I know about life at the age of 15? Nothing. Yet his mind and his writings intrigued me and a particular passage stands out even now from the book, as it was, perhaps, the first indication that there is much in life that I shall never be able to comprehend.  Talking about infinity:

Nature is an infinite sphere, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

What does that do to your mind I wonder? My mind went into a kind of spin when I read this for the first time. It still does.  It’s like black holes, which I equally find well nigh impossible to grasp. This thought causes a sort of black hole of space in my mind as I try to think about the universe and what I am supposed to make of it in a lifetime.

Man’s search for meaning is probably as endless as our search for the understanding of the infinite. I was interested to read today in Kieran Setiya’s book Life is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help us Find our Way, that apparently man’s search for meaning does not come up in Plato or Aristotle, Seneca or Epictetus, Augustine or Aquinas, Descartes, Hume or Kant. They, as many other philosopher, focus more on how to live well, how to make the most of our human life.

I just saw Bill Nighy in Living, a movie about a man waking up to his true nature, to life, in the last few months of life.  He is determined, in that time, to live and laugh, and also to make a difference. His example makes a lasting imprint on some, but only some, of those around him.

Yet I think we all search for some kind of personal meaning. And that means taking time to stop and reflect on our values, on the legacy we want to leave with our children and grandchildren, on the fact that the world is full of wonder and, if we appreciate it, then we can give time to consider what we might contribute towards it, in our own small way.  I find there is so much spoken now about ‘rights’ that people seek to get from governments, and far too little about ‘responsibilities’, and what we can each do to contribute, to make life in our country more prosperous or enjoyable. My goodness, do we need it now, that pulling together towards rebuilding the economy post-Covid, post-Ukraine and in the midst of global economic challenges.

As I think of the senselessness of the war in Ukraine I am reminded of Pascal’s statement about young men meeting at a border. In one situation they would be friends, in another enemies.

We must kill them in war, just because they live beyond the river. If they lived on this side, we would be called murderers.

This is so true of Ukraine and Russia, who share so much history. And I read today that, inevitably, the consequence of this war has been to emit horrendous toxicity into the universe. Just what no human being needs.

And if we do all die out, I turn to another wonderful book, given to me by my dear departed friend Bruce – The Human Situation by W. Macneile Dixon. In this, Dixon writes of the concept of the planets and galaxies of the universe churning away for millennia whether we are here to watch, wonder or measure, or not.  This sends my mind into the same black hole of life’s mysteries as Pascal!

It’s a miserable rainy day here in Kew but I am sure there are things we can all wonder at, nonetheless, despite the ghastly news, things we wish to do with our lives, books we want to read, or re-read?

Share

Oct 31

2022

5 Responses

Comments

Helen Whitten

Posted In

Tags

Sorry I have been silent for a while. I have been dealing with one of those life-defining moments we have. Do you know the ones? The moments where your life turns on a pivot, or turns direction, where something inside of you bursts out and shows you the truth, or shows you a potential road ahead, or a possible dead end, so you have to do something about it, or it almost feels like a part of you might die. In a way, these are moments of growth, where all norms are void and you have to journey off the map you have created in the past. And others often won’t understand you.

We recently attended a talk at the Appledore Literary Festival by Cathy Rentzenbrink on the subject of memoir. She raised this question of life-defining moments and how they may come about. For her it was the tragic death of her brother after a car accident at the age of seventeen. You may have had a traumatic event such as this that changes all our perspectives and has ripples for the rest of your life. The loss of our first son as a baby certainly changed some perspectives for me. I knew I wanted so much to be a mother again. I also knew that I no longer feared death. If he was there, what was there to fear?

Then there are less dramatic, yet significant moments, some of which we choose and some of which happen to us.  It could be who you date, a career change, whether you chose to travel to a foreign country to live or stay for a period, a death or illness, a new home, new hobby, anything that shifts you from your previous path.

