New Year Resolutions

Do you make them?   Only at New Year or do other times of the year (warmer, less pressured) offer a better chance of success.   I’ve read a number of articles about resolutions on the internet today and virtually all of them contained dire predictions of resolutions falling by the wayside by February, of the low chances of success.   I think that counts as a self-fulfilling prophecy.   Someone seeking guidance with setting and keeping resolutions will search on the internet and find these articles, which tell them they have a low chance of succeeding and thus, they begin to doubt their own chances of doing so.

Clearly there are right ways and wrong ways of going about setting and achieving goals.   But remember that your own past, or the experiences of others, do not automatically determine your own outcomes this time.   They may point out pitfalls to avoid, weaknesses you may need to address.   But your past does not define you.

These ideas have helped me, feel free to use or adapt them to fit your own life and circumstances.

How much do you want this and why?

Is your goal something you want to do or something you feel you “should” do?   Unless you actually have your own (as opposed to someone else’s) positive reasons for doing something, then it’s easier for motivation to wane, in my experience.   Some goals carry greater external motivators than others, I accept: the long-term health benefits of giving up smoking may mean you “should” do so even if you see cigarettes as a pleasure in life.   For most goals, however, make sure that it’s your goal and not something you feel obligated to do.

Your “why” is the thing which will keep you going when you feel tired, stressed and want to give up.   Why do you want to eat healthily?   Exercise?   Call your family regularly?   Get a qualification?   A new job?   Unless you know why you want something, it’s easy to become distracted from your goal.

Write it down.

Now.   On paper or on a computer document or in an online journal or on Facebook.   Just write it down now and keep it somewhere accessible!   While it’s floating in your mind, it’s competing for attention with the many other facets of your life.   When it’s on a piece of paper, it becomes an object.   It’s tangible.   It’s very presence is a reminder of your “why”.   And while you’re at it….

Write down a plan to get you there.

For the same reason.   Plans floating in your mind are not going to be acted on.   Life will distract you.   Write down each tiny step you need to take to get you to where you want to be.   Writing them down also means you can mark them off as you reach them, a tangible reminder of how far you’ve come.

And if you fail…

Start again.   Now.   If you’ve missed a workout, carry on again tomorrow.   If you’ve eaten or drunk more than you planned, then enjoy the taste and go right back to healthy eating or limiting your alcohol.   If you don’t meet a deadline, just do it as soon as you can.   Missed a class?   Go to the next one.   Making a mistake does not make you a failure, nor is it a reason to give up your goals.   You are still making progress and have achieved more than you would, had you not started at all.   Stay with it.

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Resisting Resistance

I would define resistance as that reluctance to do something you actually want to do or something that would move you further towards one of your goals.   It feels counter-intuitive to back away from something you want but we are all complex, our motivations aren’t always straightforward and fears, whether we recognise them or not, can manifest themselves in our actions.

If you find yourself resisting a positive change or action, examine the cause.   Is it that you don’t know how to take it forward?   Does the step seem too big?   Do you lack the tools or resources you think you need?

Are you focussed on the action or is your goal nebulous and difficult to clarify?   Wanting to get fit is too large and general a goal, resistance will be the simple result of not having thought through where or how to begin.   Deciding you would like to jog 3 mornings a week and making a plan as to the time, the place, what you’ll wear and how you’ll fit the rest of your morning routine about it is a far more specific goal, to which you can direct positive actions.

Also ask yourself why you want to make this step or work towards this particular target.   If you aren’t clear on why you are doing something, motivation will be heard to maintain and fear can seep in.   Is this something you want or something that someone else says you should want?   Who are you doing it for?   If it isn’t for you, then carefully think why you are doing this at all.

Does some reflection help address your resistance?   Write it in a paper or online journal, or talk to someone, you may find that the solution to your resistance appears as your thoughts take shape.

Do you still have any fear of taking the steps you need to?   Of what you might find out about yourself, others or situations?   Of what might happen if you took those steps?   Are you fearful that you will do it and fail?   Or even that you do it and succeed?

Success might be a scary thought, either to you or those closest to you.   How might your life change if you had the energy that comes from being fit and healthy?   If yoga or meditation or regular quiet time gave you the space to think and calm your thoughts, bringing you peace of mind?   If you acquired the confidence a new qualification or job or business gave you?

So think through the consequences for your particular circumstances.   Only you can know but is it better to try and fail, than not try at all and live with regret?   If you succeed, it may be scary but is it better to learn to live with the fear than regret not having tried?

Time is short and life is precious.   Resistance can be moved through, step by step and moment by moment.   A small step in the right direction is better than nothing.   Try it and see.

