I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong. But considering how often I’m right, it’s appalling how often I fail to follow my own advice, heed my own warnings and do the right or best thing.
With that said, in a moment of unprecedented honesty, here are five pieces of good advice I give out more often than I act on. I will strive to actually take this advice in the future.
1: Make Yourself Happy.
This is a compound of two deeply set beliefs of mine. The first is that it is nobody else’s responsibility to make you happy, or, indeed, do anything for you. You are born into this world naked and frail and, whatever rights and contracts are formed between you and those around you and enforced, under that veil of civility we are still all barbarians who would stab each other in the kidney for no good reason. Nobody owes me anything, so my happiness should not be in their hands.
The second belief is that optimism is the only way to truly enjoy life. There is a silver lining to most things and a plan B for everything. You may not feel happy about everything, but you can find the more pleasant unintended consequences, the things that at least didn’t go wrong, the things you have left. If you lose your family, your home and your job, at least you’re still alive and have your brain and live in a world full or charitable people and resources. You are alive and will keep on living until such a time as there is nothing left.
Combine the two, and you can see why I recommend to always try and make yourself happy. So long as you’re here, you have something going for you. And the stars will never wholly align to make everything perfect. The best you can do is take things into your own hands and adopt a more positive attitude.
But I don’t really take that advice all that often. Something I’m not particularly secretive about, but don’t really go on about, is I have what we currently believe to be cyclothymia, a mood swing disorder like a light form of bipolar. So when I’m feeling generally good about myself, ie, when I’m on the way down, but well rested and haven’t got much to do, or on the way up and hitting every target, the advice is easy to follow. I slept for twelve hours, but it’s OK because I cleared my work. I lost £200 of income due to a timing error, but money comes and goes and we’re in the black anyway. But part of the cycle is occasional, pretty intense periods of existential depression, which basically amounts to alternating nihilism and anxiety, sometimes to a point where I am in deep despair and paranoid.
And, to be honest, I use that as an excuse. Yes, it’s hard to feel happy when something flips in your brain and you just want the world to end so you don’t have to face another day on this planet. But you can at least alleviate it by focusing on the good things, relaxing and not getting wound up about things.
2: Let it go.
This one is based off a simple principle. Things will always fall outside your control. You may be lucky or you may not, you can influence the outcomes, but you can never decide them. Sometimes things will go wrong, people will act like idiots or life will just generally be rubbish.
And, just as with making yourself happy, you need to let go of these things. Sometimes being stressed helps you focus and deal with things, but sometimes it’s just stress.
This was related to my #NoNothingNovember challenge and I’m still working on it. The problem is that stress is almost addictive. And once you get it started, it just keeps going. Every single thing becomes straw on a camel’s back, when it should be water off a duck’s back. And the more stress I add, the more I hold onto it.
Releasing emotions is fine. Easy even. I can forgive, forget or despise someone in a blink of an eye. That much “letting go” comes naturally to me. But stress? I’ll hold onto it to a point where I break down and procrastinate rather than get anything done, because if I start working I’ll remember how much I have to do and panic. Not a good cycle.
3: Look after yourself.
Another important one. Often we focus too much on other people and forget to look after ourselves. You know that warning in airplane safety videos? “Please put on your own mask before you assist anyone else”? Well that’s true in all of life. You may think you’re being good and generous, but you aren’t helping anyone if you’re jobless, homeless, penniless and destitute. You need to find a safe place you can work from before you decide what you can do for others.
There are so many little and big ways of caring for yourself, from having a relaxing bath to ensuring you are as independent as you can be. And all of them help us live longer, happier lives, and ultimately help others and society more than if we hadn’t looked out for ourselves.
Which is why I’m confused and annoyed every time I feel run down and realize I don’t have to feel run down, I did it to myself and I’m the only one to blame. I don’t put many people before myself. But the few people and the work I put before myself is enough to weigh me down. And I do love Jon. And we do need the money from my work. But getting so ill I can’t work for a week because I didn’t want to take a day off lessons and I wanted to make his favourite dinner isn’t going to help. It does him no good when I’m ill and I can’t earn when I’m ill. Likewise for stress, undereating or any other way I neglect myself. And I do it because I put every essay, every exam, every meal, every task, every animal, every lesson before my own wellbeing. “Just one thing more” is sometimes too much.
4: Spend less time online.
The time you spend online is the time you don’t spend offline. It sounds simple and obvious, but I think it actually needs mentioning and giving some thought. When our entire world is connected by assorted websites, programs and devices, we forget how much time we spend connected. Especially so when more and more work is done online and online content is so easily accessible and engaging. You log on to check your emails or Skype or do some research and you stay online watching videos and looking at daft pictures on reddit.
But all that time doing mindless things online is taking away from your time in the real world. And whatever some people feel, most of us would rather be in the real world. We would rather talk to friends and family than argue with strangers online. We would rather care for our homes than blog about them. We would rather watch a film than trawl YouTube or go to a park than click through Facebook.
And that was the main reason I chose to eliminate timewasting websites and restrict access to useful websites that lost their productive value as part of my #NoNothingNovember. And I am sticking to that.
But I’m still easily spending far too much time online. I need to get myself more focused, use my time online sparingly and wisely and try and spend more time with Jon and out in the open. It’s so easy, even when you’re being productive, to assume the online time isn’t having much of an impact. But even if it’s work, if I spend a week writing scheduled blog posts, forget to do my work and have to spend one of Jon’s days off catching up on work, that impacts our life negatively.
5: Ask yourself why.
Often it’s easy to get wound up, stressed, distracted and not notice why. We find ourselves in a state and just get caught up in it and don’t ever track it back to its source. Sometimes when we track a problem back far enough we find a root cause that is completely unfixable, such as the genetic lottery or someone or something else’s actions. But most of the time the cause of our troubles can be found and fixed on our own.
For example, we may find our health suffering because of poor diet. If we just look at the ill health, we may see no solution. But if we track it back we see all the causes. The ill health is caused by a bad diet, that was caused by a childhood eating disorder, that was caused by depression, that was caused by an internal malformation of the brain you were born with. You can’t fix your brain. You can’t undo the eating disorder. But you can work with the depression and you aren’t doomed to eat a bad diet.
Likewise, we rarely ask ourselves why we are in a situation. We need to ask how we wound up there, what we did to contribute to it and how we can remedy it. It’s no use to stay focused on your problems if you aren’t looking for a solution.
And somehow, knowing all this, I manage to get het up about problems that often have very simple solutions. I don’t always remember to ask why I am in that situation, only what I can do to get out of it. And that way I am only looking at the symptoms and getting distressed, rather than actually noticing the disease.
And those are five pieces of my own advice I should probably follow. What advice do you wish you followed more often?
TTFN and Happy Hunting!