I remember that when, as a mature student, I started to think of a career towards the end of my history degree at King’s London, I could have returned to the work I was doing previously, in research. But my tutor pointed out to me that he had noticed I was good at communicating with the younger students and had I ever thought of teaching or working in a pastoral way with people? I hadn’t, but it sewed a seed that seemed worth exploring and two years later, after a great deal of retraining and a heap of self-doubt, I launched Positiveworks, my consultancy in coaching and training. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, many people around me did not understand what I was doing, but that little bubble inside me was saying ‘this is the way to go. It could be good.” And my goodness it was better than good. It was marvellous.

Holidays and travel can be life-defining too. Many people go on holiday somewhere and end up buying a property. Sometimes, also, you gain a view of life that you would not have had before. I think this happened for me and my teenage sons when we travelled into a village in Zambia and saw how happy the children were playing games in the sand. There was no Lego, no Barbie dolls. Just imagination and laughter.

My trip to Lagos, Nigeria, back in 1995 taught me to follow my gut. When I was invited out there to run some training courses for local Nigerian companies my family were unsure whether it would be safe for me to travel alone. But I had just read Ben Okri’s amazing book The Famished Road and that little voice inside me bubbled up again and said ‘Yes, go. You will be fine.’ And I was, and I met some wonderful people and got a taste for a country I would probably never have seen otherwise.

Of course gut feelings can lead you into darker places sometimes. As they say of investments, things can go down as well as up, but quite often, even when something has not turned out the way you hoped, you have gained more insights into yourself and life than you would have done had you not taken that path.

So maybe go back over your own life-defining moments, write them down for your children and grandchildren. Your experiences might show them a road they hadn’t thought of taking before, or give them the courage to follow a road that their inner voice is pointing out to them. Who knows…

Share

Sep 06

2022

1 Responses

Comments

Helen Whitten

Posted In

Tags

No-one said life would be easy but for sure it is about to get harder for us all, here in the UK, for those in Europe, and for many people around the world. Putin is intent on that. It’s a perfect storm of events, following a global pandemic, and our leaders, including our new Prime Minister, are going to need to keep their heads and, hopefully, cooperate and collaborate to keep the world at peace, and to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable do not suffer. We are all going to need to draw on our inner resources.

How do we do that?

Well, I guess we’ll need to budget and prioritise what we choose to spend our money on. But I believe it is our thinking that is going to be the most important resource for us to call on. Catastrophising, that thing the media love to do, is not going to help us. Being realistic, planning and adapting stage by stage, step by step, is. And, as I have mentioned before, I am greatly in favour of being a ‘rational optimist’: staying in the real world but noticing where we can rationally and reasonably feel optimistic and positive. This can bolster our confidence that we can manage the situation rather than convincing ourselves that we can’t. “I’d rather this wasn’t happening but I can manage it one way or another” can be a helpful mantra.

It’s easy to spend our life saying, “I’ll be happy when …” or “I’ll be happy if …” and miss the moment. Yet sometimes things do unexpectedly change for the better. Keep a watchful eye out for this.  But if things do get worse, then we will not have squandered the moment worrying about what might happen and be more energised and capable of managing whatever does transpire. So, let’s not run Hollywood disaster movies in our heads. It just keeps us up at night and that doesn’t help our ability to think clearly or positively.

A friend told me a story yesterday of an old lady who happened to be sitting in a café in the countryside and the man next to her sighed and said, “I can’t believe that just at the moment I sit down to enjoy my coffee the sun goes in!” The elderly lady looked at him and reminded him, quite forcefully apparently, of how lucky he was to be sitting in a nice café under a safe, if cloudy, sky, and not struggling to survive in the floods in Pakistan, or taking shelter from bombs in the Ukraine. The man looked sheepish and was grateful to her for pointing this out to him.

The news focuses on the negative, on those who can’t cope rather than those who have found ways to cope in difficult circumstances. The tendency to ramp up the fear factor is not good for us – it doesn’t help us make good decisions, and it lowers our immune system. Anxiety is not good for the brain or the body. And it certainly won’t be everyone who is affected in the same way by the rise in inflation and living costs, but some people will be adversely affected, and it is those we should be focusing on and helping. I hope the government gets this message. Surely, giving handouts to everyone deprives those who need it most.