White Feather Women

The “white feather” women of the First World War were not a spontaneous movement of women trying to “do their bit” to encourage men to enlist, but rather part of the Army’s own recruitment drive. Admiral Charles Fitzgerald founded the Order of the White Feather in August 1914, asking women to hand white feathers, a symbol of cowardice, to men who were not in uniform.

The short story on my blog is based upon a real set of circumstances (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/nov/11/first-world-war-white-feather-cowardice). It fascinates me as to the reasons why any woman would attempt to humiliate a man into joining the Army, particularly after 1915 when it became apparent that, contrary to initial popular belief, the War would not be over quickly. The numbers of dead and wounded in the horror of trench warfare were also starting to accrue. Women were not permitted to enlist themselves yet many would have been aware of what was happening in Europe as a result of the involvement of their own male relatives.

The Order was not popular in Britain. White feathers were given to enlisted soldiers who simply happened to be wearing civilian clothing on leave, or who had been discharged from military service due to illness or injury. Others were aware of the high casualty rates and resented the pressure being put on their relatives. Many of these men were not cowards but were exempted from service, or in reserved occupations.

One theory is that it was a rare occasion upon which ordinary women were given power and a voice in a public place (http://the-white-feather-movement-worldwarone.wikispaces.com). In Britain at the time women could not vote, nor could a married woman hold her own property. Many of the women were very young and perhaps a little bit of power, mixed with a lack of insight or education, led them to behave as they did.

Compton McKenzie, a writer and serving soldier, suggested these women were simply after getting rid of boyfriends of whom they had tired (http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWfeather.htm).

A friend of mine suggested they may have simply been a manifestation of the martial women, encouraging their men to fight, recorded as far back as classical antiquity.

The women were widely reviled during the War, by soldiers and by men and women who remained in Britain, and subsequently very few were prepared to speak about what they had done or their reasons for doing so. I approached this story from the view of power, both between the man and woman, and between them and the government of the time, who were literally the “men in charge”.

The White Feather

Her eyes gazed directly at his downturned face.   She felt herself smile as his cheeks reddened and his words began to form, halting and at first imperceptible.   “I did that”, she thought triumphantly to herself.   Made this man blush and stammer, showed him up for what he is in front of all these people.   Out here, on this corner.

 

But he’s not really a man is he?   If he were a man, he wouldn’t be here.   He would be away, with a regiment, fighting for me.   For all women.   Like the recruiting posters said, if he neglects his duty to his country, one day he will neglect YOU.   He’s not a real man.   Rather, a coward.   The white feather she had just thrust towards him had drifted to the ground.   Harmless, gentle.   Yet able to wound like an arrow straight to the heart.

 

Which is exactly what it is, she thought.   The weapon of her righteousness, her just cause.   Her confidence was rising with every passing moment, drawing its strength from the weakness of the man before her.   I can’t fight but this man can.   My voice is silent where it matters most.   I can’t make things happen, I can’t stop the enemies.   But he can.   So why isn’t he?

 

“Women of Britain say ‘go’”-that’s what the other poster said.   He must have ignored that as he’s ignoring me.   And I’m one of those women.   Well, nearly.   Old enough to be out of school but only just.   She drew her shoulders back further, tilted her chin.   She suddenly wanted to look older than her years, more sophisticated.   More of the world.   A woman.   Take on this coward of a man, that’s what a real woman should do.

 

“So why are you not in khaki?”.   She tried her best to sound strident.   A warrior.   One without the voice which counted but with righteousness on her side.

 

He could give her so many reasons.   How he’d got to Mons.   How adding a year to his age had got him to Ypres.   Places whose names he could not pronounce, his education had finished 3 years before he reached those sodden, filthy trenches and the likes of him didn’t need to be told about the world.   His sort didn’t need to know about the power struggles, the colonies, the war machine.   Just about numbers and letters and God.   Until the men who run the country decided it was his duty to serve it, in that dismal ground, far away.   In hell.   No sign of God there, though heaven knows, he’d implored Him enough.

 

He went in with the lads and retreated with them.   Lay on a blood-stained blanket as his fever rose and fell.   Go home lad, they said.   You’ve done your part now.   Your ma will be pleased to have you back.

 

The man who had seen so much and the woman who did not see, no matter how much she looked.   Both voiceless and powerless, she the woman and he the working man.   Doing as they had been bidden by the men who run the country.   Who led them from behind to the fiery pit.

 

The feather rested, as neither of them could.

The Lights Go Out In Europe…

It was the 100th anniversary of Britain’s entry into the First World War on Monday of this week, August 4th. I’ve been doing some research about my own ancestors who were caught up in that conflict, for a trip to northern France in November.