The financial markets are greatly influenced by the moods and emotions of the people. Let’s remember that there are always opportunities to be had even in a recession. We need to believe in the inventors, entrepreneurs and leaders who may innovate to solve the world’s problems, including climate change. These could benefit us all.

To keep ourselves going, we can gain happiness from very simple things – being with family and friends, watching a sunset or a new moon. We may choose to spend on a momentary treat, but long-term happiness is surely arrived at by focusing on our personal values and by treating others as we would wish to be treated ourselves. As a child, having my parents’ attention for an hour or two playing a board game or reading a story together, gave me as much pleasure as some gift or holiday, both of which are transitory. A parents’ love and attention stays with us for life.

Let’s be clear, Putin wants to break the West. He wants to divide us, plant as much disinformation as possible into the system so as to discombobulate our minds and make us disgruntled, despite the fact that conditions in our country are some of the best in the world. So, I feel we should decide not to be divided and to call on our inner resources to withstand the hardships that may lie ahead, as the Ukrainians are doing. We can disagree on all kinds of issues and debate them but let’s stand strong against his efforts to disintegrate Western society.

To break up, at the instigation of an empirical dictator, what we have achieved in the democratic world makes no sense to me whatsoever. Let’s not let him get to us and split us. Let’s rise above that. Let’s show him that we will work hard to protect the world from a war that could destroy all the comfort and advances we have achieved.

For me, gratitude is a powerful reminder of the changes I have seen in my 72 years. I think many are unaware of how much harder life was here in the UK only a short time ago, so perhaps it is a time for people to look at Youtube videos, or read books, about life a century ago, or even less, and notice the comforts, rights and benefits that have been created during this time. We don’t have to believe in any specific religion in order to look around, notice and even list where we can feel gratitude. This can unite us and help us through the next difficult months. As Marcus Aurelius said,

“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.”

So, notice where those thoughts take you – to a positive or negative place – and realize that you are the one who controls that focus. It can change the quality of your life, your health, and your decisions. Hold on tight and good luck!

Share

Aug 21

2022

3 Responses

Comments

Helen Whitten

Posted In

Tags

One can’t turn on the radio these days without hearing of someone struggling with some aspect of life or another. And, inevitably, we do all struggle with life and some people more than others, for one reason or another. But I would feel happier (and perhaps everyone else would too?) if these interviews were balanced up by examples of those who have struggled with a challenge, and worked their way through it, rather than become overwhelmed by their problems. If we expose people to endless negative stories, they are going to have to work very hard indeed to keep themselves feeling resilient and able to cope with life.

I have no doubt played some small part in raising the issues of mental and emotional health into greater focus, having written six books on related subjects. However, I am concerned that the media emphasis on the fragility of everyone’s mental health is actually in danger of becoming detrimental to everyone’s mental health!

Right now, we all face many challenges in terms of inflation and the cost of living, climate change, and the Ukrainian war. We need to be resilient. In one of the radio interviews I was listening to, some students talked about their experiences and I ended up feeling rather sorry for them, because they seemed to have expected that things would be much easier than they were. They sounded outraged that they had been forced to share a flat with strangers, or had to move from one flat to another because they couldn’t afford the rent. It was as if they considered that this shouldn’t be happening to them. And the interviewer seemed to go along with this, ramping up the outrage. I suppose it makes better drama for the listeners. But is it helpful?

For who had told these young people that life should be easy, that they wouldn’t have to adapt to changes in the world economy? Because it struck me that they had not being adequately prepared for the fact that life isn’t fair, it isn’t easy, there will always be changes and some of those changes will be uncomfortable, that other people don’t always do what you would like them to, and that perhaps other people might also have trouble with your own behaviour, so there’s a need to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances and demands, physical, emotional and financial.

Listening to them reminded me of how we had shared flats and bedrooms with strangers when I was moving between teens and adult years. It was the norm. And they were pretty dire places – no heating, we had snails climbing up the wall in one basement flat while condensation dripped down another, a geezer that exploded any time you wanted hot water for a bath and nearly asphyxiated my friend, landlords who did little to keep a place comfortable and who raised the rent from time to time, so we frequently had to move. We didn’t get asked how we felt about it, so we didn’t think it unusual and just carried on.