Two of my maternal great-great-uncles were killed in 1916. One was killed aged 37 years, in July of that year, and is buried in a military cemetery at Bouzincourt, near Arras. He was a volunteer, rather than a conscript, despite his age. The other died in August of 1916, at the age of just 16 years. The family story is that he ran away from a father and stepmother who treated the children of my great-great-grandfather’s first wife neglectfully after her death. For that reason his brother is recorded as his next of kin. Heartbreakingly, his body was never identified and so he has no known grave, he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, again in the Arras area.

It’s quite easy to hearken back to the “good old days”, the days when summers were long, everyone behaved respectfully, family breakdown was unknown and there was no crime. Unfortunately that’s also a fairy story. I’ve been reading Selina Todd’s “The People”, a history of the working class in Britain over the past 100 years or so. Poverty, lack of power and personal autonomy, very poor living conditions and even poorer life chances were the lot of the vast majority of the British population from the First World War until after the Second World War. My great-great-uncle Joseph was killed as a child, far from his home, probably in painful and terrifying circumstances and leaving no identifiable remains. There were many more like him between 1914 and 1916, from many nations.

One young man brings home both the enormity of the event and perspective on the society in which I am fortunate to live today.

Time goes by…

If you knew you only had a limited time left, how would you spend it?   I’ve had a bit of a contemplative week, following the death of a neighbor and the serious illness of another friend.   None of us know what’s round the next corner yet I’m conscious that I, for one, can drift through life in a rather blasé and unthinking assumption that “some day” or “one day” I’ll get round to something.

 

To quote the inspirational picture I’ve seen on the internet, there are 7 days in a week and “some day” and “one day” are not among them!

 

So what gets in the way?   Not television in my case, as I don’t have one (long story).   But even allowing for internet time, I can spend a lot of time “pottering”, which is pleasant in its own way but not exactly going to help me learn another language, write a book or find a place on a PhD programme.   I have found changing my surroundings can help, going to the university library to work or study, or down to a Costa Coffee, just for some thinking time without the distractions of the house.

 

Journaling has helped me process my thoughts and come up with ideas.   The act of writing down or telling someone else what’s on your mind really does seem to help in finding my own solutions, I guess that’s why the Samaritans have helped so many people find their answers to far more significant problems in their lives using that approach.

 

In other news, here is a picture of the snow leopard cubs at Lakeland Wildlife Oasis, out and enjoying the good weather last weekend!

CIMG1251

Opportunity

I’m speaking at a school tomorrow, talking about my “day job” and how young people thinking about a career in the same area might progress towards it.   I’d prepared slides with the academic requirements and ideas of the sort of roles available.   I’d also prepared a slide with ideas for gaining experience, firstly to see if this really is a career they want to pursue, and secondly and to begin to acquire skills and knowledge of the area.

 

I did wonder how to put across to them though the intangibles that go into finding work you love.   It’s also day 7 of Celestine’s Positive Affirmation Challenge (http://personalexcellence.co) and the theme is opportunity-“I can find or make opportunities and make things happen”.

 

For example, in my line of work, you have to spend 2 years in a training role, under the direction of a qualified practitioner.   I was ready to begin training during the last large recession, around 1992, and these were not easy roles to find then, as now.   So I went to a local practitioner on “work experience”.   I sent in my CV, pestered them by telephone and agreed I would spend 2 weeks without pay in the summer, helping them out and learning things.   And I just never left.   I kept working and kept quiet and finally they agreed to pay me (possibly through guilt!) and 3 months after I started my work experience, I was given a formal traineeship, which let me begin my career.

 

I was lucky in that I was able to support myself and live with my parents through the 3 months that I wasn’t paid.   I viewed it as my opportunity to get my foot in the door, or as valuable experience for somewhere else.   But how does a young person without that support manage?   The world is different now.   Is t still possible to find or create opportunities?

 

I think it is.   Sometimes maybe by the more indirect route-rather than focus wholly on one way to a goal, be prepared to consider different paths.   At the moment I am trying to find a PhD placement but accept that a fully funded placement for 3 years is going to be hard to find.   So I am considering studying over 5 years and working part-time to fund my own living expenses.   Back at the start of my career, I accept I would have had the fixed mindset “I must find a grant and do it in 3 years” but now I’m old enough to accept that the ideal isn’t always possible.   It doesn’t mean that the whole thing isn’t possible though.

 

One of my mother’s favourite sayings is that we each make our own luck.   She doesn’t actually believe in luck, she believes in working hard, taking opportunities and making the most of them.

 

So tomorrow I hope to encourage the young people I meet to look for and take opportunities, however far off the beaten track they may seem.   Who knows where they may take us and the unexpected treasures we may find there.