There is much quoting of statistics, and the statistics on loneliness are poignant but I can’t ever remember anyone asking me or my friends whether we were lonely, and we certainly were when we were growing up. Most people are, as they develop from teenage years to adulthood, entering the somewhat traumatic world of work, dating and finding a partner. It can all be a very lonely experience, but I think there was very little introspection at that time. There was, though, certainly, shyness, awkwardness, fear of the future, jealousy and all the usual emotions but I only knew one person who needed help with their mental health. Nowadays all those normal features of growing up have some kind of psychological label, as if they are abnormal and require intervention. But are they abnormal? And do they always require intervention?

I am not so sure they always do, and that if you listen to The Expectation Effect, the series by David Robson on iPlayer, you will hear some short salutary tips for how your beliefs and expectations of life shape the outcome of one’s efforts in many different areas of life – health, ageing, willpower, stress and life in general, so that you programme your mind to work through the difficulties rather than feel swamped.

Of course there are times when a diagnosis, and label, is helpful and intervention is absolutely necessary. But I worry that the more these cases are emphasized, the more likely it might be to develop the sort of culture whereby you’re the odd one out if you don’t have some kind of mental health issue or label. Am I alone in being concerned that this discussion could have got out of balance?

Of course, it is a good thing, on the whole, that mental health has become a topic of everyday conversation and not something people have to hide or feel embarrassed about. It’s a good thing that we understand it better, and that in general people are more compassionate, but it is necessary, at the same time, to build resilience and we often do this by experiencing difficult times. It is perfectly normal to feel bad sometimes, to feel sad sometimes, to feel angry, to feel anxious. It’s human and natural and we can thank those emotions for enriching our lives.

I was reminded this morning of the psychiatrist, Professor Anthony Clare’s tips for happiness, one of which was to ‘avoid introspection’. Yet we seem to be doing nothing but suggesting that people spend a vast amount of time thinking about themselves and their emotions. And then, of course, Socrates famously said that “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Well, both are true, in my view, and we, as individuals, have to learn how much to think about ourselves and how much just to get on with living.  Clare’s advice is to ‘cultivate a passion and become a part of something bigger than yourself’. Great advice, I believe.

All this led me to look up a Positiveworks blog I wrote back in 2008, when we were facing that economic downturn. So, for what it’s worth, I shall share the seven tips I mentioned then and hope they may help you consider how to feel positive as we face this current potential recession:

  1. Focus on the positive. The one thing we have control of is our mental and emotional approach so rather than panic, pull in a thought like “I’d rather it wasn’t happening but I can manage it step by step,” which hopefully will help you stay calm.
  2. Focus on what you can control. Perhaps that’s cash flow, saving money, investing it carefully, letting go of one expenditure in order to be able to afford another.
  3. Focus on personal values. The thing that keeps us sane is to focus on our personal principles and values, not getting swept up by groupthink or the pull of the crowd as to how you respond.
  4. Get real. Work with facts and evidence, not supposition or headlines. Statistics are bandied about that sometimes have no basis in fact (listen to More or Less!). Check them out.
  5. Look for opportunities. In every downturn there is opportunity. I have lived through the 1970s, 1990s (when I set up my business) and 2008 and have watched people discover some innovation that only became possible because of the changing circumstances.
  6. Be discerning. What is reported on social media is not always true. Check it out. Don’t go to the doom-and-gloom sites. Financial markets are influenced by emotions so it doesn’t help to focus on the ‘everything is going to the dogs’ narrative.
  7. Get creative and put your energy into the future. It takes the sum of our individual efforts to make change a positive experience. Turn around, look at things in a new light and see what’s possible, and also how you might support others. As Einstein said “you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking you used to create it.”

If you expect everything to go badly, and that you won’t be able to cope, then you are less likely to be able to cope. If you expect things to be difficult but remind yourself of other times when you have coped, then you are more likely to be able to manage these current challenges. So good luck. Oh, and maybe turn off the radio!

Share